The Southern Baptist Convention president says he has been left "broken" after investigations by two Texas newspapers found that since 1998, about 380 SBC leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct.
"The abuses described in this @HoustonChron article are pure evil," SBC President J.D. Greear stated in a series of tweets after the Houston Chronicle reported on Feb. 10 on instances of abuse by ministers, youth pastors, Sunday School teachers, deacons and church volunteers.
"I join with countless others who are currently 'weeping with those who weep,'" Greear stated on Twitter, voicing resolve to mobilize the SBC in "stopping predators in our midst," the Baptist Press reported on the SBC website.
The Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News also found that in the past 20 years, more than 700 victims have been abused, with some urged to have abortions and forgive their abusers, CNN reported.
The newspapers said their investigation included "examining federal and state court databases, prison records and official documents from more than 20 states and by searching sex offender registries nationwide."
In Texas alone, the newspapers interviewed police and district attorneys in 40 counties.
"Ultimately, we compiled information on 380 credibly accused officials in Southern Baptist churches, including pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers and volunteers," the newspapers said.
"We verified that about 220 had been convicted of sex crimes or received deferred prosecutions in plea deals."
Of those 220, 90 remain in prison and 100 are registered sex offenders, according to the report.
The investigation comes as other religious bodies, including the Roman Catholic Church, face accusations of widespread sexual abuse of its members, especially children, over decades.
CNN reported that unlike the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, the Southern Baptist Convention is a collection of 47,000 autonomous churches, with little power to force churches to comply with policies.
"The SBC presents no governing policies to churches because the SBC is not a governing organization; it is a service organization. Each church is self-governing," Sing Oldham, a spokesman for the SBC was quoted as saying on CNN.
"However, the Convention has consistently called on churches to report immediately to law enforcement any known or suspected instance of sexual abuse in a church context and has provided resources to inform churches of ways to help protect their congregants," said Oldham.
BIGGEST PROTESTANT DENOMINATION IN US
The SBC has some 15 million members and is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.
Russell Moore, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote in a commentary after the report was published, "No church should be frustrated by the Houston Chronicle's reporting, but should thank God for it. The Judgment Seat of Christ will be far less reticent than a newspaper series to uncover what should never have been hidden."
The convention does not maintain its own registry of sexual offenders.
"In 2018, as advocates again pressed SBC officials for such a registry, Houston Chronicle reporters began to search news archives, websites and databases nationwide to compile an archive of allegations of sexual abuse, sexual assault and other serious misconduct involving Southern Baptist pastors and other church officials," the newspapers said.
"We found complaints made against hundreds of pastors, church officials and volunteers at Southern Baptist churches nationwide."
In a blog post, Moore confronted those who "have implied that the horrific scandals we have seen in the Roman Catholic church are due to the theology of Catholicism, the nature of a celibate priesthood and so forth."
"No church should be frustrated by the Houston Chronicle's reporting, but should thank God for it," Moore concluded.
"The Judgment Seat of Christ will be far less reticent than a newspaper series to uncover what should never have been hidden."