Two days after an explosive report concluded that its leaders mishandled and covered up sex abuse claims, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention said in a public meeting Tuesday that they owe abuse survivors an apology and that the huge denomination must fundamentally change its culture.

The report released Sunday sent shock waves through the country’s largest Protestant denomination. It said leaders maintained a secret database of alleged sexual abusers and found that a top leader was credibly accused of assaulting a woman a month after leaving the presidency of the 13 million-member convention.

An attorney for the SBC’s administrative arm, the Executive Committee, said it is working on making the list of sex abusers available to the public once the committee makes sure the names of survivors are not disclosed and ensures the names of abusers are substantiated.

Christa Brown, a sex abuse survivor who has worked on the issue for nearly two decades, said on Tuesday that she was “breathless” after watching the meeting online when she saw leaders might publish its secret database. In the years after she told SBC leaders that she was abused by a youth pastor who went on to serve in other Southern Baptist churches in multiple states, she was met with hostility when she would call for reform. She renewed her longtime call for a churchwide database on Monday when she proposed that the Executive Committee make its existing private list public.

“I think that is a good first step. I’m glad for it,” she said.

Still, she said, she’s waiting to see what else SBC leaders do.


“I’m grateful for what we saw today, truly. I am also waiting and hoping for real action and not just words,” Brown said. “Not words, not lament, not thoughts and prayers, real meaningful action that will help survivors.”

The 68-member board met over Zoom to discuss the findings ahead of the convention’s annual meeting in Anaheim, California, next month. Willie McLaurin, interim president of the Executive Committee, offered an apology to sexual abuse survivors.

“I want to say to us: Now is the time to change the culture,” he said. “We need to be proactive in our openness, in our transparency from this moment forward. That’s the absolute bare minimum we must do.”

California pastor Rolland Slade, the chair of the Executive Committee’s board, called for lament and said, “We need to do better.”

“I know that for the survivor community, I can’t imagine the pain that you’re going through, and the pain that you have endured for decades,” he said. “But I ask you to please be patient with us as we try to grasp what’s going on, what has happened.”

A lawyer for the Executive Committee, Gene Besen, said it was important to acknowledge the survivors named in the report. “This morning as we meet for the first time, I want to emulate their courage and their strength,” he said.


Besen emphasized a particular moment, in September 2006, when a Convention leader wrote to Brown, saying continued communications between the Executive Committee and survivors “will not be positive or fruitful.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing could be more responsible for the cultural rot for this moment,” Besen said.

The board then put forward an apology statement. It referenced the Sept. 29, 2006, letter sent by August Boto, then the Executive Committee’s vice president, to Brown. The statement says the current SBC leadership rejects that dismissive sentiment “in its entirety and seeks to publicly repent for its failure to rectify this position and wholeheartedly listen to survivors.” Engaging with abuse survivors is a “critical step toward healing our Convention.”

There was discussion of revoking some retirement benefits of Boto, who is named throughout the report, which was conducted by Guidepost Solutions.

Some members of the Executive Committee objected to the statement being approved and sent out because some members were not present and not everyone knew it was going to be sent out. “The problem in the past is that we rubber-stamped everything,” one member said, as he urged members to not move quickly on something without understanding all the implications. But that argument didn’t prevail, and members voted to approve the apology statement. Brown said she was grateful.

“It is emotionally hard to instantaneously erase many, many years of raw meanness and incivility,” Brown said. “I hope this will be a first step, a beginning step that will truly reflect a change in how survivors will be treated in the future.”


Mike Holloway, a member of the board from Louisiana, raised the issue of whether something that might happen in an individual church or seminary could make the SBC responsible. That has been a major concern among Southern Baptists who consider churches to be autonomous from one another. That issue was not resolved at the meeting.

Because the Southern Baptist Convention is a non-hierarchical denomination, key decisions are made by a representative body called the Executive Committee, based in Nashville. The eight-month investigation by Guidepost Solutions was focused specifically on the Executive Committee, which distributes more than $190 million annually in a cooperative program that funds its missions agencies, seminaries and other ministries.

Top denominational leaders, including presidents of the SBC, serve on the Executive Committee’s board. However, the Executive Committee plays more of an administrative role and doesn’t have authority over individual churches or other institutions within the SBC, which have their boards of trustees. According to the report, members of the Executive Committee’s board were kept in the dark while a handful of leaders wielded their influence to lie to Southern Baptists, suggesting for decades that they could not create a database of sex abusers while being advised by legal counsel that they could.

The board of the Executive Committee, which is supposed to be made up of 86 clergy and lay members from all over the country, is responsible for putting on the big annual meeting that attracts pastors and lay members every year. More than a dozen members of the board resigned last fall after members voted to waive attorney-client privilege, which gave investigators access to records of conversations on legal matters among the committee’s members and staffers.

Guidepost’s report includes emails between Executive Committee leaders and employees in which members of the survivor community were ignored or “shunned, shamed, and vilified.” Emails included in the report showed how leaders were concerned more with the liability the institution could face than about protecting people from sexual abusers.

The report also found that a former SBC president once delayed reporting allegations of child sex abuse out of “heartfelt concern and compassion” for the accused minister, while another former SBC president allowed a pastor accused of abusing young boys to be dismissed without reporting the abuse to police.


Brown said she hopes the SBC will develop a safe place where Southern Baptists can report clergy sex abuse and obtain an independent investigation. The Executive Committee is working with Guidepost to create a hotline for victims to be able to share what happened to them and receive care.

“There’s a long, long history of the SBC saying to report abuse, they have to go to the local church of the accused pastor,” Brown said. “Going to the church in which it happened will never work. It’s inflicted enormous egregious harm on the already wounded. It’s like sending already bloody sheep back to the den of the wolf who savaged them.”

Brown hopes that there will be more discussion about how the SBC can repair damage it has done to survivors.

“Repentance requires restitution,” she said. “There’s a lot of talk now about what the SBC may do moving forward to do better in the future. That is all well and good. But in addition to that, there must be a reckoning with the past and the harm that has been done. Not only the harm from the abuse but the harm from the whole institutional failure.”

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