In less than three minutes I sank from jubilation into the depths of despair.
The message from attorney and outstanding SBC advocate Rachael Denhollander, encased in a photo atop the May 24 article from Religious News Service said almost all that was needed, less than 48 hours after the shocking report was released the afternoon of May 22: “I can call it EVIL because I know what Goodness Is.”
The contents of the SBC report from Guidepost Solutions, released by way of the Southern Baptist Convention’s special task force on sexual abuse, could have been succinctly summarized in a few sentences.
Except Adele Banks took a much broader approach under an intriguing title: “40 Years in the Making: A Timeline of Southern Baptists’ Sexual Abuse Crisis.”
I stared at the title. “What did she know that I needed to learn?” I wondered before scrolling down to discover how the title was a misnomer.
As the oldest activist of all SBC survivors, I could not come up with any attempts to challenge national SBC leaders to address before 1988, the same year that we’d been forced off the mission field for daring to speak the truth about what we’d already identified as a totally bizarre set of behaviors that were being occasionally spoken of in mainline circles as “collusion with evil.”
“How could she?” I gasped, before I even got to the biggest gap of the 40 years — an entire decade!
The 90s was not a period of dormancy at all. I’d been sure to let the multi-disciplinary team of investigators know, as I spent hours laying the groundwork of activism and avoidance that went on unnoticed all through that decade and beyond.
“Surely the award-winning journalist took time to go beyond the written report for her information,” I assumed for several days as I continued to reach out to her repeatedly, to no avail.
In desperation, I turned to Krista Tongring, who has become more like a good friend to me this past year, rather than a director at Guidepost Solutions. Yet, I never expected her to get back within two hours on a Sunday afternoon, happy to settle my mind.
None of the team had ever spoken to Ms. Banks, she assured me. Otherwise, her article definitely would have included some of the dramatic turn of events you’ll soon find in this article series – though the ’90s was not in the specified parameters for the report, of course, nor was the ’80s, except for a high-profile case in the late ’80s that got carried over due to publicity and on-going conflict about the case well into the 21st century.
Later, when Banks heard I was searching for her, she immediately called, ready to listen.
My personal testimony is only a small part of my contribution to this work, I explained. My nursing experience had already made me somewhat of an expert on collusion with abuse in secular homes in America when I stumbled on the problem in Africa.
Far more important than the frustration of experiencing such injustice was the learning opportunities that followed the release of my book How Little We Knew, I explained to the journalist.
In fact, I devoted 25 chapters of my 2017 book Enlarging Boston’s Spotlight to the widely ecumenical advocacy work I was involved in during the ’90s, including work with Baptist survivors, before moving on into the 21st century. That book is the most important I’ve written so far.
In 1993, I had no idea how much more common sexual abuse was in theologically conservative faith groups — far higher than elsewhere according to several experts, including Mennonite psychotherapist Carolyn Hegdon.
Nor was I able yet to connect the dots to the viciousness of bystanders in conservative churches due to the larger degree of unresolved issues within this culture of secrecy and immense shame.
Now, with what I’ve long dreamed of holding, the first SBC survivors retreat, scheduled for early October, I have much to celebrate and much to teach.
Although it’s the third ecumenical retreat I’ve done for survivors from across the spectrum of faith groups, what’s doubly unique this time is my attempt to raise enough funding to pay transportation especially for women who need help coming halfway across the U.S, after already spending a small fortune for therapy that most denominations accept as their ethical obligation to pay.
The most startling revelation I plan to share at the retreat would likely have been found by anyone doing in-depth research on SBC activism in the ’90s. Bob Allen’s 2006 article in EthicsDaily.com centered on the heavy lifting I began doing in advocacy even before leaving the mission field.
In preparation for writing, Allen interviewed James Guenther shortly after the lawyer had been honored for his 50 years’ service as general counsel for the Southern Baptist Convention. In so doing, Allen provided an opportunity for the SBC to sit up and take notice.
“We’ve probably had a dozen of these cases,” he declared, going on to explain how the “not-my-problem” loophole prevents the SBC from being easily sued because of its polity. Yet, nobody seemed to seize the day by seriously questioning why Guenther seemed so happy to say it.
As if the SBC should embrace the dysfunctional approach of the three plastic monkeys who have rested on our refrigerator door for 24 years, with their feet covered by a special sign placed on the trinket designed by Kevin, a Texas advocate with a huge heart. “The DIM wits” the sign calls the monkeys, trying to tell us by their actions that we should see no evil, hear no evil and think none either.
This is the thinking of the old lawyer, now no longer in power because more than 1,000 pastors forced the SBC executive committee to finally waive attorney-client privilege on their third vote.
Now, thanks to Guenther, a lifelong member of the SBC, to the convention, he was one suddenly needing to be replaced — hopefully with someone who understands the need to go far above what the law requires when a person has been wounded on the counsel’s watch.
Back in 2006, what Guenther was promoting was a pathology that seems to be a favorite of conservative evangelicals — “preferred helplessness,” as I prefer calling it. Although doing his duty to protect power at the expense of broken families, in his statement to Allen, there seemed to be no recognition of the need for a wound-care protocol.
Had there been, the convention might have saved millions that they were forced to spend in order to learn what should have been obvious. In the process, had they taken the high road rather than giving merely lip service, I dare say they would have regained the respect of a multitude of youth who have chosen to leave because of the abuse issue.
Only as survivors examine such details through strong corrective lenses does healthy humor set in.
Seeing emperors and their followers refusing to notice their own spiritual nakedness that the rest of the world sees as obvious is not only alarming. To some of us, it’s downright hilarious!
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.