In the deep voice of Pastor Frank Bruce, the emotion is still perceptible. “Last May, when I received the independent report on sexual violence in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), I was overwhelmed with a mixture of grief, anger and determination to to act “says this evangelical from North Carolina who has been leading a task force devoted to sexual abuse within the largest American Protestant denomination since last year.
The case, which over the past two decades has involved nearly 400 pastors, educators and volunteers, and claimed some 700 victims, was revealed in 2019 by the Texas press. On May 22, the facts were confirmed by an independent investigation commissioned by the SBC: in a 288-page report, the latter showed that the leaders had, for years, concealed “information about allegations of abuse and lawsuits” and dissuaded the victims from speaking out, even going so far as to denigrate them. A few days later, the SBC for its part unveiled a secret list of attackers compiled since 2007 by an employee of the Convention, without any action being taken against the persons cited.
The publication of these documents had the effect of an earthquake within the evangelical denomination with 13.7 million faithful, already weakened by the revelations of the Texas press and by significant partisan fractures. It is therefore in a heavy atmosphere that, on Tuesday, June 14, in Anaheim, California, the annual meeting of the Convention opens, undoubtedly one of the most important in the history of the SBC.
A database of offenders
Some 8,500 delegates from across the United States will be invited to vote on several recommendations of the task force led by Pastor Bruce Frank: among them, the creation of a new “task force” (project group) aimed at setting up initiatives to fight against sexual abuse and provide better support for victims, as well as the adoption of a database to list people suspected of sexual abuse within a SBC-affiliated church to prevent them from easily switching congregations.
“Survivors of abuse have been asking for this tool for years, but each time they are met with the same excuse: they are told that it is impossible because the Convention has a Congregationalist governance. (which means that each member church operates autonomously, Editor’s note) », recalls Kristin Kobes Du Mez, professor of history at Calvin University in Michigan. “In reality, this does not absolve churches of their accountability to the SBC,” notes Pastor Bruce Frank.
A critical investigation
Within the Convention, the ongoing reforms strongly divide moderates and ultra-conservatives. ” The more conservative wing of the SBC, which is directly implicated in the facts revealed by the report since it has controlled the Convention for thirty years, is now seeking to discredit the result of the investigation,” notes Pastor Ryan Burge, professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University.
Last week, the impartiality of the firm Guidepost solutions, which wrote the report, was questioned by the ultra-conservative camp after the group posted its support for LGBT people on its Twitter account on the occasion of the month prides.
While some pastors deem the provision of therapeutic care to victims unnecessary, others point to the cost of reforms against sexual violence. “Southern Baptist Missions to Receive $4.5 Million Less Over Next 15 Months”notably regretted Pastor Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Council, a missionary organization affiliated with the CBS.
“It is as if some had learned nothing from the scandals that affected the Catholic Church before them,” sighs Dee Miller, former SBC member. Sexually assaulted by a missionary thirty years ago, this pastor’s wife has been fighting for years to make the voices of the victims heard. On Tuesday, his testimony and that of other abuse survivors will be screened in the halls of the Anaheim Convention Center to encourage delegates to take action.