Southern Baptist sexual abuse response investigation advances

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – Rev. Marshall Blalock is feeling the brunt of his new responsibility.

The South Carolina pastor is vice chair of a newly formed Southern Baptist Convention task force tasked with overseeing an investigation into how a prominent faith-based committee handled allegations of sexual abuse, a review that comes years after the SBC relied on the scandal.

Blalock believes the task force’s work, launched in June by a Southern Baptist vote at a nationwide rally, could be a fundamental part of how the SBC approaches the issue going forward.

“If the task force does what the convention has asked us to do, if the executive committee responds favorably, I think we are taking huge first steps to really prepare for the future in terms of prevention, appropriate response and care for survivors of sexual abuse, ”Blalock mentioned.

The sex abuse scandal was put in the spotlight in 2019 by a landmark Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News report documenting hundreds of cases in Southern Baptist churches, including several in which the alleged perpetrators remained in the ministry.

Appointed by new SBC chairman Ed Litton, the seven-member task force of pastoral, legal, advisory and advocacy professionals is tasked with overseeing an outside firm’s investigation into the allegations that the executive committee mismanaged cases of abuse, resisted reforms and intimidated victims and defenders.

“We are fed up with abuse, and we have to face it,” said Litton, who was elected in June amid divisions over race, the role of women in the church and how to address the issue of women. abuse, during a recent event. “But I also think a clear message has come out that this is not a witch hunt. That this is an opportunity for us to lead the way for the future.”

More than two months later, the task force accomplished two key tasks: choosing Guidepost Solutions as the third-party investigative firm and asking the executive committee to waive solicitor-client privilege for investigative purposes when its next activities. Meet.

“It’s about finding out the truth so that we can face it,” said Reverend Bruce Frank, pastor of North Carolina and chair of the task force.

The Executive Committee welcomed Guidepost’s selection, noting that it is the same investigative firm that it had planned to use before the formation of the working group.

“We look forward to meeting Guidepost again to quickly coordinate our activities in support of their important work,” the committee said in a statement this month.

Jules Woodson, a church sexual abuse survivor based in Colorado Springs, Colo., Remains suspicious but is hopeful that significant change may be coming for the SBC. She was encouraged after meeting the task force, she said, and is ready to engage with Guidepost even though she is still skeptical of the company.

“It is so difficult as a survivor to put faith, hope and trust in people and processes and in a system that has continually failed us,” said Woodson. “For the first time in ages, we are finally seeing steps in the right direction. “

She said she cried with joy when directors of the Ethics and Religious Freedom Commission, the public policy arm of the SBC, recently indicated that the ERLC was willing to conduct an assessment of sexual abuse within of confession, and has a plan in place to figure out how to do it.

“The evil of abuse must continue to be fought,” Brent Leatherwood, acting chairman of the commission, said in a statement. “As we have said before, our churches must be safe for survivors and free from abuse.”

The motion approved by delegates at the June meeting directed the working group to accept the standards and best practices recommended by the third-party investigator, “including, but not limited to, executive committee staff. and members waiving solicitor-client privilege in order to fully ensure access to information and the accuracy of the examination.

Frank, the chairman of the task force, sent a formal request for waiver of privilege on August 2, calling it “critical to ensuring full access to relevant information, full accountability and transparency, and proper assessment of the stages of the privilege. reform”.

The executive committee did not commit to its statement, but said it was not opposed in principle to such a request and “speculations to the contrary are internet rumors and false.” The committee meets Monday and Tuesday and is expected to address the issue of waiver.

Executive committee chairman Rolland Slade said he supported the request as it is the will of the members at the June conference: “We have a duty to carry out and observe the wishes of the messengers.

Attorney and attorney Rachael Denhollander, who is one of two advisers to the task force, said identifying, recognizing and acknowledging the truth is crucial to making meaningful and effective change.

“If the executive committee decides not to waive the privilege, then they send a clear message that they reject accountability and transparency,” Denhollander said.

Woodson said not all would be lost in such a scenario, but responsibility would once again fall on the survivors.

“How many times,” she said, “do we have to introduce ourselves and tell our stories over and over again? “


The Associated Press’s religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment via The Conversation US. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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