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Sunday, June 10, 2018 1:00 am

Baptists' meeting to draw protests

Group embroiled in #MeToo crisis

Associated Press

The Southern Baptists are facing their own #MeToo crisis as the biggest Protestant denomination in the U.S. heads into its annual meeting this week.

A series of sexual misconduct cases has prompted the Southern Baptist Convention's socially conservative, all-male leadership to seek forgiveness for the ill treatment of women and vow to combat it. Hoping for more than rhetoric, women and some male allies plan a protest rally in Dallas when the two-day meeting opens Tuesday.

“The past two months have been tough for our convention,” SBC President Steve Gaines wrote last week. “I believe God has allowed all of this to happen to drive us to our knees.”

Illustrating the SBC's predicament, the central figure in the most prominent of the #MeToo cases, Paige Patterson, had been scheduled to deliver the featured sermon at the gathering. However, Patterson withdrew from that role Friday.

Patterson was recently dismissed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas because of his response to two rape allegations made years apart by students.

In a 2015 case, according to the seminary's board chairman, Patterson told a campus security official that he wanted to meet alone with a student who had reported being raped, to “break her down.”

Patterson also was accused of making improper remarks about a teenage girl's body and contending that abused women should almost always stay with their husbands.

Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's official news service, has reported on other cases, including the resignations of one seminary professor who acknowledged “a personal moral failing” and another who cited “personal and spiritual issues.”

Convention leaders say there are many more cases – adding up to a humiliating debacle for the 15.2 million-member denomination.

Dozens of convention leaders have co-signed a resolution that will be submitted for approval in Dallas. It calls on the SBC to repudiate any rhetoric or behavior that dishonors women, and denounces those who commit or cover up such actions.

It also urges congregations and ministers to abide by all reporting laws.

The draft resolution received a mixed review from Ashley Easter, a writer and speaker from Raleigh, North Carolina, who is an advocate for victims of abuse and an organizer of Tuesday's planned protest rally.

She and the others want the SBC to create a database of clergy sex offenders and require all pastors and seminarians to undergo training on how to address domestic abuse and sexual assault.

A rally organizer, Texas-based author and speaker Mary DeMuth, commended the draft resolution but expressed dismay that women were given minimal speaking time at the two-day SBC meeting.

She said she wishes for an SBC in which women “are no longer dismissed, stereotyped or relegated to subcommittees.”