Southern Baptist Sex Abuse Lawsuit

If a leader or another individual associated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) sexually abused you, there is hope for justice and accountability through civil action. With the #MeToo movement of the past several years, more organizations must face the dark truth of sexual abuse present within their ranks. Decades of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church have demonstrated that churches are not exempt. In recent years, sex abuse allegations in the Southern Baptist church have also come to light. 

Guidepost Solutions, LLC, a third-party organization, released an investigative report on May 22, 2022, that reveals the religious organization’s leaders hid sexual abuse allegations to protect SBC from liability. In response to the 205-page bombshell report, the SBC Executive Committee released a secret list of hundreds of pastors and church personnel accused of sexual misconduct in the past 20 years. The denomination released the database as “an initial, but important, step towards addressing the scourge of sexual abuse and implementing reform in the Convention,” according to Executive Committee leaders.

Southern Baptist Convention Kept Secret Database of Abusers as It Hid Abuse for Decades

The secret database of alleged abusers was largely unknown to staff members of the Southern Baptist Convention and affiliate churches. That changed when Guidepost Solutions, LLC, the business intelligence and compliance firm hired to investigate the abuse claims, revealed it in its report after a seven-month investigation. The list contains over 700 entries describing abuse cases, naming pastors, volunteers, and others affiliated with the church, mostly from 2000 to 2019. The list’s existence comes as a surprise to many within SBC who have been calling for a database to keep track of sex abusers for a decade.

During its investigation, Guidepost Solutions, LLC, found that the Southern Baptist Convention routinely mishandled the sexual abuse claims and stonewalled victims while allowing the accused to keep leadership positions at its churches and various agencies. The scathing report states: 

“For almost two decades, survivors of abuse and other concerned Southern Baptists have been contacting the Southern Baptist Convention (‘SBC’) Executive Committee (‘EC’) to report child molesters and other abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff. They made phone calls, mailed letters, sent emails, appeared at SBC and EC meetings, held rallies, and contacted the press…only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC.”  

The report attributes the mishandling of these abuse claims to “a few senior EC leaders, along with outside counsel” who “largely controlled the EC’s response to these reports of abuse.” 

Background of Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention dates back to 1845 in Augusta, Georgia, when the group branched off from the Baptists over slavery. Today, the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant church in America and the second-largest Christian denomination in the United States, with nearly 50,000 churches and 15 million members. Churches under SBC operate with congregational polity or autonomy but meet for missionary work and conventions. The SBC Executive Committee oversees the church organization’s daily operations between convention sessions. 

Southern Baptist Sex Abuse Comes to Light 

In 2019, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published an article titled “Abuse of Faith,” exposing decades of sexual misconduct at Southern Baptist churches around the country. The investigative news report reveals that 380 church leaders and volunteers were accused of sexual abuse since 1998, and 700 victims were left behind to pick up the pieces with little or no recourse for justice or abuser accountability. 

The perpetrators were pastors, youth pastors, deacons, Sunday School teachers, ministers, and volunteers. Among the sexual abusers, the newspapers found that:

  • 260 were convicted of sex crimes or had accepted a plea deal
  • Nearly 100 were still in prison 
  • More than 100 are registered sex offenders

Several of the alleged abusers continued to work for the church where the abuse took place. Some relocated to other SBC churches, while others found work at churches outside the Southern Baptist Convention. In many cases, perpetrators went on to harm others at these other churches. Even those convicted and registered as sex offenders were freely brought into the pulpit. 

Victims and others who reported sexual abuse in the church received vague sympathy and were told the SBC or its executive committee could not do much because of “local church autonomy.” Local churches used the same reasoning to defend why they did not notify other churches of a minister or staff member’s abuse history.

Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse Lawsuits Have Gone Up Over the Years

Despite being shunned and shamed by Southern Baptist church leaders, survivors of sexual abuse have not been silent. In addition to reporting sex abuse at Southern Baptist churches to law enforcement and pushing for reform, they have also filed lawsuits over the years. 

Notable cases from the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News’ joint report include:

  • Paul Pressler, a former Texas state judge, SBC vice president, and long-standing member of the church, was sued after being accused of rape by several men while they were in his youth group. Second Baptist Church was added to the lawsuit for covering up Pressler’s egregious actions.
  • Joe Ratliff, Brentwood Baptist Church Pastor, has faced at least three lawsuits: two for sexual misconduct with men he had been counseling and one for mishandling the sexual abuse allegations against another church official. Ratliff remained pastor of the Houston, Texas, church through these lawsuits.
  • Darrell Gilyard, a former SBC Pastor, has been the subject of multiple sexual abuse allegations and lawsuits. Gilyard was accused of sexual misconduct in the 1980s while pastoring in Texas and was named in a lawsuit against a Texas church that settled for $300,000 in 1996. The longtime evangelist was convicted of lewd and lascivious contact with two female minors in 2009 (serving three years in prison).  He was also accused of sexually assaulting a woman who became pregnant in 2004. The woman filed a lawsuit against Gilyard and Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, where he pastored at the time.
  • Dale Dickie Amyx, Pastor of a Southern Baptist church, is accused of molesting Debbie Vasquez for many years, beginning when she was 14 years old. Vasquez’s abuser impregnated her when she was 18 years old, and she filed a lawsuit against him and his church in 2006.

New Developments in the Southern Baptist Sex Abuse Scandal

The Southern Baptist Convention’s secret database names the perpetrators listed above. As news of the explosive Guidepost report and the secret list of abusers became public, the SBC vowed to set reforms in motion at its annual convention in June 2022. 

During the convention, which took place on June 14-15, 2022, in Anaheim, California, the organization officially adopted the long-awaited database for credibly accused abusers, National Public Radio (NPR) reports. It also authorized the formation of a new task force to oversee the database and future reforms. Sadly, for victims who have suffered from SBC’s inaction, it’s too little too late. 

Hold the Southern Baptist Church and Your Abuser Accountable in a Sex Abuse Lawsuit

If you or a loved one is a sex abuse survivor who Southern Baptist Convention church leaders or staff abused and ignored, you can turn to Nadrich & Cohen for legal representation. Whether the abuse occurred when you were a child or an adult, our Southern Baptist sexual abuse lawyer will provide compassionate and confidential legal support during this challenging time. 

Our personal injury team will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. You can file a sexual abuse lawsuit to hold the Southern Baptist Church and the perpetrator accountable. You have a voice. Call us today for a free, confidential consultation so we can learn your story.