Baptist Women in Ministry recently revealed in the 2022 State of Women in Baptist Life, that one in four women in ministry have been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted. In May 2022, Guidepost Solutions, a third-party investigative firm, reported that for at least the past 20 years, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has received hundreds of sexual abuse reports by pastors/ministers within their convention’s reach. The firm revealed that the SBC did not make these reports available to the churches hiring the accused, nor did it attend to the needs of the victims. Instead, the SBC placed the blame on victims, and minimized the abuse.
With burdened and concerned hearts, and with strong conviction, Texas Baptist Women in Ministry acknowledges that there are women, men, and children who have been wounded by the Church. Victims have sustained abuse by trusted leaders in their churches, and dreadfully, they have also endured blame, shaming, and further emotional abuse by Baptist churches.
Those of us serving on staff and on the board of TXBWIM are heartbroken in the face of the recent allegations of church abuse. Our hearts cry out, “how long, oh Lord?” How long will your church be defiled, and your children abused? We lament for those who have been victimized and hurt by church leaders who should have provided safety and care. We also lament because of the deeper wounds inflicted by those who had the power to act, correct, and protect, but refused to do so.
To all victims who have been abused by someone in the church, our hearts break over the pain you have endured and the trust that has been broken. We grieve with you in the loss of trust and possible damage to your faith. We pray that through God’s grace you find healing and peace that surpasses understanding. We stand in solidarity with you demanding justice and that the Church have the courage to stand and hold those responsible accountable. You are seen, you are loved, and you are not alone.
Psalm 147:3-5 He [God] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. (ESV)
How should faithful Baptists respond?
First, find ways of expressing public repentance. Pray for the healing of victims of sexual assault. Advocate for it. Let us make sure our conversations make space for those who have gone through this hell. And in all our conversations make space for listening. This kind of abuse is far too common.
Second, assume this affects you and your church. Even if your church is not Southern Baptist, your neighbors would not likely to be able to distinguish between the genres of Baptist life. In the wake of the abuses within the Catholic Church and now the Southern Baptist Convention, the two largest Christian groups in the United States have failed to protect their church members from abusive clergy and attempted to cover it up. This means the public trust of religious institutions will decrease significantly again. In other words, do not believe that you or your church is beyond the reach of the report’s impact. The people we seek to minister to outside the walls of our churches will look at us and wonder if their kids will be safe within the precincts of the temple.
Third, create safe space to talk about domestic violence, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment. Provide information on domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse around the church building. Talk about these things in sermons and Bible studies.
Finally, we need to be reminded of the sacred worth of women’s well-being, seeing as the prevalence of abuse is so widespread. The statistics on domestic abuse do not vary between Christians and non-Christians, or churched and unchurched. This is directly related to the devaluing of women that has been baptized into congregational life. Patriarchy subverts the image of God within us, and degrades both men and women. If women are not free to serve in all positions of congregational life, the image of God put forth by the body of Christ is stymied. This subverted faith leads to a lack of development within the congregation that inevitably values the lives — and careers — of men over the bodies of women. The church must do better.
The church must be willing to put itself between abusers and victims. That takes risk, but it is the only way we can live out our calling to be the hands and feet of Christ today. We firmly believe that Jesus would not seek the preservation of the church, but would risk its reputation to protect the sheep.
After acknowledging and recognizing this crisis, what are next steps as TXBWIM?
TXBWM believes not only in making sure important crises like this are shared with the public and anyone who supports women in our faith spaces, but we also show our support by coming alongside women in our churches to provide care, and resources. For those who support the mission of TXBWIM, and desire to see healthy spaces for women in ministry to thrive and fulfill their calling; now is the time to show our support for the mental, spiritual and physical well-being of our women ministers.
During our 2022 Annual Conference, in Abilene on September 16th, we will be designating a time to put these words into action. We will be having a session to discuss this important topic, provide space for lament, and learn how to support our women ministers who face sexual harassment, abuse, and violence. We will provide a session with leading voices in our state who care for and prioritize the health, and care of our women in ministry — from female counselors, therapists, and faith leaders.
You can also find other resources for you and your church in the links below.
We encourage you to attend these sessions, not only to participate as a woman in ministry, but also as allies to our women. You can register at www.txbwim.org/conference.
—Texas Baptist Women in Ministry Board of Directors and Coordinator