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SBC Leadership Apologizes to Sexual Abuse Survivor; Admits Failure to Listen, Protect, and Care

SBC Jennifer Lyell
(L) Photo courtesy of Baptist Press. (R) Screengrab via Twitter @jenlyell.

During the two day Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) meeting earlier this week, leadership provided an update on the sexual abuse investigation its messengers demanded take place during the June 2021 convention.

SBC president Ed Litton wasted no time in appointing an independent task force, just a few weeks after the 2021 convention came to a close. The task force consists of pastors, legal professionals, counseling professionals, and abuse advocacy professionals, including former gymnast and attorney Rachael Denhollander who is serving as an advisor to the task force.

RELATED: ‘This Is Only the Beginning,’ SBC EC Member Assures Survivor After Abuse Investigation Update

Litton addressed the committee and those in attendance, which included sexual abuse survivor and advocate Hannah-Kate Williams, saying that the “work is progressing” regarding the sexual abuse investigation. Shortly later, SBC EC Chairman Rolland Slade released a statement acknowledging leadership’s failure to adequately listen, protect, and care for sexual abuse survivor Jennifer Lyell.

Who Is Jennifer Lyell?

Lyell is a former vice president at the SBC’s Lifeway Christian Resources who came forward with allegations of sexual abuse against her by former SBC seminary professor David Sills. The Baptist Press ran Lyell’s statement but failed to report her references of abuse, instead giving the impression it was “a morally inappropriate relationship.” This led the public to believe their relationship was a “consensual affair.”

Baptist Press admitted its failure in a statement on October 15, 2019, apologized, and retracted the article. But the damage to Lyell’s reputation had already been done. According to the Baptist Press’ statement, Lyell was a “recipient of un-Christlike slurs—some by fellow Southern Baptists—and her reputation has been besmirched.”

Religion News Service’s Bob Smietana reported that Lyell was labeled as an “adulteress” due to Baptist Press’ misrepresentation of her story. Instead of people sympathizing with her, Lyell endured countless “vile comments” on Lifeway’s and Baptist Press’ Facebook pages. Lyell lost her job after pastors and churches called for her to be fired from the SBC entity.

RELATED: How Complementarianism Fueled a Culture of Abuse in the Church for Jennifer Lyell

As it cost Lyell her job, reputation, and personal health, she had said that she wishes she never went public with her sexual abuse story. “It takes years and years to recover from trauma, and no one should be in the position of having to explain it to the whole public while they’re still trying to do that,” Lyell told Religion News Service.

Read her entire story here.

Statement From SBC EC Chairman Regarding Lyell Resolution

The SBC EC posted chairman Slade’s statement on Twitter saying the committee “acknowledges its failures to Ms. Lyell, including the unintentional harm created by its failure to report her allegations of nonconsensual sexual abuse were investigated and unequivocally corroborated by the SBC entities with authority over her and her abuser.”