A recent four-part investigative series by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports over 400 cases of sexual misconduct in Independent Fundamental Baptist churches in 40 U.S. states and Canada.
Sarah Smith, lead investigative reporter for the Star-Telegram, says her team found that sexual misconduct was prevalent in churches with fear-based cultures. Smith says congregants were often afraid to speak out against their pastor because they felt as if they were speaking against God.
Smith says the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church does not have a strict hierarchy like the Catholic Church, but its informal structure could have helped shield abusers.
“These churches do form this informal network with their Bible colleges, summer camps, preachers’ conferences – so there is enough of affiliation there to allow alleged abusers to be shuffled out from church to church,” Smith says.
Smith says the investigation started with news of two arrests for child sexual abuse in the same week at the Open Door Baptist Church in Mesquite. After looking into those cases, she started to learn of similar cases at other churches, and the story evolved from there. Smith says the churches featured in her story weren’t willing to talk to her, but some abuse survivors did talk.
“The survivors were remarkably open,” Smith says. “Not only is overcoming sexual abuse and being able to speak about that extremely difficult, but it’s extremely difficult after getting out of this tightly controlled church setting to even begin to talk about it.”
Smith says the survivors seemed to have a common goal: by sharing their story, they might help someone else in a similar situation.
Written by Acacia Coronado.