Don’t let predatory Baptists return to business as usual

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Cory Wall (FBC/social media screenshot)

It looks like the Southern Baptist Convention has edged ahead by a nose in an undeclared race with the Catholic Church to see which denomination can victimize more of its members. Even though the Catholics have centuries more predation experience, the relatively youthful Baptists may be more energetic and creative.

Last fall, for example, Cory Wall, a youth pastor at Fairview Baptist Church in Greer, S.C., was placed on leave for handing out “I (Heart) Hot Youth Pastors” stickers to church youth. The results of a promised investigation were never made public, and it appears Wall is back, as evidenced by his Feb. 14 post on Facebook’s Fairview Students page that lists him as the contact.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in this country. It’s long downplayed the incidence of sexual abuse by clergy and other church staff while oftentimes treating survivors as liars whose claims were intruding on the church’s evangelism and missionary focus. That started to change in 2021 after an in-depth newspaper investigation revealed the decades-long extent of the abuse.

A May 2022 report compiled by Guidepost Solutions, a third-party investigative firm, was made public by the denomination’s nine-member Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, made up of seven pastors and two laypersons. The report revealed “a callous disregard for abuse survivors and a relentless commitment to protecting the denomination from liability,” according to the watchdog Roys Report. “Guidepost Solutions found that Southern Baptist Convention leaders were well aware of abuse cases in the church and even compiled a list of offenders but took no steps to find out if alleged abusers remained in ministry.”

The task force approved a series of reforms, including a reporting hotline, a “Ministry Check” database to track abuse, training for congregations on how to prevent abuse or, if they weren’t cooperative, expel them from the Southern Baptist Convention. That task force has come under fire recently for a lack of transparency and the slow pace of implementing reforms. The task force now says it will need more time to finish its work.

Then there are those jamming up the gears of reform like disgraced former Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt, 70. The Guidepost report detailed graphic allegations of sexual assault on another pastor’s wife in 2010 when he was pastor at a church in the Atlanta suburb of Woodstock and deemed them credible. He was removed in 2022 as pastor emeritus.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Credentials Committee is now being threatened with a lawsuit by Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla., which Hunt joined after leaving Woodstock. The committee is investigating the Florida church to determine if it should be sanctioned for giving Hunt a platform. The church claims the committee is overstepping its bounds.

The Baptists need to come to grips with the concept of responsibility at all levels, from the top — national or even international leadership — down to regional bodies and local congregations. If that doesn’t happen, reform will fail.

That might not bother some of those in power. Abuse survivors know better.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 39,000 members and several chapters across the country. It protects the constitutional separation between state and church and educates about nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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