Federal lawsuit accuses Southern Baptist Convention of covering up sex abuse

Local Memphis [Memphis, TN]

February 6, 2024

By Kim Chaney

Among the cases cited in the lawsuit is a 2006 incident at Bellevue Baptist Church where Pastor Steve Gaines did not immediately fire an accused abuser.

federal lawsuit filed in Nashville, Tennessee, accuses the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) of covering up and concealing sex abuse, and it mentions Memphis’ Bellevue Baptist Church and its senior pastor Dr. Steve Gaines.

Bellevue and Gaines are not specifically named as defendants in the lawsuit, which claims the Southern Baptist Convention leaders denied the rights of sexual abuse survivors by covering up abuse by church members and employees.

The lawsuit accuses the SBC leaders of being aware of abusers who seek employment as pastors and staff, allowing them to obtain positions of authority within the church leadership and holding influence over adults and children in the congregations. It claims convention leadership “has done little or nothing to train employees and agents to look for abusers, screen abusers or protect church members and volunteers from the sexual predators who infiltrate its ranks.”

The lawsuit cites a 2019 investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News which found more than 200 criminal cases and 700 victims over two decades involving Southern Baptist churches.

The lawsuit highlights a part of the newspapers’ investigation which found Bellevue Baptist and Dr. Steve Gaines did not immediately fire a sexual offender in 2006. It claims Gaines waited six months before firing a pastor who had confessed to molestation at the church.

Gaines went on to serve as President of the SBC from 2016 to 2018.

The lawsuit goes on to accuse the SBC of failing to disclose abuse to law enforcement, concealing complaints by victims, shunning victims, rejecting requests for studies into church sex abuse, and even urging victims to get abortions to conceal abuse.

The lawsuit, which was filed at the end of December 2023, accuses the SBC of negligence, infliction of emotional distress, and RICO (Racketeers Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) violations. It asks for a jury trial and compensatory and punitive damages of $10 million.

ABC24 has reached out to Bellevue Baptist and will update this story with any response.