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Southern Baptist Pastors Demand Investigation in Wake of New Russell Moore Letter

By Sarah Einselen
sexual abuse probe sex abuse
Messengers hold up an SBC abuse handbook while taking a challenge to stop sexual abuse during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, June 12, 2019, in Birmingham, Alabama. (RNS photo: Butch Dill)

Support for a third-party investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) handling of sex abuse allegations is mounting in the wake of a bombshell new letter authored by former SBC leader Russell Moore.

Two SBC pastors announced over the weekend they will make a motion at the upcoming meeting of the SBC for the newly elected president to hire an outside firm to investigate.

The pastors—Ronnie Parrott of Christ Community Church in Huntersville, North Carolina, and Grant Gaines, pastor of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee—say an investigation is necessary to discover the truth.

“We don’t need any more of the ‘he said this,’ and ‘he said that’ comments,” Parrot said. “We need the truth. An independent, third-party investigation is the only path forward for the truth.”

In two letters, written a year apart, Moore accused executive committee members of mistreating sex abuse survivors and trying to intimidate advocates.

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In Moore’s most recent letter, dated May 31, Moore accuses Mike Stone of stonewalling attempts to root out sexual abuse. Stone is an executive committee member who’s running to succeed J.D. Greear as SBC president.

Stone called Moore’s accusations “absolutely slanderous” in a video released over the weekend.

New letter calls situation a ‘crisis’

Moore, who resigned as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) last month, detailed to Greear what he saw as “the crisis of sexual abuse as it relates to the SBC Executive Committee.” The executive committee is the SBC’s governing body.

Moore accused the committee of “the spiritual and psychological abuse of sexual abuse survivors. . . along with a pattern of attempted intimidation of those who speak on such matters.”

In addition, he named some committee members, who he said had tried to delay efforts to assess church mishandling of abuse cases. He also alleged “the issue of sexual abuse lurks just below the surface of so much of the controversy of the last few years.”

Greear said Monday he “was aware of some things contained in the letter, but not everything.”

The 4,700-word letter, released Friday night by The Baptist Blogger website, shed more light on issues Moore referred to in a letter to the ERLC trustees. That letter was released last Wednesday, but was written February 24, 2020.

Following the release of both letters, Pastors Parrott and Gaines announced on social media their intentions to push for an independent investigation.

“The public witness of the SBC matters to every Baptist pastor I know,” Parrott and Gaines wrote in a pair of posts on social media. “I, like many others, want transparency and accountability in our entities.”

Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Jared C. Wellman, a member of the convention’s executive committee, voiced their support for an investigation within hours of the pastors’ announcement.

An SBC presidential candidate named

In Moore’s latest letter, he said both he and Greear faced pushback “from figures within the Executive Committee in merely raising questions about sexual abuse” following an investigative report published by the Houston Chronicle.

The Chronicle’s report covered hundreds of sexual abuse cases and allegations involving Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers. Moore accused members of the committee of reacting to efforts to speak publicly about the newspaper’s findings with “backroom and hallway threats of retribution and intimidation.”

Moore particularly accused Mike Stone, then chairman of the executive committee, of attempting to slow-walk the launch of a process to assess credible allegations of sexual abuse in SBC churches.

“If Stone had been able to delay its formation as he wished, we would be here two years later without even the most minimal mechanism to assess churches mishandling abuse. . .” Moore wrote.

Stone is one of several running for SBC president, including Al Mohler of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and reformer Randy Adams.

In a video posted Saturday, Stone called Moore’s letter “absolutely slanderous,” but did not address specific accusations.

Stone had previously accused Moore of “an attempt to influence the upcoming presidential election in the SBC.”

SBC officer elections are scheduled to take place June 15 during the convention’s annual meeting.

Other leaders also accused

Much of Moore’s May 31st letter centers on the SBC’s response to the disclosure by former Lifeway leader Jennifer Lyell in 2019 that she had been abused by a former Southern Baptist seminary professor who was returning to the ministry. Portions of her story first shared with Baptist Press, the SBC’s official media outlet, were omitted in a Baptist Press article that portrayed her abuse as a consensual affair.

The article was retracted several months after publication following strong criticism from survivor advocate and attorney Rachael Denhollander over the SBC’s handling of Lyell’s case.

Moore said he and the executive committee’s president at the time, Ronnie Floyd, faced backlash from Stone and other executive committee members after Denhollander’s comments. In her speech at the ERLC’s Caring Well Conference on sex abuse, Denhollander said multiple SBC entities besides Baptist Press, including the executive committee and Moore’s ERLC, had failed survivors within the SBC.

“The Denhollander moment at the Caring Well Conference enraged certain leaders of the Executive Committee,” Moore wrote. He said those committee members threatened to censure Greear and investigate Moore’s ERLC.

Greear was not censured, but the executive committee did launch a task force to investigate the ERLC. The task force’s report was released earlier this year. Moore alleged that the task force was intended “to keep a cloud over me, and to attempt to get me to self-censor and be silent about these matters.”

Moore also said Floyd had told him the executive committee would not make a public statement about whether a previous executive committee president had abused his authority to initiate an extramarital sexual relationship.

Frank Page resigned from his post in 2018 over a “morally inappropriate relationship” and went on to lead an SBC church in South Carolina.

Moore accused “Stone and his allies” as well as Augie Boto, who was interim executive committee president between Page and Floyd, of stonewalling “many attempts at reform for the sake of the sexually abused.”

Boto retired in 2019 after serving as the executive committee’s executive vice president and general counsel since 2007.

A working phone number for Boto could not be found.

However, Floyd said in a short statement published Saturday, that he did “not have the same recollection” as Moore of the interactions for which Floyd was present.

Yet three anonymous SBC institution employees confirmed details from Moore’s letter with The Washington Post.

Denhollander also confirmed Moore’s characterizations in his letter both publicly and to the Post, saying executive committee leaders including Floyd “refused to even communicate” to resolve Lyell’s complaint.

Lyell also confirmed Moore’s account.

A call to investigate

Moore said in his most recent letter that this year, he had planned to ask delegates at the SBC annual meeting to authorize a third-party investigation of the executive committee’s activities.

Gaines and Parrott cited Moore’s letters in their call for an investigation.

The pastors’ proposed motion asks for a report to be made at the convention’s next annual meeting, detailing the investigation’s findings and resulting actions the convention should take.

Russell Moore – Letter to SBC President – May 31, 2021


Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.



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16 Responses

  1. Somebody needs to investigate Russell Moore and what he knew and when he knew it and what he did about what he knew of the sexual affair of Ravi Zacharias with Lori Thompson. E.g., where was Russell‘s voice, when Ravi was invited to address the Southern Baptist convention in 2019?

    He also needs to explain the free pass he gave to JD Greear and his hiring and retention of that academic fraud and sexually culpable, Brian Loritts.

    James Lutzweiler
    Archivist (1999-2013), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
    [email protected]

    1. I’m suspicious of a letter on a high profile issue, which is written 16 months ago, but never gets sent to the parties who should deal with it, and instead gets “leaked” to the secular media (which is becoming openly hostile to Christianity, if not already there) just before the author leaves both demonination employment and membership as well AND just before its Annual Meeting.

      1. ‘the secular media (which is becoming openly hostile to Christianity, if not already there)”

        the secular media is simply pushing back at evangelicalism’s hypocrisy, corruption, abuse, and lack of honesty and integrity which evangelical christians are too apathetic and passive to do. someone has to fill the accountability void created by evangelicalism’s compliance culture.

  2. Moore’s letter, to me, indicates that there are two basic groups within the SBC: Conservative Christians on the one hand, and politically conservative non-Christians on the other, with the latter declaring war on the former.

    1. you’re privy to names in the Lamb’s Book of Life? You know who’s in and who’s out?

  3. “In a video posted Saturday, Stone called Moore’s letter “absolutely slanderous,” but did not address specific accusations.”

    I guess Mike Stone redefines slander as “makes me look really bad — even if it’s true”

    Actually, all evangelical powerbrokers have redefined slander in these terms.

    Just look at the current TGC article, “Communication’s Two Catastrophic Cousins” by Jeff Robinson, PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It’s preposterous. And he has a PhD???

    Public Service Announcement for Mike Stone, the SBC Executive Committee, The Gospel Coalition, and all Evangelical leaders:


  4. Greear and Moore sure turn a blind eye to Loritts’ sex abuse. Neither of them are ANY more credible than Patterson.

  5. I like Southern Baptist preaching but not crazy about the control the Southern Baptist Conventin has over local churches. I think the real the convention really Biblical? The Pastor is the head of the local church and they have a local body to keep things in check according to God’s Word. Seems to me that the SBC is a mechinism for job security but I can’t find where in the Bible it jusitfies it’s existence. Can someone enlighten me? It just takes one really bad President to influence a large body of believers at the local level. Should one person have that much control over a lot of churches?

    1. As a point of clarification, the Southern Baptist Convention NO control whatsoever over local churches–each of which is fully autonomous.

  6. Mr. Day, excuse my ignorance. I do not follow the logic of your post. Please explain further why the “Cousins” article written by Dr. Robinson is, in your opinion, preposterous. Thanks.

    1. The main problem is that what Jeff Robinson proposes is what has aided and abetted the “Abuse of Faith: Investigation reveals 700 victims of Southern Baptist sexual abuse over 20 years”.

      Jeff Robinson spiritualizes speaking out against wrong as the real sin, not the immoral behavior one is exposing. The whistleblower the problem. The whistleblower is the sinful one.

      He even allows that the information is true (aiding and abetting abuse, assault, adultery, cover-up, lying, stealing, self-dealing,…). But that matters not. In the equation described, the whistleblower is the sinful, devilish one.

      He goes on to quote, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law.”

      He conveniently leaves out verses such as “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11)

      “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9),

      “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17),

      “Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands up for me against evildoers?” (Psalm 94:16)

      He effectively puts tape over the mouths of every person who has been sexually assaulted and those who are aware that such things have happened, threatening them with the prospect of egregious sin before God if they speak out.

      And so those who sexually abuse and those who cover it all up to protect their own careers and opportunities continue on with impunity. While the victims are consigned to a destroyed life physically, emotionally, relationally.

  7. Let’s see if these same leaders of the SBC have the guts to do an investigation into “what really happened” the last day of the SBC Annual Meeting 2019 when Resolution 9 was craftily snuck in and passed. That was caught on video for all to see. Funny, this has never been investigated by the same “powers to be.” Many of these men will lose their power though when over 13,000 delegates meet in Nashville to represent the SBC person on the pew.

    1. I am not expecting the all Male SBC leaders to do anything about this at the SBC Annual meeting.

  8. Many comments in this thread are full of “whataboutism”, which I see as the biggest threat to addressing the actual concerns raised in the letter. It’s a DEFLECTION technique that has become unfortunately uncommon among Christians and non-Christians alike to discredit or downplay the impact of exposed sins. And it does little more than deny and delay addressing the sin (that TBH, many of us have known was in our midst as the universal body of Christ).
    While non-Christians don’t know better, WE DO (or rather, we should). We know the deflection of whataboutism is NOT the way to react when confronted with sin. We are to confess, repent, and return to God for grace and guidance on how to make amends and move forward.
    When we behave the same way as non-Christians, we are indistinguishable from them, which discredits our personal and collective ministry.

    1. “While non-Christians don’t know better, WE DO (or rather, we should). We know the deflection of whataboutism is NOT the way to react when confronted with sin.”

      have no idea what “whataboutism” is.

      but i do know that the human beings you describe as ‘non-christians’ abound with integrity, honesty, generosity, sincerity and kindness, more than what is on display amongst people who sport the christian label.

      spoken as a christian person.

      1. I think we are on the same side here, Scottie.
        Whataboutism is when people deflect with “but what about ____!?!?” or “But why aren’t they mad about that/bringing that up?!” It’s the equivalent to a child saying “but what about when they did it?!”, “but they did it too!” or “but they hit me first!” It is a way of making excuses or deflecting attention, blame, and accountability when caught. Amazing how our parents corrected us with “I don’t care what they did, YOU were wrong!” or “that doesn’t make what you did ok – two wrongs don’t make a right!” when we were children, yet so many forget that lesson as adults.

        Non-Christians don’t claim to be followers of Christ or believe the Bible is true (hence the term non-Christian), so I don’t expect them to follow Biblical teaching on how to react when confronted with sin. I don’t hold them accountable to a Bible they don’t claim to believe in.
        I DO expect Christians to folllow Christ. I DO expect them to stand out in the crowd. I DO hold them accountable to the scriptures they claim to believe in. If we don’t do this as fellow believers, our witness will continue to lack impact, inspiration and influence for Christ.

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