A dry report on sexual abuse and cover-up at the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination
A viral video of a woman confronting her pastor, an independent Christian, alleging that she had been sexually abused as a teenager.
TV documentary exposing child sexual abuse in the Amish and Mennonite communities.
You can call it #ChurchToo 2.0.
Survivors of sexual abuse in church settings and their advocates have for years called on churches to acknowledge the extent of abuse between them and implement reforms. In 2017 that movement gained the hashtag #ChurchToo, derived from the widespread #MeToo movement, which called for sexual predators in many areas of society.
In recent weeks #ChurchToo has seen a particularly intense set of revelations in communities and ministries, with messages that activists have long struggled to reach large audiences in headlines and on screen.
“For us, it’s just a confirmation of what we’ve been up to all these years,” said Jimmy Hinton, an advocate for abuse victims and minister of the Church of Christ in Somerset, Pennsylvania. “In the church, there is a complete epidemic of abuse in religious places.”
Calls for reform will be prominent this week in Anaheim, California, when the Southern Baptist Convention convenes its annual meeting following an external report concluding that its leaders have mistreated victims and stoned victims.
The May 22 report came out on the same day that an independent church in Indiana was facing its own reckoning.
After its pastor, John B. Lowe II, confessed to years of “adultery,” longtime member Bobby Geffart took the microphone to tell the rest of the story: “When it started, she was only 16,” she said.
The video of the encounter has been viewed by nearly one lakh people on Facebook. Lowe later resigned from Warsaw’s New Life Christian Church and World Outreach.
In an interview, Gefert said she is not surprised that so many cases are coming out. She received words of encouragement from around the world, sharing her own “heartbreaking” stories of abuse.
“Things are moving slowly,” Geffart said. “I really think God is trying to fix things.”
For many churches, she said, “it’s all about hiding, ‘let’s continue the show.’ It hurts people there, and that’s not true. I don’t think many churches get it yet. “
Hinton – who turned out to be his own father, a former minister now jailed for increasingly indecent assaults – shows the surviving ability to tell his stories in viral videos.
“Survivors have more power than they thought,” he said in his “Speaking on Sex Abuse” podcast.
#CurchToo revelations have appeared in all types of church groups, including liberal denominations that promote gender equality and portray the sexual abuse of clergy as an abuse of power. Episcopal Church broadcast stories from survivors at its 2018 general convention, and an archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada resigned in April amid allegations of sexual harassment.
But more recent calculations are taking place in Orthodox Protestant settings where a “culture of chastity” has become popular in recent decades – emphasizing male rights and feminine modesty and discouraging dating in favor of traditional marriage leading to marriage.
On May 25, reality TV personality Josh Duggar was sentenced in Arkansas to more than 12 years in prison for receiving child pornography. Duggar was a former lobbyist for an orthodox Christian organization and appeared on TLC’s canceled “19 Kids and Counting”, which featured a homeschooling family emphasizing chastity and traditional marriage. Prosecutors said Duggar had “deep, widespread and violent sexual interests in children.”
On May 26, a Springfield (Missouri) news leader reported incidents of sexual harassment involving workers at the large evangelical camp ministry, Kanakuk Campus.
Emily Joy Ellison, whose story of abuse started the #CurchToo movement, said that sexual morality is preached in many Orthodox churches – and that it causes embarrassment and silence – is part of the problem. She argues in her book “#CurchToo: How Purity Culture Upholds Abuse and How to Find Healing”.
Eliasson told the Associated Press that a change in both church policy and theology was needed to address the abuse. But he knows SBC is not the last resort.
“They need to go through change so radical they will eventually be unfamiliar. And that won’t happen,” Allison said. Reform work focused on “reducing losses” is a more realistic approach, she said.
Some advocates hope that the front-burner focus on abuse can lead to lasting improvements – if not in churches, in law.
Misty Griffin, an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse in the Amis community, recently launched a congressional “Child Rights Act” petition campaign. At the beginning of June, it had more than 5,000 signatures.
It will require that all teachers in religious school and homeschool settings be trained and subject to a reporting and reporting mandate on child abuse and neglect, and that age-appropriate guidance in student abuse prevention will be required. Griffin said such legislation is important because victims of authoritarian religious systems often do not know how to get help or how to get it.
“Without that, nothing will change,” said Griffin, a consultant producer on the documentary “Sins of the Amish.”
The two-episode documentary, which premiered on Peacock TV in May, examines local abuse in the Amish and Mennonite communities, enabled by the patriarchal authority structure, reluctance to pardon offenders, and reluctance to report wrongdoing to law enforcement.
The Southern Baptist Convention, whose doctrine also calls for male leadership in churches and families, especially the #CurchToo movement, has been rocked by years of complaints that leadership has failed to care for survivors and hold those responsible accountable.
At its annual meeting, the SBC will consider proposals to create a task force to oversee a list of priests accused of abuse. But survivors have criticized the proposal, calling for a more powerful and independent commission to do so, and reviewing allegations of abuse and concealment. They are also looking for a “Generation Rehabilitation Fund” and a memorial dedicated to the survivors.
The pace of change accelerated after survivors such as Jules Woodson, who went public in 2018 with allegations of sexual harassment against his former young pastor, were excited to tell their stories.
“I thought, ‘Thank God we have a place to tell these stories,'” Woodson said.
Such accounts led to an independent investigation, with a 288-page report detailing how the SBC’s executive committee prioritized the organization’s security to prevent the welfare and abuse of victims.
The committee has apologized and released a long secret list of ministers accused of misconduct.
Woodson said the name of his abuser looked like a double-edged sword.
“It was proving in some way that the person who was abusing me was there, but it was devastating to see that they knew and still no one on SBC spoke to warn others,” she said.
Woodson added that she is still waiting for a meaningful change: “They have offered minimal words acknowledging the problem, but they have offered zero correction and true action that would show real remorse or care and concern for survivors or vulnerable people. . “