Southern Baptist Convention Far Behind Other Large Denominations in Tackling Sexual Abuse Issues (updated in 2015)
In 1996, a clinical psychologist in Virginia ordered HOW LITTLE WE KNEW. Soon after reading it, she went to the man in charge of Family Services for what is now called the International Mission Board (formerly known as The Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention), asking some good questions. She was told that our case was the one that had turned the Board around so that perpetrators are now promptly dismissed. This was refreshing to hear, though I have remained skeptical until recently. One becomes that way after hearing so many lies and half-truths over time.
Two years earlier, soon after the book was released, I’d received a letter from a relative. “You KNOW Southern Baptists don’t believe in sexual misconduct!” was the chiding remark, as if my book was a pack of lies. I didn’t bother to answer such a ridiculous comment. Some time later, I heard that this cousin was very upset because a friend of hers was rejected for appointment by Southern Baptists for overseas service because a lady had reported the minister for his sexually abusive behavior toward her. Yes, the same relative who felt compelled to remind me of what Southern Baptists do not believe was now upset because somebody was taking action to demonstrate what she was saying!! I considered it an indication that perhaps some of my seeds have sprouted. Just maybe the four books ordered by the mission board….yes, the four copies of How Little We Knew…..made SOME impact with someone. Just maybe.
By 2002, I had learned of several other cases and was able to observe increased concern, yet an on-going pattern of re-injury frequenting the interactions between the IMB and survivors, though there were some people who seemed to be much better at responding than others. I am still not encouraged, though I remain hopeful.
The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, in the spring of 2004, installed a toll-free number for people to call, to report sexual abuse by missionaries. The number is 866-211-4648. While this appears to be a very encouraging sign, some advocates have reservations. We know that, in some other agencies, there has been re-victimization of people who call to report. While not wishing to either encourage nor discourage reporting, I would very much encourage anyone to contact an attorney specializing in professional sexual abuse BEFORE making a report to ANY institution. If you need help in locating such an attorney, please contact the author of this site. If you have already made such a report to the International Mission Board, please let me know, as well. It is very important that survivors and advocates have a support system and be able to benefit from contacting others who have previously dealt with the IMB (formerly the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention) on these matters.
Back in 1997, Ron and I received an invitation that tore open old wounds. It was the first letter from anyone associated with our old mission circle that we’d received in a couple of years. We were being invited to a Reunion of retired and resigned missionaries who had served in Malawi. The event was being held only 25 miles from where my mother lives. Beverly Kingsley, the wife of the predator we knew in Malawi, was in charge of recreation. Needless to say, we did not make plans for the two-day trip to meet with people who had torn our hearts out due to spiritual abuse and collusion, which were far worse than anything done by the perpetrator himself. My mother joked that she thought she would go—to peddle copies of How Little We Knew! Later in the year we heard, through our daughter, that many of our old friends were there, of course. I suppose we were considered “unforgiving” if our absence was even recognized.
The following year we got another invitation. This one from the Kingsleys themselves. They were now hosting the annual retreat! We were asked to RSVP. We chose to ignore this one also. However, it was impossible. A few weeks before the retreat, the phone rang. It was Beverly herself! She wanted to be sure we’d gotten the invitation and to let us know how much she was hoping we would come. I played it cool. Decided it wasn’t worth having a heated discussion with a lady who had historically been the Queen of Denial. “No. We’re pretty busy, and it’s a long way.” I did not tell her that I was in the initial stages of launching this website, www.takecourage.org. How ironic, considering the impact the site would eventually have into the lives of many others from a wide variety of faith groups!
“Oh, that’s too bad,” was Beverly Kingsley's reply. She then proceeded to tell me how many of our old, truly beloved friends were already signed up to come. Many half way across the country! Oh, how I would have loved to see them if the circumstances had not been so discolored by years of being betrayed and ignored! The audacity continues to amaze me—both the audacity of the caller and all of those who could have previously called to really inquire about our well-being and acknowledge the injustice of it all.
In September of 2001, my daughter sent me a link to a front page article in the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger. It told that Gene and Beverly Kingsley had returned to Malawi, where they were honored for their contribution. Of course, there is no indication that the real reasons for their dismissal were acknowledged by anyone, despite the fact that at least two missionaries who knew well the story of their dismissal were standing alongside this couple at the meetings where they were honored! According to the Messenger, the Kingsleys are “retired.”
I wrote to tell the editor that this is gross error, though I am quite sure he did not know this until he got my letter. My letter, giving the real reason for Kingsley’s dismissal was not acknowledged. Perhaps my request that they not print any further articles mis-labelling this man as other than a perpetrator, will be honored. I am not holding my breath.
By the way this is the second time the Kingsleys have returned to the field since their termination. My plan is to write the present administration of what is now the International Mission Board to see if there isn't some way these people with so much vested power can manage to at least keep perpetrators from returning to Missions to participate in such roles again.
Meanwhile Gene Kingsley continues to reside in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. There is no reason to believe that he has ceased to work as a “retired” missionary speaker and preacher. Nor is there any reason for me to believe that he has stopped his abuse of others after the minimal amount of “counseling” that he received.
Several Texas Baptist leaders have been informed, but remain “helpless” to do anything that would curtail Kingsley’s activities, still holding a “cream of the crop position that goes with the territory of being a long-term Southern Baptist missionary.
“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear,” the Scripture says. To find someone with ears willing to really listen would be wonderful. Yet I've come to realize that they are not necessary for my well-being. I’ve moved on. My relationships are genuine, with friends who are not afraid of the truth. Neither are they afraid for me to ask hard questions. Truly, “old things are passed away.”
The hearts of Ron and our two children remain in Malawi. Our participation in that hurting country continues, but not through a religious group. Our gifts and efforts to bring about change are being filtered through Friends of Malawi, an organization that works diligently to care for children who have been orphaned due to AIDS. This worthy organization is made up largely of former Peace Corp workers.
The journalists continued to contact me well into the 21st century, asking just why it is that sexual abuse among Southern Baptists remains so elusive, so difficult to expose. I repeatedly tried to explain the extremely closed system in this ultra-conservative group with problems compounded by the autonomous church structure and lack of accountability of ministers to a central source. It is difficult for people who have not been in such a structure to understand how complicated it can be to be caught, as a victim, in such a system. Nor how liberating to be speaking from the outside.
A refreshing example of understanding came from Bob Allen of EthicsDaily.com in September, 2006, after a new wave of activism, spear-headed by an energetic Christa Brown, took place. Bob told of Christa's challenge to Southern Baptists in his first article. Then, in a second article, he validated much of what I have said on this site and illustrated the collusion even further. The boldness that his writing shows, his willingness to step out, is something rarely found among journalists who "need" the system. I find his courage most gratifying!
There has been a lot of talk and significant work to encourage Southern Baptist churches to address child abuse on a local level since then. No national policy, of course. And absolutely nothing to bring to light the unacknowledged problems of abuse of adult women in counseling. In fact, it's all about "how to protect your ministry," as if women are out to destroy ministers! The ignorance remains baffling in every denomination. Yet there have been clear steps taken in all mainline denominations, thanks especially to FaithTrust Institute. I challenge you: Try finding anyone in the SBC who even knows about this group. Meanwhile, as the great divide between conservative and progressive groups widens, a multitude of women, teens, and their families remain in the dark as much as the leadership in churches.
Today in 2015, after almost thirty years of working for change in this monstrous set of systems known as the Southern Baptist Convention, I'm convinced that the only hope is for the press to understand the dynamics and the politics that make the Southern Baptist Convention one of the most protected of denominations. Only then will journalists be able to write with true understanding, exposing the mountains of abuse in this group, the abuse that remains a powerful can of worms in such a deep, dark corner of the massive pyramidal structure that has historically oppressed so many. Only when people like Bob Allen, now retired, are joined by herds of "outsiders" will we be able to shed sufficient light, thereby removing the bushels that are placed over those who are trying to speak, the bushels that even keep many from reaching out for help.
Dee Ann Miller is the
author of Enlarging Boston's Spotlight: A Call for Courage, Integrity, and Institutional Transformation (2017) How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct (1993)
The Truth about Malarkey (2000)