Houston Chronicle Hit Piece on Southern Baptist Churches Ignores Sexual Abuse Stats

By Todd Clay / February 12, 2019

According to sexual abuse stats, there are around 940,000 violent sexual assaults/year in the US. In a recent study, there were an average of 35 assaults/year in a 20-year span in Southern Baptist churches – 309X less than in the general population.

On Monday (2/11/19), The Washington Post reposted an article from the Houston Chronicle & The San Antonio Express-News citing sexual abuse within Southern Baptist churches (SBC). According to the report, there have been 700 victims of sexual abuse over the span of 20 years in SBC ministries.

For all those victims, that is horrible and a reproach on the name of Christ (Romans 2:24). For those 700 victims and anyone connected to them, this behavior is unconscionable. God will judge the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4). Those perpetrators should also face civil penalties. I agree with Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission President, Russell Moore who said,

“All rape and sexual exploitation is evil and unjust. Sexual abuse is not only sin but also a crime. All of it should be prosecuted in the civil arena, and all of it will be brought before the tribunal of the Judgment Seat of Christ.”

Sexual abuse in the church is sinful, without excuse, and deserving of judgment. And those that cover up such abuse deserve to be prosecuted to the full-extent of the law. Full stop.

However, The Houston Chronicle, etc. conveniently ignored the bigger picture. Their article does not compare this sexual abuse to the wider abuse in the US – in other words, this piece is more of a hit piece on Southern Baptists than fair journalism.

NSVRC: 940,000 Sexual Abuse Events Per Year

Here’s the rest of the story…

  • According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime – that’s roughly 25% of the total US population.
  • According to Google, from 1998-2017 (the 20 years of the study), there have been an average of 300,800,000 people living in the United States. That means that roughly 75,200,000 of the current US population has suffered some form of sexual violence.
  • According to Google, the average life expectancy in the US is 78.69 years (2016). To keep the math easy, I will round up to 80 years life expectancy in the US – there are four 20 year spans in an 80 year life expectancy.
  • Given that 25% of the US population has been sexually abused (75,200,000 people), and an 80 year life expectancy, that suggests there are 18,800,000 reports of sexual abuse in every 20-year period (75,200,000 / 4). If you divide that number by 20 (20 years), there are approximately 940,000 cases of some form of sexual violence for every year.
  • According to rainn.org, approximately 77% of all sexual assaults go unreported. To allow for underreporting of sexual assault in the SBC, I have added a 4.35X multiplier to the allegation calculation.

Tracking so far?

309X More Likely To Be Sexually Assaulted Outside A Southern Baptist Church

Now back to the recent Houston Chronicle article:

There were 700 reported cases of sexual abuse in 20 years in the SBC — or an average of 35 cases per year. With a 4.35X multiplier to allow for underreporting, that suggests there were 152 sexual abuse allegations per year in the SBC in the last 20 years – reported AND unreported. Compare that to 940,000 total sexual abuse events in the US every year with approximately 300,000,000 over the last 20 years. That means a person is 309 times more likely to be sexually abused outside a Southern Baptist church.

KR in the comments assisted with the math:

Avg US abuse rate: 940k / 300M = 0.00313333333
SBC abuse rate: 152 / 15M = 0.00001013333
0.00313333333 / 0.00001013333 = 309

Put another way, you are more likely to…

…than get sexually abused in a Southern Baptist Church in the last 20 years (1 in 4,934).

If you don’t want to be sexually assaulted, it looks like Southern Baptist churches are pretty safe places to be compared to the broader culture.

Note: I understand that these 700 reports are not the complete picture – that is why I added the 4.35X multiplier to these calculations. No doubt, there will be more reports come to light after time passes. But this report was a concerted effort by two liberal media outlets with a strong incentive to find as many sexual assault reports as possible in a evangelical denomination. And they only came across 700 reports – in a 15,000,000 member denomination.

Challenge to Media Outlets:
Compare SBC Numbers to US Sexual Assault Stats

This does not excuse those criminal perpetrators that worked with or for Southern Baptist churches and ministries. Those guilty of those sexual crimes should be prosecuted. And those who covered up these allegations should also be brought to justice. God knows who they are. But it does cast serious doubt on the spurious, anti-Christian reporting that masquerades as journalism in this report.

I challenge the editors of the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News and every other publication to share an honest follow-up piece to the hit piece they published this week on Southern Baptists. Until they do so, it will taint whatever religious reporting they do going forward.

Todd Clay is a husband, dad, and a Christian (Reformed Baptist). He enjoys researching about everyday, complex, and sometimes obscure theological issues in every field of knowledge and tries to make things easy to understand. He is married and has 4 children, one of whom (Knox) is now with the Lord. Todd holds a BA in history from the University of Texas at Austin and an MA in Theological Studies from Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

4 responses to “Houston Chronicle Hit Piece on Southern Baptist Churches Ignores Sexual Abuse Stats”

  1. KR says:

    What you have proven is that sexual abuse toward US residents happens 6184x as a often as abuse toward SBC affiliates, not that a US resident is 6184x more likely to be abused than an SBC affiliate. To calculate the latter you have to factor in population:

    Avg US abuse rate: 940k / 300M = 0.00313333333
    SBC abuse rate: 152 / 15M = 0.00001013333
    0.00313333333 / 0.00001013333 = 309

    In other words, a US resident is 309x more likely to be abused than an SBC affiliate in an SBC context. Technically we should have removed the SBC victim population from the US victim population, but it wouldn’t make much difference in the final outcome.

    While it is absolutely worth noting that SBC affiliates tend to commit sexual abuse at a much lower rate than the average US resident, I don’t agree that the Houston Chronicle wrote a “hit piece”. It is absolutely fair to expose sexual abuse cover-ups in an organization even if their abuse rate is infinitesimally small.

    • Todd Clay says:

      Thanks for doing this math, KR. This is the sort of comment I was looking for and I will likely revise the post using the information.

      Note: The purpose of this piece is NOT to excuse the behavior of the sexual perpetrators. I agree that sexual abuse cover-ups should be exposed. It will likely reduce the number of future incidents as the abusers fear being exposed. End of paragraph.

      But the main purpose here was to highlight how stories like this and those covering the Catholic Church issue ignores the broader culture’s sexual abuse stats. If you want to shine the light on a sin, make sure you’re at least fairly reviewing the sins in your own house (the world).

      • KR says:

        No problem. And just to be clear, I think you did a fine job of pointing out that the cover-ups were inexcusable. No disagreement there.

        Certainly the world is in no place to judge the church. They are hypocrites; they treat God’s law like a buffet from which they can choose what is convenient to them at the moment. I do not have a problem with secular journalists exposing something but for them to condemn the church is a sin they will answer for if they die without Christ.

  2. KR says:

    One more thing. You’re comparing abuse by any US resident to what the Houston Chronicle considers abuse by “leaders”. An accurate comparison would require comparing all US “leaders” to all SBC “leaders”. I am sure that the value of 309x would drop significantly, though I doubt it would be equal.

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