An investigative report into the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, found sexual abuse victims within the church were stonewalled and faced "outright hostility" by leadership, as suspected perpetrators were allowed to remain in leadership positions.
The 288-page investigative report from Guidepost Solutions, which was sanctioned by the SBC’s own Executive Committee, found victims of sexual abuse were met with "resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility" from some church clergymen.
An investigation was initiated following the SBC’s national meeting last year when outsiders called the EC to take action.
"Our investigation revealed that, for many years, a few senior EC leaders, along with outside counsel, largely controlled the EC’s response to these reports of abuse ... and were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC," the report said.
The report also found that suspected perpetrators of sexual assault were given "autonomy" and were even allowed to remain in ministry.
"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," Guidepost Solutions found.
In a statement Sunday, SBC President Ed Litton said he is "grieved to my core" and called on Southern Baptist members to work on changing the culture found in the report.
"I pray Southern Baptists will begin preparing today to take deliberate action to address these failures and chart a new course when we meet together in Anaheim [for the next SBC national meeting]," Litton said.
SBC’s EC interim leaders Willie McLaurin and Rolland Slade said they intend to address the findings of the report.
"We recognize there are no shortcuts," they said. "We must all meet this challenge through prudent and prayerful application, and we must do so with Christ-like compassion."
The report also tells the story of Christa Brown, who says she was sexually abused as a teen by the youth and education minister at her SBC church.
Brown, who has been one of the most outspoken survivors, told investigators that during the past 15 years she has received "volumes of hate mail, awful blog comments, and vitriolic phone calls."
After reading through the report, Brown told The Associated Press that it "fundamentally confirms what Southern Baptist clergy sex abuse survivors have been saying for decades."
"I view this investigative report as a beginning, not an end. The work will continue," Brown said. "But no one should ever forget the human cost of what it has taken to even get the SBC to approach this starting line of beginning to deal with clergy sex abuse."
The SBC will hold its national meeting at the Anaheim Convention Center on June 14-15.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.