(RNS) — Leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee released a formerly secret list Thursday (May 26) of sexual abusers, which had been kept by SBC staff since 2007.
The 205-page list includes details about 700 cases of abuse by pastors, Sunday school teachers, camp counselors, music ministers, bus drivers and missionaries, with about 400 tied to SBC churches from Alaska to Alabama. In almost all of the cases, the abuse had led to arrests and jail time.
According to a description from Guidepost Solutions, the firm that uncovered the list as part of a multimillion-dollar investigation into how SBC leaders dealt with abuse, the list began as a research project for an SBC committee in 2007.
That committee was looking into the possibility of creating a database of Southern Baptist abusers, an idea proposed by Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson at the SBC’s 2007 annual meeting. At the time, the SBC was dealing with the aftermath of an ABC News report detailing abuse among Southern Baptists and other Protestants.
“My goal was to prevent guilty SBC ministers from transferring to another church or denomination to only re-offend,” Burleson wrote in a recent blog post.
According to the Guidepost report, an unnamed Executive Committee staffer began an initial search for Baptists accused of abuse and found the names of 66 “pastors, youth ministers, and deacons of Baptist churches who had been arrested or the subject of a civil suit regarding sexual crimes with minors.”
Executive Committee staff then worked to determine whether the alleged abuser or that person’s church was part of the SBC, and tracked whether there were convictions, often by adding links to news stories.
Those names were given to August “Augie” Boto, a longtime staff lawyer who spent years trying to shield the denomination from any liability for abuse, according to the Guidepost report. The database idea was rejected by the Executive Committee in 2008, largely on Boto’s advice. Even so, the unnamed staffer continued to update the list until recently.
This week, after the release of the Guidepost report, the Executive Committee publicly rejected Boto’s past treatment of abuse survivors and promised to mend its ways.
Releasing the list — the existence of which was unknown to current SBC leaders before the Guidepost report — is part of “addressing the scourge of sexual abuse and implementing reform in the Convention,” Executive Committee Chairman Rolland Slade and interim president/CEO Willie McLaurin said in a statement.
“Each entry in this list reminds us of the devastation and destruction brought about by sexual abuse. Our prayer is that the survivors of these heinous acts find hope and healing, and that churches will utilize this list proactively to protect and care for the most vulnerable among us,” they said.
The list was compiled mostly from published reports about convicted abusers, mostly taken from news stories. SBC lawyers redacted the list to take out the names of abuse survivors and in some cases, the details of the allegations.
Here are a number of key details included in the recently revealed list:
A number of prominent SBC megachurches have dealt with abuse
The list included abuse cases at some of the largest churches in the SBC. Among the abusers on the list were a pair of former ministers at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, which is led by former SBC President and Trump adviser Jack Graham; a contract employee who organized choir pageants at Second Baptist Church in Houston, led by former SBC President Ed Young; an associate pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, led by former SBC President Steve Gaines; and a volunteer youth mentor at Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, led by bestselling author Rick Warren. Both Gaines and Graham have been accused of mishandling abuse allegations, something Graham has long denied.
The list also included abuse cases from Baptist churches not affiliated with the SBC, such as First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, and Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
A number of abusers worked at Baptist camps and schools or drove buses
The list included teachers and camp staff, including Michael Phillip Latham, a former camp director at the Glorieta in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and director of a Baptist camp in Louisiana, who was convicted in 2012 for sending obscene photos over the internet. Sammy Allen Nuckolls, a Southern Baptist evangelist and former camp pastor convicted of video voyeurism; and Daniel Montague Acker Jr., a schoolteacher and school bus driver, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison after he ”admitted to sexually abusing 20 girls” over a 25-year period, according to the list. Acker later admitted additional abuse in 1992, while serving as a youth pastor.
The abuse ranged from 1967 to 2021
The earliest case of alleged abuse on the list involved a former Southern Baptist missionary who was accused of abusing missionary children in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but no charges were filed. Another former missionary, Mark Aderholt, was convicted in 2018 after admitting to abuse that occurred when he was a seminary student.
The list also details abuse by Dale “Dickie” Amyx, a Texas pastor who was accused of abusing a teenager in the 1970s and was convicted of giving alcohol to a minor. He was later sued in 2006, while serving as a pastor at another Texas church. The case was settled out of court with an apology and public admission of guilt.
The longest item in the list details the abuse of convicted sex offender Darrell Gilyard, who was a protégé of former SBC Presidents Jerry Vines and Paige Patterson. Gilyard was fired from several churches for alleged misconduct and was convicted in 2009 on molestation charges involving teenage girls. He later was hired by a Florida church after getting out of prison.
Some abusers on the list are still active in ministry
As part of Guidepost’s investigation, its staff discovered that nine of the people included on the list may still be in active ministry, including two who have ties to an SBC church. Those churches have been reported to the SBC’s credentials committee, which has the power to recommend those churches be expelled from the SBC.
Several SBC seminaries are included on the list
The list details that in 2008, a registered sex offender was enrolled at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and living on campus. David Sills, a former Southern professor, is also on the list. He resigned in 2018 after admitting to abusing a former student. In 2007, a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee pleaded guilty to “aiding and abetting prostitution.” That same year, an SEBTS student was sentenced for 13 years in prison for abuse of a minor while another student was arrested for abuse of a 10-year-old.
Along with releasing the abuser list, SBC officials have taken a number of actions since the release of the Guidepost report. Most notably, the Executive Committee has hired Guidepost to run a confidential hotline for reporting abuse allegations. Those allegations can be reported to 202-864-5578 or [email protected].
That hotline was an interim step while the SBC considers a set of recommendations from Guidepost for future actions. The SBC’s North American Mission Board said it is working to have Guidepost investigate any allegations against its staff that are made to the hotline.
Former SBC President Johnny Hunt, who was accused of abuse in the Guidestone report, posted a letter on Twitter Friday asking his longtime church to forgive him for a “sin” that occurred in 2010. Hunt said that in 2010, after a bout with cancer and the end of his SBC presidency, he fell into “a season of deep despair and probably clinical depression.”
“It was during that summer that I allowed myself to get too close to a compromising situation with a woman who was not my wife,” he wrote. “It happened when she invited me into her vacation condo for a conversation. Against my better judgment — I chose to go.”
Hunt then said a “brief but improper encounter” ensued, ending when he had an “overwhelming sense of conviction” and fled.
The Guidestone report described that encounter differently, saying that Hunt allegedly pinned the younger woman down, got on top of her and pulled up her shirt. Investigators found several witnesses who corroborated the allegations, saying that Hunt had admitted the assault and had gone on leave in 2010. They also spoke with a counselor who had counseled Hunt and the survivor.
“We include this sexual assault allegation in the report because our investigators found the pastor and his wife to be credible,” Guidepost wrote in its report, saying, “their report was corroborated in part by a counseling minister and three other credible witnesses; and our investigators did not find Dr. Hunt’s statements related to the sexual assault allegation to be credible.”
Hunt, who had previously denied the allegation, did so again in his letter, saying that the Guidepost report included the “absurd allegation” that the “brief, consensual encounter” in 2010 was abuse. He did claim that he apologized in 2010.
“As I did 12 years ago, and again today, I confess that I sinned. I crossed a line. I repent in brokenness and shame,” he wrote.
“Please forgive me.”
Adelle M. Banks contributed to this report.