Why Does Southern Baptist Abuse Reform Keep Hitting Hurdles?

Leaders and advocates are grateful for the convention’s support but frustrated at the inability to enact their plans.

Jules Woodson remembers the spark of hope she felt when a sea of yellow ballots went up across the hall at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in 2022. The vote in favor of abuse reform following a watershed abuse investigation was her sign that the messengers cared about victims like her and were willing to listen and make changes.

At this year’s annual meeting in Indianapolis, the recommendations on abuse reform passed again, with another wave of thousands of ballots, but she teared up for a different reason: disappointment over how little had been done.

SBC entities have pledged millions to fund the cause. The convention has repeatedly voted in favor of abuse prevention and response efforts by overwhelming margins. Task forces appointed by the convention president have volunteered their time to develop training resources, a database of abusive pastors, and an office to oversee the ongoing work of abuse reform.

“For messengers for whom abuse isn’t on the forefront of their minds, they think, Oh, we’re doing good,” said Woodson, whose testimony of abuse by her Texas youth pastor launched the #ChurchToo and #SBCToo movements six years ago. “But there’s so much more to be done.”

The abuse victims and advocates calling for reform in the SBC are now watching Southern Baptist leaders within the convention try to navigate the kinds of denominational hurdles and roadblocks they faced for years from the outside.

“We’ve been told over and over again, You can’t do this, you can’t do that,” said Mike Keahbone, a candidate for SBC president who serves on the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF). “You have to ask yourself, Why in …

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