Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for the SBC. Yes, the Southern Baptist Convention’s year of consequence continues apace with word that it’s under a Department of Justice investigation. Federal officials are investigating sexual abuse within the SBC and reports of a systemic culture of indifference, denial and deflection.
Religion News Service reports that a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Executive Committee “has received a subpoena. No individuals have been subpoenaed at this point.” They said they plan to fully cooperate.
“Individually and collectively each SBC entity is resolved to fully and completely cooperate with the investigation,” said the SBC in a statement. “While we continue to grieve and lament past mistakes related to sexual abuse, current leaders across the SBC have demonstrated a firm conviction to address those issues of the past and are implementing measures to ensure they are never repeated in the future.”
All of this follows a devastating third party investigation that uncovered a pattern of ignoring and dismissing reports of sexual abuse within the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. The Houston Chronicle’s Abuse of Faith investigation uncovered hundreds of stories of men and women who had alleged sexual mistreatment at the hands of SBC pastors and members of their congregation, only for those stories to be systemically shuffled out of the spotlight while leadership often rallied to protect the abuser instead of the abused.
The allegations led to enormous contention within the SBC, threatening a dramatic split as some members of the SBC Executive Committee scrambled to squash major reforms recommended by third party investigators. Ultimately, SBC messengers voted to approve the reforms, and has set up a task force to implement them.
Now, the SBC is saying that implementation is proof of their willingness to cooperate with the DOJ investigation, saying that “Our commitment to cooperate with the Department of Justice is born from our demonstrated commitment to transparently address the scourge of sexual abuse.”
The DOJ investigating the SBC is huge news and would probably have been even bigger news if not for some other FBI-related headlines you may have caught. The FBI’s extraordinary unsealed search warrant reveals that Donald Trump is under investigation for gathering, transmitting or losing defense information. Of course, it’s hard for Christians who’ve watched the last few years unfold to not see some strange parallels here. It remains to be seen what, if anything, will come from either investigation. But with both the SBC and Trump in hot water, two institutions American Christianity as been very closely associated with find themselves in precarious situations. Stay tuned.