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Dispute Over Abuse Hotline Reveals How Far the SBC Still Has To Go

Blalock said the task force is working as quickly as it can to implement reforms and wants to be transparent about the process. He acknowledged that earning trust will be a long-term process.

“We don’t want to do any more harm,” he said.

Survivor and advocate Jules Woodson said she agrees with Brown that there should have been more transparency about how the hotline operates. Without accurate information or details from the task force about the hotline, some survivors feared the worst, she said, or made assumptions based on incomplete information.

She also said survivors don’t all agree on how to respond to the SBC’s reforms. Some believe the SBC can never be reformed. Others see a “sliver of hope,” she said.

Woodson puts herself in the latter camp.

“For years, survivors have been pleading for the SBC to listen, and we were dismissed and ignored,” she said. “Now people want to listen. I do think the door is open for survivors to have a voice.”

For that reason, she supports Denhollander’s involvement with the task force. Woodson also said Denhollander, who declined to comment, has long assisted other survivors and is a trusted advocate and leader. She also understands other survivors might disagree.

Woodson said the process of implementing reforms will be complicated.

“There’s going to be tension,” she said. “That’s a sign of progress.”

The concerns over the abuse hotline reveal the larger challenge facing the SBC in dealing with sexual abuse. Because of the past actions of church leaders and congregations, neither survivors nor the general public has much trust in them.

Church leaders in the SBC and other denominations also likely still have not grappled with how much harm was done to survivors, said psychologist Diane Langberg, who has spent 50 years working with survivors of abuse and trauma.

“They want to say that they get it,” she said. “But it’s too soon. People do not understand, not only the damage done but the depth of the damage.”

Even after 50 years of working with survivors, Langberg said she is still learning about the harm done by abuse in the church. She believes churches and Christian leaders have yet to acknowledge the depth of their failure to care for and protect abuse survivors, which she said has led to lifelong harm.

“We have utterly failed God,” she said. “We protected our own institutions and status more than his name or his people. What we have taught people is that the institution is what God loves, not the sheep.”

The first step in regaining trust is not to ask for it, said Langberg. Church leaders, she said, will need to spend years listening to survivors and walking alongside them.

And things will never go back to the way they were before, she said.

Churches are supposed to be refuges, said Langberg, that demonstrate the character of God, which has led people to trust churches. But when abuse happens, that trust is shattered.

“The idea that something can be mended to the point where it is as if (abuse) didn’t happen is not a true idea.”

Brown remains skeptical because of her long-term history with the SBC. For years, she was labeled as a troublemaker. Southern Baptist leaders dismissed her concerns out of hand, with one criticizing her for using “hyperbole, argumentative language, strident tones, or pejorative adjectives” in dealing with SBC leaders and cutting off all official contact with her in a now-infamous 2006 letter.

Southern Baptist leaders disowned that letter last year. But Brown, who was mentioned repeatedly in the Guidepost report, said the SBC’s Executive Committee has done little to make amends to her.

“They are the ones who did wrong,” she said. “They are the ones who should make it right.”

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This article originally appeared on ReligionNews.com.