A report revealing sexual assault and abuse among Southern Baptist churches was released Sunday, including cases involving Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano and former Fort Worth-area pastor Paige Patterson.
The third-party report, conducted by Guidepost Solutions, follows an extensive investigation by the Houston Chronicle, which reported 700 victims in Southern Baptist churches within 20 years.
What is the Southern Baptist Convention?
The Southern Baptist Convention, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, is made up of over 50,000 Southern Baptist churches and missions in the United States.
In October 2021, a top Southern Baptist Convention administrator resigned amid rifts over how to handle an investigation into the SBC’s response to sexual abuse, according to a report by the Associated Press.
What did the Guidepost Solutions report find?
The report conducted by Guidepost Solutions, a domestic and international investigations company, found a few Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee leaders, who controlled the committee’s response to reports of abuse, were “singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations”.
“In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy — even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation,” according to the report.
The investigation started after the 2021 Nashville Convention, where a vote to approve a task force to supervise an independent investigation into the executive committee’s handling of sexual abuse allegations was overwhelmingly supported.
Guidepost Solutions’ investigation looked at incidents reported between from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021. Investigators conducted 330 interviews and looked at allegations of abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, patterns of intimidation of victims or advocates, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives.
Who is connected to the report from Fort Worth churches?
The report names former Fort Worth pastor Paige Patterson, who allegedly continued to promote the career of pastor Darrell Gilyard after several women brought charges of sexual abuse and misconduct against Gilyard to Patterson.
A giant in the Southern Baptist world, Patterson was fired from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth in May 2018 in response to his handling of sexual assault allegations.
According to a previous report by the Star-Telegram, Patterson was accused of wanting to get an alleged rape victim alone to “break her down” and saying it was “good thing” she had been raped and that her future husband wouldn’t care if she was a virgin or not. The claims were relayed by the woman’s attorney, Stuart Cochran of Dallas. The alleged assaults took place in October 2014 and April 2015 and were reported in August 2015.
Patterson previously served as the SBC president in the early 2000s. According to the Guidepost Solutions report, Patterson mentioned a sexual abuse program in 2000 that was allegedly focused on the benefits of defense in litigation as opposed to prevention.
In a letter dated June 6, 2000, Patterson wrote to the Rev. Doug Pigg of a Southern Baptist church in Florida, “In the matter of sexual abuse to which I referred was the fact that there are fairly frequent lawsuits now being filed against churches in sexual abuse cases. Interestingly, to my knowledge, even to this date, not one of those charges has been successful in those cases where the churches could document that they had made some effort to educate those who worked among children as to how to watch for and respond to dangers.”
Patterson denied mishandling abuse allegations in a June 2018 letter addressed to the “Southern Baptist Family.”
According to Baptist Press, Patterson wrote, “Recently, I have been accused, publicly and privately, of a number of things — none of which I acknowledge as having done in the way portrayed and others that I am confident I absolutely did not do.”
What does the report say about Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano?
According to the investigation, former SBC President Jack Graham allegedly allowed an accused abuser of young boys to be quietly dismissed in 1989 from Prestonwood Baptist Church without reporting the abuse to police. At the time of the incident, Graham served as a pastor at the Plano church.
The accused abuser was John Langworthy, who confessed to a Mississippi congregation in 2011 that he had committed “sexual indiscretions” with teenage boys during his time at Prestonwood, according to the report. Langworthy was arrested and charged with sex crimes and received a 50-year suspended sentence.
Who are other prominent Texas figures mentioned in the report?
Another notable Texas figure mentioned in the Guidepost Solutions report is former state Rep. Paul Pressler.
Pressler, a retired justice of the Texas 14th Circuit Court of Appeals, is also a former SBC vice president and was a defendant in a sexual abuse civil lawsuit filed in 2017. According to the report, Pressler allegedly repeatedly sexually abused the plaintiff in the case when they were 14 years old. Two other men submitted separate affidavits in the case also accusing Pressler of sexual misconduct.
What are some recommendations the report made for Southern Baptist churches?
In its report, Guidepost Solutions made several recommendations on how to address the investigation findings.
One recommendation is to create and maintain an offender information system to alert the community to known offenders, making it available to churches on a voluntary basis. Another recommendation is to restrict the use of nondisclosure agreements and civil settlements. According to the report, these agreements bind survivors to confidentiality in sexual abuse matters and should only be used if requested by an abuse survivor.