Susan Codone was 14 when her youth minister at a small Southern Baptist church just outside Birmingham, Alabama, began paying attention to her.
Soon, she found herself being asked one night at camp to help him in ministry because she was “smart” and “more mature” than others in her youth group. When she answered in the affirmative, he kissed her, leaving her “extremely confused.”
Over the next 18 months, she became a victim of continual sexual abuse.
What began with attention and flattery ended with threats and intimidation. He told her she’d never be able to get married now, that she lost her salvation because of what she did, and that she’s not going to have a future.
Codone had never spoken about the abuse she experienced until Monday during a panel on sexual abuse at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Birmingham.
When she was 15, she finally decided to tell someone. She was too afraid to tell her parents so she decided to turn to the pastor of her church whom she trusted.
She drove to his home (she had just gotten her learner’s permit) and found him alone. When she revealed what happened and asked for help, her pastor responded: “You’re a smart kid. Seems to me you could’ve done something about this by now. I think you brought this on yourself.”
He then pressed her for more information as she had not shared the details of how the youth minister had abused her. When she refused, he asked her to go in the back and show him what happened.
That’s when she knew she “had landed in the presence of evil.”
Her pastor fired the youth minister but “then he picked up with me where my youth minister left off with me.” She was sexually abused by the church pastor for the next four to six months.
Codone received a standing ovation in a room full of Southern Baptist pastors for her bravery in speaking out. It’s been 35 years since the abuse. She noted that the youth minister who abused her was able to serve in various churches in Birmingham until his death in 2017.
“That is 33 years of unimpeded ministry in this town,” she lamented.
Her story is one of many that have been heard over the last year as Southern Baptists have sought to face and deal head-on with what has been called a horrific problem. Stephanie Davis also told her story later in the meeting of how her music minister abused her as a 15-year-old and how the church failed her.
Beth Moore, who heads Living Proof Ministries and has been outspoken about the issue of abuse, said on the panel that she felt “relief” that after so long, Southern Baptists are finally talking about it “plainly” and making real changes.
“We do have some things happening right now that I have never seen happen,” a hopeful Moore, a survivor of abuse, said.
Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who was the first to call out Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor, for sexual assault, made it clear on Monday that the survivor community is not out to throw stones at the church.
“The survivor community loves the church, they love Jesus, they love the Gospel,” she emphasized. “Our desire is to see the church do this better so that it becomes the refuge it was intended to be.”
The extent of the problem of sexual abuse and successive cover-ups within the SBC was exposed in a report earlier this year by The Houston Chronicle, which found over 700 victims of alleged sexual abuse by 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers since 1998.
Moore recognized on Monday that there has been “spiritual manipulation” in SBC churches, where victims of abuse were told to stay silent because it could “destroy the church” or because of how it would affect “the man of God.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Sheryl Lynn