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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Jules Woodson, center, of Colorado Springs, Colo., is comforted by her boyfriend Ben Smith, left, and Christa Brown while demonstrating outside the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting Tuesday.

Thursday, June 13, 2019 1:00 am

Southern Baptists bemoan abuse

Leader apologizes to survivors, vows to address crisis

Associated Press

Also

Catholic bishops OK national hotline

BALTIMORE – U.S. Catholic bishops voted Wednesday to create a new national sex-abuse hotline run by an independent entity, a decision that represents one of the church's most tangible steps yet in confronting its sex-abuse crisis.

The hotline, which would field allegations that bishops committed abuse or covered it up, would take complaints by telephone and through an online link. It's supposed to be operating within a year.

Hotline operators would relay allegations to regional supervisory bishops. Church leaders are encouraging those bishops – though not requiring them – to seek help from lay experts in assessing and investigating allegations.

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Sharing a stage with tearful survivors of sex abuse, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention apologized Wednesday for the abuse crisis besetting his denomination and outlined an array of steps to address it.

“We are broken-hearted and angry,” said the Rev. J.D. Greear as the largest U.S. protestant denomination neared the end of its two-day national meeting. “Give us the courage to make the changes that genuine repentance requires.”

In an impassioned speech, preceded by prayers of lamentation, Greear blamed the crisis on years of cover-ups. He praised a new anti-abuse curriculum is being offered to all SBC churches and seminaries, and he said the SBC must do better in screening potential pastors.

“Father, forgive us,” he prayed after calling out a litany of sins.

The Rev. Russell Moore, head of the SBC's public policy arm, said the abuse crisis is a result of satanic forces at work in the church.

“The vital question is what we will do next,” Moore said during an address.

Moments earlier, dozens of abuse victims and supporters stood during a prayer for survivors of sexual misconduct. Some wept openly.

Abuse survivor Stephanie Davis stood onstage and received a standing ovation after a video presentation in which she recounted her experience. Davis said she was abused as a teen by a music minister who went on to seminary and kept working in churches until last year. “No one ever told me it wasn't my fault,” she said.

“We have to get this right,” she said in the video, urging the church to stand with victims and to hold abusers accountable.

On Tuesday, the opening day of the meeting, delegates approved the SBC's first-ever measures aimed directly at combating sex abuse committed by clergy and staff.

One provision establishes a permanent committee to review allegations of abuse at member churches and recommend action if warranted. Two other proposals, if ratified again next year, would specify that churches could be expelled from the denomination for mishandling cases of sexual abuse or racial discrimination.

Christie Crawford, a mother of five whose husband Matt Crawford is a pastor at a two-campus church in Tallahassee, Florida, said the denomination's actions this week would let congregations know that protecting children from abuse is both important and required, as is reporting possible misconduct.

“I think that what we've done and said will empower people,” she said. “It will cause people to be more vocal at the local church level if they see things that make them uncomfortable.”

Crawford's church, City Church Tallahassee, already has requirements including background checks and a six-month waiting period for anyone wanting to volunteer with minors, she said.

“The world that we live in ... is a place where all parents have to be vigilant because of the dangers that are lurking,” Crawford said.

Pressure on the SBC intensified in recent months due in part to articles by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News asserting that hundreds of Southern Baptist clergy and staff have been accused of sexual misconduct over the past 20 years, including dozens who returned to church duties, while leaving more than 700 victims with little justice or apologies.