SUMMARY. 2019 was a very mixed year for the Southern Baptist Convention — perhaps worthy of calling it a continental divide that shows where the future of the convention as a whole will flow. It witnessed spotlight news reporting and social media posting that exposed sexual and spiritual abuse situations in a range of local churches and in several official SBC entities. It also witnessed some constructive actions by SBC entities. Was the momentum of those actions — modest, at best — enough to move toward dismantling of systemic abuse in the SBC? Or is there such deep-seated refusal by church/ministry leaders to identify and deal with abuses that the SBC will succumb to this terminal organizational illness?
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SOURCE NOTES: The following section was originally posted as a Twitter thread on June 10, 2019 — just before the SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, on June 11-12. I’ve left the tweet numbering in, adjusted the format some to make the lists easier to read, and edited the wording to expand abbreviations. I have also filled in some key events that happened later in the year, after the annual meeting.
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SBC ENTITIES: TIMELINE IN CONSTRUCTIVE STEPS TO IDENTIFY/DEAL WITH SYSTEMIC ABUSE. Those of us who’ve teamed up to help abuse survivors share their experiences, or who write case studies on toxic Christian institutions, know the importance of timelines. That is why I am posting this. 1/
If you’ve followed the #AbuseOfFaith investigative series from @HoustonChron, you’ve read documentation–often going back decades–implicating both some SBC local churches and institutional entities for involvement in situations of abuse via perpetrators, enablers, and concealers. 2/
I appreciate President JD Greear’s concerted efforts at SBC institutional levels to lead in addressing systemic abuse in local churches and SBC entities. I believe this is the SBC’s decisive moment. The package of statements, resources, and actions = litmus test of its survival. 3/
My philosophy: If I’m going to critique bad things so they can be identified and repaired, I must also commend constructive things so they can be improved and repeated. One-year timeline shows basis for earned commendations, even with imperfect acts. (I’ll note critiques elsewhere.) 4/
MAJOR SBC ACTIONS AND INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS, JULY 2018 – JUNE 2019 [Tweets #5 through #8]
- July 26. SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group (SAAG) announced Sept 19. 4 Updates on SAAG.
- January 14. SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group (SAAG) Update.
- February 10-12-13. @HoustonChron #AbuseofFaith Parts 1-2-3.
- February 18. Church Cares announced (date approximate).
- February 18. Statements of Principles posted for SBC (1) Seminaries, (2) State Conventions, (3) Conference of Association Leaders.
- February 19. 10 Calls to Action.
- February 23. Bylaws Work Group (a mess).
- April 30. ERLC changes annual conference them to dealing with abuse.
- May 14. 5 SAAG Updates.
- May 21. LifeWay Research on Sexual Misconduct released (strongly critiqued on methodology).
- May 22. IMB Evaluation Update, Recommendations, Responses.
- May 27. Credentials Committee Proposal put forth.
- May 31-June 3-6. @HoustonChron #AbuseOfFaith #4-5-6.
- June 3. Washington Post article on abuse blogs.
- June 6. Caring Well Challenge announced.
- June 8. Caring Well: A Report from the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group posted.
- June 9 through 12: SBC Annual Meeting (June 11-12) and advance events.
- June 14. Acting CEO of LifeWay, Brad Waggoner, issues statement regarding a camp employee arrested for felony child molestation.
- June (approximately June 22-24). Lawsuit filed against Paige Patterson and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary was made public.
- October 3-5. ERLC Caring Well Conference.
- October 5. Baptist Press called out by Rachael Denhollander in a Caring Well session and a follow-up Twitter thread, for mistreatment of two sexual abuse survivors in SBC settings.
- October 5. Jonathan Howe, Vice President for Communications, SBC Executive Committee, posts an official response for Baptist Press.
- December 3. The SBC Credentials Committee reveals guidelines for reporting churches not in compliance/cooperation on sex abuse/coverups, racism, and/or matters of faith or practice. This begins significant debate on the process and issues related to autonomy, cooperation, etc.
OBSERVATIONS #1: What’s there. Substantive resources have been produced, especially by SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group commissioned by President Greear in conjunction with the ERLC. They did reasonably well in keeping SBC members and the public informed via periodic updates. 9/
OBSERVATIONS #2: What’s missing. I haven’t seen substantive steps from: GuideStone, LifeWay, NAMB, WMU. Investigative journalists and survivor bloggers have spotlighted prominent leaders who do not embody concern for abuse survivors. I’ve not seen SBC officials do that yet. 10/
OBSERVATIONS #3: Other. While much movement has occurred in last year, the abuser enablement systems in SBC have been endemic for decades. It will take stringent action for course corrections on the whole–especially leaders who use church autonomy to deflect accountability. 11/
In my opinion from extensive studies on systemic abuse, this *is* a decisive moment. It’s now or never to demonstrate to watching SBC contingencies and public that this titan is shifting trajectory–or else, to put it bluntly, it will go down in infamy as Protestant Pedophile Denomination. 12/
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For Your Research: Key Actions and Events from 2019
Here is a list of what I consider to be key actions and events from 2019, including some that occurred after the 2019 SBC annual meeting. I leave the description and analysis for your own research and reflection. You should easily find plenty of online resources with details, responses (and non-responses) from SBC leaders, and responses and reactions from abuse survivor community members who have been monitoring toxic system issues in the SBC.
What were the controversies surrounding this group, action, or event — from the vantage poinst of SBC entity leaders, church leaders, and members of abuse survivor communities?
How did this affect the level of trust in the SBC system overall, for better or for worse, for each of those different audiences?
Key actions and events:
President J.D. Greear and the SBC President’s Sexual Abuse Advisory Group (SAAG).
Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express investigative series: “Abuse of Faith.”
Differences among abuse survivors/advocates emerge. (In Part 8 of my Cultural Geography series, I analyze theological and methodological differences I’ve noticed, and overview some of the conflicts they generate in survivor communities.)
2019 Annual Meeting controversies from the For Such A Time As This Rally, and the purported “interviews” and “documentary” by representatives of Founders Ministries. (For Such a Time As This Rally. Founders Ministries. “By What Standard?” Cinedoc.)
SBC entities and problems regarding abuse: IMB Evaluation Report on specific situations and systemic abuse. LifeWay research on abuse, and critiques of methodologies used. Lawsuit against Paige Patterson/SWBTS.
Caring Well Challenge and Resources, plus commendations and critiques of them.
Caring Well ERLC Conference, plus commendations and critiques of it.
SBC Credentials Committee and controversies over possible expulsion of SBC churches deemed not in faithful cooperation with SBC values (e.g., on abuse, racism, etc.).
A few additional questions:
What other 2019 issues, actions, and/or events would you add to this list as having significant impact (positive or negative) on the SBC dealing with issues of sexual abuse and system enablement?
How did each of these situations ultimately contribute to or detract from the SBC’s need/goal of openly addressing past, present, and future issues of abuse in SBC entities and local churches?
In the overall big picture of things, did the sum of all these contributions plus detractions poise the SBC network as a whole to go in a direction that was better, worse, or the same?
What exactly seems to be the trajectory in regard to abuse issues in the SBC, coming out of 2019 and entering 2020?
Would you say the pace of change in SBC systems as a whole is too fast, too slow, and dead in the water?
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