Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Southern Baptists reeling in wake of sex abuse report; it's an opportunity for local action and local coverage

UPDATE: The Executive Committee apologized and its lawyer "said it is working on making the list of sex abusers available to the public once the committee makes sure the names of survivors are not disclosed and ensures the names of abusers are substantiated," The Washington Post reports.

Southern Baptists across the country are reeling in the wake of a new report detailing how Southern Baptist Convention leaders protected pastors and local church staff accused of sexual abuse while ignoring, pressuring and trying to discredit sexual-abuse survivors. It's a topic for local coverage.

Several pastors who spoke to the Times said they plan on using the report as an opportunity to open dialogue with congregants who may be scared, angry, and worried. Philip Meade, pastor of Graefenburg Baptist Church in Kentucky, told The New York Times he will devote part of Sunday's service to "a lament for the mishandling of sexual-abuse claims and for the survivors who have suffered so much." Griffin Gulledge, the pastor of Madison Baptist Church just outside of Atlanta, said it's imperative for him and others to address the scandal. "What all my pastor friends are hearing is we better get this right, and we better fix this."

"The report quickly proved to be another dividing line within the denomination, with some pastors and members seeing it as a call to action for deep cultural and structural changes on abuse, as well as a range of issues around politics and the treatment of women," the Times reports. "Critics say some pastors have focused more on fighting women in leadership and critical race theory than they have on rooting out abuse and the power structure that keeps it under wraps."

The report shows how SBC leaders used the denomination's decentralization to avoid accountability; an alleged abuser could simply pull up stakes and move elsewhere to preach, secure in the knowledge that Baptist leaders couldn't or wouldn't sound the alarm to local churches, which are autonomous and choose their own pastors.

Todd Gray, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Conventiontold his constituents in a letter today that when he read the report, "The Lord led me to pray for sexual-abuse survivors in a way I never had before." Gray noted that in November, the convention established a Sexual Abuse Task Force that was designed to be preventive "rather than investigatory," but Guidepost Solutions, which wrote the SBC report, "has requested many of our internal policies and will help us discover if there are gaps where we can better guard against sexual abuse."

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