Southern Baptist Church responds to Sexual Abuse Task Force inquiry

Southern Baptist Sex Abuse
Posted at 3:35 PM, May 23, 2022
and last updated 2023-01-11 12:59:18-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Ignored, stonewalled, and resisted: these are the claims a report revealed about the handling of abuse allegations by the Southern Baptist Church.

A months-long investigation by a third party showed that leadership focused more on protecting the SBC than its victims.

According to a 288-page investigative report issued Sunday, the Southern Baptist Church stonewalled and denigrated sexual abuse survivors to protect the reputations of the clergymen who committed the acts of abuse.

In 2019, Jennifer Lyell was the vice president for Lifeway Christian Resources and one of the highest-ranking women in the SBC.

Her rank and status changed once she came forward about being sexually abused.

"This report [was] released literally four years to the week of when I first disclosed the abuse to the SBC leaders with authority over the matter, who initially handled it very well," Lyell said.

Lyell was sexually assaulted by her Southern Baptist seminary professor. She's one of several victims to come forward about the mishandling of abuse cases by the SBC.

"It startles me," said Lyell. "It's why I've stuck in it. It's why I've stayed with this for the last three years."

An independent report commissioned by the SBC found many victims were ignored or disbelieved when they disclosed abuse at the hands of SBC leaders.

"I've really had to deal with the cover-up, the lies, with the misuse of First Amendment rights to exploit the very God that those are supposed to allow us to worship," Lyell said.

It was Lyell's courage, alongside SBC pastors like Grant Gaines who pushed for an investigation, that led to the exposure of the history of abuse in the institution.

"I think they were ignored and shunned and stonewalled. I think there was too much of an emphasis on protecting the institution rather than protecting survivors," said Gaines, who is the pastor of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro.

"We've not done enough to make changes even when survivors have been recommended them for years. And so we want that to stop now," Gaines said.

Monday, members of the SBC Executive Committee responded to the Sexual Abuse Task Force's report.

Chairman Rolland Slade and Interim President and CEO Willie McLaurin issued the following statement:

Yesterday afternoon we received—and are reviewing—the report from the Sexual Abuse Task Force.

To the members of the survivor community, we are grieved by the findings of this investigation. We are committed to doing all we can to prevent future instances of sexual abuse in churches, to improve our response and our care, to remove reporting roadblocks, and to respond to the will of the messengers in Anaheim next month.

This important report reflects months of thoughtful, careful, and diligent work by chairman Bruce Frank, task force members, and Guidepost Solutions. We sincerely express our heartfelt appreciation for their diligent and thorough work.

To the members of the Sexual Abuse Task Force, your work is a major contribution that will help ensure Southern Baptist churches are safer for women, men, girls, and boys. Southern Baptists owe you a debt of immense gratitude.

This is the beginning of a season of listening, lamenting and learning how to address sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. And this report contains recommendations to guide us how to appropriately respond to:

* Allegations of abuse.
* Mishandling of abuse.
* Mistreatment of victims.
* Patterns of intimidation of victims or advocates.
* Resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives.

God has blessed the Sexual Abuse Task Force and Guidepost with His wisdom in developing this report and offering insight into how we all can take steps to eliminate sexual abuse within the Convention. In striving for this goal, we recognize there are no shortcuts. We must all meet this challenge through prudent and prayerful application, and we must do so with Christ-like compassion.

We have requested the members and staff of the SBC Executive Committee to closely examine the findings and recommendations of this report and begin formulating how they might be incorporated into Southern Baptist Convention polity and structure. On Tuesday, May 24, the SBC Executive Committee will hold a special-called meeting to discuss and process this report.

To the members of SBC churches, we ask for continued prayers for wisdom as the Sexual Abuse Task Force and the SBC Executive Committee move through the process that Southern Baptists have asked us to do.

The seven-month investigation that uncovered the abuse was conducted by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm contracted by the Executive Committee after last year's SBC national gathering.