Finding Support in Haystacks
Support for whistle-blowers seldom comes directly. People are afraid to speak out against unethical behavior by people of greater or equal power. This is especially true when "down one" in gender, age, tenure, race, or sexual orientation since few systems are free of prejudicial action when these factors are involved. Even more so when one has been personally victimized or tried to blow a whistle previously.
Stepping into the darkness, taking on the role of an outsider, is what whistle-blowers do. It doesn't matter how much they've been an insider previously. Speaking out puts one in an adversarial position unless the system is prepared to hear.
Nowhere is this truer than with gender-based violence. Even if one turns to another system, such as the court system, the prejudice is still there. None of this dirty little secret had anybody bothered to teach me. It's something many hesitate to acknowledge even today. Far more so decades ago.
Joe Trull, who began emerging in the early 1990's as the authority in the SBC on "clergy sexual misconduct (a term that reminds me of a little boy fighting too much on the playground) and has now written widely on the topic, had some great ideas early-on. He called for a Code of Ethics, yet to be adopted on a national basis in the SBC. Yet, I (and later Christa Brown) differed greatly from him so far as what constituted justice and accountability, as well as the scope of the problem to be addressed. The greatest omission in his work being the acknowledgment that there might be a much wider age range of victims and a much wider set of unethical sexual behavior than what had yet been reported to him.
Women were not coming out with the range of stories publicly as they are today since the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have brought them out of the woodwork and onto the pages of the NY Times, rather than receiving an "honorable mention" in a single line as I did in 2002 when abuse of minors by clergy was first acknowledged from the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention for the first time.
Putting Women in Their Place
Joe and his wife Audra did break the ice in acknowledging the misogyny in the Convention and beyond by pulling together a compilation of writers, with each of them also doing a chapter of their own. Thereby, they showed a rare glimpse of what it is like to speak out in solidarity with Baptist women. Their book, published in 2003, was entitled "Putting Women in Their Place: Moving Beyond Gender Stereotypes in Church and Home"
I was especially delighted to find a chapter by Julie Pennington-Russell, an ordained Baptist woman who had pushed boundaries in the right direction for years. While I’d not met her personally, I certainly knew of her. In fact, when I went to the national gathering of Baptist Women in Ministry in 1995, attendees were saying how it would be nice if more could have the success of this woman. Now, since 1998, she’d made history in Texas to become the first female pastor of a Baptist congregation in the state.
"Several statements of Julie's made me feel like I’d just stepped into a crystal-clear, mountain stream on a hot summer day" I wrote recently in: Enlarging Boston's Spotlight: A Call for Courage, Integrity, and Institutional Transformation before including a quote from the Trull's book that may have been the greatest inspiration I've yet had from any Baptist woman:
“When doors are slammed in your face, when your gifts are repeatedly discounted and dismissed….the effect can be devastating. …..Sometimes anger is the most appropriate response to injustice and the best motivating tool for action…..So much of what people have said and done is too ludicrous not to laugh!......I try to seek out and surround myself with people who keep my emotional balloon up in the air."
These prophetic words are just as valid now in the #SBCToo and #ChurchToo movements as they've ever been for any cause. If you are an activist, I encourage you to post them near your desk. Read them often. Savor them for the days when you find yourself in the desert, wondering where to find refreshment to keep your own emotional balloon in the air.
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, including her 2017 release, Enlarging Boston's Spotlight: A Call for Courage, Integrity, and Institutional Transformation (available also in Kindle form).