Why I’m not engaging with the SBC’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force

In Solidarity with Christa Brown

February 17, 2023

By Christa Brown

Why I’m not engaging with the SBC’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (whew, that’s a mouthful) has asked for my “input.” Here’s why, at least for now, I’m choosing NOT to engage with them in any direct or formal way.

They’re asking for survivor “input” on how to plug the holes in a system that is designed to have holes. At best, that’s an exercise in frustration. The holes aren’t a bug; they’re a feature.

Although I believe some individuals are well-intentioned, I see little reason to believe the institution is truly committed to doing what’s right and what’s needed. For starters, if it were truly committed to accountability for abusers and care for survivors, it would be spending a lot more money and acting much faster. But they’re trying to address this on the cheap.

“Without transformation, there’s no repentance. There’s only the same harm, again and again, perpetrated in different ways.” – Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

Transformation is the very heart of repentance. Change is required for reform. But what I see is an institution fixated on the status quo.

SBC leaders pay lip service to caring about clergy sex abuse while simultaneously rejecting the work of genuine repentance, reform, repair and restitution. That only serves to render the lip service into further cruelty.

Absent the reality of caring, the institutional pretense of caring is duplicitous and hurtful. And I have no interest in that pretense.

Furthermore, we’ve seen that SBC leaders have not hesitated to solicit survivors’ experiences and then brag about receiving survivors’ “input,” effectively using survivors for public relations efforts and even for fundraising.  

And I haven’t forgotten how SBC leaders used my name in their “Caring Well” materials in a way that gave the “terribly misleading” impression that I was on board with their lip-service “efforts.” Suffice it to say that I felt exploited all over again.

I want no part of the SBC’s image repair strategies. So long as the SBC fails to reckon with the human cost of its decades-long travesty, the SBC’s image deserves no repair.

But I do not believe people within the SBC have even begun to reckon with the depth and scope of the harm they have done – individually, collectively and institutionally. And until they earnestly reckon with the harms of the past, all their talk about doing better in the future merits skepticism.

In words and deeds, SBC leaders have, for years, communicated a “You don’t matter” message to survivors. It’s a message that, to this day, continues to be communicated by the ongoing inaction of the SBC Executive Committee to make amends or impose consequences even for its own documented conduct.

With the Guidepost report, the Executive Committee stared into the face of its own cruelty and inhumanity… and shrugged.

Personally, I’m named dozens of times in the Guidepost report, with documentation of how the Executive Committee publicly smeared me, claimed I made “false accusations,” treated me in ways any decent human would consider unconscionable, and misled me into thinking my SBC pastor-rapist wasn’t in ministry anymore, even though he was. This conduct caused me harm, separate and beyond the harm of childhood sexual abuse. And though I know better than to expect anything from them in the way of amends, at the same time, I am unwilling to simply pretend as though their conduct and harms were no big deal.

There’s a history here. A very long history. A very bad history.

I’ve bared my heart… again and again and again. I’ve told the truth about this systemic institutional horror… again & again & again. I’ve proposed specific solutions… again and again and again. Yet still… the SBC betrays survivors, rejects transparency and gives impunity to its pastors… again & again & again.

How many times should a survivor extend an open hand only to pull back a bloody stump? For me, it’s been too many times already.

Finally, there’s an element in this soliciting of survivor “input” that, for me, feels akin to asking someone with a still-bleeding lip, a fractured eye socket and a severed spleen to produce a thoughtful solution for the abusive treatment they’ve received – and are still receiving – and to provide a tonic to help relieve the abusers of their guilt, without the abusers doing the true institutional work of repentance and repair.

It is long past time for the SBC to be doing something FOR clergy sex abuse survivors rather than continuing to ask more FROM survivors.

The situation is as it has always been. SBC leaders KNOW what needs to be done, but they lack the institutional will and fortitude to do it.

I don’t believe my provision of still more “input” would have any impact on their lack of will and fortitude. Nor would it alter the reality that SBC leaders are still prioritizing protection of the institution from liability over protection of kids and congregants from clergy sex abuse. That’s a fundamental failure of ethics and courage that no amount of survivor “input” is going to cure.

If I saw the SBC Executive Committee taking earnest steps to try to make amends for its own conduct and to impose even feeble consequences on itself, then maybe I would feel otherwise. But when the Executive Committee doesn’t even do what it readily could do, then all the talk about “waiting for the ARITF” just seems like more excuse-making.

Here are six things the Executive Committee could do right now that could give some indication they’re at least trying to act in good faith.

  • Add Johnny Hunt’s name to the Executive Committee’s list of 700+ sexual abusers. The Executive Committee kept this list surreptitiously for 15 years, so it clearly has the power.
  • Add to the list of 700+ sexual abusers the names of any pastors who were reported to the hotline with documentation of criminal conviction for sexual abuse or assault. Why wait?
  • Impose a tiny measure of accountability on Morris Chapman by stripping him of his honorary title as President Emeritus of the SBC Executive Committee. If Chapman had done what the messengers directed in 2007 – a legitimate database study – countless kids could have been spared horrific harm.
  • Impose accountability on Augie Boto. Previously, the Executive Committee indicated it would investigate stripping Boto of retirement benefits. Was that just idle talk in the face of media pressure? What became of that possibility?
  • Publicly urge every SBC-affiliated church, seminary and school to publicize the Guidepost report and the list of 700+ sexual abusers on websites and in bulletins, and to make print copies available in libraries and church foyers.
  • Make amends to me for its own conduct documented in the Guidepost report. And if the Executive Committee doesn’t intend to make any amends, then I wish it would just be honest enough to say so. Is it the position of the Executive Committee that “Sorry” is repentance enough for the kind of conduct documented in the Guidepost report?

No worries, folks! I’m not holding my breath on any of these.

Happy trails.