In particular, Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.
The report says that when leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention learned of allegations of sexual abuse, rather than reporting the accusation to authorities or firing those responsible, they protected the abusers or stonewalled and denigrated the survivors. The report includes Prestonwood and its pastor, Jack Graham, as an example, as well as Paige Patterson, the former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.
Prestonwood Baptist is one of the largest churches in the country, and Graham is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, serving from 2002 to 2004. His congregation includes prominent elected leaders, such as Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano.
Leach tweeted on Sunday that the report is “absolutely horrifying.”
“As the husband of a sexual assault survivor, I have lived the horrors associated with this awful crime. To know so many Pastors covered these heinous sins instead of exposing them is almost too much to bear. God, be near, convict and revive us,” he said.
In 1989, according to the report, Prestonwood Baptist Pastor Graham allowed a music director who had been accused of abusing a young boy to be dismissed from his church quietly, and without police being notified.
The former employee, John Langworthy, moved to Mississippi, where he confessed the abuse at Prestonwood to another church congregation. Langworthy was arrested and charged with sex crimes, the report says. He pleaded guilty but avoided jail time.
In a statement on Sunday, Prestonwood’s executive pastor, Mike Buster, said the church “categorically denies the way the report characterizes the incident 33 years ago.”
“Prestonwood has never protected or supported abusers, in 1989 or since,” Buster said in the statement.
In 2011, when the abuse was widely reported, Buster said: “In the summer of 1989, the church received an allegation that John Langworthy had acted inappropriately with a teenage student. Based on this allegation, he was dismissed immediately, removing him from all responsibilities with the church. In no way did officials of the church seek to cover up the actions of Mr. Langworthy or silence his accuser. The elected officers dealt with the matter firmly and forthrightly.”
The report also details how Paige Patterson, the former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, was fired from his position in 2018 after revelations that he told a student to not report a rape in 2003. In 2015, according to the report, he said in an email that he intended to meet with another student who had made rape allegations with the intention to “break her down.”
The Dallas Morning News previously reported that Patterson knew of abuse allegations against one of his mentees, Darrell Gilyard, yet vouched for him. GIlyard was later convicted of sex crimes in Florida. Patterson has denied mishandling abuse accusations.
Last year, delegates at the national SBC gathering voted to create the task force charged with providing oversight of the third-party review. SBC President Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, appointed the panel.
Litton said in a statement Sunday he is “grieved to my core” for the victims and thanked God for their work propelling the SBC to this moment. He called on Southern Baptists to lament and prepare to change the denomination’s culture and implement reforms.
The task force’s recommendations based on the findings by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm contracted by the convention to conduct the study, will be presented at the SBC’s annual meeting in Anaheim on June 14-15.