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Southern Baptist leaders "ignored," mishandled sex abuse allegations, report says

An independent investigation found Southern Baptist Convention leaders failed to properly respond to sexual abuse allegations over two decades.

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — A disturbing report was released Sunday which accused Southern Baptist leaders of ignoring and intimidating sexual abuse survivors.  

The GuidePost Solutions report alleges the behavior went on for almost two decades and involves some of the largest congregations in the Memphis area. 

The report also accuses the denomination of protecting its network of over 47,000 churches while it harbored abusers.  

The independent third party said 22 survivors spoke to an investigation team on not only their trauma but also the debilitating effects of being ignored. 

A 7-month investigation of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee said that a few committee leaders and outside counsel controlled the response to abuse reports for many years. 

The report found abuse victims were repeatedly told the SBC could take no action because of the convention’s decentralized structure. 

It alleges convicted molesters continued in ministry with no warning to other potential victims in the current church or congregation.  

However, the report’s investigation found a committee staff member started compiling a list in 2007 of 703 abusers, 409 believed to be SBC-affiliated.  

Nine of those people remain in or are connected to a ministry.  

Two appear to be associated with an SBC church, while the remaining  7 are associated with other churches.  

RELATED: Report: Top Southern Baptists stonewalled sex abuse victims

Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis is one of the leading churches in the SBC and one of the largest in the city.  

Its current pastor Steve Gaines failed to immediately fire an offender according to a Houston Chronicle report back in 2019.  

Former Memphis youth minister Luke Cooke pleaded guilty to raping a boy and sexually assaulting another over a three-year period and was sentenced to 138 months in federal prison.  

Also., former Walnut Grove Baptist Church pastor Steven Carl Haney was convicted in a 2003 sexual battery and in state court of a 2001 rape reported by Baptist News Global.  

Southern Baptist Convention's news service Baptist Press on Monday posted on its website that admitted Pastor Gaines delayed his response, and quotes the pastor saying "I now know that I did not handle the situation properly.  A thorough investigation was done at the time and there were no other incidents of abuse reported."

RELATED: Report alleges ‘pattern and practice’ of physical and sexual abuse at Wilder Youth Development Center

All of these survivors who came forward agreed what they needed was a safe space to share their abuse instead, their testimonies were swept under the rug.  

Some recommendations from the investigation team include a new task force to put in place sexual abuse initiatives. Also, a permanent administrative entity to manage the new reform structure.  

In addition, a ban on non-disclosure agreements and civil settlements unless requested by the survivor plus maintained centralized records of mandated child abuse reports. 

If you or someone you know is facing abuse – call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). 

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