To appreciate what is going on I first need to get you up to speed on some background stuff. Once we have that foundation in place I can then explain the rather bizarre legal move that has been made by the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention).
Le’s start with a question – when sexual abuse accusations have their day in court then how far back in time is too far for the abused victims to sue an abuser?
Putting aside what you feel is a good answer, there is a legal answer to this – the statute of limitations.
If you cross that legal limit then this is what happens – You may indeed go trial. There you present evidence that is both damning, conclusive, and rock solid, but the judge will toss the case if the statute of limitations has passed because that’s the law.
Now comes a legal twist
It goes to trial, gets tossed out because the statute of limitations has expired, and then that statute of limitations law is changed, what happens then?
Over in Kentucky this is exactly what has happened.
The Statute of Limitations for victims of sexual abuse to sue their abusers used to be 5 years. In 2017 that was revised to 10 years. To be a tad more precise, that 2017 change enabled victims to sue abusers for up to 10 years after they, the victim turned 18, or 10 years after the abuser is convicted.
Then in 2021 that 2017 law was amended once again to enable that law to be applied retroactively to cases prior to 2017 and also amended to enable other third parties to also be sued.
Take for example a case of a cleric who abused kids and his church organisation knew he was doing this and did nothing. This 2021 law enables the victim to sue both the abuser and also the third party, the church that protected and enabled him.
That change opened up a very interesting legal question. The amendment did not make clear is if it applied to cases where the statute of limitations had already expired.
So here we are now in 2023.
This is the question that the Kentucky Supreme Court now faces. PBS summed it up rather well.
The case before the supreme court concerns Samantha Killary.
- Her stepfather, Louisville cop Sean Jackman, was convicted of abusing her in 2018.
- There are no doubts regarding his guilt, he admitted it, and was sentenced to 15 years in jail.
- Samantha has now also sued others who knew and had protected him – his girlfriend and also the police department
- The judge tossed those other cases because the Statute of Limitations had expired before the law changed.
Since the 2021 amendment changed that, there was an appeal and that had been working its way through the legal system. It has now reached the point at which the Kentucky Supreme Court needs to grapple with it.
That was all background, so let’s get into where the SBC comes into all this.
Now on to the even weirder SBC twist to all this.
For the Supreme Court case on one side you have victims right groups arguing that more time is needed for victims, hence their argument that the 2021 amendment should indeed apply to past cases.
On the other side you have … well …who could possibly turn up to argue against the victims of abuse having their day in court?
Well yes, the title of this posting is of course the reveal. It’s the Southern Baptist Convention.
While not directly involved, they turned up and filed an amicus brief …
But wait, hold on a moment, why would this “loving” “Christian” organisation that supposedly adheres to the teachings of Jesus decide to pile into this case with an amicus brief on the side that is opposed to the victims of abuse having their day in court?
It slipped under the radar and was not really noticed when they filed back in April, but then emerged when the Courier Journal reported on it.
What the SBC is asking the court to do is to not enable such claims to be backdated.
Oh come now, you know why. This is all about $$$. As reported …
…The brief says the seminary and convention, a fellowship of 47,000 churches, are themselves on the hook for claims dating to 2003 that they knew about abuse and violated their duties in responding to it. …
In other words, what they are saying is that there are numerous victims of sexual assault that they knew about and did nothing about, and if the court enables such claims to be backdated then they will be financially fucked.
(Forgive my “French” there, but honestly, there really is no polite way of putting it that has the same impact)
Then Comes another surprising twist – the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force chimes in
The SBC has a Sexual Abuse task force called Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF). The clue is in the name. They are all about, not covering things up, but tackling the issue openly and transparently.
When they became aware of the amicus brief, they responded in no uncertain terms openly saying (my paraphrase using my “French” once again) … “what the fuck are you doing, this is absurd and unethical?” … directly to the SBC leadership. (They were a tad more polite … just a tad).
…This brief and the policy arguments made in it, were made without our knowledge and without our approval. Moreover, they do not represent our values and positions.
… opposing Statute of Limitations reform related to institutions is not an effort to honestly consider the facts and questions related to responsibility. Rather, it is a deliberate effort to ensure those questions are never asked….
…In past years, the SBC has pledged to stand against sexual abuse, and passed a resolution which read in part that the SBC desires to “publicly lament the harm our actions and inactions have caused survivors.” This choice was not a choice to lament, it was an attempt to ensure survivor voices are not heard in the court room.
The Resolution reads that the SBC asks “forgiveness from survivors for our failure to care well for survivors,” yet those leaders who approved this brief have sided with institutions long known for enabling abusers, making the same arguments that have hurt so many victimized by sexual abuse…
…Moreover, we are also dismayed that some leaders financed this work and chose in secret to take this stand and make the same argument as the Catholic Church, Michigan State University and insurance companies, proactively involving themselves in a case that has nothing to do with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Wow … and double wow for identifying those others as the dregs from the gutter within that last paragraph.
So do we have further insights into what’s going on here?
Yes we do.
When RNS recently wrote about all this they granted us one additional insight.
They learned that when SBC victims found out about the amicus brief they also were more than a little bit pissed about it …
“There are no mincing of words here. No holding back. This is disgusting,” abuse survivors Megan Lively, Jules Woodson and Tiffany Thigpen said in a statement released Wednesday (Oct. 25).
Like you, I’m totally with them on this.
Treating abuse survivors as the enemy of SBC is really not the way forward, so who actually thought doing this would be a good idea?
Who signed off on this
The reveal is that it was Bart Barber, the former Southern Baptist Convention president.
over the weekend I found the email where I approved the SBC’s participation in this brief.
Within the above he then proceeds to lay out how he was not really paying attention. He describes how he had a lot of other stuff going on and simply signed it off without really thinking about it.
To which you and I immediately think … FFS, its not like you were ordering a takeaway, you were the fucking president of SBC and you admit you signed legal papers off without really understanding them or grasping what you were signing!
It really does explain a great deal.
Often when it comes to conspiracy claims that propose some nefarious plot, the truth turns out not to be that, but instead to be people being utterly incompetent because they have been promoted way beyond their actual abilities.
So what happens next?
What most certainly comes next is more of the following.
Last June when SBC released their 2022 membership statistics it revealed that while in 2006 they had 16.3M that had shrunk to 13.2M. In the last 3 years where we do have statistics they lost 1.3 million members.
Here is a chart via Ryan Burge illustrating what has happened …
Clearly the scale of the sexual abuse within the SBC has had a profound impact upon them. So yes, this latest revelation will only add to that ongoing decline.