On May 26, the SBC through Guidepost Solutions released a file containing 205 pages of sexual abusers complied through the course of decades as part of their investigation into sex abuse in the SBC. Already, the most notable things complied in the SBC report was an adulterous woman being paid out, Johnny Hunt’s sexual deviance which may or may not have been assault, a slanderous attack at Mike Stone, and a rehashing of Paige Patterson. All of this was sold in a lump sum package to convey the image that the SBC routinely covers up sex abuse and requires reforms so that victims can be paid out by the Cooperative Program.
Thus comes the latest data dump. Through 205 pages, sex offenders are assembled in alphabetical order within a singular file, with alleged offenders being redacted. The purpose of compiling such a large file with numerous names is so that a reader will see the large quantity and be motivated to act without examining all the evidence and trends provided. This is frequently seen with sex abuse scandals where names are compiled just to add another tally to the scorecard. Look no further than Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump, and even the MeToo movement in Hollywood. Through quantity, there is obfuscation of truth.
The recently released Guidepost report revealed a list of alleged abusers compiled by a former employee of the SBC Executive Committee. This list is being made public for the first time as an initial, but important, step towards addressing the scourge of sexual abuse and implementing reform in the Convention. Each entry in this list reminds us of the devastation and destruction brought about by sexual abuse. Our prayer is that the survivors of these heinous acts find hope and healing, and that churches will utilize this list proactively to protect and care for the most vulnerable among us.
Our God invites us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8). As a network of Great Commission churches, we are commissioned to live out the Great Commandment and to fulfill the Great Commission. It is our hope that releasing this list places a spotlight on truth and transparency. Southern Baptists have made it clear that transparency in the area of sex abuse should be the norm.
Contents of the Report
The contents of the report can be summed up as follows: A name and state are given to an individual who engaged sexual abuse, including child pornography. Details are given to provide the location and church the individual participated in, with some being pastors, deacons, teachers, youth volunteers, or laity who were involved with children. A few instances involved students at seminaries, with Liberty University being lumped in. The report contains a timeframe in which the abuser’s actions occurred and the date of their conviction. The names provided in this list are people found guilty in a court of sexual abuse, rape, child pornography, online solicitation, or related crime.
Some of the crimes go back even to the 60’s, which was before the internet and availability of background checks, though the convictions were within recent decades. In most instances, the perpetrator committed the crime and was subsequently convicted. Some of the research is shoddy, where they did not follow up on a criminal conviction or the exact details in the case. Most of the names presented were already public knowledge as the report references local coverage of the crimes. A few were not even cases of sexual abuse. One involved a redacted pastor resigning for attending a strip club while another involved former ERLC trustee Coy Privette (who is dead) soliciting prostitution. Neither of these being of the same caliber of sex abuse as child molestation.
The report discloses whether the criminal’s church was affiliated with the SBC which is the case roughly 50% of the time, so half the names (give or take) are not even SBC churches. It also should be noted that there is hardly a pattern where the abuser goes on to another church to serve in a ministerial role. This is the impression many in “Christian Media” and certainly worldly media would seek to convey, but it is unsubstantiated by the report apart from a minority of instances. Most cases involve criminal convictions after the deviant is reported/convicted with the convictions being years (sometimes decades) after the offenses. There is no demonstrable pattern of SBC moving deviant pastors from one church to another similar to the scandals of the Catholic church. Nor are there widespread instances of coverups being committed by the vast majority of the local churches mentioned.
Cases of Note
With many names, I impart to identify a few of interest which stood out from a crowded field.
In 1998, John Lemming was found guilty of two counts of statutory rape in Tennessee while pastoring Shiloh Baptist Church. In 2014, Lemming went on to pastor Antioch Baptist Church. The SBC Executive Committee went on to disfellowship from Antioch Baptist Church in 2021 on account of Lemming’s crimes. In this instance, the Executive Committee did their job and could hardly be described as complicit in their behavior. Furthermore, the actions of Antioch were unbiblical as Lemming is unqualified for pastoral office. This is one case where this occurred, but it is a deviation from how most cases were handled in this report.
Going back to 2003, Kenneth Johnson was convicted of rape of a minor while pastoring Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Florida. The church voted to retained him as pastor after his conviction. This church was not even in the SBC and is a rare instance where a pastor was retained after such incident occurred. In a similar case, Phillip Rutledge was hired as a pastor for Ranchland Heights Baptist Church with the majority of congregants being cognizant to his 2003 conviction. This church was expelled from the SBC. The church claims it practices safeguards and that its congregation is mostly informed. Rutledge is still pastor of this church as is apparent on their Facebook page. A third example was Perez Blackmon who was appointed pastor of Rosinvick Missionary Baptist Church in spite of a conviction on statutory rape in which he was on probation. It is unclear whether he remains on the registry or whether he is pastor of this small church.
Prestonwood Baptist Church, which has been helmed by Jack Graham since 1989, is probably the largest church in this report. Jack Langworthy was an assistant music minister who was dismissed in 1989 after allegations surfaced that he molested young boys. In possible violation of Texas law, Prestonwood did not report him to the police when they fired him. For 21 years, Langworthy was the music minister at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Mississippi, where he publicly confessed to his sins. In 2013 Langworthy was convicted in Mississippi on molestation charges for conduct occurring in the 80’s. This is a case where a legitimate coverup likely occurred; however, Jack Graham’s involvement is unlikely since he would have been too recent on the scene. Even though it is an SBC church, there was no involvement from the denomination. This was reported at the time by Christian Post.
In a recent case, there is Erbey Valdez who founded New Spirit Baptist Church in San Antonio, TX in October of 2018 before being charged with a second-degree felony (possibly statutory rape) while he served as a middle school principal. The church was disavowed by the local Texas convention. In this case, the convention held a church accountable, but it was also founded by the offender.
SBC Direct Involvement
As just described, most of these cases do not involve the SBC or its related entities. They are cases where allegations surfaced, and the justice system was permitted to punish the offenders with most being marked as sex offenders. However, there were a few cases where SBC entities were at play.
International Mission Board employee Mark Aderholt had allegations surface of sexual assault from his days at SWBTS, which surfaced. In 2008, the year after the allegations surfaced and IMB performed an investigation resulting in his resignation. Nothing was reported to the police and Aderholt went onto serve at two churches in Arkansas before he plead guilty to assault in 2019. During his abysmal tenure, David Platt did address this particular case. The only other instance involving the IMB was a missionary to Indonesia whose information was redacted.
There were three cases involving Lifeway, with two being associated with their Fuge Camps, where convictions were rendered without coverup. These are annual camps where Baptist youth spend a week on missions in a metropolitan area. FUGE camps run for 6-8 weeks in the summer at multiple locations. Considering the longevity of these camps and number of staffers over the years, there were relatively few instances of abuse.
Though he is guilty of sexual sin, David Sills is falsely maligned with the rapists and sex offenders for his consensual affair with Jennifer Lyell. He is one of few cases without a conviction present in this report. The case of Darrell Gilyard, which involved Paige Patterson, was also featured.
What seems forgotten by the SBC in their effort at collective guilt is this emphasis that humans are fallen. There seems to be this mantra that any sexual abuse in the church is preventable, and this simply is not true. Just as false teachers rise up amongst the church, so do child predators. Because ministerial roles offer proximity with children, sexual predators are drawn into these roles. A similar report could be drafted for public schools and daycares to equal or greater disturbance, especially when going back several decades. Most of these perpetrators would have passed background checks because these allegations arose after being hired or transpired on the job. Safeguards are necessary because humans are sinful, but they are not all encompassing.
One of the defining characteristics of Baptist polity is local autonomy. Being a low church tradition, there is little if anything the SBC other than insure that its own house is in order and discipline churches that deviate from the standard of conduct, which in several of these cases the SBC or local conventions did.
The SBC leadership would desire that the entire convention, which is the largest protestant denomination in America, bear collective blame for the actions of a few throughout decades. Most of these cases are settled matters, both in the courts and in their respective communities. Moreover, to take public responsibility for sins one did not commit is unbiblical. We are called to repent for the sins we committed, not those we did not take part in. What CS Lewis called National Apology, our modern discourse labels as virtue signaling. People that engage in virtue signaling do so out of pride. They attempt to express concern for a situation as a means to demonstrate their personal virtue. Because they are lamenting for past transgressions, they are asserting to the world that they care and seek to rectify the situation. These people act in pride, not out of sympathy for abuse victims or desire for reforms. Jesus condemns these types during the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5).
One can care for sexual abuse yet acknowledge that these heinous crimes were punished in our system. One can objectively rationalize that the SBC bears little responsibility for the contents of this database of abusers they have collected. One can acknowledge that the systems for punishing these abusers generally works towards justice to the best that is available in this world. Lastly, it cannot be argued outside of several instances that there were widespread coverups by the SBC entities within the overwhelming majority of cases in this report, nor is it substantiated that SBC churches do not take seriously sexual abuse or misconduct.
Naturally, the media is attempting to spin this in favor of nefarious agenda. The Gospel Coalition is advocating for a victim relief fund, which will be financially mismanaged just as every other SBC entity is. They want churches to remain and fund abuse litigation and settlements they were entirely uninvolved in. In Christianity Today, Russell Moore build ups strawmen to argue that Christians should care more about abuse than CRT and other theological issues under the assumption that one cannot do both. Even the assumption that victims are predominately demonized in the church is falsely asserted without ample evidence. Baptist News’s Mark Wingfield juxtaposed this list to defend Rick Warren for hiring female “pastors” and the push to remove him from the SBC. He also bashes Ronnie Floyd, who spearheaded the initial effort to investigate sexual abuse until the Executive Committee foolishly decided to waive attorney client privilege.
Based on the database, there is no record of a vast majority of convicted pastors being retained or taking up another post within the SBC. Instead, they left behind damaged churches and victims in their wake. Having been at a church where one of the pastors had an affair with a divorced woman, the pastor was removed and the church had to process this wound, but there was no malignment of actual victims stemming from this incident. In majority of cases, it appears that the process works when sexual abuse is uncovered.
As the SBC heads into its convention, look for the collective guilt to be amplified to the next level. The large quantity of abuse is just that. In analyzing the actual cases, one will find that while there are many things wrong with the SBC, sexual abuse being rampant is unlikely a systemic problem. It also serves to distract from the ongoing liberal drift, the ongoing financial mismanagement of NAMB and IMB, and the retaliatory acts that were not included in the report like that of Bobby Lopez. This is by design. Many will use this report to attack the church for having a moral witness on cultural issues. It is not about justice or resolving abuse but advancing a narrative and bludgeoning the church.
If your church has not already left the SBC, what more will it take?