#ChurchToo revelations are growing years after the movement began

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A scathing account of sexual abuse and cover-ups at the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States

A viral video showing a woman confronting her pastor about an independent Christian woman for sexually exploiting her as a teenager.

A television documentary exposing child sexual abuse in Amish and Mennonite communities.

You could call it #ChurchToo 2.0.

Survivors of sexual assault in church institutions and their advocates have for years called on the churches to acknowledge the extent of the abuse in their midst and implement reforms. In 2017, this movement was given the hashtag #ChurchToo, derived from the broader #MeToo movement, which proclaimed sexual predators in many sectors of society.

In recent weeks, #ChurchToo has seen a particularly intense series of revelations across denominations and ministries, reaching huge audiences in headlines and on screen with a message activists have long struggled to get across.

“For us, it’s just a confirmation of what we’ve been saying all these years,” said Jimmy Hinton, abuse survivor advocate and minister for the Church of Christ in Somerset, Pennsylvania. “There is an absolute epidemic of abuse in the church, in religious spaces.”

Calls for reform will take center stage in Anaheim, Calif., this week when the Southern Baptist Convention holds its annual meeting after an outside report concluded its leaders have mishandled abuse cases and blocked victims.

The May 22 report came out on the same day that an independent church in Indiana faced its own reckoning.

Shortly after her pastor, John B. Lowe II, confessed to years of “adultery,” longtime member Bobi Gephart took the mic to tell the rest of the story: She was just 16 when it began, she said.

The video of the confrontation has been viewed nearly 1 million times on Facebook. Lowe then resigned from New Life Christian Church & World Outreach in Warsaw.

In an interview, Gephart said she is not surprised that so many cases are coming out now. She has received words of encouragement from around the world, from people sharing their own “heartbreaking” stories of abuse.

“Things are shaking loose,” said Gephart. “I really feel like God is trying to make things right.”

For many churches, she said, “It’s just a cover up, ‘let’s keep the show going.’ There are hurt people and that’s not right. I still don’t think many in the church get it.”

Hinton – who reported his own father, a former minister now jailed for aggravated indecent assault – said the viral video showed the power of survivors telling their own stories.

“Survivors have far more power than they can ever imagine,” he said on his podcast, Speaking Out on Sex Abuse.

#ChurchToo revelations have surfaced across all sorts of church groups, including liberal denominations, that preach gender equality and portray sexual misconduct by clergymen as an abuse of power. The Episcopal Church shared stories of survivors at its 2018 general convention, and an Anglican Archbishop of Canada resigned in April amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

But much of today’s reckoning is taking place in conservative Protestant settings where a “culture of purity” has been dominant for the last several decades – emphasizing male authority and female modesty and discouraging dating in favor of traditional courtship that leads to marriage.

On May 25, reality TV personality Josh Duggar was sentenced in Arkansas to more than 12 years in prison for receiving child pornography. A former lobbyist for a conservative Christian organization, Duggar appeared on TLC’s now-defunct “19 Kids and Counting,” which featured a homeschooling family that emphasized chastity and traditional courtship. Prosecutors said Duggar had a “deep-seated, pervasive and violent sexual interest in children.”

On May 26, the Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader reported a series of sexual abuse cases involving workers at Kanakuk Kamps, a large evangelical storage service.

Emily Joy Allison, whose history of abuse launched the #ChurchToo movement, said the sex ethics preached in many conservative churches — and the shame and silence they inspire — are part of the problem. She argues in her book #ChurchToo: How Purity Culture Upholds Abuse and How to Find Healing.

Allison told The Associated Press that addressing abuse requires a change in church policy as well as theology. But she knows the latter is unlikely in the SBC.

“They have to undergo a transformation so radical that they end up being unrecognizable. And that’s not going to happen,” Allison said. Reform work that focuses on “harm reduction” is a more realistic approach, she said.

Some proponents hope the front-burner focus on abuse could lead to lasting reform — if not in the churches, then in the law.

Misty Griffin, an advocate for fellow sexual assault survivors in Amish communities, recently launched a petition campaign seeking a Congressional Child’s Rights Act. By early June, she had collected more than 5,000 signatures.

It would require that all teachers, including those in religious schools and homeschooling facilities, be trained and subject to reporting requirements on child abuse and neglect, and would also require age-appropriate abuse prevention guidance for students. Griffin said such legislation is critical because victims in authoritarian religious systems are often unaware that help is available or how to get it.

“Without that, nothing will change,” said Griffin, a consulting producer on the documentary Sins of the Amish.

The two-part documentary, which premiered on Peacock TV in May, examines widespread abuse in Amish and Mennonite communities and says it is fueled by a patriarchal structure of authority, an emphasis on forgiveness of offenders and a reluctance to report wrongdoing to law enforcement , is made possible.

The Southern Baptist Convention, whose doctrine also calls for male leadership in churches and families, has been particularly rocked by the #ChurchToo movement after years of complaints that leadership has failed to care for survivors and hold their abusers accountable.

At its annual meeting, the SBC will consider proposals to create a task force that would oversee a list of clergymen who are credibly accused of abuse. But survivors have criticized this proposal, calling for a more powerful and independent commission to carry out this task and also review allegations of abuse and cover-ups. They are also aiming for a “Survivor Restoration Fund” and a memorial dedicated to the survivors.

The momentum for change grew as survivors like Jules Woodson, who went public in 2018 with a sexual assault charge against their former youth pastor, were encouraged to share their stories.

“I felt, ‘Thank God there’s a place where we can tell these stories,'” Woodson said.

Such reports led to an independent investigation, whose 288-page report detailed how the SBC’s Executive Committee prioritized protecting the institution over the welfare of victims and preventing abuse.

The committee has apologized and released a long secret list of ministers accused of abuse.

Woodson said seeing her abuser’s name on it felt like a double-edged sword.

“It was, in a way, confirmation that my abuser was there, but it was also devastating to see that they knew and yet no one on the SBC spoke up to warn others,” she said.

Woodson added that she is still waiting for meaningful change: “They have said few words to acknowledge the problem, but they have not offered reform and real action, real remorse or caring and concern for survivors or those at risk.” , who still have to be, would show abused.”

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The Associated Press’s religion coverage is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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