Since the publication a couple of weeks ago of the admission by Jonathan Howe that the story published by Baptist Press on Jennifer Lyell was not accurate, I’ve been dealing privately with a man (I won’t give any information on him, other than he holds a responsible job at a non-SBC parachurch organization) who constantly wanted to find fault with Ms. Lyell and continue to besmirch her reputation. I finally cut him off, because I was getting so frustrated with his ignorant insinuations. It is hard to imagine the damage done by the Baptist Press’s irresponsibility in March when they first reported on Jennifer’s statement that she had been abused by a professor at Southern Seminary, Dr. David Sills. I have no idea why people would want to add to the torment Dr. Sills put her through, but evidently some “Christians,” not satisfied with the suffering of a woman under the hand of an abusive predator, want to heap shame and pain on her as well. Human depravity is real.
Jonathan Howe is taking the right steps in his early days as VP for Communications at the Executive Committee and has just issued an expanded Statement from Baptist Press that further elaborates the mistakes made by Baptist Press in their reporting of the story and apologizes clearly for the failure. He promises that Baptist Press will not make such mistakes in the future and he wants to help make the SBC a safe place for people who report abuse. It is well-stated and I am grateful for his stand. He may draw criticism in some circles, but when has an SBC entity ever issued a statement like this? It is ground-breaking.
Howe makes important points:
- In her original statement, Lyell made it clear that what went on was emotional and sexual abuse, but Baptist Press changed the wording to “morally inappropriate relationship.”
- This change caused great damage to Ms. Lyell, since the wording change by Baptist Press led people to assume an affair took place instead of years of emotional and sexual abuse. People wholly ignorant of the story, unknowing of the details, drew conclusions that were unwarranted. Jennifer suffered greatly because of it.
- The article references “un-Christlike slurs” against Jennifer Lyell. This is an understatement.
- The change was made because of legal and policy concerns. Without revealing sources or betraying confidences, I’ve been privy to other stories recently where “doing the right thing” was put on the back burner because of legal concerns. I understand that. No one wants to get sued. But there has to come a time when we do the right thing no matter what the consequences. People have died for the faith – we can’t face legal jeopardy?
I realize some people will be slow to trust and suspicious of the motives and timing of this statement. I think Jonathan has the desire to do the right thing and make Baptist Press the place of “Christian journalism that prioritizes integrity, truth, and accuracy” he described as the goal.
Time will tell. I believe in Jonathan’s heart and character. May it come to pass.
May all the slander against Jennifer Lyell pass away and may the truth of this story be recognized.