In February 2019, two major newspapers in Texas released the findings of a year-long study on sexual abuse within Southern Baptist churches. The report revealed that over the last 20 years, more than 700 cases have been filed. The church reacted by bringing in the investigative firm, Guidepost Solutions, which reported that church leaders had mishandled claims and mistreated abuse survivors. Now federal officials have launched their own investigation. On August 12, Southern Baptist Convention officials announced the U.S. Department of Justice investigation.
The DOJ investigation started a few months after the SBC released the names of hundreds of pastors and church personnel previously held secret. About 220 pastors, ministers, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons, and church volunteers have already been convicted. Until last May, the church refused to release its database, saying in 2008 that the organization could not tell its 47,000 member churches “whom to hire or ordain.”
The Southern Baptist Church’s executive committee said it had been served with a subpoena, and the DOJ says the investigation will include multiple church agencies.
Viginia-based CBN News reached out to the DOJ for comment, but an email from the department’s spokesperson, Joshua Stueve, declined to comment.
“We recognize our reform efforts are not finished,” said a statement released by the SBC, “In fact, those efforts are continuing this very moment as the recently announced Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force begins its work and as each entity has strengthened its efforts to protect against abuse. Our commitment to cooperate with the Department of Justice is born from our demonstrated commitment to transparently address the scourge of sexual abuse.”
— SBC Executive Committee (@SBCExecComm) August 12, 2022
Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI agent and executive director for the Office of Child Protection for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “If I were still in law enforcement, I’d want to take a hard look at the report myself and see if there is anything of potential value to prosecutors in terms of bringing criminal charges against an offender, or if there is anything law enforcement needs to do in order to prevent a crime.”
While the DOJ mainly investigates federal crimes, such as transporting victims over state lines, they have started involving themselves in the most notorious sex abuse cases. McChesney states, “While abuse cases weren’t ignored, they were not really on the radar until the last decade.” She said, “When federal investigators target churches or religious figures, other issues, such as fraud or discrimination, have normally been involved.”
Christa Brown, a Southern Baptist sex abuse survivor, was thrilled upon hearing the news of the federal investigation. “Hallelujah, it’s about time,” she tweeted, “This is what’s needed.”
Hallelujah. Three times, I've publicly called for a federal investigation of the SBC & clergy sex abuse. 2018. 2021. 2022.
Finally. This is what's needed. I'm thrilled.
Here's the history &, in the articles, the why it's important. 1/4 #SBCTruthandJustice #SBCtoo https://t.co/FiyhiuhGPI
— Christa Brown (@ChristaBrown777) August 13, 2022