Southern Baptists endorse sex abuse proposals, debate female pastors

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ANAHEIM, CA — Over 8,000 members of the Southern Baptist Convention met in Anaheim, Calif., on Tuesday and responded to the shocking findings of an independent inquiry into the handling of sexual abuse cases by adopting a recommendation to create a database to track abusers and a formal group to handle future sex abuse charges. Members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination also elected rural Texas pastor Bart Barber as the next convention president.

In May, Southern Baptist leaders released a report detailing a cover-up of years of sexual abuse within their denomination. For 15 years, according to the report, leaders said they were unable to compile a database of sex abusers – while secretly keeping their own list. The same week they released their report, they also released the list, which consisted of hundreds of names of alleged abusers, many of whom were convicted of crimes of sexual abuse.

Before discussing the sexual abuse proposals, however, a debate erupted over the role of female pastors, a topic that has caused some on the far right to fear a leftward drift. Like other conservative evangelical groups across the country, Southern Baptists have been divided in recent years on issues such as racial justice, abortion and the idea of ​​denominational liberalism.

Earlier in the day, Southern Baptists also published a list of nine resolutionsincluding two on sexual abuse and one on the subject of abortion, which will be examined and voted Wednesday.

The SBC’s Sexual Abuse Task Force also contacted a dozen sexual abuse survivors mentioned in the report and asked if they could apologize by name from the scene.

The denomination’s relief arm, Send Relief, said it would designate $4 million in existing funding to support the recommendations, including $1 million for survivor care.

“Don’t get me wrong, we’re in a Kairos moment, a seminal moment right now. Today we will choose between humility and pride,” said Bruce Frank, the pastor who chaired the abuse task force, as he opened the session on the proposals before an elated audience of thousands.

For years, survivors of church sex abuse have called on churches to admit the extent of the abuse. This helped generate a movement called #ChurchToo, an offshoot of the broader #MeToo movement, calling out not only sexual predators, but also religious leaders involved in the cover-up or other mishandling of abuse allegations.

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Rachael Denhollander, a lawyer, survivor and lawyer who advises the SBC on its abuse reform measures, said Tuesday the denomination has made progress but still has a long way to go.

“He’s 10 years behind everyone else in his understanding of abuse, of the best standards,” she said. “I see changes but I don’t want to minimize the reality that they are a decade behind.”

Brad Eubank, pastor of Petal First Baptist Church in Petal, Mississippi, who identified himself as a survivor of sexual abuse, stood in front of a microphone Tuesday night and urged his fellow Southern Baptists to embrace the recommendations. “The world is watching,” he said. “It’s not all that needs to be done, but it’s a starting point. And I plead with you on behalf of the survivors I speak on behalf of who love our convention and love our churches. Please start the healing process today.

Southern Baptists meet annually. The denomination, which avoids a hierarchical structure and is strongly democratic, passes resolutions each year that often signal the direction that thousands of its members want to go. In 2021, the convention passed a resolution on the abolition of abortion, which called for an end to abortion in all cases, without exception. In previous years, there have been flashpoints on “alt-right white supremacy” and critical race theory.

A resolution to be considered Wednesday on sex abuse says Southern Baptists urge state politicians to pass laws that would provide consistent definitions of pastor sex abuse, and they also urge lawmakers to “empower churches in protecting them from civil liability when sharing information”. on the alleged abuses. In another resolution, they focus on the failures of the Southern Baptist Convention regarding sexual abuse, and name and apologize to specific survivors with their permission.

In abortion resolution, Southern Baptists urge Supreme Court to overturn abortion-related precedents set in Roe vs. Wade and Family planning c. Casey. They also passed a resolution noting a recent federal report on the troubled legacy of federal Indian residential school policies, calling “the atrocities committed against these individuals in the name of religious ‘conversions’… reprehensible.”

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Southern Baptists present at the meeting, called “messengers,” voted to elect their next leader, who was seen as shaping the direction of the 13.7 million-member denomination. Rural Texas pastor Bart Barber, who has been a strong advocate for sex abuse reform, won the presidency with about 60% of the vote in a runoff. Although still theologically conservative, he is considered more centrist within the denomination.

On Monday, Barber was photographed on talking twitter with sex abuse survivor Debbie Vasquez, who was named in the sex abuse report and was talking to messengers at a booth in convention halls. In 2019, some abuse survivors were asked to stay outside convention halls because they were no longer Southern Baptists.

Sexual abuse survivors Jules Woodson and Tiffany Thigpen – two of the convention’s most outspoken survivors who were named in the sexual abuse report – stood in bright colors on their way to the convention center, waving at people and handing out teal ribbons – the color for assault survivors – people could put inside the transparent sleeve of their lanyards.

Thigpen said last year she remembered people staring at her during the sexual abuse part of the meeting. This year, she said, more than half of the Southern Baptists they asked to take a ribbon did. The convention provided them with a private room with gifts of lotion and tissues and the presence of trauma counselors.

“This year, we had a lot of smiles. It’s a bit different,” Thigpen said.

Thigpen and Woodson explained how during the taping they saw Paige Patterson, a far-right giant who was fired in 2018 after her own mishandling of sexual abuse came to light.

“He was always a giant in my world, so intimidating,” Thigpen said. “When I saw him, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think.” Later, before sleeping, she blamed herself for not talking to him.

The two saw Patterson the next day on a drive to the convention center, where food trucks are parked and praise bands played uplifting songs. Thigpen said she named him her attacker and told Patterson he failed to protect her from the man when he had the chance.

“He didn’t say anything,” she said. He just looked down, shook his head and walked away, she said. “For the first time, he seemed so small,” Woodson said with a smile to his surviving companion. “So small,” Thigpen said.

Patterson did not return a request for comment.

Christa Brown, a sexual abuse survivor who has long fought for sexual abuse reforms at the SBC, said from her home in Colorado that she was watching the reunion live stream but did not feel up to it. comfortable coming, knowing when she was looking at people’s faces. , what she would see.

“It would be like waiting for a shiv,” she said. She said after the sexual abuse proposals were passed that she had hoped they would be more muscular.

“I don’t have the guts to cheer for this,” she said.

Some of the sexual abuse survivors recently released their own list of recommendations, including the creation of a compensation fund for survivors, an independent commission to receive reports of abuse, and a monument to survivors of abuse outside the SBC offices in Nashville.

Presidential Florida pastor candidate Tom Ascol, which won around 38% of the vote in the second round against Barber, attacked the third-party inquiry after company Guidepost Solutions tweeted earlier this month in support of the LGBTQ community.

Frank addressed the convention platform’s LGBTQ-related tweet.

Frank said he didn’t like Guidepost’s tweet, but he said the problem isn’t what Guidepost thinks about LGBTQ issues, the problem is what Southern Baptists think about sexual abuse.

Ascol had the support of the far-right wing of the denomination, called the Conservative Baptist Network, and if he was elected or received a substantial number of votes, it could indicate the future direction of the SBC. Ascol is part of a movement of abortion abolitionists who believe the procedure should be illegal without exception.

Southern Baptists also had to decide whether to cut ties with California megachurch Saddleback Church, one of the denomination’s largest, over plans to hire a teaching pastor. The church has three female pastors who were ordained last year. The ordinations have renewed a battle among Southern Baptists over whether women can be considered pastors, instead of having them serve as preachers or Bible teachers.

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, said Tuesday he believed the denominational statement Baptists agreed upon was clear that women should not be considered pastors.

Saddleback founder Rick Warren, author of the bestselling book ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ who recently announced his intention to retire this fall, also addressed his fellow Southern Baptists from the ground, shaking in their reading a “love letter” and said it was probably his last convention.

As Western culture becomes more secular, Warren said, Southern Baptists must decide, “Are we going to treat each other as allies or adversaries? Warren is a fourth-generation SBC pastor who was mentored by famed evangelist Billy Graham.

Referring to women pastors, he asked, “Are we going to continue bickering over side issues or keeping the essentials as primary?

Boorstein reported from Anaheim. Bailey reported from New York.

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