In the Service of Full Disclosure

The opportunity to talk on scores of live radio programs about a controversial, cutting-edge topic that most people still considered "a private issue for churches only" in the mid-90's never unnerved me until I started getting requests, much to my surprise, to appear for Christian interviews. I braced myself for an inquisition each time, and they came often. Though not nearly as often as I'd expected.

It was the highest number of interviews ever requested of one author, the publicist at Huntington House in Lafayette, Louisiana, told me one day, as she called to report the degree of receptiveness she sensed from the newest inquirer. Most of all, each talk show host was fascinated by what they'd read of our family's story, now eager to hear more of how six years earlier two missionary careers--mine and my husband Ron's--had ended after we'd persisted in confronting some of the most powerful men in the religious world, insisting that they cease their business-as-usual tactics of handling sexual predators, "putting them away privily" in the same way Joseph has been traditionally said to have planned to deal with Mary's pregnancy before the angel appeared to him with the truth.

The truth, in this case and another even more troubling that the leaders of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention had been "dealing with" in secrecy the same year as they were faced with our own colleague in question, seemed stranger than fiction. The missionary, who had put each of us as his colleagues at risk for deportation after assaulting and injuring his sixth known victim (a national teen, no less), was still set to be transferred to a "hardship" post in the Caribbean at one point before we intervened with top officials of the Board. Not one person among us seemed cognizant of the increased vulnerability teens on  mission fields faced, with very little police protection, putting them more at risk even than teens in the United States!

Now, with a 215-page book in their hands, telling of the collusion at every level of the organization, nobody in any of the radio interviews ever questioned the validity of the story, but several Christian interviewers posed a very personal question to me on the air that felt more like a litmus test than anything they could possibly ask: "Are you still a believer?"

A simple question according to most evangelicals, but an ambiguous one to any critical thinker. I found this inquiry extremely invasive, as if I was the one on trial with this asking. At best, it was distracting in the scheme of things and downright annoying. Plus impossible to answer well in one word.

"What difference does it make?" I wanted to ask. Or "What's it to you?"

If I qualified my "yes," the audience would soon be side-tracked, and I would have missed the opportunity to educate to the best of my ability, as I'd been doing for decades on a wide variety of health issues, both stateside and in Africa. Health education has always been my bag, whether in the secular setting or in working within the faith community, and this being a community mental health issue, addressing it on the air, using every available minute, was vital to getting the message out.

It's easy to think what I could have said that could have been both educational and spiritually honest, as I look back from the vantage point of 2018. "My spiritual health has been extremely challenged to the point I've had to go back and question everything I was ever taught. I do not sing most hymns without changing a few of the words to better fit the person I have become. I've been transformed for sure, but I'm certainly still a believer though I prefer not going into detail to explain all of that today."  This would have been the shortest and most complete answer I could have come up with. In fact, my answer today would be much the same.

Neither evangelicals nor progressive thinkers readily buy what Africans repeatedly tried to enunciate to westerners, usually without being truly heard. To the African, the western world becomes educated by different kinds of degrees than individuals of the developing world do. The latter have been "in school," learning fast from birth, also by degrees, each time they are forced to find a way to survive in a world that gives them little voice at all.

It would be more than twenty years later, in the course of writing Enlarging Boston's Spotlight, before I'd realize that many of the most "progressive" Christians also had a litmus test for determining whether I was qualified to speak to them with authority on the entire spectrum of abuse by clergy.

"But are you a scholar?" some asked, even after learning that I'd recently written for the World Council of Churches on this topic. Prominent clergy and professors in more liberal mainline denominations have been quick to remind me that I am not a scholar as they are. Only a mental health nurse with some rather extensive training in the field, I answer honestly, knowing this does not satisfy most. The irony is these do not care what I believe, whereas evangelicals do not care if I'm a scholar or even if I'm ordained to preach.

I do not write as a scholar. Nor would I ever wish to, considering that I want my audience to be able to understand some basic principles of both mental and spiritual health following spiritual abuse. I particularly want people who have been shot for speaking the truth not to be constantly having to run for a dictionary or to take a college course to comprehend what I'm trying to say.


I Dared Not Say "No"

The consequences of answering "No" to the evangelical question would have resulted in great misunderstanding as it always does. Because every person is a believer in something, and the vast majority of Americans in a divine being. I wish now I'd had the guts to kindly ask: "Would you please finish that interrogative sentence of yours?"

Yet, within a few weeks of doing these programs, Ron and I had been cut off the air once by a female interviewer who took offense at our use of the word "patriarchy," and in a second interview, there'd been snide remarks made about my motivation for writing as an advocate. Those remarks had not been made within earshot of me, however. The cowardly male interviewer had waited until I was off the air, I later discovered on the recording sent to me by the publicist. None of this was about me, but because of the topic I was representing. Therefore, I certainly didn't want to risk being discredited when I was quite sure there were victims and their families out there listening.

So the answer I gave was simply what I knew the interviewer wanted to hear--my "wonderful testimony" in a single word. "Yes."



No Longer Simple

Yes, I did believe in the sense of still claiming to be a follower of Christ. In that, I've never wavered to this day. It was those treasured, traditional beliefs about Jesus, what constitutes the meaning of his life and death, the deep theological issues that aren't litmus tests to most mainline Christians and need no proof-texting. These are what continue to separate Christians into distinct camps.

Trite questions I considered extremely important fifty years ago, the ones asked more often by evangelicals, are mundane to me now in comparison to the ones pertaining to justice, peace, and the fruits of the Spirit.

In advocacy circles, some of the richest friendships I've ever known were forged across vast theological divides. What has counted to me with every passing year more and more are the Fruits. That's what I believe in, and what I understand Jesus died trying to teach.

When we live by faith, holding hands with individuals whose lives are lived as prayers for the Greater Good, there is no greater Love. Individuals who have an internalized sense of power do not need to depend on institutions for validation. Nor do they need to depend on powerful people.

I still believed in the benefits an old-fashioned revival might bring to evangelicals, though the altar call I'd give would not be exactly the same as traditional altar calls. I'd be asking people to join me in soul-searching, followed by repentance for the sins of bigotry, arrogancy, and apathy--all that lead to UNrighteous indignation and injustice.

If I could take the pulpit, as I was privileged to do several times in the past, my testimony would be something like this:

To me, Jesus is like a big brother living inside my soul. As for the Spirit of God, I believe she dwells in every person, same as Julian of Norwich believed. Of course, that would require me introducing Julian, which might have a few folks sitting on the premises suddenly running out the back door in disgust.

As for the patriarchal God of my childhood, He never existed, I'd be quick to declare. That would be the biggest deal breaker, no doubt. The God I have long understood (and understand more than ever today) is interpersonal and easily recognized. The One evidenced by the fruits of the Spirit that I've found often evident in others, regardless of their religion.

Above all, I believe those same fruits will carry me through this world and into the next, as I "think on these things" and cultivate them in myself and others.

As for Truth, it's not about fact-finding. Never was. It's about the preponderance of evidence, and that pertains to more than a case of gender-based violence. It pertains to indictments, evidenced by attitudes that are grossly inappropriate, having to do with lost causes. Including one just out on a man who has led hundreds of thousands of individuals down the path of deceit for fifty years--news that's come to my attention as I'm putting the finishing touches on this blog.

I suppose this testimony of mine might be sufficient to someone out there. Maybe even sufficient to serve for inspiring transformation of a few lives in time, even without a scholar on hand to help us through.


******

Miller's website has been a source of enlightenment for survivors and advocates since 1997. Author of six books, three specifically on the topic of collusion with abuse in the faith community, include her 2017 release, Enlarging Boston's Spotlight: A Call for Courage, Integrity, and Institutional Transformation (available also in Kindle form), which contains much more on those interviews of long ago.

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