After reviewing thousands of pages of legal documents over six months, the Houston Chronicle found that 380 Southern Baptist pastors and church officials were accused of a myriad of sexual assault charges including everything from groping to rape.
The Houston Chronicle published a more than 5,000-word article on Sunday – the first of three installments – detailing the acts of sexual abuse by several prominent Southern Baptist Convention pastors and leaders on more than 700 victims over 20-years.
The outlet notes that they took on this project in order to create a comprehensive list that details sexual abuse, assault and misconduct by SBC Church leaders after abuse victims demanded a list in 2007 and never got one.
According to the Houston Chronicle, since 1998, approximately 380 SBC leaders and volunteers “have faced allegations of sexual misconduct.” Of the 380 SBC leaders accused, 220 have been convicted, nearly 100 are still in prison and more than 100 are now registered sex offenders. While some leaders did serve jail time, the Houston Chronicle reports that others of them – some registered sex offenders – are still working in SBC churches today.
The newspaper found that “at least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches during the past two decades.” Additionally, the outlet found that in some cases, church leaders failed to contact police and to inform other congregations after allegations were brought to their attention.
The Houston Chronicle focused on nine specific men in Sunday’s article. 2016 SBC President Steve Gaines is listed with three other former SBC presidents – Paige Patterson, 1998; Jerry Vines, 1988; Edwin Young, 1992 – for being accused of “mishandling allegations of abuse.”
Gaines admitted to waiting six months before firing a pastor who confessed to molestation, the Houston Chronicle wrote. Patterson was accused of ignoring allegations. Vines too, was accused of ignoring allegations, he was also accused of shaming victims. Specific examples are not provided for Young, though the Texas-based newspaper notes that his church was sued for mishandling of abuse allegations.
Others accused of sexual misconduct include 2002 SBC Vice President Paul Pressler, 2006 SBC President Frank S. Page, and former Pastors Darrell Gilyard, John Forse and Chad Foster.
One example of abuse happened at Houston’s Second Baptist Church where Edwin Young has been the lead pastor since 1992. At 14-years-old, Heather Schneider admitted to her mother that she was molested in a choir room at church. According to the Houston Chronicle, the attacker pled no contest in court and the church denied responsibility, waiting five months before firing Schneider’s attacker. Gwen Casados, Schneider’s mother, told the Houston Chronicle that a day after the attack, in 1994, Schneider slit her wrists. The then teenager survived the suicide attempt but later died from a drug overdose. Casados blamed the attack for her daughter’s downward spiral saying after the abuse, “I never got her back.”
According to the Interim President of the SBC’s Executive Committee August Boto, SBC churches operate autonomously and there is no means of authority to enforce rules over all 47,000 SBC churches as a whole. Boto credits this as a reason why abuse victim Debbie Vasquez’s 2008 request for the SBC to “track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers” as well as her request for prevention policies was rejected.
Activist and victim Christa Brown told the Houston Chronicle that SBC’s lack of protective policies for sex abuse victims is dangerous. She said, “It’s a perfect profession for a con artist, because all he has to do is talk a good talk and convince people that he’s been called by God, and bingo, he gets to be a Southern Baptist minister.”
She continued, “Then he can infiltrate the entirety of the SBC, move from church to church, from state to state, go to bigger churches and more prominent churches where he has more influence and power, and it all starts in some small church.”
“It’s a porous sieve of a denomination,” she added.