That was the subject heading. It was an email from a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Sexual Abuse Task Force, the committee that was created in the summer of 2021 and given a one-year term to oversee a third-party investigation of sexual abuse and mistreatment of abuse survivors by the SBC’s Executive Committee.
Here’s what the email said:
“Christa, I want to personally apologize to you if anything I did ever gave you hope for change in the SBC. I see now it was futile, and short of a miracle of God, nothing will change. The system as designed will not allow it.”
Wow. It’s one thing for someone like me to think nothing will change, but it’s another thing for a former member of the SBC’s own sexual abuse task force to actually say it. I appreciated the honesty.
I wrote back, expressing my thanks and stating my own concurring belief that “the SBC is hopeless.”
Despite that, “I do still believe in working to bring truth to light,” I wrote.
Then I recalled something Jen Lyell told Bob Smietana of Religion News Service in 2022. The SBC is “inherently flawed,” she said. It’s “a billion-dollar operation, overseen mostly by volunteer trustees and with almost no accountability. There’s too much money from too many people flowing into the hands of a few … who are overseen by volunteers. That cannot be fixed.”
Folks, the Southern Baptist Convention is not truly reckoning with its sexual abuse crisis. That’s the reality, and there are SBC insiders who realize it.
The purported “reform efforts” SBC officials laud are image management maneuvers, not genuine efforts at reckoning.
This is a reality many of us have perceived for quite a while, but the recent saga of that awful, survivor-hostile amicus brief left no further room for doubt.
When that brief finally came to light, many in SBC life voiced “outrage,” but did a single SBC official or task force member resign in protest? No. Did you see anyone get fired over it? No. There were no visible consequences for anyone, and the brief remains unchanged.
The professed “outrage” was apparently just posturing.
Eighteen months ago, the Guidepost report concluded SBC officials “were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations.” This has not changed.
“The SBC’s primary driver remains the same as it always has been: protecting the SBC’s dollars against liability risks.”
The SBC’s primary driver remains the same as it always has been: protecting the SBC’s dollars against liability risks.
So, if nothing changes in the SBC, why persist in speaking out? It’s a question some have asked.
For me, the answer is simple: I believe truth is a moral force in the universe.
By speaking truth out loud, we refuse complicity with falsity, injustice and oppression.
By speaking truth out loud, we affirm the human dignity of those who have been abused within this faith group — abused not only by the sexual violence of pastors but also by the gaslighting, coverups, duplicity and disparagement of so many others in SBC leadership.
Institutionally, the SBC may never change, but for individual clergy sex abuse survivors, being able to see the truth of what was done to them — and to have that truth validated — can indeed bring change in their own lives.
For others as well, bringing truth to light can have an impact. Many are rightly repulsed by the moral repugnance of the SBC’s long recalcitrance on abuse. I believe it is one reason why the SBC’s membership numbers are in freefall.
This too is a form of change. Truth matters.
Christa Brown, a retired appellate attorney, is the author of This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and his Gang and a forthcoming memoir, due out spring 2024, called In Baptistland. Follow her on Twitter @ChristaBrown777.