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Evangelicals’ crusade against groomers must start in their own churches

Evangelicals’ crusade against groomers must start in their own churches

Evangelicals’ crusade against groomers must start in their own churches
September 16
12:00 2022

Content Warning: The following story contains language related to sexual assault and child abuse.

Conservative evangelicals protested a family-friendly drag event at a local distillery in Roanoke, Texas, on Aug. 28. The protest was based on the  idea that performers were attempting to “groom” the children in attendance.

LGBTQ events, specifically those meant for children and families, are increasingly being met by protests from Christian conservatives. The idea that queer people are “grooming” and coercing children is largely based on homophobia, transphobia and conspiracy theories.

Evangelical church leaders, on the other hand, have been committing acts of child sexual abuse for decades without consequence. In the past, religious leaders have tried to cover up evidence of abuse. This highlights how they need to look internally before crying “abuse” at a marginalized group with baseless evidence.

The term “groomer” rose to prominence in conservative media as a way to describe people that manipulate children and make it easier to abuse them in the future. Laura Ingraham, whose Fox News show is popular among American evangelicals, has used the phrase liberally.

She’s gone as far as calling public schools “grooming centers” and claiming Disney creates “propaganda for groomers.” Ingraham and other major news outlets’ use of the word has only increased the presence of it in popular culture.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest denomination of protestants in the U.S., representing around 5 percent of the American adult population. Preachers and religious leaders in this denomination are seen as upstanding community members and shining examples of how one should live their life.

Yet, in an independent investigation published by Guidepost Solutions on May 15, several SBC leaders were shown to have covered up allegations of sexual misconduct or taken part in abuse over the last two decades. In the 288-page report, there are examples of SBC leadership abusing their power within the church to help sustain the abuse cycle. 

Convention leadership kept quiet when cases of sexual abuse came to their attention, which allowed the abusers to move to different churches and continue abusing parishioners, many of them children. When George Thomas Wade Jr., a missionary in South Africa, was exposed for sexually assaulting his teenage daughter, the mission leadership chose not to punish Wade immediately. Instead of reporting him to authorities, they allowed him to return to the U.S. where he was arrested for child abuse twice. 

The SBC held evidence of over 700 allegations of sexual abuse in a file at their headquarters in Nashville. Russell Moore, the former president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote a piece in Christianity Today that made safeguarding the evidence clear: “these leaders had a database to protect themselves.”

Many SBC leaders were responsible for sexual assault themselves, but their role in the church made them immune to consequences. Paul Pressler, a former convention vice president, was accused of abusing a victim for 24 years from the time he was a teen and a history of abusing other children over a 40 year period. Pressler was a key figure in turning the SBC into the conservative institution it is today.

Church leadership has abused and silenced victims for decades, and the SBC worked to push it under the rug. This cycle falls into the definition of “grooming.” Despite this, church leaders still call queer people abusers and groomers based on nothing more than bigotry. Evangelical leaders calling LGBTQ people groomers while enabling abuse or engaging in it themselves is gross hypocrisy. 

Family-friendly queer events increase visibility of marginalized people and show kids that they are deserving of love and happiness no matter their sexuality or gender identity. They are structured  to make kids feel welcome.

The isolation a queer kid feels — especially in a place like Texas — can be overwhelming and demoralizing in a way that is hard to describe for people not in the LGBTQ community. In places like Roanoke, which is far from the queer cultural center of America, events like the drag brunch are important for helping kids see themselves in popular culture.

Unfortunately, “grooming” is a very real thing, but not in the manner the far-right media portrays it. To truly tackle the issue of “grooming,” church leaders need to start in their own spheres of influence. If they aren’t committed to stopping sexual abuse within their religious institutions, then they prove the “groomer” discourse is nothing more than a way to attack the LGBTQ community.

Featured Illustration by Jazmine Garcia

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Jesse Sanders

Jesse Sanders

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