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Southern Baptist Convention tackles sex abuse at annual assembly

by Reuters Journalist
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With applause and a few shouts of approval, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on Wednesday voted to issue a formal apology to survivors of sex abuse, as the thousands of delegates gathered wound down the annual assembly weeks after a scathing report found the church had mishandled abuse claims and mistreated victims.

The resolution said the Convention does "repent" and they want to "bind the wounds of the broken."

The largest U.S. Protestant denomination's 8,500 delegates voted on Tuesday to create a database of SBC clergy and church workers who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. They also elected a new leader, Texas pastor Bart Barber.

"The time for action has come," Bruce Frank, chair of an SBC committee that drafted the resolutions on sex abuse, said to the assembly. He called Tuesday's measures the "bare minimum of what can be called reform."

Christa Brown, an author and advocate for abuse survivors within the denomination, criticized the move on Twitter as not doing enough.

"I know people like happy endings, but I'm not feeling it," Brown tweeted after the vote. "I feel grief. It's better than nothing but that's such a low bar."

The Convention, which has 13.7 million members, has released a list of hundreds of alleged sexual abuse offenders among the clergy and other leaders who have been criminally convicted, had civil judgments against them, and those who have confessed to abuse. 

The national meeting in Anaheim, California, follows publication last month of a nearly 300-page independent report detailing how abuse complaints were kept as "closely guarded information" within the Convention to avoid liability, "to exclusion of all other considerations." Lawsuits against the Convention, the report found, were denigrated as "opportunistic" and not having merit.

The scandal echoes the one faced by the Roman Catholic Church, which has been rocked by years of revelations of sex abuse and cover-ups by the church hierarchy. The U.S. Catholic Church has paid out an estimated $3.2 billion to settle clergy abuse cases, according to, which tracks the issue.

In 2019, the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reported that more than 700 victims had been abused by pastors, leaders and volunteers in Southern Baptist congregations.

At Wednesday's meeting, delegates also voted on a resolution, among others, for a call for lawmakers to create a legal shield for churches against civil liability if they share information on alleged abuse with authorities.

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