While kids celebrate Halloween and liturgical churches observe All Saints’ Day, several advocacy organizations are combining efforts to recognize survivors of sexual abuse.
All Survivors Day, Nov. 3, is an international day to share survivor stories, raise awareness and seek to change a culture that allows sexual abuse to continue. First held last year, it is an extension of All Saints Day – a celebration in both Catholic and Protestant traditions forall the saints of Christian history – on Nov. 1, and All Souls Day, Nov. 2, a Catholic holiday celebrated in Latin countries as Day of the Dead.
“All Survivors Day is a call to action to all people to come together and help change the culture that surrounds sexual abuse and assault,” said Tim Lennon, board president of one of the sponsoring organizations, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “By stepping into the light and telling our stories, we are hoping to motivate others to join us as we seek to prevent future cases of sexual abuse and show others what they can do to get involved in their own communities and institutions to ensure this never happens again.”
Marci Hamilton, CEO and academic director of ChildUSA, said victims of sex abuse and assault “have been silenced and ignored for too long.”
Twenty organizations spawned by the scourge of sexual abuse in homes, schools, churches, the military, college campuses and sports teams are listed as co-sponsors or endorsers. They are coming together, according to the All Survivors Day website, “to reduce the barriers survivors face when coming forward, finding support and holding perpetrators accountable.”
This year’s All Survivors Day falls during a time of reckoning for the Southern Baptist Convention – the nation’s largest Protestant body – reeling from a series of investigative newspaper reports documenting at least 380 Southern Baptist pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons and church volunteers who have faced allegations of sexual misconduct during the last 20 years.
More than 200 were convicted or confessed as part of a plea bargain, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News reported in February. Dozens of those caught or credibly accused continued to work in churches with access to children and youth, in some cases repeating a pattern of abuse in multiple congregations.
A couple of groups aligned with All Survivors Day have been active in calling for reforms in the Southern Baptist Convention, which has no system for dealing with abuse reports because, leaders say, vetting and overseeing of pastors is the responsibility of each local church.
Jules Woodson, an abuse survivor who spoke at both this year’s For Such a Time As This rally in Birmingham, Alabama and The 2019 Courage Conference, held Oct. 25-27 in Orlando, Florida, is back in the news leading the protest against her perpetrator’s recently announced plan to re-enter the ministry.
Baptist News Global reported Oct. 29 that Andy Savage, a Memphis megachurch pastor forced to step down last year after confessing to a “sexual incident” with Woodson when she was 17 and he was her youth pastor in 1998, is in the process of starting a new church.
“While it is true that we are all sinners, that God’s grace is amazing and available to all of us – including Andy Savage – there is a difference between repentance and restoration to the body of Christ and restoration to being a pastor,” Woodson said in a statement Oct. 29.
Woodson said pastors who sexually assault a minor in their care are addressed in Luke 17, where Jesus says “it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”
“Morally, ethically, biblically, Andy Savage is not qualified to be a pastor,” Woodson said. “Because he has abused people when he was given a position of power, part of his repentance and restoration is to NOT be put into that position of power ever again.”
Another organization listed as a co-sponsor and/or endorser of All Survivors Day is GRACE, an acronym for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment.
GRACE founder Boz Tchividjian – an attorney, law professor and grandson to Billy Graham – delivered scathing remarks at the Oct. 3-5 Caring Well Conference sponsored by the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in partnership with an SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group assembled by convention president J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina.
Last year’s inaugural All Survivors Day was in response to a Pennsylvania grand jury report showing that 301 priests were accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children in six of the state’s eight dioceses, which combined minister to more than 1.7 million Catholics.
This year organizers hope to leverage the event into a message for the 2020 presidential campaign, calling on candidates to recognize headlines and stories about institutional sexual abuse, acknowledge the government’s responsibility to protect children and hold institutions accountable and commit to on specific thing they would do to protect others from abuse if they are elected as president.