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My story / re: the Southern Baptist Convention’s sexual abuse investigation
I remember, vividly, the day we had sexual harassment and abuse training. No one spoke that day, not even a moderator after the morning announcements. Instead, the lights were dimmed and a lengthy video played on the big projector screens that flanked the front of the room’s stage. My memory frames what we watched in black and white, with eerie music, over monologues of stories, cultural things to watch out for, faces blurred of survivors.
After sitting for an hour, I went into the atrium of the building. It was just a bathroom break, but there were a lot of women milling near the bathrooms.
Could they also feel their throats tighten? Could they hear echoes of their own stories loud in their ears? I wondered.
My teammate approached me and tried to comfort me. But that’s not what I needed. I was triggered, and triggers don’t need comfort—they need presence. They need to be grounded into the present, away from the past that has been dragged up again. I didn’t know the tips and tricks then, but I ground my feet into the floor, and walked back into the room with stiffened legs, a posture that was just trying to protect itself from being triggered again.
After another lengthy showing, the screens clicked off, the projector whirred as its power stopped, and the lights turned back on. I blinked away subtle tears in the corners of my eyes, blinded by the harsh overhead lights. Our training moderator return and reminded us to sign the papers on our tables, that said we had completed this training. And then he reminded us the usual announcements of preparing to go overseas: the bank accounts we needed to open, the will documents we would sign and notarize soon, and the special dinner being prepared for our evening. “Thanks and we’ll see you in the morning!” he cheerily ended the session and the day.
I look back now and think, could I have skipped this day? Could their have been a better way to train than rounding everyone up without thinking about how many in the room might be triggered?
I look back now, after hearing of how the Southern Baptist Convention—the parent organization of the one that put me in this room to train to go overseas—and think, they didn’t want to do better. They just wanted to tick a box: harassment training, done. Check. No follow-up’s, no discussion. Just a video and cleansed hands of any further repercussions.
We cannot consign this to one group of people, one bad few members of a much larger group. This is systemic, and if it isn’t scrutinized quickly and without question—then I will have to live with a fresh, raw wound of regret for ever having any role in it. For ever letting myself speak for it. For ever excusing it’s pitfalls in my sending organization—most of which were at the level of those who should have the most care and compassion, who did not display that. How could they? When it’s not what they are taught? Instead, they learn the paperwork, the filing process, the ins and outs of team conflict (not then held in confidence), the ways of quieting those who are suffering. That is what I experienced because it was happening at both the highest levels, as now revealed, and so made it’s way to the furthest reaches of a mission organization I dearly loved at one time, and was deeply disappointed by.
Will anything change?
I typed this out late last night, laying in bed beside my husband, who also grew up in the SBC and was involved in many of their organizations like the IMB. I was a little shaken by the end, surprised by what had come up in me, what very specific memory was triggered by reading a response piece to the report (which I will not be reading in full). I reluctantly shared with him and gave him my “what’s next” idea with tearful, passionate pleas:
If this doesn’t change things, if the SBC doesn’t split over this…
He squeezed my hand, but he is also a realist.
“It’s likely nothing will change.”
He’s not wrong. Most SBC churches and members will remain blissfully unaware of this report and the explosiveness of it. Pastors, elders, delegates might get emails, but won’t pass it along. They won’t condemn it in their next sermon—especially if it interrupts a series. Their likely won’t be a memo passed along to lower-level people, like missionaries. If I were still on the field with the SBC’s IMB… I would have to leave. There would be no possible way I could stay connected, even if a few steps away, to an organization who prioritized protecting their power instead of taking care of victims and making sure perpetrators were punished.
Sadly, this is just not the road that many will take.
From my journal the morning after writing this:
Yesterday bore the news of the SBC’s sexual abuse investigation, and I went to sleep a little more than hopeless about it as I realized with Chris that there will likely be no change at all. I think about churches like my parents go to—tiny, rural churches that likely have no access to the report or even, really, the SBC beyond their cooperative/Lottie Moon givings.
I think about missionaries on the field who might not be told about any of it. I think about how people who might’ve done something have already left the SBC.
Mostly, I think about my own experiences with both training and member care and how they lacked so much. And now I wonder if it’s because the parent organization doesn’t care about taking care of others, about protecting the vulnerable, about prosecuting the perpetrators.
If I’m being really honest, I wonder about the abnormal closeness I had with my own youth pastor in high school. I wonder if the term “grooming” could apply to someone who saw through my defenses and talked to me about them. I wonder if he was hastily shuffled off to another church when he left without warning.
I wonder about all the stories like mine, about all the stories worse than mine. All the stories unheard, unseen, because of a leadership that cared more about their appearances than their hearts… we’ve gotten it all wrong. Jesus cared and advocated for women who we deemed dirty. He rescued a woman from stoning.
And instead of following suit, we have picked up stones.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer:
Make us drop all our stones. May we pick up stories instead. May we decisively move against abusers. May we see radical change and repentance.
You came to bring division and the sword–and that is exactly what we need here.
May it be so.
Want to keep talking about this?
Do you have your own story to share? Do you want to hold space with others so that we can process and grieve together? I am not a counselor or therapist—but I am a person who cultivates safe spaces of discussion that is open, listening-focused, and includes grounding exercises to help us gather well and leave calmer than we came in.
If you want to join me and a small group of others, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.