• 70°

More than 380 Baptist leaders accused of misconduct

Hundreds of Southern Baptist church leaders and workers have been accused of sexual misconduct over the past 20 years, including dozens who returned to church duties, according to a joint investigation by two newspapers.

The San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle reported Sunday that their six-month investigation found about 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and workers who were accused of sexual misconduct since 1998, leaving more than 700 victims.  The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination, with churches throughout Mississippi and Lincoln County.

In Lincoln County, Southern Baptist churches are members of the Lincoln County Baptist Association. LCBA Director Steve Jackson said local churches are encouraged to adequately screen all those who work with children and youth, as well as potential staff members.

“I feel grief over every abused victim and every fallen minister that the statistics indicate in the investigative report by the two Texas newspapers,” he said. “One would be too many.  The effects of sin are horrifying. We must also remember that for the dozens of ministers that failed, there are hundreds of ministers that did not.  Our denomination is not perfect, but is strong in its belief in morality and accountability.”

About 220 offenders — among them pastors, ministers, Sunday school teachers, deacons and church volunteers — have been convicted or have taken plea deals, with dozens of cases still pending. Nearly 100 are still in prison, according to state and federal records. Dozens of others made plea deals and served no time. More than 100 are registered sex offenders, and some have returned to the pulpit. At least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches.

The Rev. J.D. Greear, who was elected as the SBC’s president last June, said the abuses described in the news report “are pure evil.”

“I am broken over what was revealed today,” Greear wrote in a series of posts on Twitter. “The voices in this article should be heard as a warning sent from God, calling the church to repent.”

“We leaders in the SBC should have listened to the warnings of those who tried to call attention to this,” Greear tweeted. “I am committed to doing everything possible to ensure we never make these mistakes again.”

Jackson said Southern Baptist associations, state conventions and national organizations “seek to warn our churches to take a stand against sexual abuse and to adopt policies that seek to prevent this horrific sin.”

“Our own state convention here in Mississippi offers any church that asks sample policies to adopt and also offers personnel that will come and speak to any church that requests,” Jackson said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.