ERLC Panel Focuses on Sexual Abuse and What the Church Should Do

Women are grieving and male church leaders should join them in their grief over the sexual abuse and assault so many have suffered, panelists said Oct. 12 during the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s annual national conference.

A panel of lawyers and female Christian leaders addressed sexual abuse and assault during a main session of the conference at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. About 950 people attended the three-day event — titled “The Cross-shaped Family” — that ended Oct. 13.

The panel discussion came after months of disclosures of sexual misconduct by male leaders in Southern Baptist churches, other evangelical congregations and the wider culture, as well as charges of mishandling by ministry leaders of allegations of sexual assault. Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear announced in July a new Sexual Abuse Study to address the issue in partnership with the ERLC.

Jen Wilkin, Bible teacher and classes/curriculum director of The Village Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, said women “are moving through the stages of grief around this. There has been a great deal of anger, and understandably so.”

“I think women are looking to leadership, and they’re looking for not just an acknowledgment of what has happened,” she said. “They want to see grief among our leadership. They want to see a brokenness around what has not been previously seen and then legitimate changes taking place. And they’re going to be watching for it. I think they’re watching with hope.”

Women understand the revelations of mistreatment of women largely are a surprise to men, Wilkin told the audience. “And that’s OK. We’re willing to allow a time for you to sort of come to terms with what is a historically unspoken reality for women. But then we do expect there will be action, and there will be change that’s taken so that even if this is our past it won’t be our future.”

Gregory Love — a law partner and co-founder of MinistrySafe and Abuse Prevention Systems with his wife and fellow panelist Kimberlee Norris — said the last 16 to 18 months have sadly shown primarily male church leaders responding defensively.

“And it’s almost like there is an unwillingness — especially, I believe, for men in ministry leadership — to just stop, listen and say, ‘I’m sorry,’ just to own what you can own,” Love told attendees. “And even if it’s not your fault, just to listen and let someone just tell their story and then also to listen in such a way you can ask the questions, ‘What then needs to change?'”

His observation applies across the board, whether it is sexual assault, abuse or harassment, he said.

One of the most negative responses he has seen in the last year or more from male leaders is with female victims of abuse or assault “being received in such a way that just because it’s old it’s not real or just because it’s old you should be past it by now,” Love said. “And I would just tell you, ‘Careful there. Be ready to hear this with ears as if it happened yesterday.'”

Trillia Newbell, a survivor of sexual assault, spoke about the fear a victim confronts in sharing what happened to her.

“I tell you this — that woman in particular will fear saying it 10 times more than you’re going to fear the reality of trying to care for her,” said Newbell, author and the ERLC’s director of community outreach. “It is a terrifying thing to say out loud. And there’s so much shame and guilt that comes along with it even though you are not the perpetrator. … [B]e ready to have compassion and to love and to extend absolute grace upon grace upon grace. Listen to her, and take action where action needs to be taken.”

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Source: Baptist Press