Paul L. Caron

Sunday, July 3, 2022

NY Times Op-Ed: How Churches Can Do Better At Responding To Sexual Abuse

New York Times Op-Ed:  How Churches Can Do Better at Responding to Sexual Abuse, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):

Warren 3HIn May, a third-party investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, concluded that some former members of its top leadership committee, along with outside counsel, “closely guarded information about abuse allegations and lawsuits” and “were singularly focused on avoiding liability.”

As a result, the report said, “survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action” because of its organizational structure “even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry.” The report also showed that hundreds of people associated with the denomination had been accused of abuse, and that a list containing their names had long been kept secret.

Rachael Denhollander is a lawyer and a former gymnast who was the first woman to publicly accuse Larry Nassar, the former doctor for U.S.A. Gymnastics, of sexual abuse. In addition, she has worked with survivors and Southern Baptist leaders over the past several years to urge action and accountability, to call for a third-party investigation and to demand that the denomination surrender confidential documents to investigators. She also served as an adviser for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Sexual Abuse Task Force, which was formed last year to respond to widespread allegations of abuse.

August Boto, the former general counsel for the Southern Baptist leadership branch that was investigated, called the work of advocates and survivors “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.” He criticized Denhollander and another abuse survivor, saying that their “outcries” were evidence of the devil’s success.

When the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., last week, it voted overwhelmingly to implement the reforms suggested by the report, including forming a publicly available “ministry check” website that lists credibly accused abusers who have served in Southern Baptist churches and entities. It also approved a resolution that offered a formal apology to abuse survivors, mentioning some by name, and asked their forgiveness “for our failure to hold perpetrators of sexual abuse adequately accountable in our churches and institutions.”

Denhollander told me that the voting members of the denomination “sent a message this week that they will not tolerate abuse; that’s critical.” But she is quick to say that there is much more work to be done in the months and years to come. She also said, “I hope this is a challenge and warning to other denominations and any institutions to take action steps and be proactive about assessing what’s happening in their own communities and to structure abuse responses so that survivors can safely engage with the process, so that the truth truly comes out.”

Before last week’s convention meeting, Denhollander spoke with me about the Southern Baptist Convention and, more broadly, about sexual abuse in churches. ...

You have been working alongside survivors in church settings for many years now. Why do you stay in the church with all the evil that you see there?

How do I know that the authority I’m seeing isn’t a good use of authority? How do I know that sexual abuse really is wicked and it ought to be treated that way? You can’t know a line is crooked unless you have some idea of a straight line. That is a paraphrase of a quote by C.S. Lewis, and it has really been a linchpin for me.

The reason I remain a Christian is because my faith is what allows me to say that what I’m watching right now is broken. These institutions and these responses to survivors aren’t right. And I know they’re not right because I have a perfect picture of what these things are supposed to be.

And so my allegiance is not to a church. My allegiance is not to a denomination. It’s not to a country. It’s not to a convention. My allegiance is to Christ. And when I look at my faith and when I look at the principles of Scripture, it gives me the ability to look at what’s happening and say, “This is not right,” and I know it’s not right because there really is a moral lawgiver, and there really is absolute truth. Because every other belief system outside of God leaves us essentially dependent on societal and cultural response to define right and wrong.

Editor's Note:  If you would like to receive a weekly email each Sunday with links to the faith posts on TaxProf Blog, email me here.

Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

Faith, Legal Education | Permalink