For about six years between 2006 and 2012 I posted on a website the Southern Baptist clergy sex abuse cases that were publicly reported. During that time, I put together a small database of 167 cases, many with multiple victims.
With every case, I wondered: “Will this be enough? Will this finally be enough that Southern Baptist Convention officials will see the scope and horror of the problem and realize they need to do something?”
It never was. It was never enough.
Other bloggers also began posting Southern Baptist clergy sex abuse stories. And I wondered again, “Would it ever be enough?”
But it never was.
Last February, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published the first part of their “Abuse of Faith” series, documenting 700 victims who reported having been sexually abused by Southern Baptist clergy and church leaders.
Recent proposals “appear oriented more toward saving face for SBC officials than toward genuinely protecting kids.”
Yet again I wondered, “Would these 700 be enough?”
Just since February, more than 350 others have contacted the newsrooms with still more stories of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches.
So far, it’s still not enough.
The “Abuse of Faith” series has run five more parts, and countless other media outlets have further dispersed this “sordid tale” of systemic institutionally-enabled horror.
Yet none of it has been enough to prod SBC officials into taking meaningful action. Nor is there any word on how the SBC will undertake the process of rectifying the incalculable harm done to so many lives.
Of course, it is too late for some. Lives have been lost to suicide because the trauma of clergy sex abuse is so great.
In response to such massive media exposure and in anticipation of the June 11-12 SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, the denomination’s executive committee announced proposals for the creation of a standing credentials committee to “make inquiries of churches” and for a now-simplified version of the problematic constitutional amendment on sexual abuse.
But these are bare half-measures at best, with too many unknowns and too little transparency. They appear oriented more toward saving face for SBC officials than toward genuinely protecting kids.
With no firm processes in place, nor even any indication that the credentials committee would assess reports from individual survivors, we are left to wonder: will survivors still have to muster media attention before the committee and other SBC leaders are moved to even consider actions to address clergy and church sexual abuse?
SBC officials are essentially saying “trust us,” as they vaguely claim that, with these changes, a church that acts “in a manner inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse” may be disfellowshipped.
Why should we trust such an unspecified process when the denomination’s only track record on this is a travesty of trauma and tears?
Survivors will not soon forget that “Saturday night massacre of hope” when, with too few churches even proposed for inquiry, SBC officials immediately rejected inquiry into seven of the 10. The egregious statement of their cavalier process remains as standing precedent for how this faith group may choose to conduct inquiry of churches with respect to their handling of sexual abuse.
Despite all this, Phillip Bethancourt of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission says that survivors and advocates should be “heartened” by these proposals.
“How many kids will it take before the SBC will undertake even the most basic of institutional safeguards?”
I am both a Southern Baptist clergy sex abuse survivor and an advocate, and I am not “heartened.” To the contrary, I am heartbroken.
If this is the best that SBC officials will do even in the face of such massive media exposure, how quickly will their show of caring drop off when the media attention fades?
So, yet again, I wonder: How many kids will it take?
How many kids will it take before the SBC will undertake even the most basic of institutional safeguards and begin keeping records on clergy who are credibly accused of sexually violating the young?
Bethancourt has said that “significant updates” on the database proposal “are not expected” at the 2019 SBC annual meeting. Once again, SBC officials are deferring on the creation of a database.
Yet this is exactly what survivors and advocates have long urged: an independently administered database of convicted, admitted and credibly accused Southern Baptist clergy sex abusers.
It is a proposal that is consistent with the sort of recordkeeping other faith groups do, including those who profess local church autonomy, such as American Baptist Churches USA.
It is what the For Such a Time as This Rally will be urging while standing outside the SBC annual meeting in Birmingham on June 11.
It is a need that is obvious and urgent, as many have noted.
Yet, SBC officials still balk.
In part 6 of the “Abuse of Faith” series, published on June 6, “one survivor” sums it all up in a video. I implore you to hear his voice and let his words permeate your heart and mind:
For decades, pedophiles have been using the Southern Baptist legal strategy of autonomy to maneuver through their large network of churches undetected. While most of the public is only now learning about this, the SBC leadership has been very aware for a long time. They have repeatedly chosen not to act….
For many years now, survivors of Southern Baptist abuse have pleaded with the SBC to take action to protect vulnerable children. They have refused to implement even the smallest of safeguards and have continued to allow predator preachers to move through their churches, raping children in the name of God. Only once their public reputation is tarnished do they decide to take any action.
Were the lives of hundreds of children not enough?
How many more kids will it take?