One of the biggest criticisms faced by the Survivors of Austin Gardner is the claim that our efforts to expose abuse and toxic culture within Vision Baptist Church are “hurting the church.” This is a common defense used by many churches to deflect from the real issue: the abuse and harm caused to vulnerable individuals within their communities. Unfortunately, this claim is not only misguided, but it can also perpetuate a culture of abuse and harm.
Many church abuse victims stay silent because they fear speaking out will harm the church. Unfortunately, this silence only emboldens abusers and allows the cycle of abuse to continue. It’s important to remember that holding abusers accountable and seeking justice for victims is not an attack on the church. Instead, the church is responsible for creating a safe and healthy environment for all members.
In the case of Austin Gardner and his circle, victims were often made to feel like they were at fault; this even happened in one case of sexual assault outside the country. This pattern of victim blaming is not unique to Gardner’s circle, but it is a common tactic used by abusers to silence and discredit their victims.
When Gardner faced church discipline, he fled to his son’s church and started Alignment Ministries, which operates independently of any local church. This move does not align with biblical teachings, which state that the church is the only organization sanctioned by God. It is vital to hold church leaders accountable and to create a culture of transparency and honesty. The church is not exempt from scrutiny or criticism when addressing abuse.