The Southern Baptist Convention, the second-largest faith group in the country, said Friday that the Justice Department is investigating multiple arms of the denomination following an internal report that showed mishandling of sexual abuse cases.
The investigation is related to a recent bombshell third-party report commissioned by the SBC, a spokesman said late Friday. The report concluded that sex abuse survivors were often ignored, minimized, and “even vilified” by top clergy in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
“The SBC Executive Committee recently became aware that the Department of Justice has initiated an investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention and that the investigation will include multiple SBC entities,” the statement issued Friday by 14 SBC leaders from multiple top entities said. “Individually and collectively, each SBC entity is resolved to fully and completely cooperate with the investigation.”
The third-party investigation, which involved an examination of the period from 2000 to 2021, focused on actions by the executive committee, which handles financial and administrative duties. Southern Baptist churches operate independently from one another, but the Nashville-based Executive Committee distributes more than $190 million through its cooperative program in its annual budget that funds its missions, seminaries, and ministries.
The 300-page report, the first of its kind in a massive Protestant denomination like the SBC, showed how denominational leaders actively resisted calls for abuse prevention and reform for decades. Evidence in the report suggests leaders also told Southern Baptists they could not maintain a database of offenders to prevent more abuse while secretly keeping such a list for years.
Anger over the report in June led the SBC’s huge annual meeting to pass a recommendation to create a database to track sex abusers and a formal group to handle sex abuse accusations going forward.