A scathing investigative report says top Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders stonewalled and denigrated survivors of clergy sex abuse over two decades while seeking to protect their own reputations.
Steve Gaines, one of Memphis’ most prominent pastors, rose to the role of president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
However, according to the investigation ordered by the convention, “To survivors, the 2016 election of Steve Gaines as SBC president conveyed the message that a clergy sex abuse cover-up was considered “no big deal” in the SBC.”
It goes on to say, “As senior pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, in 2006, Gaines had kept quiet for months after he learned about a staff minister’s prior sexual abuse of a child.”
“We are all mandated reporters. That means we are required by state law to report any suspicions of child abuse or neglect,” said Kris Crim with Memphis Child Advocacy Center.
The executive committee of the SBC voted for an independent investigation into its own handling of sexual abuse allegations last year.
Sunday, it released a 300-page document that details two decades of cases chronicling abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, and intimidation of victims.
One victim stated, “For most people of faith, their faith is a source of solace. But for me, faith is neurologically networked with a nightmare.”
“It’s really important that Shelby County organizations seek training. Like our Stewards of Children training at our Memphis Child Advocacy Center. Make sure they’re reviewing their child protective policies on an annual basis,” said Crim.
Crim said it is important that we all learn how to identify abuse victims.
“Certainly if you see something out of place from a physical perspective, that’s something you want to have looked into. And reach out to property authorities,” said Crim.
The investigation listed 30 pages of recommendations for the SBC, including creating a permanent entity to oversee sexual abuse response and prevention, issuing an apology, and requiring a code of conduct for employees.
If you believe a minor is being abused, report it to your local law enforcement. You can also call the Tennessee Child Abuse Hotline at 877-237-0004.
Or click here to report online.
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FOX13 reached out to Bellevue Baptist Church and Pastor Gaines for comment and received the following statement:
At the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), a Task Force was commissioned to investigate sexual abuse within the Convention. Yesterday, the Task Force released its report. I am grateful for their diligence and depend on their expertise as we move forward. We grieve and lament the findings.
In 2006, a Bellevue staff member made me aware of abuse he had committed 17 years prior. When I was informed, I believed that it was being properly taken care of and did not know my obligation to report it to the authorities. I now know that I did not handle the situation properly. A thorough investigation was done at the time and there were no other incidents of abuse reported.
Since then, our church has implemented training on how to identify and report any suspected case of abuse. This training is required annually for all staff and leaders at our church and is made available for all members.
My desire is to lead and shepherd our congregation with grace and biblical integrity. We do not and will not tolerate abuse of any kind and desire complete transparency and accountability.
Bellevue is committed to supporting survivors, working to prevent abuse, and making our church a safe place for all people to experience salvation and Christian growth.
It is time for us as a Convention to move forward with great humility as we repent and seek the guidance of the Lord. Pray for our Convention, that we will act decisively on this report in June at the SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim.
May the Lord lead us forward in grace and humility.