he first part of a three-part expose by reporters from the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News was published on Feb. 10, reporting that despite hundreds of complaints of sexual abuse by pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons, youth leaders and other Southern Baptists given responsibility over children and adults in “the flock,” and hundreds of convictions or guilty pleas, the denomination’s leadership has done essentially squat.
In 2007, victims of sexual abuse within the church begged church leaders to create a registry of staff and volunteers who had been convicted or credibly accused. It was not done. In 2018, as victims and advocates made the request again, the reporters began six months of poring through news archives, websites, and police and court records nationwide from 1997 to the present to learn the magnitude of the problem. They found hundreds of complaints and about 220 convictions. They also found:
• At least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches during the past two decades. In some cases, church leaders apparently failed to alert law enforcement about complaints or to warn other congregations about allegations of misconduct.
• Several past presidents and prominent leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are among those criticized by victims for concealing or mishandling abuse complaints within their own churches or seminaries.
• Some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit. Others remain there, including a Houston preacher who sexually assaulted a teenager and now is the principal officer of a Houston nonprofit that works with student organizations, federal records show. Its name: Touching the Future Today Inc.
• Many of the victims were adolescents who were molested, sent explicit photos or texts, exposed to pornography, photographed nude, or repeatedly raped by youth pastors. Some victims as young as 3 were molested or raped inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms. A few were adults — women and men who sought pastoral guidance and instead say they were seduced or sexually assaulted.
Many of the victims were shunned by their churches or pressured to forgive and/or get abortions. One whose pastor impregnated her, Debbie Vasquez, was forced by the leaders of her church to stand before the congregation and ask for forgiveness but keep her mouth shut about who the father was.
This article is packed with information, including several videos with trigger warnings which, if you were sexually abused, you should pay attention to. In one, you see a young child, pixel-blurred from head to toe, revealing she or he was touched criminally and naming the perp in an investigative interview. In another, a mother shares photos and poems from her daughter who was sexually abused at 14, attempted suicide and later died of a drug overdose, having never really recovered. In yet another, jailed perpetrators are interviewed; one talks about how the temptation was irresistible because children would fall asleep in his lap, while another says he feels he’s the real victim.
There are reproductions of a letter from a Catholic attorney urging a Southern Baptist leader to take action so as to avoid the same reputational damage that Catholicism has suffered—and the lame, excuse-making response. In fact, since the Southern Baptist Convention hasn’t created a registry, the reporters did it, publishing a searchable database of convicted Southern Baptist sexual abusers. (I hope they like getting their names and mugshots in the paper.) People who want to report sexual abuse within Southern Baptist institutions can fill out a confidential questionnaire here.
Church leaders who ignored, dismissed or blamed victims, or who protected perps, get their names named, including in the chart above.
It was all a tough read/watch, and this was a tough write, for me. But then I read, in the comments, a question Southern Baptists would never think to ask, the paper would never touch, and other commenters attacked and repeatedly flagged—because it points with merciless directness at how the problem with patriarchal monotheist religion sits right at the very core of its most sacred tenets.
Did God ask Mary for permission to impregnate her?
I am not and never was a Christian, but of course I know the answer that no commenter would answer. There’s a reason it’s called “The Annunciation” and not “The Request.” As a male, the Christian God claims the ultimate patriarchal male prerogative over females. (Update: in a comment on Daily Kos TrueBlueMajority says Anglican theology teaches otherwise.)
And by making God male, claiming spirituality as masculine only and giving certain men formal authority because they are supposedly more holy or divine than other humans—especially women—when they are actually merely human, religions of this kind enable abuse of that authority. In the final video, a Houston psychiatrist explains what is so extremely, pathologically wrong with this:
This man is speaking with the voice of God. So you accept that as the norm. This is what you’re supposed to do if you’re going to embrace your religious principles. So a person who is not only an authority figure, but God’s servant, is telling you “This is between us. This is a special relationship. This has been sanctioned by the Lord.” That allows a young victim to have almost zero defenses. Totally vulnerable.
The Southern Baptists setting up a church-wide registry would be great, as would preventative programs, support rather than shaming or shunning for victims, faster firings of perps, and everything else victims and their supporters are asking for. I hope this expose kicks their holy posteriors into doing so asap.
But the crux of the problem is in the designation of some people to hold supposedly divinely-backed authority over others. I think everyone is equally qualified to have a relationship with the divine, and definitely, some are more interested and dedicated. But they should have no formal authority to exert any control over the lives of others, only respect given them voluntarily. Anything else is mind control. It’s for this reason we have separation of church and state.
Read/watch the whole thing if you can—piecemeal over time might help—keeping in mind it’s only part 1 of 3, and that convictions are the tip of the iceberg of complaints, and complaints are the tip of the iceberg of incidences. If overwhelmed, first breathe deeply and then take care of yourself in other ways. And take comfort in the fact that membership in the Southern Baptist Convention is declining.