A report, posted online Sunday, reveals the extent of sexual assaults passed over in silence within the Southern Baptist Convention. This is enough to weaken this American religious group, with 13 million members, whose support the Republican Party has been actively seeking since the 2000s. It is a list that will cause a stir in the United States. It is believed to contain about 700 names of members of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) – the largest and most influential Christian evangelical group in the country – who have been suspected for years by their superiors of sexual assaults. The existence of such a list , long denied by the pundits of the SBC, is one of the main revelations of an explosive report, published on Sunday May 22. A document which, over its 300 pages, details the serial sexual assaults within this group and the way in which the hierarchy has ignored, even stifled, the testimonies and complaints since the beginning of the 2000s. no longer a crisis, it’s the apocalypse.” The decision to release this list, likely Thursday, May 26, represents the first sign that Southern Baptist Convention officials are taking not only the report’s findings seriously, but also the reality of the scale of the scandal. It must be said that the report, commissioned in 2021 from independent investigators, goes into the smallest details without sparing anyone. It even implicates a former president of the SBC, accused of sexual assault. “It’s so much worse than what I expected,” acknowledged Ed Litton, the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention. “It’s no longer a crisis, it’s the apocalypse. The whole system is in jeopardy,” wrote Russell Moore, a preacher who left the SBC last year. sexual violence, both against minors and against women. On this point, the investigators essentially confirm the revelations made in 2019 by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. “What is equally alarming is the description of the efforts undertaken for more than twenty years by senior officials to minimize the words of victims and protect the institution at all costs against any risk of prosecution”, summarizes Andrew Lewis, political scientist at the University of Cincinnati and specialist in the political commitment of religious groups. August Boto, a influential ex-head of the executive committee of the SBC who is often quoted in the report, had thus compared in an email the efforts of the victims to draw attention to their plight to “a satanic plot aimed at distracting us from our mission of evangelism.” “This report is terrifying to read. Maybe it’s time to turn the page on the SBC for good”, reacted Boz Tchividjian, a lawyer who represents victims of sexual assault, interviewed by the New York Times. The reference institution in the Protestant world AmericanIt is difficult for an observer outside the United States to understand the extent to which the hypothesis of an end to the Southern Baptist Convention can be, in itself, an earthquake, not only religious, but also cultural and political in the United States. United. It is not, in fact, just a new sex scandal that befalls a religious group, as was the case with the North American Catholic Church in the early 2000s. With 13 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention represents the main current of Protestantism, that is to say the majority branch of Christianity in the United States. “Like other Protestant groups, the SBC is very decentralized with rather autonomous local chapels, but it also has a very structured and powerful executive committee which makes it the institution of reference in the American Protestant world”, summarizes Tobias Cremer , specialist in the relations between religion and politics at the Faculty of Theology of Oxford. And their role has only grown in the political arena. Democratic Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton claimed to belong to the Southern Baptist Convention. But since the early 2000s, it has become less and less appropriate for a moderate or liberal politician to claim membership in the SBC. These religious now wear the colors of “white ultra-conservative Christian evangelists”, underlines Tobias Cremer. It is not a monolithic group either and the more moderate elements make it may appear less extremist than the small evangelical chapels the most enraged. But even the less right-wing factions uphold family values - on issues of abortion, same-sex marriage – that are irreconcilable with the Democratic Party. King in the Republican Party. John McCain, Mitt Romney or even George W. Bush have all actively sought their support by giving them pledges”, explains Tobias Cremer. More moderate or more Trumpian? In other words, whoever controls the SBC has a say on the Republican Party platform. This is why the sex scandal that is shaking this institution “will have political and social consequences at the national level”, assures Andrew Lewis. These revelations come, in fact, at a pivotal moment in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention. “It’s an institution in crisis and in the throes of an intense power struggle for five years,” says Andrew Lewis. his preacher. “There is a double movement at work: on the one hand, a demographic change linked to the rapid secularization of the white working population, which means that a significant part of the under 30s at the SBC are now from ethnic minorities,” notes Tobias Cremer. On the other hand, a growing number of members are leaving this group because they feel that the leadership has become too political and not religious enough. At the same time, “most newcomers call themselves evangelists because they associate this movement with Donald Trump, whom they support,” notes the Oxford expert. These new flocks therefore tip the balance towards greater politicization of the SBC. Faced with these changes, two major factions are trying to impose their vision of the future of the SBC. Moderates, who argue that demographic changes must be taken into account and water in one’s wine on issues such as immigration or the place of women in the organization, clash with ultra-conservatives, who want to stay as dogmatic as possible. It turns out that “it was the ultra-conservatives who were most opposed to the investigation into the sex scandals”, underlines Andrew Lewis. For this specialist, the publication of the report constitutes a serious setback for this faction extremist. The most moderate fringe could benefit from it very quickly, since elections to renew the executive committee are to be held this summer. The Republican Party could then want to please them by being more open on certain topics such as immigration, or the LGBT community. But that’s just a scenario. The other is that “this scandal is accelerating the exodus of SBC members and further undermining the influence that the organization can have in the political world”, extrapolates Tobias Cremer. In which case, it would only remain with the Republican Party as an ideological compass that the only candidate to have obtained the nomination of the party without flirting with the evangelists: Donald Trump.This crisis could thus make the Republicans even more “trumpo-dependent” than they already are.
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