May 22, 2022 Wayne Northey

Southern Baptist leaders covered up sex abuse, kept secret database, report says

Among the findings was a previously unknown case of a pastor who was credibly accused of assaulting a woman a month after leaving the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention

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May 22, 2022

WN: Wherever men see themselves as “central, superior, and deserving” in any relationship, we teach our men in the Mennonite Central Committee (British Columbia) End Abuse Home Improvement Program for men, there is generally abuse. . . 

There is no peace without a confrontation with the sexism internal to the theologies of nonviolence that have dominated the discourse of ethics. Peace theology, after John Howard Yoder, should involve conscientious objection to patriarchy.Isaac Villegas

Please also see, by , May 23, 2022, Southern Baptist Leaders Mistreated Abuse Survivors for Decades, Report Says. We read:

Tiffany Thigpen, an abuse survivor and advocate, said the report revealed what many survivors already knew and had been warning Southern Baptists about for decades.

“We told the truth,” she said.

This week, Thigpen said she has been thinking about Bible verses that urge believers to tell the truth and not cover up misdeeds, something she said SBC leaders failed to do. In particular, she pointed to a verse in the Book of Proverbs, warning that pride will lead to disgrace.

“This report is the disgrace,” she said. “The abuse of victims is the disgrace.

“The Bible did not tell them to do this,” she added.

But while claiming that creating a database would be difficult or impossible, Executive Committee staff were compiling a list of abusers.

“The most recent list prepared by the EC staff member contained the names of 703 abusers, with 409 believed to be SBC-affiliated at some point in time,” according to the Guidepost report.

Guidepost also detailed how Executive Committee staffers and lawyers mistreated Jen Lyell, a former Lifeway official who came forward with her story of abuse at the hands of an SBC seminary professor. An initial draft of a story by Baptist Press, the SBC’s official news publication, described Lyell as an abuse survivor, but just before publication, the story was changed to describe her as being involved in an inappropriate relationship with the professor.

According to the report, SBC officials refused to correct the story for months, causing significant harm to Lyell’s reputation and health. The story was eventually withdrawn by Baptist Press, which apologized to Lyell as part of a settlement.

One of the most chilling parts of the Guidepost report, which came with a trigger warning, involved sexual assault accusations against Hunt, who was elected at the same 2008 meeting where the database was rejected.

According to what investigators called credible allegations, Hunt was accused of sexually assaulting the wife of another SBC pastor in 2010. That assault allegedly included Hunt pinning the survivor to a couch, pulling off her clothes, and then sexual assaulting her with his “hands and mouth.”

“Survivor said she did not want him to ruin his ministry, at which he responded he did not want to ruin hers,” the report states. “But he then forced himself on her again by groping her, trying to pull her shirt down, and violently kissing her. Survivor did not reciprocate, but rather stood eyes open and very stiff, hoping he would just stop and leave. He finally stopped and left.”

Investigators found several witnesses who corroborated the allegations, saying that Hunt had admitted the assault and learned that Hunt had gone on leave in 2010. They also spoke with a counselor who had counseled Hunt and the survivor.

“We include this sexual assault allegation in the report because our investigators found the pastor and his wife to be credible,” Guidepost wrote, saying “their report was corroborated in part by a counseling minister and three other credible witnesses; and our investigators did not find Dr. Hunt’s statements related to the sexual assault allegation to be credible.”

Hunt denied the allegations during interviews with investigators. The former pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia, he said on social media that “my heart breaks for all victims of abuse.”

He also acknowledged he had resigned from NAMB and denied the allegations against him. “To put it bluntly, I vigorously deny the circumstances and characterizations set forth in the Guidepost report,” he said on Twitter. I have never abused anyone.”

Following the release of the report, the SBC’s North American Mission Board confirmed that Hunt had resigned as senior vice president of evangelism and leadership.

Former SBC President J.D. Greear said the report showed that the SBC should have taken action years ago to address abuse. Greear began talking about abuse in 2018, not long after becoming president, and led the denomination’s annual meeting in a service of lament after a 2019 report from the Houston Chronicle revealed hundreds of abuse cases.

“You look back to 2008 and you have to ask, ‘why were we allowing bureaucratic, mumbo jumbo and legalese to keep us from doing the right thing?” he said.

Greear said he hopes the SBC will adopt changes to help prevent abuse in the future and to care for survivors. He said that for too long, church leaders gave the benefit of the doubt to the institution.

“It’s very apparent that what the Bible would counsel us to do is to give the benefit of the doubt to the survivors,” he said.

The report includes a series of recommendations for the SBC, including creating an “Offender Information System” to track known abusers, along with starting an independent commission to deal with abuse, restricting the use of non-disclosure agreements, and creating standards for churches to certify that they are following best practices.

In Southern Baptist leaders vow to release database of sexual abusers, apologize to victims, by Leah Marie Ann Klett, Assistant Editor, May 24, 2022, we read:

On Tuesday, Executive Committee leaders said they would make public that private database of offenders after redacting “all survivor names, confidential witness names and any unsubstantiated allegations.”

“The SBC Executive Committee is diligently reviewing the list of offenders and abusers referenced in the Guidepost report with the goal of making as much of the report public as quickly as possible,” McLaurin said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“As mentioned during the meeting on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, names of survivors, any confidential witnesses, and details regarding any unsubstantiated allegations will be redacted before the document is published. That work is being done carefully and as quickly as possible, with an anticipated release date of Thursday, May 26, 2022. Additional information will be provided with the release of the list.”
Please also see, by , and , May 26, 2022: Southern Baptist leaders release sex abuser database they kept secret for years. We read:

“This is a critical first step,” said Rachael Denhollander, an attorney and former gymnast who outed former USA Gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar over his serial sexual assaults and is now an adviser on a Southern Baptist task force on the issue. “It at least begins to demonstrate a level of transparency and accountability.”

The SBC has long sought to distinguish itself from the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal by saying its churches were independent from one another. But University of Pennsylvania professor Marci Hamilton, an expert on laws aimed at preventing child abuse, said the SBC has no standing in distinguishing itself legally from the Catholic Church in terms of its responsibility to victims, be they minors or adults when incidents happen. The SBC, she said, is the “governing body of the whole church, so they are responsible for the policies and for the coverup, which is evident.”

As penalties including billions of dollars have been levied in the past 20 years against the Catholic Church, Hamilton said, other non-Catholic religious groups have argued that their structure and beliefs make them different when it comes to liability. Southern Baptist and nondenominational groups have said they are too loosely affiliated to be liable, but she said courts have found otherwise when they have looked at other faith groups.

“The question is: Did they act recklessly, endangering children and adults? And the answer is yes,” Hamilton said. “They took unreasonable risks, lacked effective prevention policies, and put individuals in their flocks at risk of being sexually assaulted and abused, by leaving the abusers in positions of authority and not alerting the public and by bypassing going to the authorities. This defense they’ve been saying — ‘We’re organized differently’ — is full of holes. That is no defense.”

The third-party investigation by Guidepost Solutions, commissioned by Southern Baptists at their annual convention last year and released Sunday, focused narrowly on the SBC’s Nashville-based Executive Committee, the second-smallest organization within the SBC that handles the finances and administration, including distributing funds that come in from churches around the country to its other organizations.

Two Southern Baptist leaders, Kevin Ezell of the North American Mission Board and Danny Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said this week that they would invite Guidepost to investigate allegations in their organizations.

Are we saying a person has to live a perfect life and makes a mistake in judgment, we’re going to do everything we can to punish him?. . . There’s not much grace in that.Mike Holloway, pastor of Ouachita Baptist Church in Louisiana and a board member on the Executive Committee under review. To which: Yes, Pastor Holloway. At least this: Those who commit sexual abuse are never again to be trusted in a leadership position–because all victims of such abuse can never again trust such abusers. . . ever! Else, where do they find a safe spiritual refuge?

Several sexual abuse survivors have said they plan to fly to Anaheim, Calif., for the SBC’s annual meeting next month because they see momentum for potential change. Among them is Jules Woodson, whose 2018 allegation that her Southern Baptist youth pastor sexually assaulted her was viewed as one of the major points that led the denomination to confront sex abuse.

On Thursday night, Woodson sobbed when she knew that Andy Savage, whom she says abused her when she was 17, was listed in the database. In 2018, Savage, who has not been charged or convicted, publicly admitted to “a sexual incident,” said he was “deeply sorry” and received a standing ovation from his congregation.

“I feel acknowledged for the first time in a long time,” Woodson said. “They knew. They knew, and they did nothing.”

In 2019, Woodson wrote to the leaders of Germantown Baptist Church in Tennessee to see if they would revoke the ordination of the man who confessed to his congregation that he had “a sexual incident” with Woodson when she was a teenager. According to Woodson, a church leader wrote back to her to say that the church had no comment. It did not respond to requests from The Washington Post for further comment.

The Executive Committee on Wednesday set up a third-party hotline for sexual abuse survivors, run by Guidepost. The hotline may be reached at (202) 864-5578 or SBChotline@guidepostsolutions.com.

Mike Holloway, pastor of Ouachita Baptist Church in Louisiana and a board member on the Executive Committee, said while he is in favor of releasing the names to the public, he’s nervous about the list including anyone who has denied abusing someone.

Who will be the new conscientious objectors? Patriarchal theology needs to be challenged.Mary Anne Hildebrand

This is reminiscent of the case of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. The Wikipedia article highlighted states:

Yoder sexually abused over 100 women during the 1970s and 1980s while at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. The abuse was widely rumored, but not acted upon even when board members became aware of the numerous accusations. The Elkhart Truth first reported on the allegations June 29, 1992.[18] The seminary has acknowledged Yoder’s crimes against women and has apologized for not acting on them at the time.[19]

In my post, “Prison, Sexual Assault, and Editing John Howard Yoder: One Man’s Story” by Andy Alexis-Baker, December 14, 2017, I cite Isaac Villegas who meticulously analyzed all Yoder’s published and unpublished writings, in THE ECCLESIAL ETHICS OF JOHN HOWARD YODER’S ABUSE. He writes:

In the last decade – now that his sexual abuse is no longer deniable – Christian ethicists have had to reconsider John Howard Yoder’s theological contributions in the late twentieth century. This essay considers how the witness of the women who survived his abuse exposes the sexism latent in his development of a framework for moral discernment and community discipline. Yoder designed an ecclesiology that was congruent with his pursuit of unaccountable power over the women he used as subjects for working out his exploitative sexuality. His theological contributions, I argue, cannot be separated from his behavior.

The author introduces briefly the case he will present:

As evident in his correspondence with colleagues and victims, his published work on moral discernment provided justifications for his abusive relationships. I will argue that Yoder developed and refined a process for church discipline as moral discernment that facilitated his sexualized violence, allowing thereby his ecclesiology to become an accomplice to his abuse. Yoder’s latent deployment of patriarchal power will be made explicit throughout my argument.

There is no peace without a confrontation with the sexism internal to the theologies of nonviolence that have dominated the discourse of ethics. Peace theology, after Yoder, should involve conscientious objection to patriarchy.1

In Beth Allison Barr‘s  The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth, there is a powerful challenge to the very theology rife within the SBC ranks. In a denomination given to domination of women as “Gospel Truth,” John Turner states in Unmaking Biblical Womanhood:

Complementarianism, even in its softer forms, isn’t just wrong theologically and biblically. It is a heresy that hurts people, practically, emotionally, and spiritually. So, as Beth says, “Stop it!”

Such avowed theology predisposes its proponents too readily towards abuse.

For much more historical backdrop, please see:

Book Review of: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation

June 12, 2021.

excerpts:

Leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention on Sunday released a major third-party investigation that found that sex abuse survivors were often ignored, minimized and “even vilified” by top clergy in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

The findings of nearly 300 pages include shocking new details about specific abuse cases and shine a light on how denominational leaders for decades actively resisted calls for abuse prevention and reform. Evidence in the report suggests leaders also lied to Southern Baptists over whether they could maintain a database of offenders to prevent more abuse when top leaders were secretly keeping a private list for years.

The report — the first investigation of its kind in a massive Protestant denomination like the SBC — is expected to send shock waves throughout a conservative Christian community that has had intense internal battles over how to handle sex abuse. The 13 million-member denomination, along with other religious institutions in the United States, has struggled with declining membership for the past 15 years. Its leaders have long resisted comparisons between its sexual abuse crisis and that of the Catholic Church, saying the total number of abuse cases among Southern Baptists was small.

Complementarianism, even in its softer forms, isn’t just wrong theologically and biblically. It is a heresy that hurts people, practically, emotionally, and spiritually. So, as Beth says, “Stop it!”John Turner

””The investigation finds that for almost two decades, survivors of abuse and other concerned Southern Baptists have been contacting the Southern Baptist Convention’s administrative arm to report alleged child molesters and other accused abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff members. Many of the cases referred to in the report were considered outside the statute of limitations, the time survivors can report sex abuse, so it’s unclear how many abusers were criminally charged.

Sex abuse survivors, many of whom have been sharing their stories for years, anticipated Sunday’s release would confirm the facts around many of the stories they have already shared, but many were still surprised to see the pattern of coverups by the highest levels of leadership.

“I knew it was rotten, but it’s astonishing and infuriating,” said Jennifer Lyell, a survivor who was once the highest-paid female executive at the SBC and whose story of sexual abuse at a Southern Baptist seminary is detailed in the report. “This is a denomination that is through and through about power. It is misappropriated power. It does not in any way reflect the Jesus I see in the scriptures. I am so gutted.”

Christa Brown, who told SBC leaders that she was abused by a youth pastor who went on to serve in other Southern Baptist churches in multiple states, has long advocated a churchwide database and was met with hostility. The report states that when she met with SBC leaders in 2007, a member of the Executive Committee “turned his back to her during her speech and another chortled.”

“The Executive Committee betrayed not only survivors who worked hard to try to make something happen, but betrayed the whole Southern Baptist Convention,” said Brown, who is a retired appellate attorney in Colorado. “They’ve made their own faith into a complicit partner for their own decision to choose institutional protection over the protection of kids and congregants.”

Please click on: Southern Baptist leaders covered up sex abuse

Footnotes
  1. As Mary Anne Hildebrand writes, “Who will be the new conscientious objectors? Patriarchal theology needs to be challenged.” See Hildebrand, “Domestic Violence: A Challenge to Mennonite Faith and Peace Theology,” Conrad Grebel Review 10/1, 1992,73-80. 124, 79.[]

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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