(RNS) — Eight survivors of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention have issued a statement ahead of the opening session of the denomination’s 2021 meeting calling for an outside organization to oversee an audit of sexual abuse within the denomination.
A motion calling for a system-wide audit was first announced by Todd Benkert, pastor of Oak Creek Community Church in Mishawaka, Indiana, on Saturday (June 12) in the online publication SBC Voices.
The two-day gathering, which begins Tuesday (June 15) in Nashville, Tennessee, is expected to be highly contentious as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination grapples with a number of serious challenges, including charges and countercharges about how it has handled sex abuse claims.
The group of eight survivors, whose names are well-known in Southern Baptist circles because they have made their claims known, support Benkert’s motion for a comprehensive audit and assessment of the ways the SBC has handled sexual abuse claims.
The group is also asking for a full release “without redaction” of an investigation by Guidepost Solutions into the Executive Committee staff and trustees — the group based in Nashville that runs the business of the denomination.
On Friday (June 11), the Executive Committee announced it was hiring an outside firm to investigate its response to abuse. But the survivors wanted a more comprehensive system-wide investigation in addition to the Guidepost one.
“We’re really hoping to get the statement out there so every messenger at the convention gets a chance to read it and see what we’re requesting and that we stand in solidarity in requesting these things,” said Jules Woodson, who has alleged she was abused by her former youth pastor two decades ago. “We feel these are a necessity for any successful changes.”
The other named sex-abuse survivors who signed onto the statement were Dave Pittman, Hannah-Kate, Anne Marie Miller, Tiffany Thigpen, Megan Lively, Christa Brown and Jennifer Lyell.
Earlier this month, two letters written by outgoing SBC ethics chief Russell Moore detailed internal conversations that revealed how top leaders of the convention resisted sexual abuse reforms and tried to intimidate those pushing for them.
Then, last week, audio recordings surfaced of Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, telling SBC leaders in an October 2019 meeting that he is concerned about “preserving the base” — even if that leads to criticism from abuse survivors.
That same year, a longtime staffer at the Executive Committee, D. August “Augie” Boto, called sexual abuse activists pushing the SBC to do more “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.”
On Sunday, a group supporting sexual abuse survivors, called “For Such a Time as This,” held a virtual rally. Bekert, the Indiana pastor, has also tweeted that he is passing out teal ribbons, which he said is “the sexual assault awareness ribbon color.”
The joint statement from the sexual abuse survivors was also posted to change.org.