A Southern Baptist pastor who is an advocate for victims of sexual abuse has started a Go Fund Me to get abuse survivors to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans this June.
As of midnight April 12, nearly $10,000 had been given toward the project.
How to respond to past sexual abuse cases and prevent future ones remains a hot topic within the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination. At last summer’s annual meeting, convention messengers received a massive report from an outside investigator of how the SBC Executive Committee mishandled knowledge of sexual abuse cases.
Since then, the SBC’s Abuse Implementation Reform Task Force has been working to create an online database of known sexual abusers in hopes of keeping them from being passed unwittingly from church to church. But even that task has been fraught with peril, because some inside the SBC continue to insist there is no sexual abuse crisis and some don’t like the company hired to create and maintain the database.
The work of the task force and possible recommendations from it will be a significant part of the business conducted by convention messengers June 11-14.
Keith Myer, pastor of Harvest Baptist Church of Salisbury, Md., believes messengers need to meet and hear from abuse survivors. But most cannot get to New Orleans on their own money, he said.
“The upcoming SBC annual meeting … provides survivors with an opportunity to network with SBC leaders and messengers. However, because of travel, lodging and food costs, this trip will be cost-prohibitive for most of them,” he wrote on the Go Fund Me page. “This is where all of us can pitch in — let’s help shoulder the financial burden of our brothers/sisters so they can attend and let their voices be heard.”
In an update posted April 12, Myer said he’s already been able to help some survivors book air travel to New Orleans. Funds also are being set aside for lodging, food and ground transportation, as well as child care needs, he said.
“Some of these survivors have carried these burdens for so many long years, with no one listening. Now we have an opportunity to listen, to help, to shoulder burdens for these precious friends.”
Myer is the person responsible for the SBC adding a sexual abuse awareness day called “Caring Well Sunday” to the denomination’s annual calendar of activities. He made a motion to that effect at last summer’s SBC meeting.
“We have an opportunity to listen, to help, to shoulder burdens for these precious friends.”
“As a young pastor, I was unprepared to minister to people who had been traumatized,” he explained in an article published by the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware. “Through the years, I’ve had to educate leaders in churches who believed that protecting the vulnerable was important, but they struggled to understand the effects of abuse or why a church needed a consistent protection policy. Some churches scoff at the expense, effort or demands of training and simply refuse to take any steps at all. Some pastors know they need to do something, but they don’t know what to do.”
He added: “To effectively address the problem of abuse in our churches, we must be willing to name it and then educate people on how abuse works while encouraging strategies that limit opportunities for individuals to harm others for their own purposes (p.2). As many have stated, background checks are important but have limited effectiveness — church leaders and members must be aware of the tactics used to coerce, manipulate, or overcome the defenses of the vulnerable.”
The problem of abuse is not unique to the SBC or even to churches, Myer said. “We’ve seen this at every level of society and in every institution. Abuse can manifest in the home, church or work place.”
His hope, he continued, is for the SBC to lead the way in educating church leaders and parishioners “about the dynamics of abuse, the effects of trauma, how abusers cultivate their victims, and proper responses to disclosures. … It is important that we educate believers to become advocates for those suffering harm and become agents of healing and transformation in every place that we work and worship.”
Caring Well Sunday will be observed in SBC churches this year on Sunday, Sept. 24.