BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CBS) — Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are gathered in Alabama this week addressing the sex-abuse crisis in their church, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Brooks Hansen and Kenny Stubblefield were just 15 years old when the two best friends were sexually abused by their youth pastor.
“He forced me to sleep in the bed with him,” Stubblefield said. “I woke up with his hands down my pants.”
They mustered up the courage to report the assaults to their church pastor, who assured them he would handle the situation.
The pastor told him not to say anything.
“For me to be a faithful Christian I had to stay quiet,” Stubblefield said.
“He told us that he would handle it, and we should be quiet,” Brooks said. “Not to talk to anybody about it, that they would handle it, and they didn’t.
A recent investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News found more than 700 people had been sexually assaulted by nearly 400 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers over the past 20 years.
Responding to growing complaints of inaction, officials at the Southern Baptist Church annual convention are trying to address the issue. JD Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“I know that the vast majority of Southern Baptist pastors are not uncaring, but many of them are complacent because they are asleep at the wheel,” Greear said.
Russell Moore heads the SBC’s Ethics Commission, which has issued new recommendations to protect sexual assault victims.
“One of the things that will be talked about at this convention is how to hold one another accountable where autonomous churches where autonomy doesn’t’ mean or shouldn’t mean lack of accountability,” Moore said.
The vote that is happening tonight would allow the Southern Baptist Church to expel smaller churches that don’t respond properly to sexual abuse allegations or tries to cover them up.
But the caveat is even if that passes, a second vote will need to happen next year to enact the change.