Southern Baptists unveil process for reporting abuse, but critics say it does not guarantee anonymity

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The Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday unveiled a new process for filing complaints against churches accused of mismanaging allegations of sexual abuse.

Convention management has created an online portal that accepts reports of misconduct – the latest action in response to a Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News investigation that found that hundreds of leaders and volunteers from Southern Baptist churches have been convicted or credibly accused of sex crimes. They left behind more than 700 victims, almost all of them children.

In June, delegates from thousands of SBC churches overwhelmingly approved two reforms to tackle sexual abuse and facilitate the withdrawal of congregations that mishandle abuse complaints from the network of 47,000 churches and 15 million people. .

The reforms include empowering an SBC committee to “investigate” how churches deal with allegations of sexual abuse.

Details on the functioning of the committee have since been scarce, frustrating many activists and survivors.

Some were disappointed with the process unveiled on Tuesday because the online portal does not accept anonymous reports. The guidelines also allow the names of complainants to be shared with churches under surveillance.

Stacy Bramlett, chair of the SBC Complaints Committee, said that while the portal does not accept anonymous reports, the committee will encourage people to ask friends or others to file complaints on their behalf. if they are not comfortable coming forward.

“It is the intention of the committee to maintain as much confidentiality as possible while doing what is necessary to carry out our mission,” said Bramlett.

The Southern Baptist Convention Credentials Committee does not have the power to launch full-fledged investigations, but will convey its findings to faith-based leaders, who have the power to remove a congregation from the SBC.

On Tuesday, the credentials committee announced the process for future investigations, established a complaints line and said that, upon request, it would connect survivors with outside groups and resources.

Rachael Denhollander, a lawyer who was the first person to publicly accuse U.S. gymnastics physician Larry Nasser of abuse, has helped SBC leaders shape policy. She said she was happy “to finally see a process begin”, but called for more transparency in the committee’s operations.

She also said the committee should provide more details on a church’s withdrawal standards from the SBC.

“Abusers and facilitators thrive in keeping survivors and their families isolated from each other, and establishing a pattern of abuse or mismanagement is often critical evidence,” Denhollander said. “However, survivors and witnesses cannot speak out if they are not informed of an ongoing review.”

Christa Brown, a longtime activist who wrote a book about abuse at her church in Farmer’s Branch, also said she was concerned about the decision to dismiss the anonymous complaints.

She said this places an unfair burden on those already bearing the brunt of the abuse, or putting themselves or their families at risk by coming forward.

Brown noted that most Southern Baptist churches are in rural parts of the country, meaning those who report abuse are already at risk of backlash in small communities.

“And it’s not just the survivors,” she said. “There are other pastors, deacons, church secretaries (who may want to complain). Everyone, I think, will be intimidated.

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