A source of enlightenment, since 1997, dispelling the darkness so often cruelly created when victims or advocates dare to speak truth about sexual and domestic violence, especially to "people of faith." It's unique in primarily offering insights into collusion, rather than the primary abuses of perpetrators. The message is timeless. For, sadly, the tendency to collude for the protection of evil seems to be ingrained in society in every institution. Yet...
"SILENCE IN THE FACE OF EVIL IS ITSELF EVIL: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." Bonhoeffer
While our inspiration to stand against evil may come from our faith traditions and role models, courage is born from personal resilience developed in spite of our past adverse childhood experiences.2021 Guest Blog for SBC Voices: Long Before #MeToo
Latest Book: Enlarging Boston's SPOTLIGHT: A Call for Courage, Integrity, and Institutional Transformation (views from inside a Baptist Parsonage through the Donald Trump Era and beyond)
Kansas Public Radio Broadcast Interview, with Dee Ann Miller, on November 13, 2017.
Most people assume that long-term abuse is about the worst thing a person could ever endure. "No Way!" say most survivors and advocates. You would certainly agree had you been among the many who encountered one of the vicious attempts to cover up clergy sexual abuse years before these stories had come to the attention of most journalists.
Such was the fate of my husband Ron and I almost thirty years ago. Yet we weren't laity like most. Neither were we Catholic. Ron is an ordained minister. His seminary education did nothing to prepare him for what we stumbled across in 1986 as the two of us served in one of the most remote locations in the world, 10,000 miles from home. Yet the organization we served had been handling such problems for years, though some of the most experienced claimed to be novices!
When the two of us refused to join our colleagues, all willing to stand by passively, giving the leaders of the largest evangelical mission board in the world (Southern Baptist Convention) permission to provide "benevolent restoration" to a sexual predator, we became "the problem". When we refused to overlook the dysfunctional behavior at every tier of the organization, we soon found ourselves on probation. Shortly thereafter, we resigned in disillusionment.
Our abusive colleague and his wife were allowed to resign, as well. They had been in Africa longer than anyone else in the group--25 years to be exact. Sadly, nobody ever got around to asking his latest victim, a teenage national, what she thought. Her injuries included physical ones, landing her in the emergency room where she was too scared and ashamed to say what had occurred.
Of course, today the whole world is virtually shock proof after all the cases around the globe, especially involving the Catholic Church. How hard it is to imagine that such nonsense has gone on and been excused for centuries--same as in families, where perpetrators often receive solace instead of being held accountable by "faith" leaders! How do we make sense of it? Those were the questions Ron and I were still asking in 1993, By then, he was serving as senior pastor of First (American) Baptist Church of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Meanwhile, I was working intensely with traumatized children and their families in psychiatric nursing and anxiously awaiting the release of How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct. Suddenly, as I put finishing touches on the final manuscript, a clergywoman told me about the work of Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune of the United Church of Christ, including a survey that blew my mind: 48% of clergywomen in the UCC in 1986 had "experienced sexual harassment by male clergy in the church workplace! " What's more Richard Allen Blackman, a doctoral student at Fuller Theological Seminary had surveyed ministers in 1984, finding that 38.6% admitted to having sexual contact with a church member! I had no idea how many adult women from every denomination were suffering from betrayal by "their shepherds." Obviously, sexual abuse wasn't just a Catholic problem. It ran across the gamut of Protestants--from very conservative to the most liberal of denominations, the UCC.
Over the next few years, as survivors increasingly woke up to the realization they were far from alone, leaders in every denomination were suddenly forced to spend more time doing " damage control " on all of this than on any other issue. Insurance companies demanded they get policies together and learn enough to keep from getting in trouble, even though the basics would not prevent them from continuing to cause serious spiritual damage to survivors. Sometimes it only served to increase the brutality as unscrupulous lawyers for churches became adept at scare tactics, only alienating survivors from any source of spiritual comfort they might otherwise have hoped for. All while bishops were forced to deal with the shame of public exposure and backlog of cases that had been successfully swept under the rug, thus far.
Ron and I watched with amazement as we humbly joined hands with a small minority of clergy working for real change and transparency. We stood beside other men and women going into spiritual (and sometimes professional) free-fall, either as survivors, advocates, or both. By 1995, we had been embraced by a large group of Catholic survivors, even finding ourselves in leadership roles in an international organization called Linkup. There we met Catholics like Joan Chittister, Richard Sipe, Tom Economus, Thomas Doyle, William and Joan Bates, and many other spiritual giants--all illustrating that sometimes the most powerful spiritual experiences happen in spite of and outside the walls of the Church!!!
As we began comparing notes with newfound friends from every corner of the faith community, we saw common themes. Catholics had used the same weapons as Southern Baptists! Survivors had been repeatedly condemned and blamed for not forgiving or for being complicit in their abuse because they had not come with their stories earlier--as if that would have made any difference. Sadly, this had been going on for centuries. In reality, there IS a forgiveness problem. Yet the REAL forgiveness problem isn't being owned by the right people. It's time for the press to spell this out.
Ron and I were not the only missionaries forced to leave the mission field in disillusionment over this issue. Within weeks of resigning, we found that out. By 1998, we knew of many other cases spread across multiple mission agencies where MK's (missionaries' children) were sexually abused. In every case, without exception, there had been great efforts made to sweep things under the rug. In fact, I have in my possession thank you letters from administrators of two other mission boards than ours--each thanking me for speaking to the issues, thereby forcing an awareness and encouraging change.
Abuse thrives in isolation, of course--we know that now. Yet few fully understood this during the 1980's when our family was grieving as intensely as if we were at a funeral of a close relative. Oh, how we loved Africa! It was home to our children, most certainly. Yet even worse, we were grieving over the loss of faith in others, grieving over our relationship with our own belief system, questioning everything. Nothing close to what victims of childhood abuse that's been buried for many years, though, when the perpetrator is a member of the clergy. Our losses were intense--just not to be compared to what many who come to this site have endured. Ron and I were determined to be a part of the solution, whether we stayed in the church and worked to change things from within OR left and worked from outside the system.
Back in Africa, I'd worked with a very corrupt national government and frequently visited with officials, even challenging them to join me to help bring justice to the suffering people around us. I pushed for permission to provide literacy, an irrigation system, and help for refugees they denied even existed, though clearly visible! I also took on fulfilling writing assignments. Both the writing and small projects, accomplished in spite of the corruption, I later saw as good preparation for taking on "organized religion".
With a daughter already in college and a son in high school, the whole family was merely in survivor mode for two years after the trauma of our resignation. Of course, in 1988, it was unfathomable to imagine anything like the Worldwide Web being available within a decade or how it would level the playing field in all of this, connecting people around the world within seconds. Keeping secrets was about to become very harder for anyone! Yet, for the foreseeable future, we were in terrible isolation, knowing not where to even find good counsel while sensing we weren't alone at all in the scheme of things. Sensing, in fact, that we were somehow on the brink, pioneering, stepping into the unknowns. How we wrestled with decisions about what to do with this powerful story!
Even today, after all we have seen unfold in the media, with victims of extremely powerful people stepping forward as role models plus therapists much better trained to handle these problems, it's quite possible you are still feeling very isolated today. This is especially true if you are just starting to sort things out. If so, I trust you will find comfort and validation on these pages.
Newscasters often fail to show just how personal the collusion can be--even today after the Spotlight movie has been seen across the globe! Even those who recognize this problem have little understanding why it occurs. My goals in 2017, include moving forward to help groups dig into this complicated issue in a very personal way, in order to transform individuals and systems like.
Powerful people have a lot to lose--a lot of power, that is. So they intimidate through fear, surrounding themselves with other powerful people. Strangely, spiritual leaders deny their power--that's what makes everything so convoluted. Just understanding this has a way of lessening the blow to survivors. "Not all wisdom resides in rank," Joan Chittister reminds us. People of rank, those in powerful positions in the church, often shame the prophetic voice in order to cope with their own discomfort. Knowing this goes a long way to minimize the brutal condescension that every advocate recognizes for what it is--insecurity and fear. Rhinoceros hides can be penetrated still, but not destroyed. In fact, over time, some learn to laugh at the learning opportunities collusion can provide for the next leg of action an activist chooses. It's all about choice, however, when it comes to advocacy. There are no requirements. Advocacy is optional, a role that can be abandoned at any time. Survival is not. Survival is first priority.
Never forget: People who cannot hear and respond wisely to the truth are not acting as people of faith at all. This will apply to the majority. Collusion happens because of fear and self-protection in people of the cloth, especially. For people devoted to a corrupt system, facing the truth often seems too high a price to pay for maintaining integrity.
Yet those who have the courage can move from the darkness into knowledge and enlightenment that provides power to speak the unspeakable, even when the outcome is a poor reception. That is the opportunity and the challenge for all of us, whether survivors, advocates, leaders, or members of the community. Courage is possible, and so is peace.
Only those who have this courage can make wiser choices that lead to a fuller and more meaningful life, no matter what others decide to do about waking up. True character and spiritual maturity doesn't look to others for approval and validation.
This third-edition website was made possible by one of the strongest women I've ever met. Renae is a mother of two and a shining example of this process. Now as a therapist herself, she often works with victims of abuse, understanding what hard work it is because of her own experience as a survivor of clergy sexual abuse as an adolescent and young adult. She is definitely a thriver, a person of evolving faith and hope.