“Jesus would publicly call out people in the faith community who are guilty for hurting/violating others. He wouldn’t sit back in silence. He wouldn’t bury the evidence. Or cover up abuse. In addition, He would never ignore, condemn, or ostracize those who’ve suffered trauma. He wouldn’t say, “Get over it.” ―
I am trying something different. I’m telling this story through the eyes of the lawsuit, quoting directly from the document. I do not discuss the names of the victims or their injuries. I also do not discuss further summations of the main sections of the lawsuit. At the end of the post, I add some of my thoughts on this lawsuit and how it will affect the SBC, which can be summed up as “Grab the babies and run for the hill.” The other side is considering, “Let’s get this settled along with an NDA.”
Tune in on Friday. There have been some concerning developments at Park Street Church. I will look forward to hearing from you what you think of some letters/ petitions.
We had predicted that this day was coming. Sometimes, I wonder what took so long. Then again, I suspect that this lawsuit may be the first of many such endeavors. In December, the SBC Executive Committee settled another lawsuit out of court. In my opinion, they were afraid that they would lose. Southern Baptist Convention settles in abuse case against Paul Pressler; case dismissed was written by Liam Adams.
There were the many expected “blah, blah, blahs from the SBC EC, saying they would have won if it went to trial, but it would be expensive. I believe they knew they were in trouble. That was the first such suit. Here is the second.
Now, it gets worse, much worse, for the SBCEC. A lawsuit has been filed in Federal Court, claiming sex defendants (underage) were harmed at four churches. The SBC Executive Committee is named, arguing that they were responsible for not training churches in how to handle such situations.
The names of 6 victims
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION; FOUNTAIN VALLEY BAPTIST CHURCH; FAITH BAPTIST CHURCH; AIRLINE BAPTIST CHURCH; and FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, Defendant.
Observations in the lawsuit were spot in, in my opinion.
Included in the document:
The SBC attracts an extraordinary number of abusers.
18. Because of the opportunities to develop deep relationships with its members, the 47,000 Baptist churches that make up the Southern Baptist Convention attract many truly caring and giving individuals; however, at the same time, service in the Baptist Church attracts an extraordinary number of sex abusers, molesters and those who take advantage of their position of authority.
The authority of leaders and the air of infallibility in SBC churches contribute to abuse.
21. Religious figures in the Church and even lay leaders are bestowed with an air of infallibility, and are cloaked with authority which creates opportunity and a pathway for these individuals to misuse their positions of trust and take advantage of the vulnerable.
These unspeakable sexual acts, perpetrated by “holy individuals,” harm the victims in many ways.
22. As a result, when these seemingly infallible holy individuals commit unspeakable, perverted sexual acts with adults or children under their influence, it has an extraordinarily traumatic effect on the victims, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.
The SBC has given pastors complete freedom to have such encounters with victims.
23. Instead of exercising due care and diligence to protect these individuals under these circumstances from the serious harm described above, the Baptist Church has given pastors, other employees and agents, complete discretion and freedom to have personal, private and spiritual encounters with these individuals.
SAITF: take note! The SBC has done little to train employees to look for or screen abusers.
At the same time, the Baptist Church has done little or nothing to train employees and agents to look for abusers, screen abusers or protect church members and volunteers from the sexual predators who infiltrate its ranks.
I would argue that the lawyers who wrote this lawsuit were on- target with the above claims and observations. There was more.
They continued with their cogent observations.
The Steve Gaines example (the media is focusing on this one): After learning about the pastor’s sexual abuse of his own son, Gaines kept him on staff for six more months until the word got out.
When I first started blogging in 2009, I focused on this despicable story. (Scroll to the bottom for 2009). Here is what TWW reported in 2009. Many of the links are not working 15 years later.
What did the church investigation reveal? Here’s the shocking headline that reveals the answer: Bellevue report: Assistant pastor guilty of sex abuse against son
What happened to Paul Williams as a result of this investigation? LINK
“Williams…was dismissed without severance after initially being place on administrative leave with pay”, according to an Ethics Daily article. LINK:
“Paul Williams, who allegedly admits to having been molested as a child, began sexually assaulting his son in the 1980s (probably during pre-pubescence). According to the church investigation, this illicit activity occurred over a 12 to 18 month period. We don’t understand why the time frame is not more precise. Williams’ son is now approximately 30 years of age and is married with children.”
Back to the lawsuit focusing on SBC pastors as well as Steve Gaines.
Several past presidents and prominent leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are among those criticized by victims for concealing or mishandling abuse complaints within their own church or seminaries.
c. Some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit while others remained there. d. Many of the victims were adolescents who were molested, sent explicit photos or texts, exposed to pornography, photographed nude, or repeatedly raped by youth pastors. Some victims as young as 3 were molested or raped inside pastor’s studies and Sunday School classrooms. A few were adults – women and men who sought pastoral guidance and instead were seduced or sexually assaulted.
26. The investigation faulted Bellevue Pastor and then SBC president Steve Gaines for immediately failing to fire a sexual offender in 2006 from Bellevue Baptist Church. Gaines admitted to waiting six months to fire a pastor who had confessed to molestation at Bellevue Baptist Church. The report said the internal investigation found “[Bellevue was] ill prepared for sexual abuse.” See “Abuse of Faith,” supra.
The SBC goes out of its way to protect its own.
27. The investigation demonstrated that the Southern Baptist Church has gone to· great lengths to protect “its own.” It has been the practice of the Southern Baptist Church through its pastors arid other church officials and agents, to conceal instances of sexual abuse and complaints by victims. The Church zealously maintains the secrecy of the horrifying truth of sexual abuse in the Church, by among other things:
Here are some actions of pastors and churches when it came to victims.
Please read the following list carefully. The lawyers got it quicker than the SBC EC, which hid its “secret list” of abusers in the SBC.
• Failing to disclose complaints to law enforcement officials, church members and the public; • Rejecting efforts at reform from a corporate level on the grounds that the local churches have “autonomy;”
• Rejecting efforts by victims to make changes;
• Rejecting prevention policies similar to those implemented by the other faiths such as the Catholic Church;
• Shunning of the victims by the churches;
• Rejecting an SBC official’s requests to study sexual abuse in the church in 2007 and 2018 and vote on preventative measures; • Urging victims of abuse to get abortions in an effort to conceal the abuse; and
• Urging victims to forgive abusers in an effort to conceal the abuse. See “Abuse of Faith,” supra.
28. As one former SBC official said, “There’s a known problem, but it’s too messy to deal with.” See “Abuse of Faith,” supra.
29. Each of the acts set forth above are done to protect and shelter the abuser; obstruct justice; conceal criminal conduct; evade prosecution; avoid being compelled by criminal and civil courts to tum over information or allegations regarding sexual abuse; avoid public awareness and scandal about abusive pastors; and avoid financial loss.
The lawyers then examined the Guidepost investigation. Uh oh… They believe the autonomy excuse was just that: an excuse.
31. The report found that survivors of sexual abuse had been contacting the SBCEC to report child molesters and other abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff; however, there efforts were only met with “resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC.”
32. Only a few senior leaders of the SBCEC, along with outside legal counsel, controlled the SBCEC’s response to reports of abuse. The senior leaders were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations. In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy – even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation.
The secret list is emphasized, and some of the proof is fascinating.
Mr. Guenther advised that EC staff should not undertake to elicit further information or details about reports of abuse, so that the EC not assume a legal duty to take further action.
f. EC staff member working for Mr. Boto was maintaining a list of accused ministers in Baptist churches, including the minister’s name, year reported, relevant news articles, state, and denomination.
g. In a May 2019 email to Dr. Ronnie Floyd, the then-EC President, EC Vice President Dr. Roger “Sing” Oldham acknowledged that “[f]or the past decade, I have been regularly sending Augie news reports of Baptist ministers who are arrested for sexual abuse, for his awareness. It hasn’t slowed down since the [Houston] Chronicle articles started on February 10.” Mr. Boto responded that: “Yes. We are collecting them, and may even post them in some way, but we’d have to really examine the potential liabilities that would stem therefrom.”
h. Despite collecting these reports for more than 10 years, there is no indication that Dr. Oldham, Mr. Boto, or anyone else, took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches. The most recent list prepared by the EC staff member contained the names of 703 abusers, with 409 believed to be SBC-affiliated at some point in time.
The focus on sex abuse is the “work of the devil,” according to Augie Boto, and the Baptist Press helped vilify survivors.
(I think they meant the Daughters of Stan…)
In an internal email, Mr. Boto even equated the focus on sexual abuse with the work of the devil. l. Baptist Press (“BP”), the SBCEC’s communications arm, was also used to portray survivors in an unflattering light and mischaracterize allegations of abuse.
m. While stories of abuse were minimized, and survivors were ignored or even vilified, revelations came to light in recent years that some senior SBC leaders had protected or even supported abusers.
Many will not be surprised to learn that Steve Gaines, Jack Graham, and Paige Patterson are pastors who are part of the problem.
n. Former SBC President Steve Gaines admitted that, as senior pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church, he had delayed reporting a staff minister’s prior sexual abuse of a child of “heartfelt concern and compassion for th[e] minister,” while acknowledging that he should have “brought it to the attention of our church leadership immediately.”
o. Former SBC President Jack Graham, when he was pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church, allegedly allowed an accused abuser of young boys to be dismissed quietly in 1989 without reporting the abuse to police. The accused abuser, John Langworthy, later was charged with abusing young boys in Mississippi in 2011;
p. Former SBC President Paige Patterson was terminated from his position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2018 after it was revealed that he told a student not to report a rape in 2003 and, in 2015, emailed his intention to meet with another student who had reported an assault, with no other officials present, so he could “break her down.”
The plaintiffs bravely allow their pain to be specified in the lawsuit.
This is the difficult part to read. It is worth it to understand the pain these victims endured, and I believe their allegations. I do not wish to add to the pain of these victims and will leave it up to the reader to go to their stories starting on page 9 of the lawsuit.
If one reads through the entire document (give it a try), one will learn:
- The SBC EC was negligent in a variety of ways.
- The SBC EC were mandatory reporters.
- The victims have been harmed in many ways, including physically, mentally, and sexually, and have experienced a loss of enjoyment in life.
There is much to read in this section.
COUNT IV The Racketeers Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) 18 USC Sections 1961-1968, which includes in this case:
69. The SBCEC engaged in and affected intrastate and interstate commerce, because, inter alia, the SBCEC transferred, assigned, and relocated pastors and other employees to other schools, parishes, churches, rest homes, and medical facilities within the state of Tennessee and outside the borders’ of Tennessee.
70. The SBCEC engaged in intrastate and interstate commerce concerning the investigation, slander, blacklisting, and blackmailing of victims, and/or employees (whistleblowers) who sought to thwart, hinder or stop the illicit activity carried out by the SBCEC, and its’ employees and pastors.
71. Within the SBCEC there was a common communication network by which coconspirators shared information on a regular basis. The SBCEC used the common communication network for the purpose of enabling the criminal sexual activities of the pastors within the Southern Baptist Convention.
72. Each participant in the SBCEC’s racketeering “enterprise” has a systematic linkage to each other participant through organizational ties, organizational relationships, financial ties,
And so, the lawyers, on behalf of what I believe to be the abused victims, seek compensation. According to Julie Roys, they are asking for $10 million. I’m surprised they didn’t go for more.
How does this impact the SBC?
This lawsuit may result in something far worse than a $10 million payout.
- The autonomy of the local churches is in question, and it should be. If this were to happen, the SBC EC would face more lawsuits.
- Ongoing discussions suggest the SBC is having trouble getting insurance coverage for abuse situations for the SBC EC. I wonder if this is why the SBC EC cannot elect a President.
- There are discussions that the SBC could restructure without an EC.
- If the SBC EC cannot get insurance for abuse coverage, might they force member churches to donate money to a pool of funds to be used for lawsuits?