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Ethnic leaders respond to Guidepost sex abuse report

NASHVILLE (BP) – African American, Asian and Hispanic Southern Baptist leaders have responded to the Guidepost Solutions report of the Southern Baptist Convention’s handling of sexual abuse complaints spanning two decades.

Frank Williams, president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC (NAAF) shared with Baptist Press a letter written on behalf of NAAF executive officers, its executive board and the approximately 4,000 African American Southern Baptist churches it serves.

“It is extremely disturbing and deeply saddening to learn that sexual abuse allegations were not appropriately addressed by the Executive Committee (EC) and other SBC agency leaders, who should have been more compassionate and empathetic to the victims of such acts and their resulting traumas,” Williams stated in the letter. “As a Fellowship, our heart and prayers go out to all of the survivors of sexual abuse.”

Williams expressed gratitude to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting messengers, the Sexual Abuse Task Force, SBC Executive Committee CEO Willie McLaurin, Executive Committee Chairman Rolland Slade and EC trustees for their work “during this unprecedented time of reckoning within the SBC.”

Williams described the report as a “clarion call” for churches to enact policies and practices to protect against and respond to allegations of abuse. Specifically, he encouraged African American pastors to pray for survivors, Southern Baptist churches and the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting; to actively engage in Southern Baptist life at all levels, and to promote “the value of collaborative fellowship, shared ownership, and cooperative stewardship that brings out the best in SBC Life.”

“It is our hope that as the messengers meet in a couple of weeks and seek to address the recommendations presented in the report,” Williams said, “that healing will begin, continue, or be experienced by survivors, churches, our agencies, and our denomination as a whole.”

Williams is senior pastor of Wake-Eden Community Church and Bronx Baptist Church, both in the Bronx borough of New York.

The Sexual Abuse Task Force released May 22 the Guidepost Solutions investigative report of how the Executive Committee handled sexual abuse allegations from 2000-2021. A list of credibly accused and convicted abusers was released days after the report.

A variety of leaders shared with Baptist Press their personal responses to the report, including leaders of Hispanic, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Lao and Myanmar groups.

Ramon Medina, president of the SBC Hispanic Council, expressed pain upon reading the report and learning “that many have been victims of this abuse.” While he used the collective pronoun “we,” his statement was not on behalf of the full council which represents approximately 3,040 Southern Baptist churches that are majority Hispanic.

“We pray for them and for each person involved in each of these unfortunate events. At the same time, we thank God for the courage of our SBC messengers to ask for transparency and demand this investigation,” Medina said. “Although the report has not been encouraging, we are sure that God blesses transparency. Bringing this painful report to light will help each church and SBC entity review its sexual abuse prevention processes. This will make churches and entities safer to fulfill the task of bringing the gospel to everyone.”

Medina is also SBC second vice president and lead pastor of Spanish Ministries at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston.

At least 2,100 Southern Baptist churches are majority Asian, including various languages and national origins, according to data in the 2020 Annual Church Profile.

James Kang is executive director of the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches in America, a group of about 800 churches.

“We do not have an official response to the report yet,” Kang said of the council. “As Christians, we are expected to live with a high moral standard. I am deeply saddened and disturbed that these things have taken place in our churches. In the midst of painful and dark news, I also see a hope in our denomination.

“We have finally made a decision to let the world know about our wrongdoings and failures. We are repenting and making changes to prevent this type of behaviors in our churches anymore.”

Kang expressed hope that Southern Baptist congregations of all ethnicities will pray for survivors, families of survivors, pastors and church leaders, and “will try to keep the church holy and prevent any immoral behaviors.

“Our council stands against sexual abuse of any kind,” said Kang, who serves fulltime as the council’s executive director. “We are planning to make policies and procedures for our churches to follow in preventing this type of behaviors in our churches.”

Amos Lee, a retired minister, is executive director of the Chinese Baptist Fellowship of the U.S. and Canada, which includes about 250 congregations in the U.S.

“We did not issue a statement,” he said of the fellowship, “but personally, I am saddened by the revelation, but it affirmed the biblical view that we all have feet of clay. However, that does not absolve us of our Christian duty to do the right thing for the victims of abuse.”

He encouraged Southern Baptists to humble themselves, confess any sins, seek forgiveness and “do whatever it takes to right the wrongs.” He encouraged churches to enact policies to prevent abuse, to fully vet ministerial applicants and volunteers, to discipline offenders and to support law enforcement in handling criminal cases.

Dan Santiago is executive director of the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship of North America, a fellowship of about 200 churches.

Santiago, speaking personally, said the Guidepost report is good information to be disseminated among Southern Baptists, but should not have been released to the general public.

“It is important that a report on what is going on in a particular SBC agency related to sexual abuse be released to its constituents, not to the public in general. What happened in the office of the SBC Executive Committee should be released to SBC churches to make sure that they have addressed the problem against the offender and helped the offended party recover and [be] assisted in any way they can,” Santiago told Baptist Press. “If the problem becomes a legal issue, let the information run its course during the proceeding and until it’s done.”

Santiago expressed sympathy for abuse survivors and his desire that survivors get all the help they need from churches and the EC.

The list of convicted and credibly accused abusers has little value, Santiago said, since the majority of those on the list were already convicted and publicly identified.

“Regarding the release of the list, I don’t think this is necessary, especially the reasons given for its release: transparency and transformation,” Santiago said. “The names of the convicted sex offenders are obviously public knowledge since it is recorded in public legal documents. Besides the local newspaper where the crime was committed published it already. Most of them are already serving their sentences and clearly being punished for their crime.”

Santiago speculated that publishing the list reopened wounds that perhaps had already healed among survivors, as well as innocent family members and relatives of abusers.

Santiago hopes the SBC will work vigilantly to prevent sexual crimes in churches and Southern Baptist institutions, and “provide written guidelines and probably a step-by-step action for the church or any institution and individuals who will be dealing with the issue of sexual offenses and abuses.

“Our fellowship always listens and follows the policies and strategies instituted by the (Southern Baptist) Convention and associations,” Santiago said. “We will continue to remind and educate our churches on this matter. Culturally, we will continue to have conversations and dialogue on how we can better handle this issue when it arises in our community.”

Santiago is pastor of Covenant Christian Church in Jacksonville, Fla.

Hre Mang, senior pastor of Falam Christian Church of Indianapolis, is executive director of the SBC Myanmar Churches Fellowship, a new fellowship seeking to represent the 128 Myanmar Southern Baptist churches.

Speaking personally and briefly, Mang encouraged preventative and responsive measures regarding sexual abuse, and promoted biblical and legal practices. Likely, he said, the fellowship will follow Southern Baptist best practices.

About 60 majority-Lao congregations are Southern Baptist, according to Houmphanh Vongsurith, president of the United Lau Southern Baptist Fellowship and pastor of First Laotian Baptist Church in Dallas.

Expressing caution in making a comment in advance of the fellowship’s studying the report as a group, Vongsurith encouraged Southern Baptists to continue spreading the Gospel.

“We are human being who are trying to do our best to serve the Lord so the world will see us as all characters of God,” Vongsurith told Baptist Press. “We read the Bible, they read us, so we must make them see Christ in us.”

If you are/have been a victim of sexual abuse or suspect sexual abuse by a pastor, staff member or member of a Southern Baptist church or entity, please reach out for help at 202-864-5578 or [email protected]. All calls are confidential.