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Case Closed

Department of Justice closes investigation into SBC Executive Committee’s handling of abuse

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(RNS) — Federal officials have concluded an investigation of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee with no charges being filed.

News that the investigation was closed was first reported by The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville.

“On February 29, 2024, counsel for the SBC Executive Committee was informed that the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has concluded its investigation into the EC with no further action to be taken,” Jonathan Howe, Executive Committee interim president and CEO, told Religion News Service in a text responding to a request for comment.

News of the investigation became public in August 2022, after the Executive Committee first received a subpoena from the Department of Justice. That subpoena was issued a few months after the release of a major report showing some SBC leaders had mistreated abuse survivors for years and had intentionally sought to downplay the number of sexual abuse cases in the 13.2 million-member denomination.

Few details about the investigation have been made public and the Department of Justice has never acknowledged an inquiry was underway.

The Executive Committee has reported that the DOJ investigation has added to its growing legal expenses in recent years. The committee also faces ongoing civil lawsuits, including one filed by a former denominational president named in the 2022 abuse report from Guidepost Solutions.

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Last December, several SBC entities settled a lawsuit prompted by years of alleged sexual abuse by legendary SBC leader and retired Texas judge Paul Pressler.

That Guidepost report, which was commissioned by messengers at the 2021 SBC annual meeting, found a number of cases where SBC leaders had mistreated abuse survivors and one case where a leader was accused of sexual assault.

A series of reforms aimed at addressing sexual abuse in the denomination has stalled in recent months, largely due to uncertainty over how those reforms will be paid for. Members of a task force assigned to implement those reforms recently announced plans to start a new nonprofit to oversee the reforms. However, leaders of two SBC mission boards that are funding the task force have said they will not fund the new nonprofit.

Howe said SBC leaders are committed to moving forward with reforms.

“While we are grateful for closure on this particular matter, we recognize that sexual abuse reform efforts must continue to be implemented across the Convention. We remain steadfast in our commitment to assist churches in preventing and responding well to sexual abuse in the SBC,” he said in a statement.

The Executive Committee also announced last week that Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary, has been nominated as the group’s permanent president and CEO. The committee has been without a permanent leader since 2021. Two previous attempts to name a permanent leader failed. In addition, a former interim leader, who had been under consideration for the permanent role, resigned after admitting he had falsified his resume.

A meeting to vote on Iorg is scheduled for later this month in Dallas.

Main photo: The first day of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, La., on June 13, 2023. (RNS photo/Emily Kask)

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Bob Smietana

Bob has served as a senior writer for Facts & Trends, senior editor of Christianity Today, religion writer at The Tennessean, correspondent for RNS and contributor to OnFaith, USA Today and The Washington Post.