Secret recordings show Southern Baptist dispute on sex abuse

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE – In this Tuesday, June 14, 2016, file photo, Pastor Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, addresses members during the organization’s annual meeting in St. Louis. In a Thursday, June 10, 2021, open letter to Floyd, president of the Executive Committee, and Mike Stone, then-chairman of the committee and now a candidate for convention president, critics sought to show top leaders were slow to address sexual abuse in the nations largest Protestant denomination, more worried about the conventions reputation and donations than about victims of abuse. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Releases of leaked letters and secret recordings from within the Southern Baptist Convention intensified Thursday as critics sought to show top leaders were slow to address sexual abuse in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and worried more about its reputation and donations than about victims.

A former executive of the denomination’s ethics agency posted audio clips he clandestinely recorded in internal meetings to bolster claims that leaders of the SBC’s Executive Committee sought to slow or block policies responding to abuse by ministers and other church leaders, and that they tried to intimidate those seeking a more robust response.

The committee members defended their actions, saying the recordings reflect the normal give-and-take of trying to develop the best policies.

The timing comes less than a week before the SBC’s annual meeting, which is expected to draw its highest attendance in more than 25 years, amid tensions over abuse, race and other issues and growing calls for an independent investigation of the Executive Committee’s response.

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Phillip Bethancourt, a Texas pastor and former executive vice president of the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, posted the audio online in an open letter to Ronnie Floyd, president of the Executive Committee, and Mike Stone, then-chairman of the committee and now a candidate for convention president.

“Southern Baptists deserve to hear you in your own words,” Bethancourt wrote.

One set of clips came from a meeting following a Caring Well conference on sexual abuse sponsored in 2019 by the ethics commission.

In the recording, Floyd questions Russell Moore — who was president of the commission until his resignation last month — about one of the speakers, Rachael Denhollander, an attorney and prominent advocate for fellow abuse survivors.

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