Southern Baptist church says it is under investigation by Justice Department following sex abuse report

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Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention said Friday the nation's largest Protestant denomination is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. They also said the investigation, which will examine reported clergy sex abuse, is "not something to fear."

The Rev. Mike Keahbone, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, voiced his thoughts on social media Friday as news reports about the DOJ's investigation began circulating.

"The DOJ investigation of the SBC is not something to fear," said Keahbone, who was recently named to the church's new Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force.

Federal investigators are looking at the denomination and several of its affiliated agencies, the Southern Baptist Convention confirmed Friday.

"Individually and collectively each SBC entity is resolved to fully and completely cooperate with the investigation," leaders said in a statement.

The federal investigation follows a third-party inquiry by Guidepost Solutions, which Southern Baptist voting delegates approved at the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.

Guidepost released its findings in May in a nearly 300-page report detailing a pattern of Southern Baptist Convention leaders dismissing reports of abuse and survivors' calls for change. The report also included an allegation of sexual assault against a former Southern Baptist Convention president.

The Southern Baptist Convention has been grappling with scandal stemming from leaders' mishandling of sexual abuse cases since the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News released a bombshell investigative series called "Abuse of Faith" in 2019.

"If there are crimes, there needs to be justice," Keahbone said Friday. "The heart of the messengers in 2021 was repentance, restoration, and reform. If there is more work to do, we will do it."

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Southern Baptist Convention leaders said they would cooperate with the investigation, according to their statement published in a news report by Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's official news outlet.

“Our commitment to cooperate with the Department of Justice is born from our demonstrated commitment to transparently address the scourge of sexual abuse,” they said.

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The statement referred to May's Guidepost Solutions report, which gave details about several executive committee leaders downplaying and covering up sexual abuse allegations made against ministers and other individuals associated with Southern Baptist churches across the country.

The report noted that a "secret" database of predator preachers was kept even as some Executive Committee members said such an archive could not be created and shared between Baptist churches.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Southern Baptist Convention under investigation after sex abuse report