SBC Leader Claims That Trying to Prevent Abuse Will Destroy the Mission

By Bob Smietana
joe knott SBC prevent abuse destroy mission
Joe Knott speaks during a virtual special meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, Oct. 5, 2021. (Video screen grab)

In fiery comments to an online meeting Thursday, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee warned that taking steps to prevent abuse in churches would lead to ruin.

“I am terrified that we are breaching our long-standing position of being a voluntary association of independent churches, when we start telling churches that they should do this or do that to protect children or women,” Joe Knott, a North Carolina attorney and longtime committee member, warned.

When those efforts fail, Knott continued, that will lead to lawsuits.

“I guarantee you women and children are going to be victimized no matter how much — and that is going to make us potentially targets of great class-action lawsuits, which could be the end of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Knott added.

Committee members were meeting to consider several recommendations arising from a recent report on how SBC leaders have responded in recent decades to sexual abuse in their churches and other institutions. The report, made by the third-party investigation firm Guidepost Solutions, found that leaders at the Executive Committee had focused for decades on trying to protect the SBC from liability for abuse in local churches.

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“In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy — even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation,” investigators wrote.

The report also found that former SBC President Johnny Hunt had been credibly accused of sexual assault and that Executive Committee staff had kept a list of abusers. Hunt has denied any abuse and instead claimed that he had a consensual sexual encounter outside his marriage. 

In response to the report, an SBC task force on sexual abuse recommended a number of reforms, including starting a website for tracking abuse, offering more training for member churches and adding staff who can facilitate responses to abuse allegations.

The task force asked the Executive Committee to recommend setting aside $3 million to fund such reforms. Knott’s comments came after a vote to amend the proposed SBC budget to provide those funds. That budget will be presented for approval at the SBC’s annual meeting in Anaheim later this month.

Knott’s comments were met with a friendly but firm rebuke by California pastor Rolland Slade, the chair of the Executive Committee, who said that one victim of abuse is too many.

“I don’t want us to say, well, we didn’t have enough money and so we, therefore, didn’t protect a little one that was vulnerable,” said Slade. 

“I know it can’t be about the money. It’s got to be about the people.”

Slade supported the abuse investigation, including a decision to waive attorney-client privilege, which allowed investigators to see communication between committee staffers and their lawyers. The committee’s decision proved crucial in the investigation.

Knott was one of several committee members, most of them with ties to a group called the Conservative Baptist Network, who opposed waiving privilege. During meetings last fall, he warned that doing so put the SBC at risk.

Before approving the budget amendments, the committee ratified a statement that apologized for past comments made by former Executive Committee vice president David August “Augie” Boto. Boto was singled out in the Guidepost report for dismissing abuse survivors’ complaints and telling one survivor activist in the mid-2000s that the Executive Committee did not want to hear from her further.

“The SBC Executive Committee rejects this sentiment in its entirety and seeks to publicly repent for its failure to rectify this position and wholeheartedly listen to survivors,” the committee said in a statement in late May.

A previous vote approving that statement was ruled out of order, prompting the committee to ratify the statement. Knott voted against approving the statement and asked that his no vote be recorded in the minutes. 

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.

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36 thoughts on “SBC Leader Claims That Trying to Prevent Abuse Will Destroy the Mission”

  1. Cops have an expression, “Lawyering up”. (I was Moderator and lawyer for my little Church for several years.)
    If you are more worried about scandal and lawsuits, than doing what is right, then you are no better than any other sleazy business.

  2. Funny how the SBC has no problem kicking a church out if they make a woman a pastor or validate same sex marriage. But protecting children from serial molesters…
    that’s a bridge too far for some??!?

  3. I hope for Mr. Knott’s sake that these are misquotes, or taken WAY out of context. If true, this illustrates exactly what’s wrong with the SBC.

    Mr. Knott said, ““I am terrified that we are breaching our long-standing position of being a voluntary association of independent churches, when we start telling churches that they should do this or do that to protect children or women.”

    Wow. The SBC had better denounce this pronto, or it will deserve to become, as in Joe Knott’s fears, “targets of great class-action lawsuits, which could be the end of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

  4. So what’s the downside to the SBC going away?? With comments like this by high officials in the Convention, I have to sadly conclude that Ichabod is written on the doors.

    1. The sad truth is that these large powerful denominations seem to have dethroned Jesus as being their head and instead have chosen to be lead by a hierarchical quasi-political network of powerful men. If Jesus was truly the leader of the SBC, these sins would not have been allowed, much less covered up.

    2. Independent Churches have no one-aside from hand-picked Boards–to exert even a little supervision.

  5. Yoshida Minoru

    “I guarantee you women and children are going to be victimized no matter how much — and that is going to make us potentially targets of great class-action lawsuits, which could be the end of the Southern Baptist Convention,” – Joe Knott, Esq.

    This is the most unspiritual, worldly, disgusting statement a leader of this institution can make.

    God, please have mercy on your church. Amen.

    1. Sadly, this not only reflects on the Southern Baptist Convention, but to all churches regardless of theological persuasion. You are right. God have mercy on our church.

    2. Mark M. Tyrrell

      When they make comments like this one, then you know that there is a problem. There is no better time than right now to seek out a new church home.

      1. W. Don Seaborg

        That time may come, but for me it is not there yet. But I will be closely watching to see how the SBC handles this at their convention this month.

  6. Billy J Foote

    So Joe Knott is comfortable with collateral damage (women, children) being abused as long as the institution is strong and relevant??? If we have to choose between either protecting the institution or the sheep, I say burn the institution to the ground.

    1. Concur. Here’s hoping that the article above does not present full context of Knott’s comments. Otherwise, the “no matter how much” quote is eerily similar to the first half of Luke 17:1 — sin and stumbling blocks are indeed inevitable in our fallen world. No mention from Knott of what Jesus adds next — “but woe to the one through whom they come.” Churches may never eliminate sexual abuse, but that’s no excuse for not doing our best to prevent it.

  7. I don’t know who wrote the headline, Mr. Smietana, or an editor. It doesn’t matter. Nowhere in the article does it say that preventing abuse will destroy the mission. If by mission it meant the SB Convention, the headline is misleading. I think most S. Baptists would say the mission is spreading the Gospel. Then Mr. Knott never said that spreading the Gospel would be prevented, and his comment was misrepresented. I’ve never met the man, but I doubt he thinks humans can prevent God from spreading His Word.

    1. Well it appears that the committee believes the mission is protecting the perpetrators of abuse. So, in effect, the headline is correct.

    2. What is the mission of the SBC? Luckily, their website tells us:

      https://www.sbc.net/missions/

      “The North American Mission Board embraces the vision that Christ spoke in Acts 1:8 that …you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The missions entity strives to fulfill the Lord’s expectation that a global missions strategy begins with a strong home base that will expand to the global arena. NAMB is the Southern Baptist entity empowered to assist churches to reach North America for Christ.”

      This is just one of four SBC entities listed on this page and they’re all focused directly on spreading the Gospel.

      In the article, Knott says: “I guarantee you women and children are going to be victimized no matter how much — and that is going to make us potentially targets of great class-action lawsuits, which could be the end of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

      He’s saying that even attempting to prevent abuse will destroy the SBC and (inevitably) its mission. The article is correct.

  8. Doing the right thing even when it costs you requires faith in Gods ability to protect and restore your interests.
    Odd that this would need to be pointed out to members of a executive committe of Americas largest protestant denomination. Maybe check a few bible stories, its one of the main themes of the scripture…thats where your mission originated.

  9. Wow. The true spirit of SBC. Women and kids you’re on your own. And us good ole boys AKA: White old men, we get to enjoy our white privilege. Wow. I am so wanting to know what they would say to Jesus if he showed up. Especially if he forget to show up in an expensive suit and merely wore a robe and sandals. And yes Jesus get a haircut and shave. After all, you’re entering Our err I mean God’s church.

  10. Steven Simonyi-Gindele

    We need to find a way to hold men like Joe Knott legally accountable for his actions. This could mean civil and criminal proceedings against men who hide or ignore abuse of children in church care. A few lengthy sentences will prove to be a deterrent to others.

    1. Rabindranath Ramcharan

      If the Executive Committee insists on making the SBC a haven for adulterers and fornicators (and sex offenders, which are not always the same thing), maybe it’s a mission that needs to be ruined.

    1. Salvatore Spina

      I can’t even begin to tell anyone the words that are flowing through my mind about the sheer stupidity of Mr. Knott and what he has said in this post. Actually this fool sounds more like a John MacArthur knock off, God help us. The reputation of the SBC is more important than taking a scalpel to this type of horrendous sin? I repeat, God help us.

  11. Knott’s assertions are pitifully tone deaf at the very least and a shocking display of callous disregard for vulnerable souls that Jesus calls “the least of these.” Even given the most charitable interpretation of Knott’s motives, it is impossible to ignore the power driven agenda behind his concern for the institution’s reputation over and above the well being of innocent people. His attitude is simply inexcusable and indefensible in light of the weighty evidence of systemic abuse brought to light by the Guideposts investigation. I join my voice with the growing number of others who are weary of these kinds of ridiculously hard-hearted diatribes by so-called church “leaders.”

  12. Once again and as always, Roys Report confronts criminality of sexual abuse in various church venues. This is worthy and God’s work of cleansing His church. I know of many others as victims of emotional abuse. This includes threats of excommunication, shunning, gaslighting. A recent unloving, arrogant and abusive pastor I endured for four years was from SBC affiliation. The last time I ever truly listened to this wolf, he had an unloving and threatening tone, while stating, “We have far less patience as a church with members, than with those of you visiting today.” Patience?!!! Hey, guess what “pastor.” There are relationship borders you don’t get to cross. Patience is one of them. Patience is reserved for parents, spouse, and those who have earned it. Some little twit who has never worked a real job his entire life is not going to manipulate me. Has it ever occurred to anyone that none of these “pastors” ever have the courage to define behavior that will get you excommunicated? It’s only their discretion, I.e. are you an insider or not. SBC is a joke. No accountability of leadership and lies of Lordship Salvation.

  13. My sense is, that the issues involved are way more complex than the perspectives of two warring sides to a disagreement are currently allowing for. For instance, yes the prevention of abuse is necessary and unavoidable, so no disagreement there with the imperative of one side to disagreement. But, yes, acting out this imperative will destroy some things in collective life, so Knott does have a legitimate concern to speak to. What is reform to one side, is revolution to the other side; and such change always has an edge of violence and destruction to it. More compassion towards those we fundamentally disagree with, might be helpful. Those who oppose the change we want, don’t necessarily act out of questionable intent.

    1. Colin, I can always count on you to try and defend the indefensible. You did this in your comment.

      1. Mark Gunderson

        Colin said nothing to deserve this uncharitable reply. I didn’t find his comment to be defending Knott.

        1. I was not trying to be charitable. He always defends the indefensible, He was defending Knott IMO.

      2. Brian Patrick

        Tom Parker,

        You were way out of line here. Colin Bowman doesn’t have to follow the Twitter mob word for word at all times to have a valid and nuanced opinion, whatever you think of it.

    2. Salvatore Spina

      Mr. Bowman, it’s incomprehensible to me that you would have such a dysfunctional reply in defending anything Mr. Knott would say in his statement about kicking sexually abused women and children to the curb in favor of saving the SBC. I think you might want to consider that if any of this horrendous type of sin touched your own flesh or those of your family you might well be singing a different tune. Just something to think about and I hope you do because you’re reply troubles me greatly.

    3. How can you possibly justify this statement?

      “I guarantee you women and children are going to be victimized no matter how much — and that is going to make us potentially targets of great class-action lawsuits, which could be the end of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

      If the SBC cannot even protect women and children from abuse, then what is it good for? Burn it all down. There’s no reason to continue to support and empower pastors who should be in jail, not the pulpit. If that results in an exodus from former SBC congregations, then at least it reduces the number of women and children in harm’s way.

    4. Colin Bowman,

      It was poor judgement on your part to not specify exactly what you meant by the vague statement,

      “But, yes, acting out this imperative will destroy some things in collective life, so Knott does have a legitimate concern to speak to. What is reform to one side, is revolution to the other side; and such change always has an edge of violence and destruction to it.”

  14. The Conservative Baptist Network will do everything it can to win the Presidency in a couple of weeks. If they lose they will claim fraud IMO-watch and see if this happens.

  15. Brian Patrick

    The SBC is pretty thoroughly corrupted and I don’t understand why any sane person remains in it.

    My issue is why it’s ONLY ever right-of-center SBCers that get called to the carpet. Paige Patterson and his clique are a toxic presence. So is the Greear/Loritts/Litton wing of the “woke” SBC–all enabled by the golden children, the two Moores.

    It’s easy to call out the old conservative white male heterosexual “good ol’ boys”. How about when the offender is nonwhite, or a woman, or a left-wing white?

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