Breaking through rocky soil to expose myths is the work of historians. Or experienced psychiatric nurse-writers like myself.
I think like a psychiatric nurse in most everything of importance that I do. As slow as any detective, I like digging down to the roots of every complex problem I discover.
As I speak with other advocates — whether they be psychotherapists, ministers, lawyers or advocacy writers like myself — I am always hoping to instill this method by example. Especially with young, idealistic folks, most likely to be unusually baffled when a desire to spring too far ahead seems to fail.
Visionaries who are unwilling to go back to examine every root of the system during its greatest resistance to change are unable to appreciate the snail-paced back-and-forth movement that must occur, whether any change at all transpires in already-stagnant systems.
Much like Good Faith Media’s “historian-in-residence” Bruce Gourley, I work to see vivid colors of exception in unusually insightful survivors or the vast, dark resistance that must be overcome.
It’s octogenarians who often teach us best why some thinking has changed while so much has not. Since I turn 80 in only four years, I trust some of you will remember that.
For I’m still learning, even as I try to teach in cultures that have become so foreign to me that I have trouble even relating now — like the Southern Baptist Convention, especially in dealing with their decades-long resistance to deal with all issues related to violence against women and children.
So, before the 1990s gets blotted out of the 40-year-timeline of the struggle between Southern Baptist abuse and survivors who have been trying desperately to be heard, it’s time to set matters right before it’s too late.
A lot was going on that the SBC was trying to ignore in the ’90s.
How dare anyone leave a blank space between the last two years of the ’80s when the first high-profile case raised eyebrows and 2002 when I was the first person called by Associated Press from the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention to speak to a resolution that I saw only as a knee-jerk reaction to the growing public relations crisis in Catholicism same as the same sexual abuse PR crisis that some of knew was already brewing?, as I told AP journalist Richard Ostling.
Catholics should have known they had widespread abuse even before the ’90s had they been reading articles like my husband picked up off the newsstand in Mombasa, Kenya in 1987. He’d gone off searching for real news, since we’d been living under a “fake-news” dictatorship 1,000 miles south of where our children were in Kenya’s Rift Valley Academy.
The closed system in Malawi did not even allow televisions in the country. Nor any journalists to enter, even for years after we left. They censored every word in print, offering lies so ridiculous that no educated person could swallow. The most startling was a reporter telling readers of the one-newspaper-allowed country that beer was more nutritious than milk!
My husband tossed the news magazine my way, having already ear-marked a half-page article telling that Catholic bishops had the same problem on their hands that the SBC’s Foreign Mission Board did — and it was likely be closer to a disaster in both places unless those with the highest power could silence the accusers.
Fr. Tom Doyle, with a doctorate in canon law and a rising career at the Vatican, warned every U. S. bishop that silencing tactics would only make things worse if they failed to awake. This we also hoped the FMB soon was going to understand.
Of course, no matter what we said, we were only “ordinary” missionaries as they saw it, no matter what our own colleagues acknowledged I knew better than anyone else in the mission. Yet, no smarter than board officials, not one of our colleagues stood with us to the very end.
Had we abandoned our own stand, I have no doubt “Uncle Gene” (Kingsley), our colleague who had even put a young national in the emergency room, would have returned to Malawi to stay.
The ostriches abounded. It was clear by the “shoot-the-messenger” response Doyle had received back then, in his early 40s, same as we did as Southern Baptist missionaries. Tom didn’t sign up to lead the bandwagon. Nor did we.
Today, with all three of us fast becoming octogenarians, the devastating loss that came to each of us as soon as we lost our careers was minimal compared to what our denominations lost when we turned away and moved on with stronger faith than ever — not a faith in any institutional church, of course — that was greatly decreased.
However, each of us moved to higher ground as we set out on an upper trail to support others who were also being abandoned for speaking the truth to power.
Now, like Tom recently said, “I guess I’ll be at this ‘til the day I die.”
Miller, at 76, still writes in this work she began doing as a certified mental health nurse-writer in 1992. She uses her professional skills to promote change at TakeCourage.org as she comforts survivors to rise up and prods the uncomfortable bystanders, confronting “collusion with abuse in the faith community” She is the author of several books, the most recent being Enlarging Boston’s Spotlight: A Call for Courage, Integrity, and Institutional Transformation.