Survivor of sexual abuse in SBC church wants action over words

David and Linda Pittman. David Pittman, from Tucker, was abused by someone in his Southern Baptist church for three years, beginning when he was 12. Pittman, who now lives in Florida, works with survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

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David and Linda Pittman. David Pittman, from Tucker, was abused by someone in his Southern Baptist church for three years, beginning when he was 12. Pittman, who now lives in Florida, works with survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Plan is to release list of alleged abusers

When David Pittman was contacted by independent investigators last fall about sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, his first thought was “it’s about time.”

Pittman is one of the survivors identified in the 288-page report by Guidepost Solutions, released Sunday. It painstakingly detailed how - over decades - the SBC leadership and lawyers failed to address and covered up allegations of sexual abuse. Survivors were either stonewalled, met with disbelief or hostility.

It came just weeks before next month’s 2022 SBC Annual Meeting & Pastors’ Conference in Anaheim, Calif., when officials expect to come up with permanent ways to address the issue.

Pittman, 54, grew up in Tucker and attended Tucker High School.

He was abused by his church youth minister for three years, starting when Pittman was 12. He hid that secret for decades.

“You didn’t talk about sex, much less sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist church,” he said.

Pittman said he didn’t feel a sense of relief at the report’s release, he just finally feels like “somebody might believe us now because it’s in black and white, in a legal document and filed by a respected organization. Our stories are in one place and that is important because we got brushed aside and hateful things were said to us. At least now they can’t logically say none of it happened.”

On Thursday, the committee plans to made public a secret list they deem credible compiled by a former interim president of the executive committee. s The names of survivors who do not want to be identified, confidential witnesses, and details regarding any unsubstantiated allegations will be redacted before the document is published.

The creation of a publicly-accessible database was one of the Guidepost recommendations.

Since the report came out, the SBC Executive Committee, Guidepost Solutions and members of the Sexual Abuse Task Force, formed after the 2021 annual meeting to supervise the independent investigation, have been fielding calls from survivors regarding allegations of sexual abuse. The landmark report covers a period from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021.

The SBC Executive Committee, the denomination’s governing body, has entered into an agreement for Guidepost to maintain a confidential hotline for survivors or their representatives to submit allegations of abuse within the SBC.

Survivors will be notified of options for care and will be put in touch with an advocate. (The hotline is 202-864-5578 or SBChotline@guidepostsolutions.com).

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During a Zoom meeting on Tuesday, the Rev. Rolland Slade, chairman of the Executive Committee said he could not imagine the pain that survivors are going through or the pain they have endured for decades. He asked for patience as the leadership continues to process the report.

It’s a “new day” in the Executive Committee of the SBC, he said. “Our commitment is to be different and do different. Now that we know, we need to do better.”

Still, patience has worn thin for some survivors.

Pittman wants people to be held accountable and changes to be made in the SBC.

“Words are hollow and meaningless without action,” Pittman said. “As a survivor of abuse at the hands of a Southern Baptist minister, that’s the only way I’ll believe it.”

Pittman now lives in Florida with his wife, Linda, who is also a sexual abuse survivor, though hers did not occur in the church.

David Pittman serves as director of Together We Heal, a nonprofit that advocates for survivors of childhood sexual abuse; and as a trainer for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE).

He said alleged abuser still has a role in a Georgia church, although it’s no longer affiliated with the SBC.

Pittman’s pain nearly destroyed him.

He covered it with drugs.

“I didn’t have a drug of choice, it was whatever I could get my hands on.”

He hated God. He hated the church.

He didn’t walk through the doors of a church for 25 years.

Now he’s clean and helping other survivors. He knows God isn’t to blame, but the man who took his innocence away.

Over the years he has become friends with some of the other survivors mentioned in the report. It’s a friendship birthed from pain.

While he knew others had been abused by people in various churches they once trusted it was disturbing to read details of that abuse.

“It was hard to really get through,” he said. “I’m a friend to all of those survivors, not because we wanted to become friends. We would never have met had we not been molested or raped by these predators.”

There are more than 3,370 Southern Baptist churches in Georgia. Nationwide, Southern Baptist represent the largest Protestant denomination with roughly 14 million members.

Mike McDonnell, communications manager for SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) , has been fielding calls and emails from survivors nonstop since the report was released.

He said survivors have battled the pain of abuse for years, sometimes silenced by fear of retribution and fear of being shunned by their faith communities. Some victims will never come forward. He said the average age for someone who suffered from childhood abuse to come forward is age 52.

“Trauma takes time,” he said.

The Executive Committee “has the opportunity right now to act quickly and begin reversing those years of self-serving secrecy and release the name now,” said McDonnell. “It will help them begin to clean up the wreckage of the past so true transparency and accountability can be achieved.”