New allegations regarding the mismanagement of sexual abuse complaints at the highest levels of the Southern Baptist Convention were made public in a recent letter between two high-level leaders which was obtained by The Washington Post on Friday.
Although such allegations have been made by several women in the past, the letter includes new details from internal conversations, alleging that some institutional leaders intimidated a victim of sexual abuse, referred to as a “whore,” and described in detail how many leaders have resisted a crackdown on sexual abuse.
More than 14,000 Southern Baptists are expected to gather in Nashville for the convention’s annual meeting, which aims to inspire unity among Baptists. But the June 15-16 meeting will take place amid intense debate on issues such as sexual abuse, racism and the role of women, as well as strong Southern Baptist support for former President Donald Trump, subjects that have caused cracks in recent years. years and caused many high-profile departures from the largest Protestant denomination in the country.
In a dramatic turn of events last week, two letters written by Russell Moore, who recently stepped down as head of the convention’s political arm, the Commission for Ethics and Religious Freedom, have been made public. The new allegations are contained in a May 31 letter Moore sent to current convention president JD Greear, which appeared on The Baptist Blogger website Friday, which posted other internal documents and records of Baptist leaders. of the South in the past.
“You and I have both heard, in closed-door meetings, about survivors of sexual abuse in terms of ‘Potiphar’s wife’ and other spurious Bible analogies,” Moore wrote to Greear. “The conversations at these closed-door meetings were far worse than anything Southern Baptists knew – or the outside world could report. “
In ancient biblical history, Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph and falsely accuses him of assaulting her.
On his last day as a Southern Baptist professional, Moore, who was one of the convention’s foremost leaders, decided to reveal the specific names of the key leaders involved in what he described as intimidation tactics.
Moore’s letter was aimed directly at several members of the convention’s executive committee, the Nashville-based group that runs the business of the convention and manages its finances. He described the “spiritual and psychological abuse of survivors of sexual abuse by the Executive Committee itself”, as well as a “model of attempting to intimidate those who talk about such issues”.
Moore and Greear did not respond to requests for comment.
Three employees working at congressional institutions, who said they had to remain anonymous to keep their jobs, corroborated many of the factual details of the letter. Details were also confirmed by a former employee, an abuse survivor and a prominent abuse advocate.
Moore gained national attention in 2016 when he openly criticized Trump and his evangelical supporters, and Trump replied on Twitter that Moore was “a heartless villain!”
Moore describes huge disagreements behind the scenes over how to deal with sexual abuse within mainstream institutions. He wrote in his letter that for the past few years he had tried to smile and pretend everything was okay.
However, “What [people involved] what we want is for us to remain silent and live in psychological terror, to protect them by hiding what they are doing in the dark, while asking our constituents to come and stay in. the SBC [Southern Baptist Convention]Moore wrote.
In the letter, he refers to a “catastrophic step” by some leaders to “exonerate” churches from credible allegations of neglect and mistreatment of victims of sexual abuse. “You and I have criticized such measures, believing that they endangered not only the evangelical witness of the SBC, but also the lives of vulnerable children and others in Southern Baptist churches.”
Moore also spoke of a sexual abuse survivor whose words he said were altered by executive committee staff to make her abuse appear to be a consensual affair: Jennifer Lyell, former vice president of Lifeway Christian Resources of the convention and once the highest paid female executive, agreed to be identified.
Instead of reporting that she had been abused, Baptist Press, which is overseen by the executive committee, reported in March 2019 that Lyell admitted to being involved in a “morally inappropriate relationship” with her former teacher.
Lyell, who lost his job, his reputation and his health, confirmed Moore’s account of “harassment and bullying” by the executive committee.
In his letter, Moore wrote that he overheard someone calling Lyell a “whore” in a hallway at the convention. The executive committee paid him a financial settlement but refused to apologize, he said.
A spokesperson for the executive committee did not respond to requests for comment.
The convention’s last annual meeting, held in 2019, focused on sexual abuse, and survivors like Mary DeMuth were featured. In a blog post last week, however, DeMuth wrote that she felt used, “like I’m part of a reactionary PR network. [public relations] machine responding to the very real trauma of sexual abuse and cover-up among us. “
The Southern Baptist Convention has 14 million members. The next meeting should help shape the direction of the convention; members will vote on various issues and choose their next chair.