Religion Unplugged

‘Guys, you are not my opponent,’ Baptist official tells reporters investigating sex abuse

By Bobby Ross Jr. | GetReligion

Is the Southern Baptist Convention facing a public relations nightmare?

Some might be asking that question after the first part of a bombshell investigative project by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News was published Sunday:

Keep going, and this is an enjoyable piece to read — both in terms of Canada bureau chief Catherine Porter’s writing ability and the journalistic fairness shown to supporters and critics of the pastor who doesn’t believe in God.

The opening installment of the “Abuse of Faith” series filled almost four entire newspaper pages — meticulously describing the findings of a six-month investigation by reporters for the Chronicle and the Express-News.

The sobering details:

It’s not just a recent problem: In all, since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.

They left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions.

About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers.

Nearly 100 are still held in prisons stretching from Sacramento County, Calif., to Hillsborough County, Fla., state and federal records show. Scores of others cut deals and served no time. More than 100 are registered sex offenders. Some still work in Southern Baptist churches today.

Journalists in the two newsrooms spent more than six months reviewing thousands of pages of court, prison and police records and conducting hundreds of interviews. They built a database of former leadersin Southern Baptist churches who have been convicted of sex crimes.

So, to repeat the original question: Is the Southern Baptist Convention facing a public relations nightmare?

Read the full column.

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All of my GetReligion columns (February 2019):

Friday Five: #ExposeChristianSchools, Trump’s Bible, buried lede, tmatt’s future, Mariano Rivera. Published Feb. 1.

Will United Methodist Church be ripped apart? Ahead of big meeting, here’s a fair analysis. Published Feb. 4.

Preacher who doesn’t believe in God is like ‘Amazon manager who doesn’t believe in online shopping.’ Published Feb. 5.

Concerning Trump and the National Prayer Breakfast: Here’s a byline you’ll be glad to see again. Published Feb. 7.

Friday Five: Abuse of nuns, pope on God’s will, ‘delivering’ Mass, church parking tax, Tim Tebow. Published Feb. 8.

‘Guys, you are not my opponent,’ Southern Baptist official tells reporters investigating sexual abuse. Published Feb. 11.

In coverage of faith-based foster care, is there really more than one side of the story? Published Feb. 12.

Friday Five: SBC abuse, Mabel Grammer’s faith, power of nuance, ‘fourth-trimester’ abortions. Published Feb. 15.

Think piece on SBC sex abuse scandal: What Baptists and Catholics can learn from each other. Published Feb. 17.

‘Dad did not make it and is in heaven with Jesus’: There’s a strong religion angle after Aurora shooting. Published Feb. 18.

The numbers matter — and so does doctrine — in Methodists’ high-stakes meeting on LGBT issues. Published Feb. 19.

Friday Five: Centers of the religion news universe, plus Alexa orders toilet paper during sermon. Published Feb. 22.

Yes, the United Methodist Church’s big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it’s something else, too. Published Feb. 25.

Bingo and monster trucks: Making sense of breaking news from United Methodists’ high-stakes meeting. Published Feb. 26.

An award-winning Godbeat pro retires, raising a question about religion coverage at regional papers. Published Feb. 28.

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