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The DOJ is investigating Southern Baptists following sexual abuse crisis

A cross and Bible sculpture stand outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on May 24. The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention says that several of the denomination's major entities are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Holly Meyer
/
AP
A cross and Bible sculpture stand outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., on May 24. The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention says that several of the denomination's major entities are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention said Friday that several of the denomination's major entities are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice in the wake of its multiple problems related to clergy sex abuse.

The SBC's Executive Committee has received a subpoena, but no individuals have been subpoenaed at this point, according to the committee's lawyers.

"This is an ongoing investigation and we are not commenting on our discussions with DOJ," they said.

The statement from SBC leaders — including Executive Committee members, seminary presidents and heads of mission organizations — gave few details about the investigation, but indicated it dealt with widespread sexual abuse problems that have rocked the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.

"Individually and collectively each SBC entity is resolved to fully and completely cooperate with the investigation," the statement said. "While we continue to grieve and lament past mistakes related to sexual abuse, current leaders across the SBC have demonstrated a firm conviction to address those issues of the past and are implementing measures to ensure they are never repeated in the future."

There was no immediate comment from the Justice Department about the investigation.

Earlier this year, an SBC sex abuse task force released a blistering 288-page report from outside consultant, Guidepost Solutions. The firm's seven-month independent investigation found disturbing details about how denominational leaders mishandled sex abuse claims and mistreated victims.

The report focused specifically on how the SBC's Executive Committee responded to abuse cases, revealing that it had secretly maintained a list of clergy and other church workers accused of abuse. The committee later apologized and released the list, which had hundreds of accused workers on it.

A Guidepost spokesperson declined to comment on news of the DOJ probe.

Following the release of the Guidepost report, the SBC voted during its annual meeting in June to created a way to track pastors and other church workers credibly accused of sex abuse and launch a new task force to oversee further reforms. Earlier this week, SBC President Bart Barber, who also signed Friday's statement, announced the names of the Southern Baptist pastors and church members who will serve on the task force.

Southern Baptist sex abuse survivor Christa Brown, who has long called for the SBC to do more to address sex abuse across its churches, celebrated the news of the DOJ investigation.

"Hallelujah. It's about time," Brown said in a Friday post on Twitter. "This is what's needed."

Another survivor, Jules Woodson, went public with her abuse story in 2018 and has been pushing for reforms in the SBC ever since. On Friday, she reacted to the investigation news by tweeting, "May justice roll down!!!"

Oklahoma pastor Mike Keahbone, who serves on the Executive Committee and is the vice chair of the new abuse task force, said on Twitter that the investigation "is not something to fear ... If there is more work to do, we will do it."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press