The abuse compilation comes to us from the Executive Committee. It details about 15 years of news reports of potentially Southern Baptist ministers accused or tried for various kinds of sex abuse. And it suggests one very strange case to 'use as example.' So here, we examine the situation behind the abuse report, as well as the person who ordered it in the first place, Augie Boto.
Last week, shortly after the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) published its full report about the extent of sex abuse in their ranks, they released another document. The full report hinted frequently at the existence of this document, but we finally got to see it. It was an extensive, even exhaustive database of ministerial sex abusers in suspected SBC churches. And it constituted an unofficial sex-abuser database, which the denomination had officially refused to create for years. Its mere existence speaks to the SBC’s leaders’ self-protection instincts.
While the whole document is difficult to read, one line in it particularly caught my eye. It read, “Use as example.”
So what does that mean, exactly? Let’s take a closer look.
Augie Boto’s idea of “stuffing newspaper clippings in a drawer”
In the 1981 horror spoof Saturday the 14th, there’s a funny scene concerning a mother and her son’s wildly disparate ideas of cleanliness. The 10-year-old son has hidden a book under his pillow. The next day, he asks his mom if she’s cleaned his (very messy) bedroom. She replies that she’s only “put a few clothes away.” He sighs with exaggerated relief.
Later in the movie, he rushes up to his bedroom to fetch the book. To his shock, the room is now completely immaculate.
He stares in utter disbelief, finally murmuring, “This is what she calls hanging up a few clothes?”
That scene went through my mind recently when I read through the SBC’s compilation of abusers.
See, the full abuse report hints at this compilation in many places. On page 4, we encounter it for the first time:
Over the years, the existence of these reports of abuse were not shared with EC Trustees. Nor was the fact that, since 2007, an EC staff member working for Mr. [Augie] Boto was maintaining a list of accused ministers in Baptist churches, including the minister’s name, year reported, relevant news articles, state, and denomination.Guidepost abuse report, 2022, pp 4-5
But Augie Boto, at the time a long-time and high-ranking member of the SBC’s ruling Executive Committee (EC), downplayed everything about it. At one point, he told the staffer maintaining it how to conceptualize its existence:
Basically, we are stuffing newspaper clippings in a drawer. Anybody could do that.Guidepost abuse report, 2022, p. 67
So when I saw just how detailed and extensive this document really is, the first thing that went through my mind was that line from Saturday the 14th.
This is what Augie Boto calls “stuffing newspaper clippings in a drawer”?!?
The absolute state of the SBC, one database line at a time
On page 5 of the abuse report, we learn that this information abuse compilation contains the names of 703 abusers. Moreover, 245 are specifically noted as also appearing on the “Houston Chronicle database.” That bit refers to the 2019 “Abuse of Faith” investigation. In that groundbreaking investigation, newspaper journalists uncovered 380 SBC ministers since 1998 who’ve been accused of sexually abusing 700+ victims.
So, the abuse compilation contains 458 new names that are not also listed in “Abuse of Faith.”
Some of the people named in this compilation were criminally charged. Others were tried in civil courts for damages. The compiler included URLs to news articles when possible.
They also tried to track down the alleged/confessed abusers’ church affiliations.
The term “SBC” appears in the document 465 times. However, the discussion cell of each entry occasionally uses the term. I counted 74 discussion mentions. The remaining 391 mentions fall under the “denomination” column.
Thus, 391 ministers of the 703 named are (or at least were at the time of accusation/trial) SBC-affiliated.
Sidebar: Some quick explanations and spotlights
In two places, the compiler notes: “Why does HC have as SBC.” HC means Houston Chronicle. So, Houston Chronicle had listed that minister as SBC-affiliated. But the compiler might not have found SBC affiliation for the named minister. They still listed the minister as SBC, regardless.
In 29 places, the compiler notes that a given church couldn’t be found “on SBC Workspace.” According to one state-level SBC convention, SBC Workspace is “a web application co-created by mission entities as a way to receive and store statistical and biographical data” from SBC churches. The state convention’s explanation specifically names their own state (North Carolina), but many different state conventions utilize the service. Among other things, the app helps church leaders generate their all-important Annual Church Profile (ACP).
(Here’s an interesting PowerPoint presentation with screenshots explaining how to use SBC Workspace. Warning: it auto-downloads!)
The infamous and long-protected sex predator Darrell Gilyard has what appears to be the longest discussion entry of the whole lot of them.
Andy Savage, whose sexual grooming and predation of a teenager in his then-youth group gained attention years later in 2018, gets a mention in the compilation. (Yes, he’s SBC).
Christa Brown’s criticism of the SBC’s “do-nothing approach” to sex abusers also gets a mention.
An absolutely disturbing but unsurprising number of the named sex abusers worked in youth ministry. We’ve talked about sex abusers in youth ministry before, but seeing it played out line by line on a database was a struggle all the same.
‘Use as example’ is the worst example imaginable
Now, let’s zero in on the line in this compilation that so caught my eye.
We find it in the entry for Perez Blackmon. In 2010, Rosinvick Missionary Baptist Church of Blakely, Georgia hired him to be their pastor. Whoever did the hiring didn’t care that Blackmon was, in fact, a registered sex offender.
Alas, the main newspaper article detailing his plea deal of statutory rape is subscriber locked. However, we can see references to it all across the sorts of sites that cared about this kind of thing in 2010. And I did find a record of his appeal of the conviction from 2005. There, we find that the crimes involved occurred between 1994 and 1998.
Though I don’t speak Lawyer, it looks like his appeal was granted for at least some of his charges. However, he was still a registered sex offender at the time of his hiring. And it looks like his church was aware of that status. On an Australian watchdog site, we also see corroboration for another claim on the abuse compilation: that the church ejected a member who was vocal about not wanting Blackmon there.
I see no accusation of Blackmon sexually abusing anyone once installed, though obviously, it’s still shocking and reprehensible that his church voted for him to be hired at all.
More importantly, Compiler notes that Blackmon’s church was “Baptist Type Missionary.” Missionary Baptists are their own group. They’re not SBC. At all. So, Blackmon was not even an SBC minister and this was not even an SBC church.
So why was this one entry specifically singled out?
A far better ‘use as example’ entry
Everyone, meet John Randy Leming Jr. He goes by Randy.
In 1998, Leming pastored Shiloh Baptist Church in Sevier County, Tennessee. (Its main city, Sevierville, is a bit east and south of Knoxville, which is on the very eastern end of the state. Sevier County includes Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.) Shiloh Baptist Church was and is 100% an SBC church. Then, Leming pleaded guilty to charges of statutory rape of a 16-year-old congregant in 1994. I see no record of him again till 2014, and neither did Compiler.
But in 2014, Leming sure began pastoring Antioch Baptist Church, which was also SBC.
I say “was” up there because last year, Antioch Baptist Church got itself disfellowshipped (that’s Christianese for kicked tf out) by the SBC mothership. The SBC kicked out this church specifically because it employed a guy with a past conviction of sex abuse. Interestingly, Leming quit his pastor job shortly after the disfellowshipping.
I’ve got no idea what he’s doing now. Dude’s probably eating his own liver in rage every evening.
Why Randy Leming makes a much better ‘use as example’
First of all, Randy Leming’s two churches of note both affiliated with the SBC. He was never stopped from pastoring after his 1998 conviction. Instead, he just moved on over to another SBC church after a period of apparently laying low.
So, Randy Leming perfectly fits the “Abuse of Faith” narrative of SBC leaders not doing a damn thing to stop sex abusers from switching churches. All we’d need for him to be the chef’s-kiss-perfect ur-example of Baptist predators is for him to have been caught abusing more people at the second church. As it is, he’s pretty near perfection here.
Most notably, his example is a much better “use as example” because the SBC’s leaders actually sorta-kinda did something about him. Yes, they did wait until disapproval finally reached a crescendo that even they couldn’t ignore. It still counts, if we judge by the alarmingly loose parameters of the SBC’s overall non-response to its own abuse crisis.
Instead, whoever made that “use as example” note reached for someone who wasn’t even in the SBC and who got made pastor of a church after conviction and with sex offender status.
Whatever, they’re rollin’
I noticed a few sites mentioning Perez Blackmon in their write-up of the compilation. A radio news site includes him on their writeup, as does Yahoo News, with both even naming the church’s Missionary Baptist affiliation. They’re just listing Georgia pastors, not SBC-specific ones. However, a Patch.com writeup describes him as one of the SBC’s own.
Basically, Blackmon is not at all being touted as the ur-example of an SBC ministerial sex abuser.
So I’m not sure exactly how the SBC’s leaders—in particular Augie Boto—planned to “use as example” the case of Perez Blackmon. For that matter, we only see a few notes like that one in the entire compilation, like the case of Robert Lee Adams Reaves, whose entry notes that he represents an “example of multiple offenses.” Sometimes, we see the idea conveyed without the word “example.” For instance, Howard L. Blattel’s entry notes that he represents “abuse against adult” as opposed to minors, and Jim Kilburn Price represents “2 sexual assaults against adults.”
Augie Boto himself clearly didn’t want this compilation to get out into the public. The very top of it notes that it was released to Guidepost Solutions (the company conducting the investigation itself for the Sex Abuse Task Force) on a “HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL” basis and was “NOT to be published.” Immediately afterward, someone (maybe Compiler, maybe not) tries their best to cover their ass by noting its incomplete, un-proofread, inadequately researched, and non-SBC-specific nature.
To be fair, these are all true. But it’s still definitely not just someone “stuffing newspaper clippings in a drawer.”
And I’d definitely like to know exactly who was meant to heed these “use as example” instructions, and what that person was supposed to use them to illustrate.
And now, the intriguing omissions part of the show
This compilation leaves out a lot of people and offenses.
It does not, for example, name Rick Trotter or Bryan Loritts. Back in 2005, pastor Bryan Loritts hired Rick Trotter to be his fairly-new church’s Worship Director. At some point in there, Trotter became Loritts’ brother-in-law.
In 2010, though, Loritts’ church fired Trotter for filming women in the church’s bathroom. The next year, another church hired Trotter. They knew about his past. Despite the so-called “accountability plan” they put in place for him, he got caught taking upskirt photos in 2016. The church’s leaders turned him over to the police, a step the previous church had chosen not to take.
In 2020, J.D. Greear, then the president of the whole SBC, hired Bryan Loritts to be a sub-pastor at his megachurch, Summit Church. All evidence points to Greear being fully aware of Loritts’ past hiring and shielding of Rick Trotter.
An uproar ensued. Greear hired Guidepost to do what sounds like an absolute deflection of an investigation. Unsurprisingly, it cleared Greear of all wrongdoing. Bryan Loritts still works there. (And he still lacks a staff photo.)
Absolutely none of this fiasco and none of these three ministers or their churches ended up in the compilation, despite it making the news in a major way at the time.
Paige Patterson appears in this compilation only with regard to Darrell Gilyard, who had once been his hand-chosen protege. Other big names (like Frank Page) don’t appear at all, at least that I noticed.
But hey, it does include David Sills, who’d already been forced by Al Mohler to quit his SBC seminary job after grooming and abusing Jennifer Lyell!
Faction warfare and self-protection: Still the order of the SBC’s day
When I found out that Guidepost was making an investigation for the Sex Abuse Task Force, I immediately guessed it’d become a weapon of faction warfare.
Right now, the SBC has two factions fighting desperately to take control of the SBC’s future.
The Old Guard, comprising the EC and quite a few big names like Ronnie Floyd and Augie Boto, want to ignore the sex abuse megascandal. They also want to clamp down hard on ultraconservative stances and the SBC’s largely-failed culture wars. They think this will fix everything.
Meanwhile, the Pretend Progressives, led by guys like J.D. Greear and Ed Litton, act like they totally care about sex abuse and its victims. Of course, they don’t actually want to make the necessary changes required to make the SBC a safe place for women and children. Instead, they offer half-measures and cry crocodile tears before doing stuff that completely betrays their true hearts. That’s what J.D. Greear did when he hired Bryan Loritts.
And that second faction is the one that largely pushed through the Sex Abuse Task Force and the Guidepost report and the transparent, open-to-the-public nature of all of it. All of this happened over the kicking and screaming of the Old Guard. (One of their faction leaders, Ronnie Floyd, even quit over losing control of the investigation. He got dissed in a major way recently, incidentally, but we’ll have to talk about it later.)
So no, I’m not super surprised that the final report made the Old Guard look really, really bad. It was a product of the Pretend Progressives. And I’m also not surprised that the EC’s abuse compilation left out the denomination’s highest-profile abusers. It was a product of the Old Guard.
Each faction is, after all, in this fight to win it.
I want to know what Augie Boto knew and when he knew it
I’d love to see Augie Boto give a full accounting of just how much he knew and when he knew it.
I had no idea who this guy even was until July 2019, when he retired. At the time, Baptist News Global (BNG), which is not formally affiliated with the SBC, reported that Boto had been one of the people who’d always opposed an abuse database for the SBC.
Their reporter also mentioned that he’d been instrumental in the so-called Conservative Resurgence. Between the 1970s and 1990s, this movement expelled or drove away everyone with even one single progressive bone in their body. Augie Boto’s specific role in the movement was to push hard for an overly simplistic interpretation of the Bible called biblical inerrancy. This doctrine uniquely allows toxic authoritarian leaders to gain great power.
And the BNG article shocked me because even in 2019, I didn’t often encounter major SBC leaders I’d never heard of.
When I read the Guidepost abuse report, though, I understood exactly why I hadn’t. In 288 pages, it contains 163 mentions of “Mr. Boto” or “Augie Boto.” It makes one fact crystal-clear: from behind the scenes, Boto has largely driven the SBC’s non-response to sex abuse.
His retirement, timed after the Annual Meeting (June 2019) that occurred right after “Abuse of Faith” broke (February 2019), wasn’t coincidental, either. As we learn on p. 102, Boto understood that the EC needed “maximum flexibility” in dealing with its growing megascandal. On p. 200, we also learn that Boto was starting to sense that the enemy faction was gaining ground on his own.
At any rate, with his retirement the EC lost one of its most stalwart defenders of doing absolutely nothing about sex abuse.
The path forward, maybe
This abuse compilation demonstrates a couple of important truths.
Primarily, it tells us that an abuse database is more than possible and feasible for the SBC. The only problem with getting an official one is selling it to SBC churches and denominational leaders. They all start reflexively squawking about church autonomy the second any obligation like that enters their airspace.
However, even having a statement of faith that every church must swear to uphold, which the SBC very much has and completely forces upon member churches, already represents denominational oversight. When they disfellowshipped Antioch Baptist Church last year, they also kicked out a couple of churches that were acting way too inclusively toward gay people. In 2018, they also kicked out Raleigh White Baptist Church for being way too visible with their racism.
And Augie Boto, incidentally, was involved in similar church ousters over the years. That Baptist News Global article details a few of them. So even for him, church autonomy isn’t a magic shield protecting SBC churches from all denominational meddling.
Regardless, I don’t think these pretend “progressives” will be able to square the circle with an abuse database or a credentials committee, or anything else the Guidepost people and task force recommend. Nor do I think they’ll even want to do any of that.
The reason boils down to the second truth the report and compilation alike reveal: the urge to self-protect runs very deep in the halls of SBC power. And this urge is no respecter of factional loyalties. As long as the SBC’s leaders suffer from this singular character deficit, nothing can possibly change for the better.