Women who rallied in sweltering heat outside last summer’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas to draw attention to sexual abuse and domestic violence in the denomination are hoping for a warmer reception from convention leaders when they reassemble at the 2019 SBC in Birmingham, Alabama.
Encouraged by a recent Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News series validating many of their concerns, organizers of the 2018 For Such a Time as This Rally announced Feb. 19 they intend to be on hand for the June 11-12 gathering at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center.
Ashley Easter, a blogger, advocate for abuse survivors and self-proclaimed “Christian feminist,” described the reactions of many pastors and ministry leaders who walked by last year’s demonstration outside the Kay Bailey Hutchison Dallas Convention Center as “very disconcerting.”
“Some pastors gave a ‘thumbs down’ sign,” said Easter, founder of another gathering for abuse survivors and advocates called The Courage Conference. “Others refused to accept the resource page our experts compiled.”
Last year’s inaugural For Such a Time as This Rally came just days after conservative patriarch Paige Patterson lost his job as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary after news articles in the Washington Post quoted women who claimed he mishandled their reports of rape.
The controversy, fueled by the #MeToo movement in larger society demanding an end to abuse of women in the workplace, set the scene for a 2018 SBC resolution denouncing abuse and formation of a Sexual Abuse Advisory Group by new SBC President J.D. Greear.
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, gave convention leaders a progress report this week in Nashville, Tennessee, amid new buzz created when two newspapers joined forces to document widespread abuse in SBC churches and a system that often does little to address it.
“We are hopeful that as the Houston Chronicle and others have continued to shine light on this pervasive problem, SBC leaders will be more receptive to our anti-abuse message in 2019.”
“We are hopeful that as the Houston Chronicle and others have continued to shine light on this pervasive problem, SBC leaders will be more receptive to our anti-abuse message in 2019,” said Easter, author of The Courage Coach: A Practical, Friendly Guide on How to Heal from Abuse.
Tuesday’s news release said For Such a Time as This organizers have reached out to SBC leaders and offered to host a resource room at the 2019 annual meeting. The room would be open to pastors and ministry leaders interested in learning how to identify and combat abuse and a place to hear stories of abuse survivors within the SBC.
They said they have not yet heard back from SBC leaders about their request.
“It is more important than ever for Southern Baptist leaders to listen to what survivors have to say,” said Jules Woodson, another conference organizer who entered the #MeToo spotlight last year when she told her story of sexual abuse by a Southern Baptist youth minister in 1998 to media outlets including the New York Times. “To be given the runaround at this stage — when all we want to do is help pastors address and prevent abuse — is extremely concerning.”
Whether or not they are allowed inside the meeting hall, the women intend to hold a second For Such a Time as This Rally somewhere near the annual meeting site on Tuesday, June 11. Exact time and location will be announced later, the group said on Facebook.
The For Such a Time as This coalition, named after a verse in the Book of Esther in the Bible, lists three specific goals: mandatory training for pastors, establishment of a database to help identify sexual predators and straight talk about “how poorly women are treated, respected and valued within SBC churches.”
Conference organizers said they appreciate recent announcements and apologies in wake of the Houston Chronicle’s coverage, but “there remains a long road ahead.”
Greear, who at Monday’s SBC Executive Committee meeting suggested reforms including removal of churches that show “wanton disregard” for abuse prevention, also unveiled a website announcing upcoming curriculum titled Becoming a Church that Cares Well for Abuse.
Christa Brown, an abuse survivor and advocate who first suggested creation of a system to receive, evaluate and share information about known or credibly accused abusers in Southern Baptist life in 2006, said she would like to hear less talk from SBC leaders and see more action.
“Previously, J.D. Greear promised ‘bold steps,’” Brown commented on Greear’s reform proposals. “But this announcement isn’t ‘bold;’ it’s just bare-bones.”
Brown, author of This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang, told Baptist News Global she sees little difference between Greear’s claim that Southern Baptists are “doing everything we can to evaluate” the feasibility of a convention-wide database and a 2007 statement by then-SBC President Frank Page that “we are looking at the creation of such a registry.”
“Both are statements that were made in the face of massive media exposure,” she said. “In 2007, when the media went away, no database was ever created. So now, 12 years later, I’m going to wait for action — the real deal of a database — before I start applauding the words.”