(RNS) — For decades, leaders of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination mistreated survivors of sexual abuse, labeling them as troublemakers and enemies of their church while claiming there was little the leaders could do to address abuse in local congregations, often in the name of protecting their vast missionary operations.Then, in the summer of 2021, Southern Baptists had had enough.
Angered over a groundbreaking newspaper investigation of abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention and over concerns that SBC leaders continued to mistreat survivors despite promising to do better, Southern Baptists overruled their leaders, called for an in-depth investigation into their actions and, after receiving the report of that investigation in 2022, passed a series of reforms aimed to help prevent abuse and to care for survivors.
Among those reforms: building a “Ministry Check” database to track abusive pastors, providing care for survivors, training churches on how to prevent abuse and resourcing a committee charged with expelling congregations that knowingly mishandle abuse allegations.
Putting those reforms into practice will be difficult and will take decades of rebuilding trust, something abuse survivors have long known.
“I have understood from the beginning that this is a long game,” said Jules Woodson, an abuse survivor who has spoken to the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, charged with implementing reforms in the SBC.
That task force has come under fire recently for a lack of transparency over a temporary hotline, set up to collect reports of abuse, and for the slow pace of implementing reforms. That’s raised questions of whether a volunteer committee — made up mostly of pastors, often from larger churches — has the capability to get the job done.
In early February, the task force — which is due to make recommendations to the SBC’s annual meeting in June — released an update saying it will likely need more time.
“Given the scope of its assignment, we do anticipate and have begun discussions about the need to extend the ARITFs work beyond the 2023 annual meeting in New Orleans,” the task for …