Bart Barber, The SBC, And Abuse

Patheos [Englewood CO]

February 1, 2024

By Layne Wallace

Is the EC or SBC at Fault in the SBC Sexual Abuse Scandal

In a recent interview the President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Bart Barber, discussed the sexual abuse scandal in the SBC among other topics. In the interview Barber says,

“What the investigation found after looking hard to see if they could find a time when the convention or the executive committee knew about abuse and failed to report it, or facilitated an abuser being able to continue to abuse, they didn’t find any instances where the convention or the executive committee did that…”

Technically True

 Video Of Barber’s Remarks about the Sexual Abuse Scandal

Barber is technically correct. The Executive Committee (EC) and the SBC itself did not fail to report sexual abuse or facilitate abuse by moving ministers from place to place. While the EC and SBC as a whole can claim innocence, core leaders of the movement failed to report, failed to act appropriately, and even facilitated abusers to continue their heinous actions.

Barber’s Comments about the EC’s Inaction

No Coordinated Effort From the Whole 

The innocence of the EC and SBC leadership is that there was no coordinated effort among the whole. Yes, the EC as a whole did not fail to report sexual abuse or to intervene in situations of abuse, but individual members of the EC did. Former EC Vice President and General Counsel August Boto and former SBC spokesman Roger Oldham kept a list of known clergy sexual abusers.[1] This revelation was shocking because publicly the EC maintained keeping a list would be an abridgment of congregational autonomy.[2] Guidepost, the independent firm that investigated the SBC reports,

Although many survivors did not reach out to Nashville or the EC offices, as indicated above, the amount of survivor information grew somewhat between 2000-20019. Behind the curtain, the lawyers were advising to say nothing and do nothing, even when the callers were identifying predators still in SBC pulpits. Although Mr. Guenther and Mr. Jordan acknowledged they were not experts in sexual abuse or clergy abuse, that did not stop them from advising the SBC on how to answer inquiries on whether to respond at all.[3]

Callers identified sexual abusers to the EC office and the SBC office in Nashville, and no leader took action other than to protect the SBC from liability. 

Failure to Act

In a damning paragraph, the Guidepost Report recounts,

“In a memo to Mr. Boto in or around 2008, Mr. Guenther discussed two anonymous calls received by Dr. Oldham. The caller identified himself as a church staffer who believed the church’s pastor was engaged in a relationship with a 14-year-old girl. Among other things, the caller reported that the pastor had directed the staffer to give the girl a cell phone, arranged for a speed dial function so the pastor and girl could communicate, and not tell the pastor’s wife. Mr. Guenther recommended that Dr. Oldham “not undertake to elicit further information or details” and advise the caller to “immediately contact a lawyer and determine his duty to report” and consider his duty to report to the appropriate church officials.[4]

While Barber is correct that the EC as a whole did not fail to act, members of the EC with significant leadership responsibilities and EC counsel did know of sexual abuse reports.

Inaction also continued in the SBC. Court documents revealed in 2012 revealed the relief among SBC leaders concerning the decision to refrain from collecting a list of abusers. It was another case of inaction, this time greeted with glee. According to the emails, not having a list enabled the denomination to a lawsuit after a church hired a two-time abuser as a Minister of Music.[5] “He was the Music Minister and had molested before, twice. The church knew and hired him anyway.”[6] The abuser was serving the church, and the SBC leadership was relieved to avoid a lawsuit. Where is the fury at having a two-time abuser serve an SBC church? Where is the terror that the 2-time abuser would strike again?

Public Opposition and Private Lists 

Beyond the hypocrisy of maintaining a list in private and arguing against the list in public, Boto and Oldham did nothing to prevent those on the list from becoming pastors, remaining pastors, or having positions of power in the SBC.[7] Two venerable members of the EC had information they could have used to protect the innocent and did nothing. 

Paul Pressler

Something, however, much more sinister has come to light outside the Guidepost report. Paul Pressler, one of the main architects of what the SBC calls the “Conservative Resurgence,” is documented in sworn testimony to be a serial abuser of teenage boys and male staffers. In 2004 when Pressler was first elected Vice President of the SBC his home church wrote a letter warning about his habit of being in a hot tub naked with young men.[8]

This was not the first time. Pressler’s abusive behavior was an open secret. Allegations of abuse with Pressler go back to 1978.[9] Remember, Paige Patterson and Pressler met together in New Orleans to plan the Conservative Resurgence in 1967. What did Patterson know about Pressler? When did he know it?

Who Knew

Others did know. According to the law firm Baker Botts who gained a settlement against Pressler, the SBC stalled giving documents to the court saying they were the EC’s documents. Baker Botts then brought the EC into the suit. One week before trial the EC produced 1.5 million documents.[10] Interestingly, in the documents, the SBC’s lawyers did not want to depose Baker Botts’ witnesses for fear it would prove the case against Pressler.[11]

“However, there was a reluctance on all the defendants’ part to engage in discovery because we believed it would have produced a lot of evidence of the truthfulness of the fundamental allegation by the plaintiff that Pressler had sexually abused him for many years. So, our evidence regarding the plaintiff’s mental capacity was not as extensive as it might have been. And, as you well know, getting out of any case on a motion for summary judgment is tough.[12]

There have been repeated accusations against Pressler going back to 1978 when he was forced out of a church for allegedly molesting a teenager in a sauna.[13] Knowledge of accusations against Pressler was common in Houston as early as 2004 when his church filed a letter warning the SBC as he ran for office in the denomination.[14] Pressler failed a background search in 1989 when he was a candidate to lead the Office of Government Ethics.[15] According to some reports, Pressler’s abuse was common knowledge as early as the 1970s.[16] It may be true that the EC and SCB as a whole are innocent. It is also true that there were people who knew what was happening with Pressler and did nothing.

Standard Operating Procedure

Doing nothing was the operating procedure of the EC according to the very report Barber references.

For almost two decades, survivors of abuse and other concerned Southern Baptists have been contacting the Southern Baptist Convention (‘SBC’) Executive Committee (‘EC’) to report child molesters and other abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff,” notes the report, which was issued by Guidepost Solutions. “They made phone calls, mailed letters, sent emails, appeared at SBC and EC meetings, held rallies, and contacted the press . . . only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC.[17]

Major denominational leaders did fail to act and failed to report abuse.[18] Paige Patterson, who led Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWTBS) until his termination in 2018, has an alarming record on this issue. His termination from SWBTS was specifically because he failed to appropriately report a rape allegation to authorities, and wanted to meet alone with a woman who alleged she had been raped to “break her down.”[19] Note that is not the SBC itself failing to report. It is a man who served as the president of two SBC seminaries and the President of the SBC.

A Sex Offender In Seminary

There are more scandals surrounding Patterson and sexual abuse. While he was the President of SWBTS, the seminary admitted a registered sex offender, Eddie Valdez, who had voluntarily disclosed his status.[20] Eddie Valdez applied to SWBTS 4 months after a 17-year-old woman at the school where he was principal reported that she had had sex with him.[21] Despite his actions, SWBTS admitted Valdez. Patterson denies being involved in the admissions process with this student, however, The Tennessean has reported an email from Patterson to Valdez extolling his bright future.[22] While it is possible Patterson was not directly involved in admitting Valdez, sending a letter to him extolling his virtues is an unusual practice.

Facilitating Abuse by Moving Ministers 

According to the Houston Chronicle, Patterson mentored Darrell Gilyard. Gilyard was a talented minister with a gift for passionate preaching. Gilyard eventually got a scholarship from Criswell College where Patterson was president through the work of Jerry Vines and Patterson.[23] During Gilyard’s time at Criswell, numerous women from Gilyard’s church approached Patterson with concerns about Gilyard’s behavior in what Patterson called “consensual relationships.”[24] His pattern of behavior continued through 1991. Finally, after 4 years and a long list of affairs and abusive relationships, Patterson oversaw Gilyard’s resignation. He even went so far as to call area churches to warn them of Gilyard’s behavior.[25]

Patterson’s behavior in the episode, however, was anything but blameless. The Houston Chronicle reports,

Now, a newly unearthed trove of documents and videotape shows that Patterson personally investigated and downplayed numerous sexual misconduct allegations against Gilyard during his meteoric rise in the SBC. In 1991, four years after the first allegations surfaced, Patterson oversaw Gilyard’s resignation from a Dallas-area church after Gilyard confessed to some of the allegations.[26]

Patterson’s Pattern

While Patterson strenuously disputes the Houston Chronicle’s report,[27] it is interesting to see the overall pattern of his behavior. In 1987 reports of Gilyard’s inappropriate relationships with women began to emerge and he was forced to resign from his church. That same year, in the fall of 1987, Patterson recommended Gilyard for the pastorate in Hilltop Baptist Church despite knowing about accusations against him.[28] While attending a meeting sponsored by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 2oo0, Patterson said the proper response to spousal abuse depends on the level of abuse.[29] That same year Patterson recounted a conversation with a woman who had been beaten by her husband,

“Returning some days later with two black eyes, the woman said, “I hope you’re happy,” [Patterson said]. I said, “Yes, ma’am, I am happy,” Patterson quoted himself as telling the woman. “What she didn’t know when we sat in church that morning,” he said, “was that her husband had come in and was standing in back, first time he ever came.”[30]

Patterson mishandled a rape allegation in 2003 while he was the President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. 7 years later SWBTS admitted Valdez. In 2014 in a sermon, Patterson made inappropriate comments about a 16-year-old woman’s appearance calling her “built” during a sermon. After a rape allegation by a SWBTS student in 2015 when he was president, Patterson made the infamous “break her down” comment. This pattern of behavior toward women and abusive behavior toward women is deeply problematic and shameful.

Other Leaders Not Reporting, Facilitating, and Engaging in Abuse

While Patterson’s pattern might be the longest and most documented pattern of bad behavior, other core leaders of the SBC have failed to report appropriately issues they encountered. Steve Gaines, former SBC President, delayed reporting of a former staff member’s sexual abuse of a child.[31] Former President Jack Graham allegedly allowed John Langworthy to be relieved of duty quietly when he was accused of abusing boys.[32]

Other SBC leaders did more than protect and enable abusers. Some were abusers themselves. A woman, a pastor’s wife accused, former SBC president Johnny Hunt of sexual assault. The assault allegedly occurred while the families were vacationing together. Hunt’s defense was that the encounter included kissing and “awkward fondling,” and it was consensual. His defense is that he was engaging in adultery. His accuser maintains it was a forcible sexual assault that included pinning her down. Frank Paige, one-time SBC President, resigned as the EC president after an “inappropriate relationship” with a woman at a church where he served as an interim.[33]

Back to Barber

Notice again what Barber said. He said the SBC and the EC did not fail to report or participate in moving troubled ministers around. That is, of course, technically true but only true of them as a whole. No votes were taken. No initiatives were publicized. Individuals who were core, respected leaders did exactly that, however. The press is, therefore, mistaken in using the term “cover-up.” The truth, however, is that there has been a long-term practice of destructive behavior among the SBC’s leadership.



[2] Congregational autonomy is critical for Baptists. It means that no authority outside the local congregation has any say in what goes on inside the congregation. Baptist congregations are individually governed. Therefore no outside group or individual can tell a congregation who they may or may not call to serve as pastor. The EC argued keeping a list of abusers to prevent a congregation from calling an individual was an overreach against congregational autonomy.

[3], p 190.

Jordan and Guenther served as counsel to the EC. Emphasis author.

[4] 191.


[6] [7] [8] [9]










[19] “Officials: Ex-Baptist Leader Mishandled Separate Rape Claims – CBS Texas,” accessed January 31, 2024,

[20] Liam Adams, “Southern Baptist Seminary Admitted Registered Sex Offender during High-Profile Leader’s Tenure,” The Tennessean, accessed January 31, 2024,

[21] Adams.

[22] Adams.

[23] By Robert Downen, “‘ The Women Are Hurting,’” Houston Chronicle, August 22, 2019,

[24] Downen.

[25] By Robert Downen, “Exclusive Videos Show Confrontation of Baptist Pastor Accused of Sexual Misconduct,” Houston Chronicle, August 22, 2019,

[26] Downen, “‘The Women Are Hurting.’”

[27] A copy of Patterson’s letter is here: Ronnie W. Rogers, “Dr. Paige Patterson Falsely Accused, Again,” Ronnie W. Rogers, March 25, 2019,

[28] Downen, “‘The Women Are Hurting.’”

[29] Downen, “‘The Women Are Hurting.’”

[30] Scott Neuman, “Southern Baptist Leader Removed Over Remarks On Rape, Abuse Of Women,” NPR, May 23, 2018, sec. America,

[31] Joe Carter, “The FAQs: Report Reveals Sexual Abuse Cover-Up by Southern Baptist Entity,” The Gospel Coalition, May 23, 2022,

[32] Carter.

[33] “Key Leaders Named in Guidepost Report Respond | Baptist Press.”