By Scott Barkley
NASHVILLE — The names of numerous Southern Baptist leaders appeared throughout the lengthy report made available May 22 by Guidepost Solutions on the subject of sexual abuse allegations and the SBC Executive Committee. Although at differing levels of involvement today, each factored into the investigation’s scope of Jan. 1, 2000, through June 14, 2021.
Below are the names of some key leaders mentioned as well as the context in which the report places them and their responses to the report. Full statements are below the story.
D. August “Augie” Boto. Served the EC from 1995-2019 as vice president for convention policy, executive vice president and general counsel. He also served for just over a year as interim EC president following the departure of Frank Page in 2018. Boto was prominent among senior EC staff members whose “main concern was avoiding any potential liability for the SBC,” the report said. Boto did not respond to BP’s request for a statement.
Roger “Sing” Oldham. EC vice president for convention communications and relations, 2007-2019. In a May 2019 email, Oldham told then-new EC president Ronnie Floyd that he had been sending regular updates for the “the past decade” to Boto of news reports of Baptist ministers arrested for sexual abuse. By August 2018, the list contained the names of 585 possible abusers.
“From time to time we considered whether hosting a web page with published news stories about ministers or church volunteers arrested for a variety of matters, including sexual misconduct, would be a helpful resource to assist churches in their hiring processes,” Oldham told BP.
A determination was eventually made that the National Sex Offender Registry through the Department of Justice was a better option, as it was “much more extensive than anything we could create, and was already posted on our website,” he said.
Jim Guenther. Legal counsel for the Executive Committee with Guenther, Jordan & Price. The firm announced the end of its 56-year professional relationship with the EC on Oct. 11, 2021, shortly after the EC voted to waive attorney-client privilege in the Guidepost investigation.
Guenther advised Boto and other EC leaders on matters the report deemed to be “in a manner that involved the mistreatment of survivors” and for them to avoid eliciting further details about reports of abuse in order to protect the EC’s liability. In 2007, he proposed a plan where the SBC website would link to a database listing those believed to have been engaged in sexual misconduct, but ultimately no action was taken.
While expressing appreciation for Guidepost’s efforts to cover 20 years in a single report, a statement from Guenther and Jaime Jorden of Guenther, Jordan and Price, PC said the document “contains misstatements of fact and quotations from us which are misleading because they are reported out of context.”
Specifically, the statement expressed sharp disagreement “with many of the characterizations in the report and its assignment of ill will and bad motives to men and women of the Executive Committee who struggled year after year with complex issues” as well as “the lack of understanding the report shows for the role and responsibility of legal counsel.”
Ronnie Floyd. Elected EC president and CEO in April 2019, stepped down effective Oct. 31, 2021. Floyd, longtime pastor of Cross Church in Springfield, Ark., was also elected SBC president in 2014 and 2015. Floyd maintained in a series of EC meetings last fall that waiving attorney-client privilege went against the group’s fiduciary duty and offered his resignation shortly after trustees voted for the waiver.
“People reading the report may not realize that I supported the independent investigation,” Floyd told Baptist Press in a statement. “I also hired Guidepost to do it even before the 2021 Convention.
“Our fiduciary duties also required due diligence to understand the implications of ‘waiving attorney-client privilege.’ This was never an effort to resist or obstruct the investigation, but responsible governance.
“… From the beginning of my term as executive committee president, I helped guide the Convention to establishing the credentials committee and leading the effort to pass the amendment to the SBC Constitution focused on sexual abuse. May God lead the 2022 Convention to take the appropriate actions including the implementation of reforms.”
Frank Page. After serving two terms as SBC president in 2006 and 2007, Page was appointed EC president in 2010. He resigned in March 2018 after a “morally inappropriate relationship” with a woman in a church where he was serving as interim pastor. BP attempted to contact Page for a comment without success.
Johnny Hunt. Elected as SBC president in 2008 and 2009, Hunt was the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., before accepting a position with the North American Mission Board.
In the report, a pastor and his wife accused Hunt of sexually assaulting the wife in Panama City a month after he finished his second term as SBC president. Guidepost investigators found that the survivor, a counselor who spoke with the parties involved and three other corroborating witnesses were credible. Hunt’s testimony, investigators said, was not credible. Hunt resignedfrom his NAMB post on May 13.
In a Twitter post May 22, Hunt “vigorously [denied] the circumstances and characterizations set forth in the Guidepost report. I have never abused anybody.”
Steve Gaines. The report stated that the election of Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, to the SBC presidency in 2016 “conveyed the message that a clergy sex abuse cover-up was considered ‘no big deal’ in the SBC.”
In 2006 Gaines went months before reporting a staff minister’s prior sexual assault of a child, the report says. He admitted to Guidepost investigators that he delayed action out of “heartfelt concern and compassion” for the minister.
“I am grateful for (the Task Force’s) diligence and depend on their expertise as we move forward. We grieve and lament the findings,” he said. The staff member approached Gaines in 2006 to confess to the abuse he had committed 17 years prior.
“When I was informed, I believed that it was being properly taken care of and did not know my obligation to report it to the authorities,” Gaines said. “I now know that I did not handle the situation properly. A thorough investigation was done at the time and there were no other incidents of abuse reported.”
Bellevue has since implemented annual training related to identifying and reporting suspected abuse.
“My desire is to lead and shepherd our congregation with grace and biblical integrity. We do not and will not tolerate abuse of any kind and desire complete transparency and accountability,” Gaines said.
Jack Graham. Served as SBC president from 2002-2004. The report states that Graham, as pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, where he still serves, allowed a staff member to be dismissed quietly after sexual abuse allegations were made. That staff member was eventually charged with molesting several boys at his former church in Mississippi.
Graham declined to speak to Guidepost investigators directly but referred them to the public archives from his presidency.
“Prestonwood categorically denies the way the report characterizes the incident 33 years ago,” said Mike Buster, Prestonwood executive pastor. “Prestonwood has never protected or supported abusers, in 1989 or since.”
Paige Patterson. Alongside Paul Pressler, Patterson is considered the architect of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence. Patterson later served as president of both Southeastern and Southwestern seminaries. While he was SBC president in June 2000, he advised a pastor seeking information on sexual abuse programs from a position of defending against lawsuits, not preventing abuse.
That stance of protecting the institution would reappear, the report stated, through mishandling rape accusations in 2003 at Southeastern and in 2015 at Southwestern. Patterson was fired by Southwestern trustees in 2018. BP’s attempts for a comment from Patterson were unsuccessful.
Paul Pressler. A former SBC vice president and co-architect of the Conservative Resurgence, Pressler is currently the defendant in a lawsuit alleging he repeatedly sexually abused the plaintiff from the time the latter was 14 years old. Two other men submitted affidavits accusing Pressler of sexual misconduct. Attempts to reach Pressler for comment were unsuccessful.
Mike Stone. In 2019 when Stone was EC chairman, Guidepost states he helped draft the apology for a fellow pastor and former college classmate who had an inappropriate relationship with a single mother in the pastor’s south Georgia congregation. Witnesses said the apology was inaccurate and they felt intimidated by Stone for their bringing the pastor’s behavior to the attention of the church.
“As an abuse survivor, I grieve with all Southern Baptists over every incident of sexual abuse,” Stone said. “At the same time, it is disappointed to see real concerns mingled with false accusations. Further, it is sad these erroneous charges warrant clarification at a time when Southern Baptists should have been allowed time to prayerfully consider the weighty matters before us.”
Russell Moore. Moore corresponded via letters with SBC President J.D. Greear during the former’s tenure as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission about his frustrations with sexual abuse reform in the SBC. At times, he said, his opponents wanted him “to live in psychological terror.”
In 2017 and 2020, the Executive Committee formed task forces to study the impact on Cooperative Program giving due to controversy connected to the ERLC. Moore contended those studies were the consequences of riling those opposed to his advocacy on the part of sexual abuse survivors. He resigned from his ERLC position shortly before the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting.
“Indeed, the very ones who rebuked me and others for using the word crisis in reference to Southern Baptist sexual abuse not only knew that there was such a crisis but were quietly documenting it, even as they told those fighting for reform that such crimes rarely happened among ‘people like us’,” Moore wrote in a column for Christianity Today.
J.D. Greear. As SBC president, Greear responded to the Houston Chronicle’s report of abuse in Southern Baptist churches by calling out 10 churches named in the report. The announcement, made in Greear’s address to EC trustees in February 2019, drew fire from Southern Baptist leaders and led to Boto’s calling one pastor to apologize.
Sexual abuse reform remained a consistent topic during Greear’s tenure as SBC president, which received a third year due to the COVID-19 pandemic-related cancellation of the 2020 annual meeting.
“The report from Guidepost Solutions is heartbreaking, and parts are horrifying,” Greear said. “It should not have been this way. Southern Baptists rightfully expected more, and deserved more, from their leaders.
“Our failures put survivors in a position where they were forced to fight for themselves when we should have been fighting for them. The church should be a place where people know they are safe and where leaders are who they say they are. Jesus’ Gospel declares that God is a refuge for all who run to Him, and the posture of our leaders toward abuse victims should reflect that.
“Protecting the vulnerable is not a distraction from the mission, it is our mission. We have no choice but to learn from our past and change the future.”
Full statements from those with strong Tennessee ties are listed below.
Roger ‘Sing’ Oldham
“From time to time we considered whether hosting a web page with published news stories about ministers or church volunteers arrested for a variety of matters, including sexual misconduct, would be a helpful resource to assist churches in their hiring processes.
The determination was made that the Department of Justice Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Registry continues to be the most comprehensive list of sexual abusers, much more extensive than anything we could create, and was already posted on our website. Aggregating news stories we became aware of through a Google search would be incomplete and therefore undependable for the very churches we were trying to serve. So, it would be better to point them to the Dru Sjodin national registry.
At some point, I set up a Google search using the terms “Baptist” and “arrested” to see if there were any responses. As they appeared in my email inbox, I forwarded them to Mr. Boto in Convention policy for his awareness and continued conversation about if and how these published news reports, already in the public domain, could be used to assist churches.
Over time, I continued to forward each alert to Mr. Boto. At some point, I became aware that a staff member was maintaining a collection of my forwards. My understanding was that they were being held for possible future use should the EC decide it would be helpful to churches to host a webpage with such news reports. These Google Alerts would provide EC staff a base of news reports to begin with if that determination was made.
Many of the Google Alerts contained names of individuals who had been arrested or indicted for criminal sexual assault, so their names had already been given to law enforcement. In many instances, the individual was arrested in a setting unrelated to church work, but had served as a volunteer at a church or was a previous staff member. In many others, the news report indicated that the individual had been fired or had resigned from the church. The one point in common is that these had all been reported to law enforcement and had resulted in an arrest.
As to your other questions:
- Beyond the Google Alert reports I forwarded, I have no knowledge of whether or how names would have been added to a list.
- I did not have access to this collected list and am not aware such a list would be considered a database.
- I am not aware of any discussions to share what you call “the list” with others. If any such discussions were held, I was not part of them.
- I did not have any conversations with anyone at BGCT regarding the list they kept, so had no conversations about best practices in maintaining such a list.”
Jim Guenther and Jaime Jordan
“We appreciate the monumental task faced by Guidepost Solutions and its effort in a very short time to distill over 20 years of events into a single report. However, we believe the report contains misstatements of fact and quotations from us which are misleading because they are reported out of context.
We disagree sharply with many of the characterizations in the report and its assignment of ill will and bad motives to men and women of the Executive Committee who struggled year after year with complex issues. In our experience, nearly all of these individuals were motivated by a deep desire to give their best service to the Southern Baptist Convention and to be good stewards of the trust placed in them.
We are greatly disappointed in the lack of understanding the report shows for the role and responsibility of legal counsel. The report repeatedly attacks our firm for advising the Executive Committee and the Southern Baptist Convention regarding the risks which could arise from various courses of action.
Understanding legal risks and how to mitigate those risks are primary reasons individuals and organizations hire legal counsel. As lawyers we are bound by professional rules of conduct to zealously protect our clients’ legitimate interests and to discuss the legal consequences of any proposed course of conduct. Our clients weigh that advice and choose their ultimate course of action.
Our goal is always to represent our clients with the highest degree of legal competence and integrity. That was certainly our attitude during the time we were privileged to advise the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“At the 2021 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), a Task Force was commissioned to investigate sexual abuse within the Convention. Yesterday, the Task Force released its report. I am grateful for their diligence and depend on their expertise as we move forward. We grieve and lament the findings.
In 2006, a Bellevue staff member made me aware of abuse he had committed 17 years prior. When I was informed, I believed that it was being properly taken care of and did not know my obligation to report it to the authorities. I now know that I did not handle the situation properly. A thorough investigation was done at the time and there were no other incidents of abuse reported.
Since then, our church has implemented training on how to identify and report any suspected case of abuse. This training is required annually for all staff and leaders at our church and is made available for all members.
My desire is to lead and shepherd our congregation with grace and biblical integrity. We do not and will not tolerate abuse of any kind and desire complete transparency and accountability.
Bellevue is committed to supporting survivors, working to prevent abuse, and making our church a safe place for all people to experience salvation and Christian growth.
It is time for us as a Convention to move forward with great humility as we repent and seek the guidance of the Lord. Pray for our Convention, that we will act decisively on this report in June at the SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim.
May the Lord lead us forward in grace and humility.” B&R