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The SBC President Is Defending a Sexual Abuse Survivor From Attempts to Discredit Her Story

Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber took to Twitter for a lengthy thread defending the testimony of Jennifer Lyell, the former vice president of a Christian publisher who went public with her story of sexual abuse in 2019 and has faced fierce criticism ever since.

Doubts about Lyell’s story were sown in certain online spaces last week, leading Barber to come to Lyell’s defense. “Jennifer Lyell’s claims have been investigated and corroborated,” Barber posted. “They have been investigated by people close to the situation who have first-hand knowledge of the people and context involved.”

He went on to say that Lyell “has been vindicated time after time,” and told anyone who wanted to continue to raise doubts about her testimony that: “I would implore you just to stop.”

In 2019, Lyell wrote her story of sexual abuse at the hands of a former Southern Baptist seminary professor and sent the story to a Christian news outlet. But when the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee’s Baptist Press published her story, it did not characterize it as a story of abuse but as a “morally inappropriate relationship.” Online, Lyell was branded as an “adulteress” instead of a survivor of abuse, and “lost her job, her reputation and her health,” according to the Washington Post. It got so bad that, in 2021, she told Religion News Service she wished she had never gone public.

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Facing mounting pressure, Baptist Press eventually retracted their story and apologized for characterizing the abuse in a way that incorrectly “led to a general public understanding that what happened between [the former professor] and Lyell was a consensual affair.”

But despite Baptist Press’ retraction, an independent report from Guidepost Solutions that criticized the SBC’s handling of Lyell’s claims and an apology from the SBC itself, some Christians continue to cast doubt about Lyell’s story. A Daily Wire article criticized Guideposts and questioned whether or not Lyell had gone to police with her story. But at RNS, Bob Smietana reports that he spoke with a police officer who confirmed that though Lyell opted not to press charges, she did report what had happened. On Twitter, Lyell said she provided documentation of her abuse to the SBC Executive Committee.

Now, Barber is asking people to stand down and consider the matter settled.

“When investigated by those closest to her situation and when investigated by those with the best credentials as experts to conduct such an investigation, Jennifer Lyell has been vindicated time after time,” he tweeted. “In light of all of this, I ask you, any of you pastors who would authoritatively denounce her claims as false and who would besmirch her character, is your investigation privy to details that were not available to those closest to the situation? Are your credentials and your experience in the subject matter far surpassing those of the subject-matter experts who have already investigated this matter? Does your voice speak for Southern Baptists better than that of the messenger body?”
“If not—and I suspect that the answer is in the negative to all three of my questions—then I would caution you regarding the ninth commandment as a brother in Christ and I would implore you just to stop.”

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