Dr. Russell Moore on church sex abuse scandal

ABC News’ Linsey Davis spoke with Christain leader Dr. Russell Moore about the Southern Baptist sex abuse scandal and cover-up.
7:57 | 05/24/22

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Transcript for Dr. Russell Moore on church sex abuse scandal
- The alleged coverup by leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention-- the report lists hundreds of ministers accused of sexual abuse. ABC News' Rhiannon Ali has the story. RHIANNON ALLY: New revelations accusing the Southern Baptist Convention of covering up sexual abuse for years-- a 288-page independent report accuses the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination, of stonewalling and denigrating survivors of clergy sexual abuse for nearly two decades-- a charge also being made by this Kentucky woman. - My father, my abuser, would baptize me, and that baptism would also work as a type of waterboarding. RHIANNON ALLY: Hannah Kate Williams is suing her father, who is a former pastor, and the Southern Baptist Convention, among others, for physical and sexual abuse she says began when she was eight years old. HANNAH KATE WILLIAMS: We are dealing with evil that spans over years across our nation in these churches and in the denomination as a whole. RHIANNON ALLY: Allegations first surfaced in 2019, following a report by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News documenting hundreds of alleged cases in Southern Baptist churches, including several in which the alleged abusers remained in ministry. - Abuse is one of the most underreported crimes. And so I think there's many more that we have yet to hear about. RHIANNON ALLY: SBC President Ed Litton said Sunday, he is "grieved to my core" for the victims, and said, "I pray Southern Baptists will begin preparing today to take deliberate action to address these failures." - Our thanks to Rhiannon for that. And for more, joining us now to discuss the report is Dr. Russell Moore. He is the former president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Currently, Dr. Moore leads the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today. Dr. Moore, thank you so much for joining us. So you wrote on Sunday in Christianity Today that the handling of sexual abuse by the Southern Baptist Convention leadership is not a crisis, but an apocalypse. Explain what you mean by that. - Well, I mean that there were many people who said to us in previous years, this really isn't a crisis. This is just a few bad actors. And when we look at this report, "crisis" is too small of a word. This is nothing less than devastating. Even I-- and I was expecting the report to be bad-- couldn't have imagined that it would be this bad. LINSEY DAVIS: So Dr. Moore, you say you expected it to be bad. But what, actually, about it rose to the level of shocking? - Well, knowing that after years of sexual abuse, sexual abuse survivors calling for a database that would inform churches and churchgoers of potential predators in churches, and being told that no such database could be possible-- seeing that there actually was a shadow database of sorts, a list of predatory situations that no one did anything about-- that was shocking to me, along with just seeing in black and white the conversations back and forth about sexual abuse survivors, about advocates for them. The callousness of that was alarming and shocking. LINSEY DAVIS: And once a high-ranking member yourself, you decided to leave the Southern Baptist Convention last year. What made you make that decision? I'm sure it was one that was a weighty one. - It was a very weighty one, because I love Southern Baptists. Southern Baptists introduced me to Jesus. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church. I was there nine months before I was born, and so these were my people. But after years and years and years of facing this kind of behind-the-scenes action, I just concluded there were better ways to serve Jesus. And I had just seen and heard too much, and my family had, too. There are many people who haven't left, and a lot of good people, and I think that we're counting on them to do the right thing for sexual abuse victims and survivors and those who could potentially be in danger of that. LINSEY DAVIS: Two interim leaders of the executive committee said that they welcome the report's recommendations and pledged an all-out effort to eliminate sex abuse in the Convention. What do you think the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention need to do at this point to show members that they really are taking abuse seriously? - Well, I think that Southern Baptists themselves are going to have to take this on, and I think that they will. If you look at the report, the only reason that the report even happened is because Southern Baptists, in annual convention last year-- not the leadership, but rank-and-file Southern Baptists-- insisted that be the case. And so I'm hoping that there will be a similar reaction from people in the pews and pastors of churches who go to the annual convention and make sure that justice is done. LINSEY DAVIS: According to the report in 2019, one of the top executive committee leaders called sexual abuse concerns, quote, "a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism." What do you make of such sentiments being expressed by high-ranking leaders of the executive committee? - It's indefensible. It ought to shock the conscience-- the idea that caring for the most vulnerable in our churches would be a distraction from what Jesus has called us to do, when Jesus is the one who welcomed children, welcomed the vulnerable, stood up for women. I can't even imagine how this could be the reaction to this sort of crisis. - The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in this country, has lost more than 1.1 million members in just the past three years. What impact do you think that this report will have on that trend and churchgoing just in general in this country? - I don't know, and I think a great deal of that will depend on what the response is from Southern Baptists in saying that they're going to take action here-- not just structural reform, but cultural reform. I think there are a lot of people who are watching this, and they're trying to decide. And I think there are many other people in the larger Christian world who are watching this in order to say, how do we prevent this kind of coarsening of the conscience that you can see in some of these conversations and some of these actions from happening anywhere? - And when you talk about that, just my last point, as far as it happening anywhere, we've seen coverup, scandals, of similar proportions in different branches of Christian faith and beyond. So when you left this one group, did you feel like, we'll be able to find another group that's better at handling this? - Well, I think that what has to happen is not that there is a place that is free from injustice or free from sin, but there have to be churches that are willing to take that seriously and who are willing not to turn against the people who are calling attention to the problem but against the problem. And I think that Southern Baptists can do that, and I'm very hopeful that they will. And I think the larger Christian community-- we all have to be diligent about that as well. LINSEY DAVIS: Dr. Russell Moore, we thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it. - Thank you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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