- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2022

The Southern Baptist Convention must do more to aid survivors of sexual abuse by Baptist pastors and laypeople than its Sexual Abuse Task Force recently proposed, a group of survivors said Sunday.

The 13.7 million-member denomination should create a perpetual independent commission to process reports of sexual abuse “directly from survivors, whistle-blowers and others,” the group said.

An independent and publicly accessible database of clergy “credibly accused” or convicted of abuse should also be maintained, the group said. The denomination should also create a “survivor restoration fund” independently supervised to compensate all victims, whether or not they are currently connected to an SBC church.

The group also asked the denomination to construct a permanent memorial to survivors of SBC clergy sex abuse that would be named in honor of Christa Brown, a survivor advocate who said she was raped more than 30 times by an SBC pastor who went unpunished.

Ms. Brown would have approval rights on the “execution of the monument” as well as the right to demolish it “for whatever reason she chooses, including if the SBC uses her name as a PR prop,” the statement said.

Along with Ms. Brown, signers include self-identified victims Jules Woodson; Dave Pittman; Tiffany Thigpen; Anne Marie Miller; Jennifer Lyell; and Megan Lively.

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A Southern Baptist spokesman did not immediately respond to a reporter’s request for comment.

The demands were released three weeks after a bombshell report from Guidepost Solutions revealed decades of sexual abuse coverups by convention leadership. Despite insisting that “potential liability” concerns made compiling a database of abusers unfeasible, the report revealed the denomination internally began compiling such a list in 2007.

The survivor statement also comes four days after the task force proposed a leadership vote next week to authorize a compensation fund study.

One member of the denomination’s executive committee, attorney Joe Knott of Raleigh, North Carolina, warned that the SBC lacks authority to instruct individual congregations on making settlements with victims and that doing so could lead to mission-destroying lawsuits.

“I am terrified that we are breaching our long-standing position of having a being a voluntary association of independent churches,” Mr. Knott said. He claimed “someone” will claim the churches haven’t “done enough,” and then sue the convention. 

Mr. Knott added, “I guarantee you, women and children are going to be victimized no matter how much we spend. And that is going to make us potentially targets of great class action lawsuits, which could be the end of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

The Rev. Rolland Slade, a Southern Baptist pastor in San Diego who chairs the executive committee, told Mr. Knott that money can’t be the issue in helping victims.

He said, “I don’t want us to say, ‘Well, we didn’t have enough money. And so we, therefore, didn’t protect a little one that was vulnerable, or that was in the line of being hurt.’”

Mr. Slade added, “I know it can’t be about the dollars, it’s got to be about the people. And relationships matter and people matter.”

On Twitter Friday, Ms. Brown characterized the task force proposals as “toothless suggestions, a retraumatizing database process, incrementalism as complicity.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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