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Southern Baptist church releases database of sexual abusers, redactions spark anger

A cross and Bible sculpture stand outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. Holly Meyer/AP Photos

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has published an internal database of sexual abusers and those accused of sexual assault within the church’s ranks, as promised early this week.

The 205-page list holds hundreds of entries of alleged and convicted cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by pastors and officials in the Southern Baptist denomination, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.

The cases span mostly from 2000 to 2019, but many of the entries have been redacted.

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When the SBC’s executive committee announced that they would release the database, they specified that the names of survivors, witnesses, and church staff who have “uncorroborated allegations of sexual abuse” against them would be removed from the list, according to Gene Besen, the committee’s interim counsel.

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Many of the unredacted entries are for church officials who have already been convicted and are on sex offender registries. Some people who viewed the list took to Twitter to vent their frustration that many of the cases that weren’t redacted can easily be searched online and do not reveal any new information.

One commenter joked, “Thank you for the transparency of this heavily redacted document.” Another claimed that a list like this could be easily crowdsourced.

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The SBC released a statement along with the database: “We are releasing the list in the exact form that it was provided,” and clarified their criteria for redaction.

“In making redaction decisions, counsel to the Executive Committee included, in their entirety, entries that reference an admission, confession, guilty plea, conviction, judgment, sentencing, or inclusion on a sex offender registry. The only exception to those entries is the redaction of names or identifying information of survivors and/or other individuals unrelated to the offender.”

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The statement was penned by Willie McLaurin, interim president and CEO, and Rolland Slade, chairman of the SBC.

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The two also noted that the publication of the once-secret database is an “initial, but important, step towards addressing the scourge of sexual abuse and implementing reform in the Convention. Each entry in this list reminds us of the devastation and destruction brought about by sexual abuse.”

“Our prayer is that the survivors of these heinous acts find hope and healing, and that churches will utilize this list proactively to protect and care for the most vulnerable among us.”

The decision to make the database public was reached during a virtual meeting that was called in response to an explosive investigative report released Sunday. The 288-page report followed a seven-month investigation that revealed widespread cover-ups and mishandling of sexual abuse allegations by top church members.

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The report detailed how former SBC vice-president August Boto and former SBC spokesman Roger Oldham kept their own private list of abusive pastors. According to the report, the list contains 703 names of church abusers. Both Boto and Oldham retired in 2019.

“Despite collecting these reports for more than 10 years, there is no indication that (Oldham and Boto) or anyone else, took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches,” read the report, which was compiled by Guidepost Solutions, an independent investigations firm that works with religious organizations.

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It’s not clear how many SBC committee members knew about the internal list, but the report, detailed that some “were aware of the existence of Southern Baptist-related sexual abuse allegations for many years.”

During the virtual meeting, Besen said that the committee intends to “review the unsubstantiated allegations, and if more can be substantiated, we will release those as well.”

A survivors hotline, managed by Guidepost, has been opened so that people can report further abuse allegations. The hotline can be reached at 202-864-5578 or SBChotline@guidepostsolutions.com.

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Guidepost wrote that callers “will be notified of the available options for care and will be put in touch with an advocate,” noting that the hotline is a “stopgap measure” until more meaningful reform can be passed at the SBC annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

The SBC also created a sexual abuse task force that will make formal recommendations on reform during the June 14-15 annual meeting, according to Pastor Bruce Frank, who led the task force.

McLaurin issued a formal apology to victims of sexual abuse at the hands of SBC pastors. There are over 47,000 churches in the SBC.

“We are sorry to the survivors for all we have done to cause pain and frustration,” he said. “Now is the time to change the culture. We have to be proactive in our openness and transparency from now.”

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