In May, church leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's biggest denomination of Protestants, put out a damning report by an independent consultant that acknowledged its higher-ups had kept sexual abuse allegations hush-hush for more than 20 years. Shortly after that, the SBC—which claims 14 million members across the US, spread out among 47,000 churches—put out a 205-page list of "alleged abusers," including the names of clergy and staffers. Now the organization says it's the subject of a federal investigation by the Justice Department, a probe that on Friday it asserted it would cooperate "fully and completely" with, reports the New York Times.
"While we continue to grieve and lament past mistakes related to sexual abuse, current leaders across the SBC have demonstrated a firm conviction to address those issues of the past and are implementing measures to ensure they are never repeated in the future," read a statement from more than a dozen SBC Executive Committee members, seminary presidents, and missionary heads, per the Washington Post. The statement notes that "multiple SBC entities" are being investigated. The scathing May report said that, from 2000 through last year, sexual abuse survivors and other "concerned Southern Baptists" had tried to send up a red flag to the SBC Executive Committee on the abusers via emails, phone calls, letters, and press alerts, and through appearances at rallies and SBC meetings.
"Time and time again," these whistleblowers were met "with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC," the report reads. Since the scathing May report, the SBC has vowed to institute safeguards to tackle the problem. In June, delegates voted to create a tracking system that would keep tabs on anyone within the SBC who was credibly accused of sexual abuse. But "we recognize our reform efforts are not finished," church leadership says in its Friday statement. "Our commitment to cooperate with the Justice Department is born from our demonstrated commitment to transparently address the scourge of sexual abuse." The DOJ hasn't yet commented. (Read more Southern Baptist Convention stories.)