A man who says he was fired last year by a Southern Baptist institution for “moral delinquency” now says anonymously that he signed his pre-written resignation letter under duress and presents himself as a victim of sexual assault.
The writer of a first-person account published anonymously by the Alabama Baptist June 7 claims his assault began when he showed up for what he thought was a professional meeting with a female colleague at another organization.
Out of the blue, he says, she threatened to call his boss and falsely accuse him of rape, and “it would be my word against hers.” Panicking, he tried to appease her but over weeks the threats escalated, leading to “a completely nonconsensual, unwanted sexual assault that has left me traumatized to this day.”
The man says when he told his employer that “evidence of what appeared to be an affair” was in reality a sexual assault, his boss did not believe him. He says the supervisor refused to let him write his own letter detailing the circumstances behind his presumed “moral delinquency” and had him escorted by security to clear out his office.
Days later, the story goes, he and his wife sold their home, packed whatever belongings that would fit inside their car, said goodbye to friends and drove away in search of a new life “wherever God would lead us.”
The story comes at an hour of reckoning for the Southern Baptist Convention, which meets next week after revelations of widespread stories of sexual abuse and coverup in a six-part series of investigative reports by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.
Inside the meeting hall in Birmingham, Alabama, convention leaders will introduce new measures aimed at abuse prevention and better ministry to victims, while outside abuse survivors and advocates rally for the second year in a row at a “For Such A Time As This Rally” claiming the nation’s largest Protestant body needs to do far more.
Last year’s female-led rally came after the firing of a seminary president for alleged non-reporting of rape and the departure of a handful of male denominational workers attributed to moral failure as the #MeToo movement protesting mistreatment of women by powerful males dominated secular mass media.
This year, organizers Cheryl Summers and Ashley Easter said they reached out to SBC leaders seeking better access to messengers and gauged the denomination’s reaction as surprise that the women would think another rally is necessary.
On Friday the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy and support group that grew out of the abuse crisis plaguing the Roman Catholic Church, renewed a call first issued 13 years ago for America’s second-largest religious body behind Roman Catholics to develop a system for tracking known or suspected abusers and providing a “safe place” to report misconduct by ministers and church volunteers.
David Clohessy, an abuse survivor who testified before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002, is among speakers scheduled for the For Such a Time as This Rally.
Clohessy, now SNAP’s Missouri volunteer director, predicted in 2016 that unless the denomination changes its ways the next “Spotlight”-style investigation would be about the nearly 50,000-church Southern Baptist Convention. (The reference is to an Academy Award winning movie released in 2015 about Boston Globe journalists who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for reporting about sex abuse in the Boston area by Roman Catholic priests.)
In February reporters at two Texas newspapers joined forces to produce articles documenting hundreds of cases of alleged sexual abuse by Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers over the last 20 years, with predators often moving on unreported to another unsuspecting congregation.
This week the papers rolled out three more stories about abuse on the mission field, churches that welcomed sex offenders and survivors of Baptist sexual abuse now coming forward in hope of helping others.
Demands of the For Such a Time as This organizers include mandatory training of ministers and seminarians, establishment of a clergy sex-offender database and rejection of a “low view of women” that they say contributes to a culture of abuse.
Other speakers at the rally scheduled at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday outside the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center include long-time abuse advocate and former Baptist coordinator for SNAP Christa Brown, SBC abuse survivors-turned-advocates Jules Woodson and Brooks Hansen, Texas pastor Dwight McKissic and Carolyn Deevers, ex-wife of a clergy sexual predator and advocate for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
Messengers inside the convention center are expected to vote on establishing a standing credential committee prepared to evaluate affiliated churches that demonstrate indifference to abuse allegations. (A statewide affiliate of the SBC recently kicked out a church for having a pastor who is a registered sex offender. The pastor responded by calling the decision unbiblical, saying “the sin in question occurred prior to his conversion and call to the ministry.”)
The SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission hosts an event at 9 p.m. Monday on “Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention.” Speakers include ERLC President Russell Moore, SBC president J.D. Greear, Bible teacher Beth Moore and advocate Rachael Denhollander, best known for testimony at the trial of serial abuser and former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
An advisory group established by the SBC president recently produced a resource to equip churches to respond appropriately to allegations of abuse. On June 6 Greear and the ERLC announced the “Caring Well Challenge,” a year-long process of listening and learning to ensure that churches are safe for survivors and from abuse.
The anonymous author of the Alabama Baptist op-ed said he, like many people, grew up thinking that sexual assault is something that happens only to women.
“I wonder how many men are going through something similar today,” he reflected. “As men we feel extremely embarrassed to talk about this issue. If, somehow, we do manage to admit to being sexually assaulted we are often not believed and shamed, even by our closest friends and family.”
“Male sexual assault is a difficult conversation, but it’s one we need to have,” the article concluded. “If our denomination continues to mishandle allegations of abuse, especially now that we’re aware of these issues, then the words of Jesus, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34), cannot be said of us.”
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