The #metoo movement has rightly exposed a startling degree of abuse committed against women and men and has exposed both perpetrators of abuse, and the toxic attitudes that create environments for abuse to take place. Soon after the #metoo hashtag became popular, another one followed; #churchtoo. Numerous stories began to surface in which females and males were abused, assaulted, molested, or otherwise treated inappropriately by adults in churches. Rather than holding abusers accountable by reporting them to authorities, an alarming number of churches chose instead to suppress, minimize, shame, intimidate, or otherwise cover-up the abuse.
The Catholic church’s cover-up broke first through the tenacity of reporters at the Boston Globe. More recently, sexual abuse and cover-up manifested itself in the world’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The manner by which sexual abuse has come to light in the SBC is through repeated mishandling of accusations of sexual abuse by Dr. Paige Patterson. Former students, April Anderson, Diane Montgomery, and Megan Lively, have each shared stories of being shamed, ignored, ridiculed, intimidated, and having their reports of sexual abuse minimized and not reported to police by Patterson or his associates.* Such a toxic environment was only exacerbated by the surfacing of statement Patterson made in sermons that minimized domestic abuse and demeaned a teenage girl.
In addition, Washington Post religion reporter, Sarah Pulliam-Bailey, released a story, quite literally as I was writing this post, which confirms that Patterson actively sought to downplay reports of rape, even writing of his intent to meet with a woman who reported being raped on campus in 2015 in order to “break her down.” **
As a result of these and other incidents bringing to light the need for churches to better understand and address sexual abuse, many Christian leaders are wondering how best to approach the conversation. It’s sensitive, delicate, and uncomfortable, but it’s also important, timely, and necessary.
I pastor a church affiliated with the SBC, but as many who know our church will tell you, “We’re baptist with a little ‘b,'” meaning that we are more focused on being identified with the mission of Jesus than with a denomination. One of the best things about the church I serve is their willingness to engage in important conversations. A few months ago, I did a series of sermons on marriage, singleness, and sexuality. One of those Sundays was dedicated to the reality of sexual abuse. A panel of people joined me on the platform to share their expertise and their stories. It was a powerful time that empowered a lot of people, especially since every member of the panel is also an active member of Calvary. I’m sharing a video of that panel in hopes that it can assist, model, and empower other churches and church leaders toward engaging this important conversation.
*A full story on these women is available here: https://www.christianpost.com/news/paige-patterson-scandal-female-alumni-recount-toxic-environment-2003-rape-victim-speaks-224468/
**Sarah Pulliam-Bailey’s piece is here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/06/01/southern-baptist-seminary-drops-bombshell-why-paige-patterson-was-fired/?utm_term=.3c8632dc4ed1