Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention said on Friday that the nation’s largest Protestant denomination was under investigation by the US Department of Justice. They also said the inquest, which will look into reported sexual abuse by clergy, is “not something to worry about”.
The Reverend Mike Keahbone, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee, expressed his thoughts on social media on Friday as reports of the DOJ investigation began circulating.
“The DOJ investigation into the SBC is not something to be feared,” said Keahbone, who was recently appointed to the church’s new abuse reform implementation task force.
Federal investigators are looking into the denomination and several of its affiliated agencies, the Southern Baptist Convention confirmed Friday.
“Individually and collectively, each SBC entity is committed to cooperating fully and completely with the investigation,” the executives said in a statement.
The federal investigation follows a third-party investigation by Guidepost Solutions, which Southern Baptist voting delegates endorsed at the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
Guidepost released its findings in May in a nearly 300-page report detailing a pattern of Southern Baptist Convention leaders dismissing reports of abuse and calls for change from survivors. The report also included a sexual assault allegation against a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Southern Baptist Convention has been grappling with a scandal stemming from leaders’ mishandling of sexual abuse cases since the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News published a bombshell investigative series titled “Abuse of Faith” in 2019.
“If there are crimes, justice must be served,” Keahbone said on Friday. “The heart of the messengers in 2021 was repentance, restoration and reformation. If there is more work to do, we will do it.”
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Southern Baptist Convention leaders said they would cooperate with the investigation, according to their statement published in a report by the Baptist Press, the official media of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Our commitment to cooperate with the Department of Justice stems from our demonstrated commitment to transparently combating the scourge of sexual abuse,” they said.
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The statement referenced the May Guidepost Solutions report, which detailed several executive committee leaders downplaying and covering up sexual abuse allegations made against ministers and others associated with Southern Baptist churches across the country.
The report noted that a “secret” database of predatory preachers was kept even though some members of the Executive Committee said such an archive could not be created and shared among Baptist churches.