If you pay only minimal attention to news outlets, you know the story of the week is the Southern Baptist Convention’s stunning cover up of clergy sexual abuse. The glaring headlines of Christianity Today, The Washington Post and The New York Times are hard to miss, especially if you have been on social media. Baptist News Global has provided extensive coverage of the unfolding story.
While I have much to say about the horrifying revelations that have come to light, a story that needs to be told is that the 300-page report released by Guidestone Solutions can be directly traced to courageous, tenacious women; women who reported their own abuse; women who advocated for those who had been abused; women who stood strong in defiance of powerful Southern Baptist leaders; women who fought, some for years, against a corrupt system; women who were called names, slandered, ridiculed and threatened but who did not back down or give up.
Leading among these women is Christa Brown, who since 2006 has called attention to the Southern Baptist sin of sexual abuse and brought what has been carefully hidden to light — over and over again. A teenage victim of sexual abuse by a Texas Baptist church staff member, Brown has been a relentless, resilient spokesperson for justice and reform. In more recent years, Rachael Denhollander, a former USA gymnast who outed Larry Nassar’s serial sexual assaults, has taken on the role of advocate for Southern Baptists who have experienced clergy sexual abuse.
In 2019, Jennifer Lyell, a senior executive at Lifeway, went public with her story of being abused, and the SBC’s news organization, Baptist Press, manufactured a malicious account of her experience and published it.
Debbie Vasquez, who as a teenager was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a Southern Baptist pastor, reached out to the SBC’s Executive Committee for help and was ignored. She eventually was heard when the Houston Chronicle published the story of her abuse.
Maddie Rose Douglas, Megan Lively, Hannah-Kate Williams, Jules Woodson, and so many other Southern Baptist women have stood in solidarity and told their abuse stories. They have gone public with their deepest hurts and pain — in courageous effort to confront and bring an end to this long, tragic story.
If the Southern Baptist Convention comes crashing down, if all the bad actors are identified, and the denomination is purged of abusers and their powerful defenders, remember the women, the women who sacrificed so much to bring desperately needed reform to the convention.
Pam Durso serves as president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary and has done extensive research and writing on sexual abuse.
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