What Do Abuse Survivors Want? Some FAQs and Observations for Leaders of the SBC

Many people with Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) backgrounds are voicing questions and concerns about abuse, in the wake of the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News series on “Abuse of Faith” in the SBC. I compiled this article from a series of tweets on February 12, 2019, to offer some basic information and constructive study sources for dealing with problems of systemic abuse, enablement, and concealment. I’ve edited it slightly for publishing here.


PART 1 OF 3. Abuse of Faith 20 years, 700 victims: Southern Baptist sexual abuse spreads as leaders resist reforms, by Robert Downen, Lise Olsen, and John Tedesco. Multimedia by Jon Shapley Article design by Jordan Rubio and Jasmine Goldband. (February 10, 2019; Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News).

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#1 What do abuse survivors/advocates want?

From what I’ve seen, we have two overarching values: (1) justice for abuse victims. (2) protection for those who are vulnerable. We’ll often see these values embodied within specific goals, recommendations, actions, and resistance.

#2 What methods/means for justice DO seem to have strongest support in survivor communities?

Restorative justice with truth-finding before relational reconciliation attempts. Independent investigation where the accused org is not in control of hiring, process, findings, report.

#3 What methods/means DON’T seem to have broad support except maybe in subgroup of survivors?

Arbitration, conciliation, mediation with binding conditions of non-disclosure and forfeiture of rights to future civil action. Internal/partial investigation run for benefit of hiring org.

#4 What are some observed differences on methodologies for reconciliation?

Survivors/advocates typically advocate for #2, restorative justice process and independent investigation.

Accused organizations typically advocate for #3, conciliation with NDAs and blocking future civil action rights, and internal investigation.

#5 Why do abuse survivors/advocates talk about *systems* and *toxicity* so much?

If we don’t deal with SYSTEMS, then we only address SYMPTOMS, and that leaves harmful SOURCES intact. These sources pump poison (TOXINS) into our system, and end up damaging even more people.

#6 What systemic elements in the Southern Baptist Convention are survivors pinpointing as needing change?

In a medical metaphor, a local church with an infection agent (abuser) refuses to deal with the illness or be vaccinated, but send the pathogen to infect some other church body.

#7 Regarding the SBC, what might happen next?

If there is no substantive action, expect survivors/advocates to continue pressure and publicizing of specific SBC cases that demonstrate abuse, concealment, no restorative justice for victims, no prevention for vulnerable.

If the SBC institutionally and locally continues to fail in addressing abuse and its enablement, I suspect level of activism will increase to spotlight these criminal sins and evil (in)actions, and to amplify consequences thru non-violent non-cooperation, calls for censure, boycott, etc.

I base this on my own experiences, observations since 2007 of what’s been going on in Christian abuse survivor communities, and research writing. You’ll find details in this “cultural geography” series where I map out its paradigms, groups, values, etc. See: A Cultural Geography of Survivor Communities (Compilation of Posts).

I’ve also posted concept frameworks and practical suggestions for remediation (repair) work in this page on taking responsibility for abuse. There I address general issues, along with a spectrum of leveled responses to abusive individuals and institutions. See: Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse (Compilation of Posts).

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A Denominational Case Study in Damage Repair

1. The best case study I know of for Southern Baptist Convention pastors and leaders to research/reflect on is the 3-year process the Mennonite denomination took to deal with how their system enabled theologian John Howard Yoder to harass over 100 women.

2. They shifted their systems by including: investigations, service of lament, apologies, training seminars, survivor recovery support, official denominational statement, new print and online resources, changes in existing publications, and more! See: Three Examples of Remediation (Damage Repair).

3. Here is an image which overviews key elements in the three-year process the Mennonite denomination used in dealing holistically with the individuals, institutions, and ideologies that had been negatively affected by sexual harassment by John Howard Yoder.

The Mennonite Denomination’s Three-Year Process Dealing with John Howard Yoder’s Sexual Abuse


After he read about how the Mennonites handled a severe situation of systemic abuse, my Twitter and therapist friend Mike Phillips noted this:

My response: Which raises a significant theological point of irony and practicality: **How can a denomination widely known for “peace-making” have let a sexual harasser/abuser get away with victimizing 100+ women, hijacking their ethics and theology, and doing deep institutional damage?**

Perhaps key corrective question for SBC–widely known for evangelism, discipleship, and missions–is this: How can you carry out these 3 ministries with integrity unless you shift beliefs+systems re: abuse, given statistics on abuse/violence victims in your local and global audiences?

If we are not trauma-informed, how can we expect to reach a world increasingly steeped in violence? [1 in 3 women worldwide is a victim of violence, acc. to “the first systematic study of global data on the prevalence of violence against women” from 2013. See: Violence against women: a ‘global health problem of epidemic proportions.’


4. Pastors/leaders in Southern Baptist Convention: Compare attached “Four Suggestions from a Futurist” to clean house, with the process Mennonites used due to Yoder’s impact on their systems. SBC Suggestion #5–explore how your theologies can enable abuse. See What Will It Take for the SBC to “Clean House”? Four Suggestions from a Futurist.

SBC Cleaning House – Four Suggestions from a Futurist

5. For details on Suggestion #5 for the SBC, read widely and deeply for the range of responses by abuse survivors (sexual and/or domestic violence, spiritual abuse) and advocates to the @HoustonChron series on “Abuse of Faith” in the SBC.

6. Such survivors/advocates–many from SBC/evangelical backgrounds–will help you pinpoint ideological principles and practices common in SBC life that they see contribute to environments that foster/enable abusers, without justice for victims, and without protection for the vulnerable. [LATER ADD-ON: This is important homework for people to work through as individuals, though it would be good to share results and discuss them in a group. Pastors and convention leaders need to grapple with the raw stories themselves and not abdicate that aspect or the analysis to anyone else.]

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6 thoughts on “What Do Abuse Survivors Want? Some FAQs and Observations for Leaders of the SBC

  1. As the saying goes, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When leaders are treated like they’re holier and more important than everyone else, they start believing that’s true. And they figure if they do something wrong, all they need to do is ask God to forgive them and it’s gone. Poof.

  2. Brad, wish you’d expand upon what you think the SBC should do regarding “survivors.”
    As you well know, autonomy isn’t something the SBC suddenly dreamed up to protect themselves. It’s part and parcel of who they are.
    Also, the SBC is sprawling. Nobody knows EXACTLY how many churches are participating and nobody knows who the pastoral staff is from day to day.
    I don’t think the national convention can do a whole lot; I personally think the local associations could bring about pressure to disfellowship churches who are knowingly allowing unrequited abusers to function as pastors.

    [ Unrequited is a key word. All pastors are grevious sinners – without exception. Clearly some sins are more grevious than others. ]

    There are a lot of SBC haters out there [ see T.W.W. comments – dryly] and their animosity towards the SBC will never be sated regardless of what steps the SBC takes..

    • I will be posting a first-draft effort at drawing together some of the many specifics under discussion. No guarantee that I can do any more than that unless there is a combination of time, energy, and leading to do so — because those are the parameters my life operates under these days.

      The most important things the network of SBC convention leaders, pastors, and church members can do regarding survivors of abuse/violence are to listen, learn, and make appropriate adjustments. That is just a starter to-do list. There are significant SBC institutional and ideological issues that foster an environment that does not seek biblical justice/righteousness on behalf of victims, nor provide protection of the vulnerable. I’ve touched on a lot of those, and more are being raised by high-level personnel at SBC entities and by local church pastors — not just survivors.

      The SBC is the largest Protestant “denomination.” There are a lot of people in survivor communities who were victimized by various forms of abuse **IN** SBC churches and ministries, as the Houston Chronicle series documents, or it was amplified by some of the theological planks and practices in their SBC church. And yes, there is a level of animosity toward the SBC from survivors, in great part (I believe) because of the hypocrisy of standing for the gospel but not standing with people the gospel was supposed to help, and the authoritarianism that is often masked under demanded respect [reverence, actually] for those in authority. Their frustration, anger, etc., is not baseless.

      And it may well be true, as you’ve said, that “there are a lot of SBC haters out there … [who] will never be sated regardless of what steps the SBC takes.”

      It also seems just as accurate to say, “There are a lot of abuse survivor haters out there who will never be sated regardless of whether the survivors shut up, quit being whiny, stop their ‘attacks’ on [fill in theology, denomination, church name, Christian celebrity name, etc.].”

      Anyway, the SBC as a cooperative association has some rigorous discussions to hold, and radical reconstruction to take care of on issues related to sexual abuse, justice, protection, reporting known/suspected crimes to the authorities, etc. I believe some very unsavory potential consequences will be in store if they refuse to act with integrity.

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