A group of nearly two dozen persons comprised of both survivors and advocates convened across the street from Southern Baptist Convention headquarters Feb. 21 to protest the SBC Executive Committee’s alleged mishandling of sexual abuse and mistreatment of survivors.
The protest was spearheaded by Hannah-Kate Williams, a survivor and advocate, on the first day of planned meetings of the Executive Committee trustees.
In August, Williams filed a lawsuit against the Executive Committee, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lifeway and several individuals with ties to those entities. In it, she alleges there was a “conspiracy” by the employees of the entities in question to cover up her claims of abuse.
The protest also comes on the heels of reports from Baptist News Global earlier this month of new allegations of Executive Committee mishandling of abuse claims, and that North American Mission Board Senior Vice President Johnny Hunt and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Distinguished Professor of Preaching David Allen are scheduled to share a conference stage with disgraced denominational statesman Paige Patterson, who was fired from Southwestern Seminary for mishandling abuse cases.
Williams, who attended the protest with her attorney, Brian Kent, called for the Executive Committee to take meaningful action on the crisis of abuse in the SBC, which drew national attention after it was reported by the Houston Chronicle in 2019.
One protester held a sign that read, “Integrity Invites Accountability.”
By hiding in closed-door executive sessions, Williams maintained, the Executive Committee has effectively shielding itself from accountability. Such accountability is not possible “when everything is behind the scenes,” she said.
Another means of being shielded from accountability, Williams maintained, is the oft-repeated appeal to local church autonomy.
“Prayer without action,” she explained, “is mockery.”
Kent echoed this sentiment and praised the courage of the survivors who showed up: “I’ve seen the impact voices can have in changing momentous institutions.”
Kent insisted that institutional leaders facing accountability entails listening to the voices of those traumatized in those institutions before making this appeal to survivors: “Your voice is powerful … your voice matters.”
Williams emphasized that she was not seeking institutional change out of any hatred or malice for those in the SBC. “I show up with love,” she said, “because this is my family.”
Williams ended the protest on a triumphant note, declaring that she and others are “in this for the long game,” and that, if necessary, she is prepared to show up at every Executive Committee meeting.
The SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force is set to deliver an update to the Executive Committee Tuesday morning, Feb. 22. During the committee’s opening session the evening of Feb. 21, key speakers recognized the presence of abuse survivors in the room and welcomed them.