Hannah Kate Williams (center) demonstrates her appreciation to the crowd for acknowledging the survivors of sexual abuse. Jessica Alldredge (to the right of Williams) said she was overwhelmed by the show of support.
Photo by Van Payne

Rashional Thoughts: Quiet presence of sexual abuse survivors leads to increased understanding

When Rolland Slade, chair of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, welcomed the survivors of sexual abuse who attended the Sept. 20–21 EC meeting in Nashville, they received a standing ovation.

“We are praying for you and thank you for being understanding and patient with us as we do our best to glorify God and protect you,” he said to them from the podium.

The next day he tweeted: “The heroines of the last two days at our SBC EC meeting were the SA survivors who sat voiceless in the gallery. Saw you, want you to know you matter and are loved. May GOD continually bless, comfort and keep you in the hollow of HIS hands.”

Survivors indicated their goal for attending the meeting was to make sure EC members could see them as real people with real hurts.

Among those present was Hannah Kate Williams, who stood beside Tennessee pastor Grant Gaines in June as he proposed the motion that led to the current debate about attorney-client privilege.

Williams said, “I hope my presence speaks to the fact that while some of these people have hurt me, I am their family. We are the family of God, and we don’t get to abandon each other when it gets hard.

“I hope my presence here casts for them the vision I see — all held accountable at the foot of the cross but also our eternity of all being fully reconciled to Christ and each other at the table of the King.”

‘Standing up for us’

Jessica Alldredge of First Baptist Church Oregon, Ohio, said she was “overwhelmed when they recognized us.”

“We are frequently ignored or belittled, and it was a surprise to be acknowledged. I was also struck by the number of people who thanked us for coming,” she said. “Some even had tears in their eyes while telling us they were working hard on our behalf to make things right. There are good people standing up for us in the process and that should be recognized.”

Tiffany Thigpen also attended the meeting. “I’m glad I went. I felt it was important for there to be a presence by more than just the committee members.

“I felt that having a survivor in the room might bring extra clarity to the need for this decision, as I knew waiving privilege would be a major sticking point.

“I didn’t hold much hope that there would be a unilateral passing vote,” Thigpen said.

“Micah 6:8 is my continued hope for the leaders and pastors in regards to this crisis of sexual abuse in our churches. “I’d like to remind [the SBC leaders] that we are the Church, each of us,” she noted. “If the whole institution were to crumble or the finances were to stop pouring in, if they lost their ‘jobs’ — what would be left is still the Church because it is us!”

As Thigpen listened to the discussion taking place during the EC meeting, she said she believed the wrong questions were asked.

“They have the wrong concerns. But this isn’t new to us. You’re all just getting to witness what we’ve seen over and over.”

Questions to ponder

The questions Thigpen says should be asked are:

  • “How can we provide the transparency that is needed for an investigation into what has happened (and not happened) and how do we cooperate?
  • “What are the best ways to support changes so there aren’t more victims? How do we make sure this is properly funded to get to the truth?
  • “How can we best help survivors and assure changes will take place? How do we accomplish what is asked versus ‘here’s all the reasons we can’t or shouldn’t?’”

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