Protest rallies have been common during the #MeToo era, but many of the demonstrators outside the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention were quoting scripture.
As a teaching tool, they offered a large model of a millstone. That was a reference to the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus warns that for anyone who leads “little ones” astray, “it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Protestors come and go. Inside the convention center in Birmingham, Alabama, Rachael Denhollander warned SBC leaders that it was past time for them to focus on the faces and stories of sexual-abuse survivors in their own pews.
Abuse survivors are trying to get church leaders to stop hiding abusers and the institutions that shelter them, she said. Far too often, “we do this in the name of unity: ‘Don’t say anything negative. We need to be unified.’ But brothers and sisters ... we are to be unified around the holiness of God. We are to be unified around our confrontation of sin and our confrontation of the darkness. We are to seek light.”
‘Not a surprise’
Headlines about sexual abuse among Southern Baptists are “not a surprise” to survivors, she added. “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. That’s what the SBC has done to these survivors. You need to understand the perspective that they have come from. You need to feel the grief and the betrayal and the harm and the hurt they have felt.”
Denhollander is best known as the first woman to speak out and file a police report of abuse against USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. She has also played a crucial role in the #ChurchToo firestorm surrounding the SBC after a Houston Chronicle investigation that revealed hundreds of victims of abuse by clergy and volunteers in America’s largest non-Catholic flock. Members of the Religion News Association selected the SBC scandal as the top religion story of 2019.
However, Denhollander was not selected as the RNA’s top religion newsmaker. That honor went to Democratic U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who were at the center of bitter 2019 debates about U.S. aid to Israel.
I voted for Denhollander as the top reli gion newsmaker. As my No. 1 story, I combined several poll options to focus on the year’s hellish uptick in attacks on worshippers in mosques, Jewish facilities and churches, including 250 killed in terrorist attacks on Easter in Sri Lanka.
Here’s the rest of this year’s RNA Top 10:
2. A gunman linked to white-supremacist blasts on social media kills 51 worshipers and wounds 39 at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, creating a stunning video of his rampage.
3. A special United Methodist Church General Conference affirms the church’s doctrines on marriage and sex, including a ban on same-sex marriage rites and the ordination of noncelibate LGBTQ clergy. Signs of schism increase, including a statement by Western Conference bishops offering a “safe harbor” for gay and trans clergy.
4. In Catholic scandal news, former cardinal Theodore McCarrick is defrocked for the abuse of boys and sexual harassment of seminarians. Buffalo (New York) Bishop Richard Malone resigns after mishandling abuse cases, and a report pins financial and sexual sins on former Wheeling-Charleston (West Virginia) Bishop Michael Bransfield.
5. The beloved Catholic shrine Notre-Dame de Paris is heavily damaged by fire, while heroic first responders, including the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, prevent total destruction.
6. Old-guard Christian conservatives protect President Donald Trump amid impeachment hearings, while evidence grows of tensions and splits in evangelicalism.
7. A Gallup poll finds that about half of Americans have ties to a house of worship, while Pew Forum research indicates that 26% of Americans are now “Nones.”
8. Democrats Omar and Tlaib — the first Muslim congresswomen — are denied entry to Israel, while drawing fierce online attacks from President Trump.
9. Hindu nationalists in India revoke the autonomy of majority-Muslim Kashmir, while the Supreme Court backs Hindus seeking a temple on the site of a mosque razed by mobs in 1992.
10. Gunmen kill one person at a Poway, California, synagogue; two others outside a German synagogue; and three in a Jersey City kosher market. Anti-Semitic attacks and threats increase around the world.
Terry Mattingly is the editor of GetReligion.org and Senior Fellow for Media and Religion at The King’s College in New York City. He lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.