Around 16,000 Southern Baptists have descended on Nashville, Tennessee, this week for the annual convention, a huge number summoned to deal with a fraught organization dealing with scandal and infighting on numerous fronts. And even as warring factions of conservatives and hyper-conservatives were split on how seriously to take survivors’ pleas to take their sexual abuse and subsequent cover-up seriously, a new report has rocked the SBC. A church in Georgia’s internal investigation found 10 victims by a former minister of music, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Rehoboth Baptist Church in Tucker, Georgia, launched an investigation into allegations against a former minister following the Chronicle’s 2019 report of sexual abuse crisis within the SBC. That report alleged numerous stories of not just abuse at the hands of SBC pastors and lay leaders, but subsequent apathy and even cover-up by SBC leadership. At the time, SBC President J.D. Greear called for inquiries into 10 different churches for their role in the sex abuse crisis, but most of those investigations were ended the following week by an SBC group including Mike Stone. Stone is considered a leading contender to replace Greear as the new pastor of the SBC.
Rehoboth Baptist pastor Troy Bush continued his church’s investigation anyway, and he criticized Stone and the rest of the committee’s decision in comments made to the Chronicle. “This rushed process nearly succeeded in protecting a confirmed child sex abuser while it failed the survivors of his abuse,” he said. Bush’s investigation found that the former minister had abused at least 10 boys in four different churches throughout the state. (The Chronicle did not name the minister, since he has not been charged.)
This comes amidst an enormously tense meeting of the SBC, where a push by sexual abuse victims and their allies to ensure total transparency for a third party investigation into their claims was voted down by the Executive Committee. Opponents to the motion for total transparency — a group which included Stone — said that such an investigation would undermine church autonomy.
The Executive Committee just voted down the opportunity to even discuss this motion.
Lord, have mercy. pic.twitter.com/dyR2UcjZfF
— Jared C. Wellman (@JaredcWellman) June 14, 2021
Later in the day, sexual abuse survivors handed out copies of a joint statement calling for a transparent investigation on the convention floor. Several reporters including Jonathan L. Krohn and Chris Moody, say they witnessed Stone leaving one such survivor named Hannah-Kate in tears after she tried to speak with him. Krohn said that Stone told the survivor she was “doing harm” to the denomination. SBC Pastor Griffin Gulledge said he and multiple other pastors also witnessed the exchange.
Moments ago, @PastorMikeStone told @freedomsbride — just outside the #SBC21 convention hall — that she was “doing harm” to the denomination. As she walked away in tears, pastors and messengers came up to shake his hand and wish him luck tomorrow.
— Jonathan L. Krohn (@JonathanLKrohn) June 15, 2021
In a statement, Stone denied this version of events, saying that he and the woman had been engaged in a “brief” and “polite” conversation.
Such scandals and controversies follow several months of upheaval that saw mainstays like former SBC public policy wing president Dr. Russell Moore and acclaimed author and preacher Beth Moore (no relation) leaving the denomination over its handling of racism and abuse. A leaked letter from Russell Moore in which he alleged shocking conversations around these issues with members of the Executive Committee sent shockwaves through the convention. Those shockwaves appear to still be ongoing, and show few signs of slowing down.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.