Paynter urges CBF to break sex abuse ‘culture of complicity’

Suzii Paynter speaks to the 2018 CBF general assembly in Dallas. (CBF Photo)

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DALLAS—Suzii Paynter challenged the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to “break a culture of complicity” in regard to clergy sexual abuse.

#MeToo, #ChurchToo and clergy sexual abuse and misconduct were the focus when Paynter presented her executive coordinator’s report to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship general assembly in Dallas.

‘Not an isolated incident’

She asked people in attendance to stand if they had any connection to incidents, victims or survivors of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct.

“Look around. This is not an isolated incident,” Paynter said, as nearly half of attendees.

“This is worth the honor and work of church leadership,” she said. “If you are a man in ministry, if you are a layperson in leadership in your church—don’t wait for women to demand training. Be proactive.

“If your church is free from this wrenching legacy, do something to keep it that way. If your church has suffered this wound, do something—more than denial—to ensure protection for the future to break a culture of complicity.”

Paynter challenged Cooperative Baptists to “let this moment” for the @MeToo movement to “prompt us to give all the time, the priority and compassionate Samaritan response that Jesus requires,” citing the biblical model of assistance to a victim as demonstrated in Luke 10:30.

“This model of Samaritan care and investment in restoration should be an example for congregations and leaders,” she said.

Listen to survivors’ stories

She pointed to the good example provided by CBF Moderator Shauw Chin Capps, who serves as the CEO for Hopeful Horizons, an organization committed to support victims of violence and sexual abuse in Beaufort, S.C.

Shauw Chin Capps is CEO of Hopeful Horizons. (CBF Photo)

Capps joined Paynter in urging Cooperative Baptists to listen to the stories of survivors and take steps toward bringing about social change, telling the story of a gathering of three victims of clergy sexual abuse with Capps and Paynter in January of 2018.

“When asked what they wished to see happen from this meeting, they all expressed a desire and hope that Baptist organizations and churches could have policies in place that would protect others within the organization from the harm they have experienced,” Capps explained. “They all stated that this is the first time they really felt heard and felt hopeful.”

These stories are difficult to hold, Capps added, and the history of abuse within Baptist churches is one that we all prefer to forget, but one that must be brought into the light. “While we cannot change the past,” she said. “We have every opportunity to set a healthier path for the future.”

‘No one is asking you to leave’

CBF Past Moderator Doug Dortch delivered a report to attendees about the work of the governing board over the past year, focusing on the board’s adoption of a new hiring policy and announcement of an implementation procedure that grew out of the Illumination Project.

The revised policy and procedure allows LGBT individuals to be considered for some staff positions but maintains limits for ministry leadership positions and missions field personnel.

“Regardless of where you or your church is on this particular matter, no one is going to ask you to leave,” Dortch said. “If anything, your governing board is committed to making space for you to be a part of what the Spirit of God is doing in us and through us—a commitment that stems from Jesus’ high priestly prayer—that we all may be ‘one.’”

Angela Project focuses on racial justice

Kevin Cosby, pastor of St. Stephen Church and president of Simmons College of Kentucky in Louisville, Ky., brought an update to the assembly regarding the Angela Project—a three-year partnership of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, National Baptist Convention of America International, Inc., and the Progressive National Baptist Convention focused on racial justice.

Kevin Cosby, pastor of St. Stephen Church in Louisville, Ky., reported on the Angela Project. (CBF Photo)

The Angela Project’s goal is to set a new trajectory for racial justice in America over the next 400 years, striving to “make right what has been made wrong for so many years.” Cosby said.

He challenged the assembly to join in this crucial work as the Angela Project will convene in September of 2018 and then during the 2019 CBF general assembly in Birmingham, Ala.

“It is only right that Christians lead the way toward racial justice, because Christians led the way in racial injustice,” Cosby said. “We taught the nation how to divide on the basis of race. … Since we led the nation in injustice in the 19th century, let us be leaders in justice in the 21st.”

CBF Foundation presents awards

The CBF Foundation honored three recipients with awards for their contributions to the work of the Fellowship. Gary Skeen, president of CBF Church Benefits, was recognized with the Patricia Ayers Award of Excellence for his commitment to generous giving and longtime leadership.

Skeen, who retires later this month from CBF Church Benefits, served as chief financial officer of CBF from 1994-2000 and assisted in forming the CBF Foundation and has introduced many donor clients to the foundation.

The inaugural George Bowling Award of Excellence, named in honor of the late CBF Foundation trustee, was presented to former CBF field personnel Bob and Janice Newell and to the PORTA Albania House in Athens, Greece, which ministers to refugees and immigrants as well as other populations. PORTA—a ministry launched by the Newells—celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

The general assembly also heard a report from Bo Prosser of the CBF Ministerial Excellence Initiative, as well as the Ministries Council, which recently awarded grants to bolster church-community connections.

The 2018 grant recipients include:

  • Moving Forward Looking Backward—project of a small African-American congregation in Helena-West Helena, Ark., to expand the activities of a community center to help the town adjust to increasing publicity from racial violence in past decades through a youth education project, a water festival and an educational focus on the history of racial violence
  • Blessings in the STORM—project of Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ark., to enhance a soccer ministry serving Hispanic, African-American, Marshallese and white youth and their low-income families.
  • Computer Lab for Immigration Advocacy—project of Oakland Baptist Church in Rock Hill, S.C., to provide online courses to help immigrants and refugees complete their high school education or get a GED and support the work of a legal aid and advocacy ministry serving immigrants
  • Enhancing our Welcome to Refugees—project of Knollwood Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., to heighten the congregation’s outreach services to refugee families arriving in the city from the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq and other locations
  • Ready for School Program for Immigrant Community—project of Willow Meadows Baptist Church in Houston to support an early literacy program for children with limited English in being ready for pre-kindergarten and to equip parents in the critical role as their children’s first teacher
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