A Southern Baptist publishing executive recently revealed that she was a victim of alleged abuse for more than a decade from another Baptist leader.
In an online statement, Jennifer Lyell, director of the books ministry at LifeWay Christian Resources, alleged that she was the victim of a now-resigned professor at the flagship seminary of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
The alleged sexual misconduct and abuse of power started during a mission trip when Lyell was a seminary student and continued for years. She said that she feared coming forward out of concern that revealing what happened would cause “collateral damage.”
“That collateral damage was the reason that the abuse had continued for so long,” she wrote. “The reason that a professor was able to continue grooming and taking advantage of his student was because I became like part of his family.”
After coming forward last year to her boss and the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., she said, both took swift action to address her allegations and to provide care for her. Her alleged abuser resigned from the seminary as well as from a nonprofit ministry he had founded and from a trustee role with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.
Lyell said she experienced “the best of what advocates of sexual abuse response reform are calling for in the Southern Baptist Convention.” Still, she said that churches need to do more to address abuse.
Lyell discussed the issue in a recent podcast released by another SBC agency, saying she thinks there are key factors churches should understand about sex abuse.
“I’m going to say two things that the church needs to realize and understand and that is, first of all, that sexual abuse does not only happen to children,” she told Trillia Newbell, host of the “Better Together” podcast produced by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “And second, is that sexual assault is not only rape.”
As the SBC confronts allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct in its ranks, leaders of some of its affiliated organizations as well as other denominations are seeking to educate clergy and other staffers about appropriate boundaries as they relate to adults in their congregations, classrooms and counseling sessions.