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Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander warns Southern Baptists to act on sexual abuse


Attorney and former gymnast Rachael Denhollander on Monday called on the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to take meaningful action against sexual abuse in its ranks, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“What you need to understand is these men and women have been pleading with the church to hear their voices for decades and they have been shut out over and over and over again in the name of Christ,” Denhollander told the SBC in Birmingham, Ala.

“That’s what the SBC has done to these survivors. You need to understand the perspective they have come from. You need to feel the grief and the harm and the betrayal they have felt,” she added.{mosads}

Denhollander was the first person to file a police report and publicly accuse ex-USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault. She said solutions to sexual abuse in the church must involve concrete actions rather than just words without meaningful steps. 

Her remarks came as Southern Baptists continue to grapple with the issue of sexual abuse in the church during this week’s annual convention. According to the Commercial Appeal, a group of survivors and advocates are expected to gather outside the convention for a demonstration on Tuesday night.

Denhollander made the remarks the same day the SBC’s executive committee supported a change to its bylaws creating a special committee to handle misconduct allegations against churches.

The meeting came after investigations earlier this year by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News that nearly 400 male Southern Baptist leaders have been accused of sexual misconduct involving more than 700 victims in the past 20 years.

Denhollander also claimed Monday that a contingent of the convention is working to undermine necessary changes, according to the Commercial Appeal. She alleged that days after Pastor J.D. Greear, president of the SBC, named some churches as needing improved scrutiny for their handling of sexual abuse, the executive committee’s work group cleared the churches in question.

Greear ordered the creation of an advisory council to draft recommendations on the issue after his election at last year’s convention.

“We believe this is a decisive moment in the Southern Baptist Convention,” the report prepared by Greear’s advisory group states. “The past year has been a gracious wake-up call, and we must recognize where we have failed, correct the error of those sins, and move forward in love and truth.”

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