A Message to Southern Baptist Women from #LongB4MeToo

"The women of the Southern Baptist Convention are finally waking up," I said to myself sometime last week when I heard more than 1000 SBC women had been joined by a group of like-minded men, calling for the resignation of the most infamous of my husband's classmates from the 1960's at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Yet, according to Wade Burleson, that number soon grew to over 3200!

At last, Paige Patterson, along with his old friend Paul Pressler, has done himself in. Or so it seems, and the two may be taking a significant portion of the Southern Baptist Convention with them, as most bystanders can't help noticing, if the trend to honor and defend these guys continuesPressler, whose image is encased along with his wife's in the chapel of the same seminary that his old friend Paige has ruled over for years, will soon be facing multiple men in court, who allege he is a sexual predator.

These guys have provided me with more writing material than I can ever hope to cover now, along with a lot more to come, considering that my expertise and passion in writing for three decades has been rooted in systemic collusion with abuse in the faith community.


Before Anyone Sleeps

Five years into it, in 1993 to be exact, my second book, How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct was released, a first-person account of the shocking discovery my husband Ron and I made seven years earlier, after having served for eight years in Africa under the Foreign Mission Board (now known as the IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention. The fact that the FMB had been sweeping its own predators under the rug, hiding them wherever they could "safely" put them to protect the coffers that were being filled so well by naive senders, pledging to "hold the ropes" for SBC missionaries, may still be shocking for those to hear who've lived under rocks until now.

I doubt most of the women who signed this ground-breaking document know of the multi-million dollar lawsuit brought and won by a desperate mother, Diana Wade, who had also been serving in Africa, where several of her children were sexually molested by their father after FMB officials decided to hide their knowledge of his past antics, even from Diana herself! Nor is anyone likely to know that the lawyers who were paid to "protect" the FMB at the expense of the victims appealed and succeeded in having this case over-turned, saying the FMB had no obligation to protect those children. This outcome left the destitute family without the help those children and their mother would be needing for the rest of their lives.

Such secrecy, I've been told, no longer exists, though MK Safety Net questions what's been changed besides written policies. It's the defensive attitudes toward adult victims of child abuse that discourage reporting in every institution, and mission boards are expert at shaming the children of missionaries who "should not be hurting the work to which their parents were so dedicated."


A History So Easily Lost

I ceased long ago to keep an eye on intricate details of anything going on in the denomination of my heritage, though I tried for about twelve years until I threw in the towel when the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000 was passed (the document these 3200+ say they agree with that seeks to put women in their place). Missionaries were then put in a double-bind, no matter how long they'd served--either sign this agreement or resign.

So much for the priesthood of the believers, which set Baptists apart from more liturgical Christians from the denominations' origins. Sadly, in order to keep their integrity, some veteran missionaries felt forced to resign, same as in 1988, after the two of us agreed we could not accept probationary terms that would have silenced us from saying or writing more about the Board personnel's gross mishandling of abusers.

Ironically, 1988 was also the "year the Southern Baptist Convention died," according to Ron, who went to the "funeral" in San Antonio only days after we'd gone to his father's funeral and only weeks after we'd turned in our resignation, abandoning careers that we loved for the sake of keeping our integrity. That's had us praying for thirty years that someday our younger sisters in the Southern Baptist Convention might wake up and join hands before wading out of the murky waters of increased misogyny many of these younger women were born into. These waters of oppression have clouded the eyes of women and men since 1945, much the same as ours once were when we were still trusting in God first and the religion of lost causes second.

So, in one sense, it seems our prayers were answered a few hours ago. Except there's a lot more to pray for now, many more letters needing to be written and signed by thousands more members who remain devoted to the SBC before these 3200+ women will be able to sleep in peace, I trust.


Searching for Hope

I'm encouraged by this letter that I only got around to reading this morning after the news popped into my inbox late last night, sent from a woman who has been fighting to be heard in North Carolina, yet wisely fears speaking all that she knows about a sexual predator she and her husband have encountered among the thousands of pastoral staff who are most certainly lurking unabated in this massive denomination.

"Patterson has been forced to resign," Ron yelled up the stairs from his power wheel chair moments after I got the message. I noted how his voice reflected the same youthful enthusiasm he had forty-five years ago after successfully integrating an SBC congregation in the Louisiana bayous.

"Yes, I just heard," I returned. "Problem is he's been given a place of honor in spite of everything. Theologian-in-residence, can you believe?"


What's This Guy Gonna Do Next?

Here in Lawrence, Kansas, where we have a different theologian-in-residence come to stay each year for a week, churches along with university departments prepare for inter-faith messages on progressive, Gospel-related topics from highly-intellectual theologians. If any of them ever showed up to speak in support for perpetrators of gender-based violence, I expect there'd be an Uber called, followed by a swift departure of the selected guest in short order. 

Two years ago, we were honored to have Molly Marshall, one of the many SBC outcasts forced from prestigious positions within a decade of that 1988 death of the SBC. Privileged to attend one of her guest lectures in the Religion Dept. of the University of Kansas, I watched as consternation spread across the faces of young women and men posing very intelligent questions about this mammoth denomination that has managed to sway the outcomes of our most recent Presidential election, as well as several others.

By the time of Marshall's demise and the decision of Jimmy Carter to leave a few years later, Ron and I were long gone, back into the arms of the Mother of stateside Baptists abandoned by rebels who formed the Southern Baptist Convention in 1945 over slavery disputes, then have dared to teach generations of young people, myself included, that the departure was over their love for missions and the fact that the Baptists of the North were theological heretics!!

So what will the youth coming to Ft. Worth be taught by this theologian-in-residence, may I ask? Are these courageous signers going to sit by now? Or will they challenge his ready access to seminarians? Might there be more signatures gathered from young women vowing to rise up as a justice-seeking group from this point forth, ready to expose the truth when they discover that their founders--yes, the ones who dreamed up the "resurgence" of the Southern Baptist Convention that came into fruition with the passing of a resolution that destroyed the right of free will, requiring submission to the "authority of the pastor, which is seen in the command to the local church." This authoritarian approach had been dreamed up by two men--Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler who had devoted two decades to set things in motion before the takeover that one third of the messengers in attendance considered heresy! Would the signers of this ground-breaking letter have voted for such male authoritarianism, I wonder, considering this negated women from going against any man who stands in the pulpit of a local church and preaches like Paige Patterson has throughout his ministry, supported by his wife Dottie to set such a "biblical" model for marriages? If so, they seem to have done an about-face. Is this really a new day in the SBC? How far might this radical move go now?

Let's assume that a few of these women might have second thoughts at some point about staying with this persuasive bunch of manipulators who would dare to give Patterson a place of honor for his "fine leadership for all he's accomplished." If they choose to leave, where will they go and what will they lose? Will they get honest answers if they ask their parents, or were the parents unaware that the major, unmentionable lost cause of 1988, which the SBC leaders were desperate to keep alive was  misogyny:  the right to dominate and abuse women, keeping them in the kitchens of the church and out of the pulpits, which was subsequently the primary purpose of the Baptist Faith and Message--basically to turn "back-sliding" Southern Baptists into truer southerners.

While the patriarchal pot sustained a major blow in the wee hours of yesterday morning, May 23, 2018, this largest of all Protestant denominations is still very much alive despite its unhealthy state. Those who remain will have to wrestle with other lost causes until the cows come home to shatter a lot of stained glass windows for the protection of the signers children and other for generations to come. Or wrestle with what positive steps they will insist this Convention take next, not only to protect women who have already been abused, but to begin putting pressure on male authorities all over the nation to stand up and preach on a regular basis against gender-based violence.

Maybe there's a way some of these women, realizing how much they gave up in 1988, can even draw up a resolution to that effect. Do you think?


We've Only Just Begun

While my work has been from outside the SBC since 1990, I still care deeply about the denomination that remains home to my mother and most of her family. Far from burned out, as long as I'm alive, I'll be waiting, ready to join hands with courageous young women or men, anyone who cares to step up to the plate to take on the far more difficult issue of the most "sacred cow" in this Convention. Or any other denomination, same as I've done periodically for thirty years.

The very issue of SBC church polity is one that Wade Burleson, took on in 2007 after being awakened by activist and attorney Christa Brown to the greatest threat to the safety of women and children, the polity of local church autonomy carried to the extreme that's allowed charismatic like Andy Savage, under the spell of his followers, to be all-too-easily passed on to another congregation blind to a perpetrator's previous success in burying past allegations of abuse. This, extending even to the assault of teenagers like Jules Woodson, now a courageous adult and leading voice in the #churchtoo movement.

Thanks to the exposure of Paul Pressler, the world is waking up to what's been going on for at least fifty years behind the scenes of men conniving to control the sheep being led at all levels of the Convention into the folds of collaboration. Pressler, Patterson's partner in ministry, has got Wade at it again, trying to save the SBC from itself from characters like Pressler, hoping to keep the vulnerable from falling prey to sexual predators. While deciding whether to join him, the courageous 3200+ souls who signed this history-making letter might be interested in learning more of their suppressed, late twentieth-century history I've recorded in Enlarging Boston's Spotlight: A Call for Courage, Integrity, and Institutional Transformation, which includes the efforts of Burleson and Brown, who picked up the torch, attempting to awaken the masses on these issues about the time I was ready to give up in total exhaustion on ever being taken seriously by anyone in the Established Church of the South.

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a great first step toward forming some sort of coalition of mutual support. Step up to the plate. Carry this torch back with you to the drawing board, preparing to move forward, setting an example for your daughters to take your efforts on to new heights beyond anything the SBC has ever seen. 

******

Miller's website has been a source of enlightenment for survivors and advocates since 1997. Her first book, Mr. Kapande's Family Gets a New Start, a work of fiction, addressing alcoholism in the African village, was picked up by the International Publishing House in Nairobi in 1992 and republished for distribution throughout English-speaking Africa. 

Author of two works of young adult, historical fiction and three books specifically on the topic of collusion with abuse in the faith community, including her 2017 release, Enlarging Boston's Spotlight: A Call for Courage, Integrity, and Institutional Transformation (available also in Kindle form) she is planning a conference on collusion with abuse in the faith community for next spring, near her home in Lawrence, KS. For more information or for support, contact her directly.


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