Patriarchy and purity culture combine to silence women in the Southern Baptist Convention

— And are blocking efforts to address the sexual abuse scandal

A woman describes being abused sexually by a Southern Baptist minister, outside the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in June 2019, in Birmingham, Ala.

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A devastating yearlong investigation into the executive committee of the largest conservative evangelical denomination in the U.S., the Southern Baptist Convention, has documented widespread claims of sex abuse including accusations of rape, cover-ups and gross mistreatment of women seeking justice.

In 2019 the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News partnered on a series of investigative reports on sexual misconduct by Southern Baptists with formal church roles. Subsequently, the annual meeting of the SBC held in June 2021 voted to authorize an investigations firm, Guidepost Solutions, to conduct an independent probe of its executive committee and its handling of sex abuse. The report and the list of alleged offenders has recently been made public.

I am a scholar of evangelicalism, gender and American culture, and over several years of my research I have seen how deeply ingrained aspects of conservative white evangelicalism force women to stay silent. In researching my two books, “Evangelical Christian Women” and “Building God’s Kingdom,” I found how structures of patriarchy force women to stay silent.

These deeply ingrained aspects of conservative white evangelicalism include “complementarianism,” or the patriarchal view that God gives authority to men and requires submission from women, and purity culture, an extreme version of sexual abstinence.

Purity culture

The SBC’s “True Love Waits,” a premarital abstinence campaign for teens launched in 1992, was an important component of the rise of purity culture. It was best known for the purity rings that girls wore as part of a pledge to their virginity to God and family.

More than merely the value of forgoing sex until marriage, purity culture centers sexual purity as a primary measure of the value of young women, who need to remain “pure” to attract a godly man in marriage. Sex education is virtually nonexistent, and dating is traded for “courtship” leading to marriage, under the authority of the girl’s father.

As author Linda Kay Klein writes in her book “Pure,” women are taught that they are responsible not only for their own purity, but for the purity of the males around them. Women are also made to believe that they are responsible if men are led to sin by what women wear. Additionally, they can be blamed for being inadequately submissive and for speaking up when they should be quiet. Women raised with these teachings also report experiencing tremendous fear and shame around issues of gender, sex and marriage.

The rhetoric of purity culture can be traced directly to the racist origins of the Southern Baptist Convention. The defense of slavery was the very foundation upon which the denomination was built, and the protection of the “purity of white womanhood” was a the justification for the perpetuation of white supremacy that outlived slavery.

How survivors described the abuse

Credibly accused men were protected by the SBC, while the women who dared to speak up were called sluts, adulteresses, Jezebels and even agents of Satan. For example, the report details the story of one woman whose abuse was mischaracterized by the SBC’s Baptist Press as a consensual affair and she was harassed online and called an adulteress. She ultimately lost her job at a Southern Baptist organization.

The report, which the former SBC leader Russell Moore calls “apocalyptic,” details harassment, insults and attacks on social media, some of which came from Baptist leaders to whom the women had been taught God required them to revere and submit. For example, the executive staff member at the center of handling abuse accusations, Augie Boto, characterized the survivors seeking justice as doing the work of Satan.

Survivor after survivor described their treatment at the hands of their own leaders as worse than their initial assaults. One survivor told investigators that when she provided details of her sexual abuse as a child among other things, one Executive Committee (EC) member “turn(ed) his back to her while she was speaking … and another EC member chortl(ed).”

“I ask you to try to imagine what it’s like to speak about something so painful to a room in which men disrespect you in such a way. … to speak about this horrific trauma of having my pastor repeatedly rape me as a child, only to have religious leaders behave in this way,” she said.

Shaming and silencing women

A woman wearing a blue shirt speaking at a microphone, with a poster by her side that says 'I can call it evil because I know what goodness is.'
Rape survivor and abuse victim advocate Mary DeMuth speaks during a rally protesting the Southern Baptist Convention’s treatment of women outside the convention’s annual meeting in Dallas in June 2019.

When victims are permitted to tell their stories to people in authority, it is likely to be an all-male committee including perhaps friends of the accused.

In such a hearing women – who because of purity culture practices have often been taught to always be modest and quiet in mixed company and may have had little to no sex education – are asked to detail what they often say is the most painful experience of their lives. Purity culture creates in women a strong sense of shame surrounding their bodies, their own sexuality, and sex in general. When they exhibit evidence of that shame it is taken as an admission that they share responsibility for the abuse.

Like their forebears before them who mobilized the mythic purity of white womanhood to shore up their power, today’s leaders at the center of this report remain male and overwhelmingly white. They use the language of purity culture to shame and silence women seeking justice while, at the same time, leading the charge in the fight against coming to terms with racism.

Can there be real reform?

The chairman of the SBC executive committee, Rolland Slade, and interim President and CEO Willie McLaurin said in a statement, in response to the report: “We are grieved by the findings of this investigation. We are committed to doing all we can to prevent future instances of sexual abuse in churches, to improve our response and our care, to remove reporting roadblocks.” Other Baptists too have expressed shock and anger at the revelations.

The Guidepost Solutions report concludes with a series of strategies such as forming an independent committee to oversee reforms, including providing resources for prevention and reporting of abuse. As helpful as these strategies may be, they don’t address how the underlying culture of the SBC continues to maintain the structures of white patriarchy.

Complete Article HERE!

#ChurchToo revelations growing, years after movement began

FILE – Dresses donated by sexual assault survivors from Amish and other plain-dressing religious groups hang on a clothesline beneath a description of each survivors’ age and church affiliation, on Friday, April 29, 2022, in Leola, Pa. The exhibit’s purpose was to show that sexual assault is a reality among children and adults in such groups. Similar exhibits held nationwide aim to shatter the myth that abuse is caused by a victim’s clothing choice.

By Peter Smith and Holly Meyer

A withering report on sexual abuse and cover-up in the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.

A viral video in which a woman confronts her pastor at an independent Christian church for sexually preying on her when she was a teen.

A TV documentary exposing sex abuse of children in Amish and Mennonite communities.

You might call it #ChurchToo 2.0.

Survivors of sexual assault in church settings and their advocates have been calling on churches for years to admit the extent of abuse in their midst and to implement reforms. In 2017 that movement acquired the hashtag #ChurchToo, derived from the wider #MeToo movement, which called out sexual predators in many sectors of society.

In recent weeks #ChurchToo has seen an especially intense set of revelations across denominations and ministries, reaching vast audiences in headlines and on screen with a message that activists have long struggled to get across.

“For us it’s just confirmation of what we’ve been saying all these years,” said Jimmy Hinton, an advocate for abuse survivors and a Church of Christ minister in Somerset, Pennsylvania. “There is an absolute epidemic of abuse in the church, in religious spaces.”

Calls for reform will be prominent this week in Anaheim, California, when the Southern Baptist Convention holds its annual meeting following an outside report that concluded its leaders mishandled abuse cases and stonewalled victims.

The May 22 report came out the same day an independent church in Indiana was facing its own reckoning.

Moments after its pastor, John B. Lowe II, confessed to years of “adultery,” longtime member Bobi Gephart took the microphone to tell the rest of the story: She was just 16 when it started, she said.

The video of the confrontation has drawn nearly 1 million views on Facebook. Lowe subsequently resigned from New Life Christian Church & World Outreach in Warsaw.

In an interview, Gephart said she’s not surprised that so many cases are now coming out. She has received words of encouragement from all over the world, with people sharing their own “heartbreaking” stories of abuse.

“Things are shaking loose,” Gephart said. “I really feel like God is trying to make things right.”

For many churches, she said, “It’s all about covering up, ‘Let’s keep the show going.’ There are hurting people, and that’s not right. I still don’t think a lot of the church gets it.”

Hinton — who turned in his own father, a former minister now imprisoned for aggravated indecent assault — said the viral video demonstrates the potency of survivors telling their own stories.

“Survivors have far more power than they ever think imaginable,” he said on his “Speaking Out on Sex Abuse” podcast.

#ChurchToo revelations have emerged in all kinds of church groups, including liberal denominations that preach gender equality and depict clergy sexual misconduct as an abuse of power. The Episcopal Church aired stories from survivors at its 2018 General Convention, and an archbishop in the Anglican Church of Canada resigned in April amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

But many recent reckonings are occurring in conservative Protestant settings where a “purity culture” has been prominent in recent decades — emphasizing male authority and female modesty and discouraging dating in favor of traditional courtship leading to marriage.

On May 25 reality TV personality Josh Duggar was sentenced in Arkansas to more than 12 years in prison for receiving child pornography. Duggar was a former lobbyist for a conservative Christian organization and appeared on TLC’s since-canceled “19 Kids and Counting,” featuring a homeschooling family that stressed chastity and traditional courtship. Prosecutors said Duggar had a “deep-seated, pervasive and violent sexual interest in children.”

On May 26 the Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader reported on a spate of sex abuse cases involving workers at Kanakuk Kamps, a large evangelical camp ministry

Emily Joy Allison, whose abuse story launched the #ChurchToo movement, said the sexual ethic preached in many conservative churches — and the shame and silence it breeds — are part of the problem. She argues that in her book, “#ChurchToo: How Purity Culture Upholds Abuse and How to Find Healing.”

Allison told The Associated Press that addressing abuse requires both a change in church policy and theology. But she knows the latter is unlikely in the SBC.

“They need to undergo a transformation so radical they would be unrecognizable at the end. And that will not happen,” Allison said. Reform work focused on “harm reduction” is a more realistic approach, she said.

Some advocates hope the front-burner focus on abuse could lead to lasting reforms — if not in churches, then in the law.

Misty Griffin, an advocate for fellow survivors of sexual assault in Amish communities, recently launched a petition drive seeking a congressional “Child’s Rights Act.” As of early June, it had drawn more than 5,000 signatures.

It would require that all teachers, including those in religious schools and homeschool settings, be trained about child abuse and neglect and subject to reporting mandates, and would also require age-appropriate instruction on abuse prevention for students. Griffin said such legislation is crucial because in authoritarian religious systems, victims often don’t know help is available or how to get it.

“Without that, nothing’s going to change,” said Griffin, a consulting producer on the documentary “Sins of the Amish.”

The two-episode documentary, which premiered on Peacock TV in May, examines endemic abuse in Amish and Mennonite communities, saying it is enabled by a patriarchal authority structure, an emphasis on forgiving offenders and reluctance to report wrongdoing to law enforcement.

The Southern Baptist Convention, whose doctrine also calls for male leadership in churches and families, has been particularly shaken by the #ChurchToo movement after years of complaints that leadership has failed to care for survivors and hold their abusers accountable.

At its annual meeting, the SBC will consider proposals to create a task force that would oversee a listing of clergy credibly accused of abuse. But survivors criticized that proposal and are calling for a more powerful and independent commission to perform that task and also review allegations of abuse and cover-up. They’re also seeking a “survivor restoration fund” and memorial dedicated to survivors.

Momentum for change grew as survivors such as Jules Woodson, who went public in 2018 with a sexual assault accusation against her former youth pastor, were emboldened to tell their stories.

“I felt like, ‘Thank God there’s a space where we can tell these stories,’” Woodson said.

Such accounts led to the independent investigation, whose 288-page report detailed how the SBC’s Executive Committee prioritized protecting the institution over victims’ well-being and preventing abuse

The committee has apologized and made public a long-secret list of ministers accused of abuse.

Woodson said seeing her abuser’s name on it felt like a double-edged sword.

“It was in some ways validating that my abuser was on there, but it was also devastating to see that they knew and yet nobody in the SBC spoke up to warn others,” she said.

Woodson added that she is still waiting for meaningful change: “They have offered minimal words acknowledging the problem, but they have offered zero reform and true action which would show genuine repentance or care and concern for survivors or the vulnerable people who have yet to be abused.”

Complete Article HERE!

No Surprise in That Southern Baptist Sex Scandal Report

— Religion Has a History of Covering Sexual Dysfunction

President Jimmy Carter addressing the SBC in Atlanta in 1978 (in 2009, Carter broke with the SBC over its position on the status of women).

By Gay Today

The recent release of that 300-page report of widespread sexual abuse and its cover-up by leaders and ministers in the Southern Baptist Convention (America’s largest Protestant denomination) is only a surprise to people who’ve been in denial about the millennia-long history of the relationship of religions to sexual obsession. Allegations of sexual abuse and this denomination’s handling of them in particular have been news for decades.

Of course, the anti-Catholic stand of these Baptists and most Evangelicals has kept them condemning the same thing in Roman Catholicism for a century. And widespread sexual abuse is a factor in Evangelicalism beyond this denomination.

But this is not about hypocrisy, which is actually not considered such a bad thing in right-wing religion. It’s about something inherent in its doctrinal structure.

As I wrote in the chapter “Not So Strange Bedfellows: Sexual Addiction* and Religious Addiction:” “The existence of widespread sexual abuse by the clergy beyond the Catholic Church remains another societal secret. Though, as best we can tell, it occurs in similar proportions, it’s widely swept under the rug by denominations and local churches.”

The real history of religions throughout the world shows how its leaders and institutions have been concerned with controlling human sexuality through almost any means, especially when controlling that sexuality supports the culture’s political and economic powers. At the same time, history is replete with sexual harassment and abuse.

Obsession with sexual control is due to religions having been useful to political rulers to promote their power – kings, emperors, and politicians who funded the religious institutions and were often treated as exempt from the religious sexual prohibitions that were enforced on the commoners. Religious leaders and institutions relied on economic and political patronage and protection from governments just as the religious right-wing wants it to be today.

Sexual control of populations is vastly common to, but doesn’t have to be something inherent in, religion itself. There’s as much sexual abuse in non-religious corporations as in any denomination.

Healthy religion could be used to promote so much else, but that would mean giving up much institutional power. Instead, religious leaders would have to become comfortable with promoting freedom and personal choice.

But sexual obsession and control represent a familiar way religion has been used by its leaders, institutions, and allies to control the populace – adding eternal damnation, other condemnations, and threats to sanctify worldly power plays.

Sex has been good for stoking religion because it’s universal and, in Capitalism, it sells. Thus, at the same time it can be both promoted for profit and useful to raise guilt when it’s ever practiced.

For millennia, then, religious leaders have been preaching that their divines want all kinds of controls on human sexuality.

You’ve noticed that that kind of preaching has mostly failed, right? If you listen to controlling religious leaders who continue to repeat these failed tactics talk, they’re shouting today as much as ever, if not more, that sexual license – being out of (their) control – is worse today than ever.

Of course, this is combined with right-wing religious leaders’ claims that it’s those other religions or denominations that have the problem – proof that they have the Truth and those others don’t.

The Southern Baptist Convention, like the Roman Catholic Church, has shown that it can act like a major international bureaucracy that has institutionalized sexual addictions and covered them up with religion addiction.

And all through this, these institutions continue to act as if LGBTQ people or homosexuality is the societal problem. No, no look over there!

That trope was debunked decades ago. The majority of members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, for example, are women. And reports of sexual abuse to SNAP have regularly come from Evangelicals.

The reality of right-wing religion’s sexual sickness is that repression leads to obsession. And sexual addiction* and dysfunction and their cover-up with sexual and religious righteousness are widespread cultural phenomena that our sexually sick culture doesn’t want to face.

“As long as we can pin addiction on dysfunctional families and make them the primary cause of sexual addiction,” Anne Wilson Schaef asks in Escape from Intimacy, “can we then hold onto the illusion of ‘normal,’ refuse to look at the role of our institutions (especially church and school), and avoid completely the role of addictive society?”

As I discuss in When Religion Is an Addiction, the relationship between sexual addiction and religious addiction has a long history as cross-addictions in the Church, back at least as far as influential Church Father St. Augustine whose own Confessions show that he’s a classic example of a sexual addict covering it up by becoming a religion addict.

Augustine’s theological cover-up concluded that original sin was actually passed down through the sex act he could never reconcile in his personal life. Hence the Church would become a place for sexual anorexia and bulimia.

Even more today, though, it’s multiplied by that economic sexualization of our culture through conservative corporate, “free market” consumerism. Sex, the ad industry still believes, sells. It’s portrayed as something everyone can “have” better if they buy, buy, and buy more.

Sex is sold as proof you’re a real man or woman. It proves you’re finally close to another human being.

Everyone else has the stuff that ensures that they’re having the great sex you aren’t, you should fear. And if you aren’t compulsive about sex, you’re told there’s something wrong with you. Even some “science” colludes with the idea.

This is an ideal environment for religious institutions to recruit followers by convincing them that they’re guilty for having, or even thinking about, sex or the wrong kind of sex.

This tried and true method for getting people to relieve their guilt would lose much of its power if society weren’t selling things this way. No wonder right-wing religion is in cahoots with big business and its consumerism.

Correcting the societally encouraged sexually dysfunctional thinking and resulting guilt would require institutional and personal healing and learning how sexuality can be holistic and healthy. It would require recognizing the variety of sexual orientations and expressions.

But the popular method is to try to relieve the guilt and shame with a cover-up – the religious addiction to the feeling of being righteous.

Enter anti-sex politics and right-wing Christianity with its fear of anything it can’t control. Hide in the high of feeling righteous and identifying with each righteous cause, cling to the righteous feelings of right-wing Christianity’s exclusivism, and you have crossed into religion addiction.

It’s easier than coming to terms with what one hates or fears about themself and rejecting the institutions that promote fear and hate. It’s easier than learning to find one’s healthy sexual self.

Instead, this righteousness high works, until the addicts fall off the wagon.

Complete Article HERE!

Jamaican bishop calls for repeal of sodomy law

The retired Anglican bishop of Kingston, Jamaica, the Right Rev. Dr. Robert Thompson, has called for the repeal of Jamaica’s anti-gay “buggery law”.

Retired Bishop Robert Thompson

by Colin Stewart

Retired clergyman says sexuality and gender in all of its forms are gifts from God

Retired Anglican Bishop of Kingston, the Right Reverend Dr Robert Thompson has called for the buggery law to be repealed.

And he has urged persons interested in that becoming a reality to agitate for that to be done.

He made the calls at Wednesday’s launch of Intimate Conviction 2, hosted by the HIV Legal Network, Anglicans for Decriminalisation and its Caribbean partners, in Jamaica.

However, Reverend Thompson stressed that in addition to the law being repealed, people in society must be more open to each other, despite differences in sexual orientation.

“Our sexuality and gender in all its diverse forms are gifts from God that should be celebrated rather than classed as sinful or shameful things that distract from our holiness or our spiritual growth,” he contended.

“Instead of seeing LGBTQ individuals pejoratively . . . as sexual deviants, we can experience them as equally loved by God and capable of [enriching] lives in communion with the divine in all its forms. Christian sexual ethics fails badly when it ignores the body’s grace as the authentic medium for intimacy.

“You cannot have intimate conviction or even a conversation about intimacy, and exclude the body,” he added.

The retired Bishop also suggested that it was not for the authorities to pronounce on sexuality.

“We assume that there is an area of human experience called sexuality which is of immense importance, something which needs to be sorted out before anyone can claim to be leading a mature and fulfilled human life. And isn’t this part of the problem where, in fact, people in authority feel that they have a right to sort out others who may or may not be having conflicts about their own sexuality?” he questioned.

“The world of Jesus and Paul would not have recognised such a task as being central to their message of the Gospel. They knew about marriage as complicated bundles of family arrangements, they knew that young males were most likely to resist promptings towards sexual involvement and generally did their best to stop it. However, they would have been puzzled to see all this brought together under a single heading or to be asked about their sexuality.”

Laws that criminalise consensual same-sex intimacy still exist in more than 60 countries, including in the Caribbean.

Complete Article HERE!

Refusal to Accept LGBTQ Equality Is Still Causing Divisions in Churches

A Methodist pastor’s rainbow stole signifies an open and affirming attitude toward LGBTQ believers.

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Another shoe fell last week in the ongoing process of Protestant religious denominations splitting over efforts to accept or reject equality for LGBTQ folk in the pews and in the clergy. Conservative members of the United Methodist Church, the largest mainline (e.g., non-Evangelical) denomination and the second largest Protestant denomination (behind only the Evangelical Southern Baptist Convention) announced that on May 1 they will be launching a major new grouping of congregations to be called the Global Methodist Church, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

So Methodists hewing to a homophobic view of godly behavior can’t wait on the division of churches and property informally agreed to by the UMC in 2019, and are striking out on their own. They are seeking a flat divorce settlement of $25 million to cover the church properties they will now seek to recruit from a denomination that has been very closely divided on the issues generating the split (mostly acceptance or rejection of same-sex marriages and ordination of non-celibate gay clergy). The UMB is arguably the most conservative of the mainline Protestant groupings, especially in the South, where Methodists often are not all that distinguishable in their faith, culture, and politics from their Evangelical neighbors.

The UMC is going through a sorting-out on LGBTQ equality that has already occurred in other mainline denominations. Episcopalians, the largest Lutheran group, and most recently the largest Presbyterian group have accepted full equality, at the cost of losing some members. The more liberal United Church of Christ (a.k.a. Congregationalists), the Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Unitarian-Universalist Association accepted LGBTQ equality with less controversy. Some mainline denominations, including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Progressive National Baptist Convention (of which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the founders), defer to local congregations on such matters, but put no obstacles in the way of those who want to bless same-sex marriages or ordain gay clergy.

Most Evangelical Protestant denominations and conservative spinoffs from mainline churches reject LGBTQ equality with greater or lesser militancy. Beyond Protestantism, of course, the Roman Catholic Church, while not as uniformly conservative as its Evangelical cousins (with whom it sometimes cooperates on issues like abortion and so-called “religious liberty”) continues to regard active homosexuality in any form as “intrinsically disordered” and thus as sinful, even though Pope Francis has struck a new tone of friendly tolerance short of full acceptance. Eastern Orthodox churches are typically even more resistant to LGBTQ equality as Catholics, though lay members do not appear to be as conservative on such issues as clergy or the hierarchy.

More generally, you can argue that U.S. Protestantism, and even Christianity itself, are evolving toward big left-right coalitions divided over cultural and even political issues (driven in part by divisions over scriptural “inerrancy,” which often drives conservatives seeking validation for their cultural and political views), with the old denominations (mostly imported from Europe) becoming steadily less important and distinct. It’s probably a confirmation of a paradigm shift in religious faith and practice that Methodists are no longer “united” while friends and enemies of an open and affirming stance toward all believers seek alliances with each other.

Complete Article HERE!