Faced with damning sexual abuse investigation, some in SBC seek to discredit the investigators

Baptist News Global [Jacksonville FL]

June 8, 2022

By Mark Wingfield

One week before Southern Baptists gather to respond to a damning independent investigation of sexual abuse problems, the lead story on the denomination’s news site is about “controversy” created by Guidepost Solutions tweeting support for Pride month.

Guidepost is the firm hired to conduct the investigation into the SBC Executive Committee mandated by messengers to last year’s SBC annual meeting. It is not a faith-based organization but is a for-profit corporation with specific expertise in large-scale corporate reviews.

Nevertheless, some anti-gay Southern Baptists expressed alarm over a single tweet from the Guidepost corporate account at the beginning of June, which is known nationally as Gay Pride Month.

On June 6 Guidepost tweeted its commitment “to strengthening diversity, equity and inclusion” as an organization that welcomes employees to “bring their authentic selves to work.” It called the company “an ally to our LGBTQ+ community.” The tweet was accompanied by the image of a rainbow flag.

The June 7 Baptist Press story about this “controversy” did not cite any specific Southern Baptist complaints about the Guidepost tweet but quoted Bruce Frank, chairman of the Sexual Abuse Task Force, defending Guidepost’s work against unspecified allegations.

However, on Twitter, the criticism appears to have originated with East Texas pastor Tom Buck, a frequent social media critic of SBC leadership and ally of SBC presidential candidate Tom Ascol.

On June 6, Buck retweeted the Guidepost Pride statement and said: “Hey, SBC! You might want to consider this as you contemplate adopting the solutions they offer our convention. Not sure their voice should be listened to by any Christian organization. They don’t hold a biblical worldview and their recommendations reflect that.”

The notion of a “biblical worldview” is central to conservative evangelical theology. Within the most conservative wing of the SBC, such a worldview must include opposition to LGBTQ identity, opposition to women serving as pastors and a variety of other beliefs.

The support of a secular company for gay pride isn’t the only attempt this week to discredit Guidepost and its investigation.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Denny Burk, who also serves as president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, earlier took to Twitter to say the cost of the investigation is taking money away from missions.

He quoted from an article in the Missouri Baptist Pathways publication: “The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s proposals for funding abuse reform efforts in the denomination will cost the International Mission Board roughly $4.5 million … that $4.5 million is enough money to fund 75 missionaries.”

Burk’s tweet was immediately and roundly denounced by abuse survivors and allies who said he was insensitive to the abused and attempting to place a dollar value on their suffering.

The criticism was so severe that Burk later tweeted an apology, although he did not remove or retract the original tweet: “When I posted the news item above, it was never in my farthest imagination to imply that abuse reform is too costly. I certainly do not believe that cost should be our major concern as we respond to sexual abuse. We have to determine the right thing and then do that right thing no matter what the cost. That is my conviction.”

That apology wasn’t sufficient for his critics, however, who said a retraction and fuller apology were merited.

Yet another Southern Baptist pastor took a controversial angle on the sexual abuse report by tweeting: “A victim of abuse is not saved because they’re a victim of abuse. They’re saved only when they put their faith in Jesus Christ. If helping abuse victims doesn’t include sharing the gospel with them, you’re not really helping abuse victims.”

That came from Gabriel Hughes, who is associate pastor at Tom Buck’s church in Lindale, Texas.

Hughes also tweeted against Guidepost and its support for LGBTQ persons: “Trying to correct sexual perversion with more sexual perversion? Sounds like a lose-lose to me. By the way, many were sounding the alarm a year ago saying the ‘outside mediators’ being hired by the SBC were pro-LGBTQ. You were warned and didn’t listen.”

Buck and Hughes appear to believe that any support for LGBTQ inclusion should have prevented Guidepost from being hired by the SBC, a point task force vice chairman Marshall Blalock disputed in his own series of tweets.

Blalock called the charges from Buck and Hughes “an excuse not to deal with sexual abuse and mistreatment of survivors within the SBC.”

“Guidepost is a multinational secular company that specializes in corporate investigations,” he said. “They are not a Christian company although they routinely work for Christian organizations. The SATF chose them for their expertise and capacity to complete the investigation in time. We would have preferred to choose a Christian company, but no other firm had the capacity to do this work. We published (a request for proposal) open to all, but other companies pulled their proposals when the scope and time constraints were presented.”

Further, those assigned by Guidepost to work on the SBC investigation were mainly Christians, he added. “They operated with integrity, they respected our faith and values, they even ate a significant amount of the cost because they wanted to help us discover the truth and assist us to be more Christlike in how we respond to sexual abuse.”

Baptist Press quoted Guidepost spokesman Montieth M. Illingworth defending the company’s integrity: “Guidepost Solutions is a secular organization with over 200 employees. Our integrity is not in any manner compromised by the recognition of LGBTQ+ month. We have worked closely with numerous faith-based communities who have been deeply grateful for the work we have done to support their missions and to help advance their ability to live their beliefs and values. We believe our anti-discrimination position only strengthens our ability to conduct independent, fair and bias free investigations like our SBC investigation.”