Struggles with Cancer Teach Lessons of Patience, Hope
I recently tore into a letter from Jack Harwell and let out a cry of delight. He was asking for a series of articles on clergy sexual violence. A sense of joy swept over me!
Like many of you, as Southern Baptist Convention casualties, my husband Ron and I have used this publication as a lifeline. Watching from afar, we have found our realities validated. We have collected gems to help us make sense out of the senseless. We have merged these gems with our own theories about the systemic abuse that has been dished out over the past few years by the denomination of our heritage.
Still, we have questioned if even BAPTISTS TODAY could be ready to seriously take on what Roman Catholics say has been their greatest challenge since the Reformation.
During 1994, since last year's publication of HOW LITTLE WE KNEW: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct, we have learned more about the extent of what I call DIM thinking (Denial, Ignorance and Minimization)--especially within the SBC. This cognitive disorder feeds the violence that perpetuates widespread problems of professional malpractice. I have begun suggesting we consider using the term "clergy violence" (rather than clergy sexual abuse or misconduct) since echoing responses to my own survivor story have also frequently come from victims of domestic violence in the parsonage. As I see it, both sexual abuse and domestic abuse are forms of violence. To see them as less than this, is to minimize the problems.
The voices of those responding are muted along with the rest of us who are trying to shatter "happy myths." I tell myself I am ready for the challenge ahead in this new opportunity.
Yesterday, Dec. 23, was a different sort of day: "There is one thing you can count on," said the compassionate surgeon. "I'll never hide the truth from you."
I will be reeling from the shock for months to come. I have breast cancer, a disease that has been around for a long time, a disease no one talked about much until recently. Everything in me wants to scream out, "No! It canít be! I don't have time for the pain!"
But I will take time. The consequences of denial are deadly! My supportive family tells me, "We'll fight this together." Of that, I have no doubt. We have grown closer than ever these past few years in our lonely struggle with evil. Our growth has come because each family member has decided that sexual violence in the profession that has been our lifeline is too big for any one person to fight alone.
As we talk about the enemy that has so cruelly invaded our lives, we call it by name. Suddenly words alien only yesterday become a part of our conversation: mastectomy, support groups, radiation, chemotherapy and prosthesis.
We share our feelings openly and without shame. The grief work is difficult. It is painful. Yet, it is essential. It is a process, not an event.
Support surrounds us. Ron pastors a church full of wonderful people, already flooding us with love and prayers. A friend from my writers' association has walked this rocky path before me. She listens tirelessly, validating my suffering, but never minimizing. She reminds me "there is no need to re-invent the wheel." Lots of help is available.
The role reversal seems strange. As a psychiatric nurse, I have talked with many others through cancer crises. This is humbling.
RESOLUTION and HOPE
Riding home from the doctorís office yesterday, I turned to the man who suffered alongside me, even enduring two years of under-employment as we fought to find our way out of the SBC wilderness.
"This is crazy timing," I sobbed, as if there is ever a good time for cancer. He understood instantly that my words had nothing to do with the fact that it was two days before Christmas.
Jack Harwell's letter was only one of an outpouring of folks saying, "Teach us!" A month ago I quit my primary job to devote at least a year for walking through doors as fast as God opens them. Now, facing months of recovery, I wondered how I could possibly undertake the tasks at hand, starting with this article.
Like the Psalmist, I have learned in recent years the value of screaming my anger at God Almighty. Yet, early this morning, I spoke with a childlike faith of acceptance I did not know I possessed. "OK, how are You and I going to work together to make good come out this one?"
"Just give them your story," came the answer. "Those folks can get it. They'll see the parallels between the two 'cancers.'
That's enough for now. May we never forget that there are no problems too big for people to hide from.
Other articles in this series:
Article 2: Churches Must Be Honest to Confront Sexual Abuse
Article 3: Denial and Ignorance Hinder Answers to Severe Problems
Article 4: 'Hold Hands in the Dark' with Victims of Violence
Article 5: The Kingdom Is Not Served by Self-Seeking Secrecy
Article 6: Christians Need Courage to Break the Silence Barrier
Article 7: Victim Asks: "What If's?" about Clergy Sexual Abuse
Article 8: 'A Mistake of the System' Calls Out for Compassion
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)
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) and The Truth about Malarkey (2000)