Hundreds of leaders and volunteers in Southern Baptist Church churches across the nation have been accused of sexual misconduct against young churchgoers for decades – many of them quietly returned to their churches even after being convicted of sex offenses.
Bombing of the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express News revealed that about 380 church leaders and volunteers from the southern Baptist community were exposed to credible allegations of sexual misconduct. Around 220 of them were convicted of sexual offenses or received pleas in cases involving more than 700 victims altogether. Many prosecutors were young men and women who allegedly experienced everything from pornography to rape and impregnation by church members.
The newspapers reported that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) treated the allegations largely as a single issue, taking a mentality "out of sight," even under growing pressure to create a register so that allegations would not disappear moved from city to city. The Chronicle and Express News created a database of convicted sex offenders with documented links to the SBC.
The investigation lasted over six months and involved the examination of hundreds of allegations confirmed by court documents and prison records. The findings were startling and repeated that allegations of sexual misconduct are not limited to the Catholic Church.
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Many prosecutors said their experiences of sexual assault by church officials they trusted changed their lives forever. Debbie Vasquez said she was 14 years old when her pastor first abused her in a rural Southern Baptist Church in Texas. She said the married pastor had continued to attack her for years and impregnated her with 18 years.
Years later, in 2006, she sued pastor Dale "Dickie" Amyx and the church. Amyx allegedly admitted that he had sex with her when she was a teenager and was the father of her child, but claimed that her sex was consensual. He was not charged with a crime. As of 2016, he is still listed as pastor of this church.
Attempts to reach the Texan church were unsuccessful.
In 2008, Vasquez traveled to Indianapolis to share her story and call on Southern Baptist Convention officials to make changes to their estimated 47,000 churches to prevent future sexual assault. Days later, they reportedly rejected almost every proposed reform and the alleged abuse continued.
Some prosecutors said that they believed that the SBC had priority over their own rights to justice.
Local church autonomy, according to the report, is often used when proposing reforms. The Southern Baptist Convention leadership has reportedly considered each place of worship as its own unit, ideally capable of self-government.
However, the argument for autonomy is used as a crutch to prevent a large-scale police criminal investigation, says Rev. Thomas Doyle, a former high-ranking lawyer for the Catholic Church who had made sexual misconduct there in the 1980s. Around the year 2007, he wrote to the SBC leaders claiming he saw a similar pattern in their communities.
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"I understand the fear because it will make the leadership look bad," Doyle said about the prosecution of allegations. "Well, they are bad and they should look bad because they ignored this problem and they demonized the victims," he continued.
The current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, J. D. Greear, had strong words about the ubiquitous allegations that went back decades.
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"The Bible requires pastors to be people of integrity known for their self-control and kindness," he told the Chronicle. "A condemned sex offender would certainly not fulfill these qualifications – churches that ignore this and do not conform to the biblical and Baptist principles of cooperation."
"Change must begin at the ground level with churches and organizations," he continued. "Our churches must begin to stand together and commit to taking this issue far more seriously than ever."