Sexual Abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention Points to Subordination of Women and Girls

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Southern Baptist management repeatedly failed survivors, displaying extra concern for shielding the denomination from litigation than holding perpetrators accountable. Deep-seated beliefs about girls and gender prop up this tradition of abuse.

A statue graces the entrance entrance to the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Conference in Nashville. (Photograph by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Submit through Getty Photos)

The lately launched investigative report on the Southern Baptist Conference’s (SBC) mishandling of clergy intercourse abuse allegations is damning. The report, commissioned in response to a 2021 vote by the Conference in session, faults SBC Govt Committee (EC) management and EC legal professionals for masking up abuse and mistreating survivors throughout greater than 20 years.

Whereas the report has generated the anticipated hand-wringing, apologies and guarantees to do higher, it doesn’t handle the misogyny on the core of many Southern Baptist beliefs about girls. Analysis suggests a robust correlation between perpetrator beliefs about gender, social context and sexual abuse. This raises the query of the long-term effectiveness of the report’s suggestions (if applied) when beliefs about girls’s subordination and sexuality go unchallenged.

Understanding Southern Baptist Organizational Construction

One of many excuses SBC legal professionals have used to keep away from motion on reviews of sexual abuse by Southern Baptist clergy is the denomination’s organizational construction. In contrast to many church buildings, the Southern Baptist Conference will not be hierarchical, and the Conference has no authority over native church buildings.

Every native church is impartial and autonomous. Native church buildings select to affiliate with the SBC by giving an annual donation by way of the Conference’s Cooperative Program to assist varied SBC missions efforts, publishing homes, seminaries and different enterprises.

The Conference meets in session yearly, and every church affiliated with the Conference can ship “messengers” to the annual assembly. These messengers usually are not delegates representing church buildings however fairly people who vote their consciences on the enterprise of the Conference.

The day-to-day enterprise of the Conference is guided by the Govt Committee of the SBC, a physique of representatives from every state or area, the president and treasurer of the SBC, and the president of Lady’s Missionary Union who function the Conference’s board of trustees. The EC is led by a gaggle of officers designated in SBC bylaws.

Very like the clergy scandal within the Catholic Church, accused Southern Baptist ministers have been in a position to transfer from church to church as accusations have been stored secret or dismissed. Survivors have been asking the SBC to create a database of accused clergy for many years, however the Govt Committee’s attorneys have all the time forcefully suggested the group towards a database, arguing that as a result of the Conference has no authority over native church buildings, it can not keep a nationwide database that church buildings can make the most of when hiring ministers.

This organizational construction implies that the Conference can implement the entire report’s suggestions—from making a nationwide database to offering survivor assist and selling academic assets—however native Southern Baptist church buildings can nonetheless do as they may. The Conference has created a course of for “disfellowshipping” church buildings that don’t deal with abuse allegations significantly, however in need of this, church buildings can ignore Conference efforts to coach, report, assist survivors and work to finish sexual abuse. And to date, EC management has proven little urge for food for taking actions that handle clergy abuse.

Clergy Sexual Abuse within the Southern Baptist Conference

The brand new report by Guidestone Options covers the interval 2000-2021—however the issue of clergy abuse is nothing new in Southern Baptist life, and the issues of denominational inaction predate the present fundamentalist management of the Conference.

Within the Nineteen Sixties, when she was solely 16, Christa Brown was sexually abused by the youth minister at her Southern Baptist church in Texas. Brown ultimately instructed the church’s music minister in regards to the abuse. He instructed Brown to not discuss it and later framed it as a “consensual relationship.” The youth minister was allowed to go away for an even bigger church and greater wage, with fanfare and good needs.

In 2004 when Brown’s personal daughter turned 16, she realized she wanted to deal with the abuse. She turned to the church of her childhood, which promptly threatened to sue her. In all, she contacted 18 Southern Baptist church and denominational leaders who ignored her whereas her abuser remained in ministry. Lastly, the Orlando Sentinel revealed her story and his title, forcing his resignation, though he went on to a profession in actual property, touting his 45 years in ministry as a suggestion of trustworthiness.

From that time on, Brown has been a lady with a mission to actual accountability from Southern Baptists. She began a web site, Stop Baptist Predators, and wrote a memoir, This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang. She has spoken out, handed out flyers, and protested outdoors conferences of the Southern Baptist Conference.

“The investigative report confirms the brutal actuality that so very many clergy intercourse abuse survivors have been attempting to convey to mild for the previous couple many years,” Brown instructed Ms. “And but, there isn’t a pleasure in that validation as a result of it goes hand in hand with grief. So most of the names on the SBC’s lately launched listing of clergy intercourse abusers are names that, for me, additionally conjure the horrific tales that went with the names and the voices of determined wounded survivors searching for assist.

“Numerous lives have been decimated within the decades-long strategy of even attempting to get the SBC to this threshold the place they could start to deal with the issue,” she continued. “And it nonetheless stays to be seen whether or not the SBC will truly select to cross that threshold and transfer towards implementing really significant reforms. However even when they do, nobody ought to ever neglect the human price of what it has taken to get right here.”

Dee Ann Miller and her husband have been missionaries employed in 1988 by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board (now the Worldwide Mission Board) when she was sexually assaulted by a fellow missionary. She reported the assault to the Board, which put her and her husband on probation and instructed them they might solely return to their project in the event that they stored quiet. They didn’t and ultimately left their positions. Miller’s abuser, nonetheless, turned a pastor and trainer shortly after resigning from his place as missionary.


“Why ought to or not it’s as much as the lads to resolve what constitutes justice for the ladies and kids, whereas the ladies are anticipated to abide by the selections made for them?”


Miller instructed her story within the 1993 e book, How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct. Like Brown, she was greeted by silence from Southern Baptist leaders. In non-public conversations, some leaders instructed her that victims are all the time partly responsible.

In response to the report, Miller responded to Ms., “Incestuous methods thrive within the breeding grounds of DIM considering: denial, ignorance and minimization. … Why ought to or not it’s as much as the lads to resolve what constitutes justice for the ladies and kids, whereas the ladies are anticipated to abide by the selections made for them?”

Southern Baptist Abusers Uncovered

The devastating scope of the issue got here to mild with a 2019 exposé by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Categorical-Information detailing greater than 700 victims of intercourse abuse by Southern Baptist clergy and church leaders.

Already in 2018, two of the architects of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Conference within the Eighties—Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler—had grow to be embroiled in intercourse abuse instances. Movies of Patterson, then president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaking about sending a battered spouse again to her husband and referring to a teenage lady as “constructed” resurfaced to widespread outcry. Two women then came forward to element how Patterson mishandled their sexual assault reviews whereas they have been college students on the seminary. Patterson ultimately misplaced his job, however has now concerned himself in a second “conservative resurgence” within the SBC towards denominational leaders who’ve condemned racism and intercourse abuse.

Across the similar time, a person got here ahead alleging that Pressler, a former Texas Appeals Courtroom decide, had sexually assaulted him when he was a youngster. That man has sued, and, in April of this 12 months, the Texas Supreme Court dominated that his lawsuit can proceed. After the unique allegations, two different males got here ahead saying Pressler had abused them as nicely.

Additionally, in 2018, Frank Page, the president of the SBC Govt Committee, resigned over a “morally inappropriate relationship.” Conference management assured Southern Baptists that the issue was not a “authorized impropriety” for them to fret about. Web page landed on his toes, although, changing into pastor of a church in South Carolina.

After the Chronicle’s 2019 report appeared, the Conference made some adjustments to reject church buildings that didn’t deal appropriately with abuse allegations, however messengers to the 2021 annual assembly, upset over the Govt Committee’s mishandling of abuse allegations, voted to require an out of doors investigation. When the Govt Committee met in October of 2021, some members opposed turning over paperwork and waiving attorney-client privilege, regardless of the clear mandate of the messengers. Lastly, after three nine-hour conferences, the EC voted for transparency and started the method that led to the explosive report.

What Did We Study Southern Baptists’ Mishandling of Abuse?

The report discovered that again and again, Southern Baptist management failed survivors and confirmed extra concern for shielding the denomination from litigation than caring for victims and holding perpetrators accountable. Led by longtime legal professionals, the SBC sometimes ignored abuse complaints or instructed survivors there was nothing they might do. Conference leaders derided survivors, at the same time as they typically supported and defended perpetrators. 

In the meantime, since 2007, a SBC employees member had been gathering names of clergy accused of abuse for whom there had been a conviction or credible proof of abuse for the “consciousness” of the attorneys—however nothing was executed to make sure these perpetrators didn’t keep in ministry. In response to the report, the SBC released the list this previous week. In fact, given the factors for the listing, many abusers escape being named.

Most damning, nonetheless, is the report’s acknowledgement of EC management’s intimidation of survivors. Reasonably than working to assist individuals who got here ahead with allegations, EC leaders tried to silence and blame them. They have been labelled “opportunistic,” having a “hidden agenda of lawsuits,” eager to “burn issues to the bottom,” and performing as a “skilled sufferer.” As survivors continued to press for accountability, EC management turned pissed off with them and in conversations amongst themselves criticized survivors. The VP additionally referred to as one other survivor “smug,” “backhandedly sarcastic” and with an axe to grind. When one other survivor tweeted in regards to the Conference’s unwillingness to assist, the EC’s exterior lawyer stated, “She has critical issues.”

When one survivor contacted then SBC president Ronnie Floyd, the EC vice chairman suggested Floyd to not reply: “The abuse neighborhood has seized upon this as a software,” he defined in his e-mail.

The EC’s legal professional even accused survivors of performing as brokers of the satan: “This complete factor needs to be seen for what it’s. It’s a satanic scheme to fully distract us from evangelism. It isn’t the gospel. It isn’t even part of the gospel. It’s a misdirection play.” He particularly named Christa Brown, though he claimed she was “to not blame” as a result of it was all a “matter of the satan being profitable.”

A leaked letter from the pinnacle of the SBC’s Ethics and Spiritual Liberty Fee to the Conference President underlined the continuing drawback of EC mistreatment of survivors:

You and I each heard, in closed door conferences, sexual abuse survivors spoken of when it comes to “Potiphar’s spouse” and different spurious biblical analogies. The conversations in these closed door conferences have been far worse than something Southern Baptists knew —or the skin world might report. And, as you realize, this comes on the heels of a track-record of the Govt Committee employees and others referring to victims as “loopy” and, at the very least in a single case, as worse than the sexual predators themselves.

In one of the egregious examples of the SBC’s revictimization of survivors, Baptist Press, the information arm of the Conference, turned the sexual abuse of an SBC worker by her former seminary professor right into a “consensual relationship.” The worker had written a first-person article detailing her expertise of abuse. Despite the fact that Baptist Press had corroborated her accusations, editors modified the article to state that the worker had had a “morally inappropriate relationship” with the professor.

Instantly, the worker was attacked. She was referred to as an “adulteress,” a “whore” and a “jealous girl”; folks demanded she be fired. When she confronted Baptist Press, attorneys suggested editors to take the article down, however they by no means printed a correction. Solely months later did they problem a retraction.

The report additionally paperwork how the SBC, significantly the EC’s legal professional, resisted adjustments to deal with sexual abuse. When Conference president J. D. Greear named the church buildings recognized within the Chronicle’s article, the legal professional even referred to as one of many church buildings to apologize.

Southern Baptist Beliefs about Ladies, Gender, and Intercourse

The one space the report doesn’t handle is the Southern Baptist beliefs that undergird sexual abuse. As fundamentalists took over the denomination, they handed resolutions, modified the denomination’s assertion of religion, and produced curriculum supplies that promoted girls’s submission to males in residence and church.

I’ve written earlier than for Ms. about how Southern Baptist sexism undergirds clergy sexual abuse and the way evangelical theology about women and gender helps a tradition of abuse. The Guidestone report’s findings usually are not a shock in a denomination that justifies the subordination of ladies as a result of Eve was “first within the Fall“ and that exhorts wives to submit themselves “graciously” to their husbands.

Southern Baptists have been additionally early promoters of purity culture—a motion that focuses on sexual abstinence outdoors of conventional heterosexual marriage and assigns accountability for sexual purity to women and girls—with their “True Love Waits” curriculum. Purity tradition highlights the hazard of women’ and ladies’s sexuality and their potential to be hindrances for boys and males if they don’t management their our bodies, look, and sexual expression.

In some ways, then, the EC management’s response to sexual abuse is consistent with Southern Baptist beliefs about gender and sexual purity. If women and girls are accountable for boys’ and males’s sexuality, then additionally they bear accountability for their very own abuse.

The Conference’s professed beliefs additionally exclude girls from the pastorate. Meaning the overwhelming majority of church employees members are males (some girls serve in academic, music, youngsters’s and ladies’s ministries so long as their positions don’t place them in authority over males). Whereas Southern Baptists consider every individual within the congregation is equal, together with the pastor, the exclusion of ladies from the pastorate offers males widespread authority throughout the denomination over girls as their non secular leaders and religion lecturers. Because the tales within the report attest, abusers typically used this authority as a technique to groom victims and guarantee their silence.


So long as the Conference holds on to a theology that subordinates girls, they’ll by no means be capable to rid themselves of clergy intercourse abuse.


What the Conference will do at its annual assembly in June stays to be seen. Even when it takes each motion prescribed by the report, it is not going to change its theology which subordinates girls.

Studying the report is heart-wrenching. The callousness of SBC management towards survivors is putting and clearly unveils the underlying misogyny on the middle of Southern Baptists’ intercourse abuse scandal. The report addresses a number of the mechanisms of mistreatment however not the theology that allows it.

The Conference must do some actually deep soul-searching this summer time. Possibly they’ll do higher. However so long as they maintain on to a theology that subordinates girls, they’ll by no means be capable to rid themselves of clergy intercourse abuse. As Dee Miller instructed Ms., “Whereas I need to consider issues might be completely different, I count on resistance and disbelief to proceed at each degree, to the shock of so many. This might be a protracted, exhausting climb.”

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