Associated Press report raises questions about status of probe into SBC Executive Committee


NASHVILLE, Tenn.   —  An Associated Press report on Friday said the status of a federal investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s handling of sexual abuse remains unclear.

Several survivors and advocates told the news organization they had learned directly from U.S. Department of Justice officials that no part of the investigation has finished,  contradicting  an earlier statement from the Executive Committee's interim president.

Further clouding the issue was an ambiguous phrase from the denomination's official news service.

“Legal counsel for the SBC has since confirmed that the investigation into the SBC as a whole remains open and ongoing,” said an article Thursday in Baptist Press.

The phrase “as a whole” appeared to advocates to include the Executive Committee and to represent a backtracking from the earlier statement.

However, Executive Committee spokesman Jon Wilke said the Baptist Press article provided “added clarification” but did not represent a change in the committee’s previous statement.

The entity in the best position to clear things up — the Department of Justice — did not return multiple queries from The Associated Press seeking comment on the reports. The department typically does not comment publicly on pending investigations.

The Associated Press reported that survivors and advocates say they've been in touch with federal investigators and been told the broad investigation continues.

On Wednesday, the Executive Committee's interim president, Jonathan Howe, said that committee's counsel was informed Feb. 29 by the DOJ that there is “no further action to be taken” in the probe, though he did not address the status of the investigation into any of the other SBC entities, which include seminaries and mission agencies.

Bruce Frank, a North Carolina pastor who chaired the Southern Baptists’ initial task force responding to sexual abuse, said survivors’ wariness is understandable.

“There’s been a lot of progress since 2019, particularly at the local and state level, a lot of training,” said Frank, whose task force operated from 2021 to 2022 and recommended reforms that another task force is now overseeing. At the same time, he said, “if I was a survivor, yeah, you have every reason to be skeptical, because at the national level there’s been some unnecessary obstacles."

“Our standards shouldn’t be what’s a federal crime, our standard should be what’s the Christlike way to protect the sheep and deal with the wolves,” said Frank, pastor of Biltmore Church, which has several locations in western North Carolina.