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SBC Executive Committee approves resolution with sexual abuse survivor

The SBC Executive Committee met Feb. 21-22 in Nashville. (Baptist Press/Brandon Porter)

NASHVILLE (BP) – The SBC Executive Committee took action today to acknowledge harm caused to a sexual abuse survivor. The EC voted unanimously on a resolution and asked Rolland Slade, EC chair, to release the following statement:

The SBC Executive Committee acknowledges its failure to adequately listen, protect, and care for Jennifer Lyell when she came forward to share her story of abuse by a seminary professor. Baptist Press failed to accurately report the sexual abuse Jennifer Lyell reported to two SBC entities and local Southern Baptist churches.

The SBC Executive Committee acknowledges its failures to Ms. Lyell, including the unintentional harm created by its failure to report Ms. Lyell’s allegations of nonconsensual sexual abuse were investigated and unequivocally corroborated by the SBC entities with authority over Ms. Lyell and her abuser. The SBC Executive Committee apologizes for all the hurt it has caused, is grateful for Ms. Lyell’s perseverance and engagement, and prays for her complete healing from the trauma she has endured.

Lyell issued the following response to the action of the EC:

In late October, I officially notified Chairman Slade of ongoing disputes and potential unaddressed legal claims between me and the EC arising from that which is covered in my previous statements as well as multiple media reports. Over the last three months, I’ve met with the EC’s new legal counsel multiple times at their request and provided requested information regarding my dispute with specific EC conduct and negligence. The details of that process and all associated documentation will be part of Guidepost’s investigation and thus this statement is primarily to provide context for why the EC has issued a statement addressing their failure in my case and to express my gratitude for the EC’s action regarding my case today. It is not because anything about me or what I have experienced is somehow deserving of attention when I know very well that there are others who have suffered even more and been waiting for years—decades, even—to get any form of humane treatment, much less apology and clarification. The timeframes in which legal claims must be filed relative to the damaging conduct compelled and determined this be addressed before the Guidepost investigation is complete if litigation was to be avoided. That practical reality being disclosed, I am still fearful that this correction by the EC, although necessary to make public in order to be effective, will be a source of pain for others I know have tried just as hard to get such engagement and response. As such, I cannot acknowledge my appreciation for the EC’s willingness to take action in response to a mistake they made that harmed me without noting that people whose stories I know, respect, and grieve over have not yet received resolution. So, while I hope with my whole heart it doesn’t hurt you all more for me to say so, I just want to acknowledge the courage, worth, dignity, and pain that Christa, Dave, Dee, Debbie, Tiffany, Jules, Hannah-Kate, and others I don’t know to name will go to sleep with tonight just as they have for countless nights before.

I am incredibly thankful for the work of all the journalists working to expose sexual violence, exploitation, and organizational coverups whether in the church, sports, medicine, universities. Sarah, Bob, Rob, Kate, Liam, and others with whom I’ve not worked—thank you. In light of the ongoing Guidepost investigation and my participation in it, I will not be commenting on the resolution of my claims with the EC beyond what I have shared here, but deeply appreciate your work.

Finally, I must acknowledge and thank Pastor Slade, the EC officers, and trustees who agreed to resolve our disputes through their action today as well as their legal counsel who worked quickly to process four years of information. As I’ve shared with those to whom I’ve been able to speak and to their lawyers, although this by no means restores what I’ve lost, I am grateful because it is the only action I could imagine that may at least make the ongoing damage stop. My focus will now turn to my health and trying to build a future. I do so having accepted the apology offered by the EC in their public statement and with enduring gratitude for Rachael Denhollander as well as Russell and Maria Moore—without whom I cannot imagine still being here.

Willie McLaurin, SBC EC interim president/CEO responded to the EC’s action, saying, “Martin Luther King Jr., said, ‘The time is always right to do what is right.’ Jesus’ ministry was marked by compassion and care. The SBC Executive Committee’s bold and compassionate action is an intentional demonstration that we care for sexual abuse survivors.”

The SBC EC is in the midst of an independent investigation on the alleged mishandling of sexual abuse allegations. The investigation was ordered by SBC messengers at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville.

New York-based Guidepost Solutions is conducting the investigation and working with a Sexual Abuse Task Force appointed by SBC President Ed Litton.

Guidepost’s findings are to be released one month before the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim June 14-15.

    About the Author

  • Brandon Porter

    Brandon Porter serves as Associate Vice President for Convention News at the SBC Executive Committee

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