Southern Baptist Convention addresses #MeToo amid scandals

June 12 (UPI) — Members of the Southern Baptist Convention were expected to address the handling of reports of sexual misconduct this week in Dallas as the organization faces abuse allegations.

The SBC’s annual convention kicked off Monday with more than 8,000 delegates expected to attend. That evening, members of the convention participated in a panel on the #MeToo culture, a movement that gained steam over the past year in which people — particularly in the entertainment industry and politics — spoke out against sexual harassment and misconduct, rape and gender inequality.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission at the SBC, former SBC President James Merritt and Trillia Newbell, director of community outreach with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission took part in the panel titled “Gospel Sexuality in a #MeToo Culture.”

“Recognize there are people in your church who are victims of abuse,” Newbell said during the event. “In order to love your neighbor as yourself, you have to acknowledge that.”

She said there’s a disconnect in some churches, which often try to respond to sexual assault as a sin first and a criminal act second, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Kimberlee Norris, a sexual assault trial attorney, said there’s a failure to report such crimes within churches.

The panel convened in the wake of allegations against Paige Patterson, the former president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Patterson was accused of mishandling the cases of two students who said they had been raped and making lewd comments about a teenage girl. He has denied the allegations, but resigned.

And in March, Frank Page, chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, resigned over a “morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past.”

Later during the convention, delegates are expected to vote on a number of resolutions, including on the dignity and worth of women, against abuse, denouncing racism, and on gun violence and opioid abuse.

“Resolutions are helpful,” Kathy Litton, who leads a ministry for pastors’ wives, told CNN, “but what we need even more is a willingness by people in power, particularly men in our denomination, to acknowledge that we need to rethink some of the paradigms we’ve been living with.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke to delegates Tuesday morning and on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to give remarks.

On Tuesday, the SBC Executive Committee disfellowshipped the Raleigh White Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., for racial discrimination against a black congregation that shares worship space.

“If a church stands for racism and prejudice, then they do not stand with us, and we do not stand with them,” executive committee chairman Stephen Rummage told the Baptist Press.

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