Christians Need Courage to Break the Silence Barrier

(Article NO. 6, from Dee Millerís Baptists Today series of 1995)

"You KNOW we Southern Baptists don't believe in sexual misconduct!" My initial frustration generated by that recent letter changed quickly to gratitude, for the lady had provided me with valuable writing material. If I had chosen to reply, I would have used a one-liner: "Exactly! That's why I wrote the book."

A violation of sexual ethics, even if it is a non-touching act, is always an act of violence. It shatters the soul and betrays the sense of trust that every victim holds.

Even if the secret is protected, it insidiously invades the victimized congregation, creating ongoing ripples which grow in direct proportion to the secrecy

Baptists preach that thorough "house-cleaning" leads to revival. However, until recently our eyes have been focused on "the world."

The scapegoating of moderates has only created an even more perfect climate for the evils of clergy violence within the Southern Baptist Convention to thrive!

To correct the visual acuity problems throughout the community of faith, every denomination needs to "join the Marines" in "looking for a few good men."

Those men must be willing to expose the problem of clergy violence beyond the halls of elitism, rather than hiding behind the skirts of courageous women. Hearing that local church polity makes it impossible to do this in Baptist circles aggravates me greatly. My translation for this pass the buck statement is: "If people in the pew are to make wise decisions, they must be educated. With our structure, we'd have to use the same methods we use to train Sunday school teachers."

I agree. If we are really concerned about keeping congregations safe and restoring credibility to the profession, why not?

Suddenly I hear the voice of the Christian psychiatrist who helped me keep my sanity a few years ago: "Who are these people REALLY trying to protect?"

Perhaps the greatest incongruence has to do with the "high standards" Southern Baptists claim to have for pastors. Since the scriptures are followed to the letter of the law on divorce and women in ministry, it will be most embarrassing to openly admit that this denomination has no better track record than others in hiding and "mercifully" relocating perpetrators for "second chances." It will also be necessary to literally interpret I Corinthians 5! The historic espousal of high moral standards for leaders is not something this Baptist wants to see discarded. Yet maintaining our integrity cannot be accomplished without altering our ways.

It is not paranoia when a pulpit committee checks police records and asks former congregations whether an individual has a history of allegations of sexual misconduct or violence against his own family.

It is neither gossip nor a sign of vindictiveness to inform pulpit committees of previous allegations.

Finally, it is not cruel to publicly name the problem to surviving congregations, going on to assist them in their long struggle with spiritual healing, which must never be avoided.

All of these are acts of courage and caring. Breaking the silence barrier, as difficult as it may be, is essential if we intend to protect the vulnerable and heal the body. Yet, anyone who decides to pioneer in justice-seeking within the denomination deserves forewarning. The road ahead is difficult. The greatest pain will come in the form of spiritual abuse, something many readers of BAPTISTS TODAY already have experienced. In your search for support, you are likely to find American Baptist Frederick Keene, who has challenged old definitions of forgiveness, restoration, peace and justice. You may come across Jess Seats, SBC pastoral counselor whose 1993 survey of SBC pastors validated what many of us suspected about the widespread scope of the problem in this denomination. Finally, you are certain to meet Joe Trull, professor of Christian ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, whose concern cannot be ignored.

We Baptists don't believe in sexual misconduct, just as we donít believe in oppressive, political takeovers. Nor do we believe in punishing people for speaking the truth. God give us the courage for the day!

Other articles in this series:
Article 1: Struggles with Cancer Teach Disciplines of Patience, Hope
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

This article, like all at is copyrighted by the author. Other writers, by copyright law, may use up to 300 words in other published works without asking permission, provided the author is given full credit. This also applies to the acronym "DIM Thinking," a term coined by Miller. You may download and/or distribute copies of any of these articles, for educational purposes, PROVIDED the pages are distributed without alteration, including this copyright statement. by Dee Ann Miller, author of How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct and The Truth about Malarkey.