As news spread late last Friday that the U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention regarding sexual abuse, many more questions than answers swirled about.
And while the DOJ itself has neither confirmed nor denied the report, a spokesman for the SBC Executive Committee said Aug. 16 that so far it appears only the Executive Committee is the subject of the federal investigation.
“The SBC is fully cooperating with authorities and remains committed to addressing the scourge of sexual abuse,” said Jon Wilke, media relations director for the Executive Committee.
On Aug. 12, Mike Keahbone, an Oklahoma pastor who serves as vice chair of the SBC’s newly appointed Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, tweeted: “The DOJ investigation of the SBC is not something to fear. If there are crimes, there needs to be justice. The heart of the messengers in 2021 was repentance, restoration, and reform. If there is more work to do, we will do it.”
The Nashville Tennessean published a statement from David Boling, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee: “While we are aware that the SBC has made certain confirmations about this matter, the U.S. Attorney’s Office does not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. Also, grand jury matters are secret and we do not comment on whether or not a case may be before the grand jury.”
On the day news broke about the apparent DOJ investigation, a joint statement from all SBC entity heads indicated that “multiple” SBC entities were involved and pledged uniform commitment to cooperate with the investigation and “transparently address the scourge of sexual abuse.”
The Tennessean article cited contextual information from Boz Tchividjian, a former prosecutor who now represents abuse survivors in lawsuits.
“I hope people measure their expectations,” he told the paper. “I think it’s a good thing that they (the SBC) are being subjected to the civil authorities, … but we just don’t know.”
As BNG reported Aug. 12, there is a partial parallel between the SBC case and an ongoing federal investigation of the Catholic Church on matters of sexual abuse. However, progress in the Catholic case has been slow, so far resulting in only one criminal charge in four years — despite volumes of documentation of abusive priests being passed from parish to parish.
The SBC’s recent internal investigation regarding sexual abuse was focused solely on the Executive Committee and on a certain time frame. That investigation was done by an outside firm, Guidepost Solutions, and produced 300 pages of documentation of known sexual abuse cases and the intentional failure of Executive Committee leadership to do anything about them.
Skepticism holds seeds of hope: The SBC and clergy sex abuse | Opinion by Christa Brown