Hundreds of leaders and volunteers at Southern Baptist churches Across the country have been accused of sexual misconduct against young practitioners for decades – many of them quietly returning to church roles, even after being convicted of sexual crimes.
A bomb investigation conducted by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News revealed that in the last 20 years, approximately 380 Southern Baptist Church leaders and volunteers have been accused of credible accusations of sexual misconduct. According to the report, about 220 people were convicted of sex crimes or were guilty of guilty pleas. In cases involving more than 700 victims, the report says. Many accusers were young men and women, who would have lived everything, from exposure to pornography to rape and impregnation of church members.
Newspapers reported that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) largely treats the charges as isolated issues and adopts a "visionary" mentality, despite growing pressure to create a registry so that the charges do not disappear the alleged perpetrators are moved from city to city. The Chronicle and Express-News have created a database convicted sex offenders with documented links to the SBC.
The investigation lasted more than six months and required cross-examination of hundreds of allegations corroborated by court documents and criminal records. The results were surprising and recalled that allegations of sexual misconduct were not limited to the Catholic Church.
Many accusers said that their experiences of sexual assault from church officials they trusted had changed their lives forever. Debbie Vasquez said she was 14 when her pastor in a rural southern Baptist church in Texas assaulted her for the first time. She added that the married pastor had continued to assault him for years, including printing him at the age of 18.
Years later, in 2006, she sued pastor Dale "Dickie" Amyx and the church. Amyx would have admitted in a statement that he had had sex with her when she was a teenager and was the father of her child, but had claimed that their sex was consensual. He was not charged with a crime. In 2016, he is still listed as the pastor of this church.
Attempts to reach a commentator at the Texas church were unsuccessful.
In 2008, Vasquez traveled to Indianapolis to tell his story and implore Southern Baptist Convention officials to implement changes in their approximately 47,000 churches to prevent future sexual assault. A few days later, they would have rejected almost all the proposed reforms and the alleged abuses would have continued.
Some accusers said they felt that the reputation of the SBC was a priority over their own rights to justice.
According to the report, the term "local church autonomy" is frequently used whenever reforms are proposed. The governing bodies of the Southern Baptist Convention would have considered each place of worship as its own entity ideally capable of self-governing.
However, the argument in favor of autonomy is used as a crutch to prevent large-scale control of criminal activities, according to Reverend Thomas Doyle, a former senior advocate of the Catholic Church who had denounced sexual misconduct in the 1980s. Around 2007, he wrote to the leaders of the SBC to say that he saw a similar pattern in their congregations.
"I understand the fear because this will give a bad picture of the direction," Doyle said of the prosecution's allegations. "Well, they are bad and they should look bad because they have ignored this problem, they have demonized the victims," he said.
The current Southern Baptist Convention President, J.D. Greear, has spoken forcefully about the ubiquitous claims that go back decades.
"The Bible calls pastors to be upright people, known for their self-control and kindness," he told the Chronicle. "A convicted sex offender would certainly not meet these criteria, and churches that ignore him are at odds with the principles of cooperation of the scriptures and Baptists."
"Change needs to start at the ground level with churches and organizations," he said. "Our churches must begin to mobilize and commit to taking this issue much more seriously than ever before."