Woman takes on Southern Baptist Convention in Franklin Circuit Court; suit alleges parental sexual abuse, conspiracy

The State Journal [Frankfort KY]

August 26, 2021

By Austin Horn

Editor’s Note: This article contains descriptions of sexual abuse.

A woman is claiming that top executives in the Southern Baptist Convention defamed her and conspired against her as she was speaking out about her father sexually abusing her in a suit filed earlier this month in Franklin Circuit Court.

Hannah-Kate Williams filed the suit on Aug. 16, naming her father, James Williams, of Frankfort; the Southern Baptist Convention; the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville; and several leaders involved with both organizations.

The Southern Baptist Convention is one of the largest Christian denominations in the country, claiming affiliation with over 47,000 churches and touting more than 14 million members in the U.S. 

In the suit, Hannah-Kate Williams described in detail the abuse, sexual and otherwise, she allegedly endured at the hands of her father beginning at age 8 and continuing in an “ongoing and regular fashion” well into her teenage years. 

The suit claims that James Williams raped Hannah-Kate Williams the week of her eighth birthday, and that he doled out a punishment that he referred to as a baptism where he held her under water in a bathtub. At the time, per the suit, her father was training to become a pastor with the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Following the first instance of alleged abuse by her father, Hannah-Kate Williams recounts in the suit an instance where she disclosed the abuse to a Southern Baptist Convention employee who assured her it wouldn’t happen again. No action was taken against her father at the time, nor was Hannah-Kate Williams ever placed in the same group as the instructor again, per the suit.

Hannah-Kate Williams left the house at age sixteen, enduring “mental illness, difficulty sustaining employment and pursuing education” as a result of her abuse, per the suit. She claims to have met with Albert Mohler, a world-renowned author and theologian who is also the SBTS President, and the organization’s Title IX coordinator in 2019. 

Mohler said that the matter was unknown to him in 2003, but that “he would pray for Hannah, her brother, and the whole family,” per the suit. Neither SBTS nor Mohler reached back out.

The lawsuit also names Hershael York, pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort as well as Dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It alleges that York wrote on Twitter in 2020 that he had “done all he could” for the family, that there was no reason to report the abuse and that he was assured by James Williams that “it would not occur again.”

York is a minor figure in the lawsuit’s allegation that leadership at SBC and SBTS conspired against Williams “to silence her or frame her as a liar,” since she came forward with allegations against her father and church officials for failing to investigate the matter.

The lawsuit claims that the “conspiracy” began after she spoke out, and cites several social media posts by individuals involved with SBTS and/or SBC. Several people called her a liar, and some including a recent candidate for SBC president called her “sick, evil and a fraud” according to the suit.

Filed by Carman Fullerton law firm in Lexington, the suit asks for punitive and compensatory damages, as well as a trial jury.