The Southern Baptist Convention and Clergy Sexual Abuse IN THE NEWS (1995-2007) with a brief 2015 update at the end

by Dee Ann Miller
from author's home page:

Thanks to the joint efforts of activist Christa Brown and SNAP, there was a lot in the news about the problems of clergy sexual abuse, especially of minors, in the days surrounding the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention. At the convention, a motion was passed to look into developing a database of clergy who have been convicted, have confessed, or have been "credibly accused" of abuse.

To find out more, start with this set of articles below from Associated Baptist Press

Just as I've repeatedly indicated, I do not consider this dramatic action to be more than a news item to watch with interest. With this denomination's move further and further away from the mainstream of theological thought and closer and closer toward a right-winged political agenda, even with the President of the United States lending his presence at this year's Convention, I will be very surprised to see any action that would do anything to jeopardize the continuance of male power and privilege that is embodied in Southern Baptist ministers now, just as much as it has been historically.

What is needed most, as I was quoted by Greg Warner as saying, is "a change of heart". That would mean a heart that does a confession and total about-face. From where I currently stand, that appears to be likely only in fantasy.

I fear that anyone hoping to see it or to see a positive outcome from this feasibility study is headed for a great fall. Certainly, I hope that I am wrong in my prediction.

Some of the most encouraging news I've received, however, came in 2007. A national WMU event was being held in Little Rock, Arkansas by Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work at Baylor University, to teach participants how they could minister to victims of clergy sexual abuse. Garland, now deceased, was the author of When Wolves Wear Shepherds' Clothing: Helping Women Survive Clergy Sexual Abuse. I put a notice on this site and spoke to Diana about her hopes. Later, she reported that it was well received, though not as well attended as she had hoped. It was a start, we agreed, and maybe others would follow.

Historically, the WMU has worked hard for the betterment of women's lives. This has been one of many important focuses in its varied projects, as it has attempted to carry out what it envisions as the Mission of Jesus Christ. It has been bolder than any other organization in speaking out for the oppressed. Yet it has insisted on standing with autonomy since the beginning of the organization, deciding how much it will collaborate with the Convention leadership without being dependent upon them for funding. This is the very organization responsible for the largest non-Catholic mission program in the world. Without these women pushing toward lofty goals and standards, so many things would have been neglected.

The WMU has resisted coming under the control of the Convention, too. So this is the group where I have held the greatest hope for anything significant being done in the way of advocacy for victims and survivors.

Back in 1995-1996, in the pre-WEB days, when my writing was appearing in several "alternative" Baptist publications, I was more prone to fantasy. Every week, as I sorted through new snail mail generated from some of those hard-copy articles, I fully expected to find something from a Baptist woman other than thank-you notes from survivors. I fully expected someone to ask: "What can we do?"

How puzzling was the silence! The only words of encouragement from WMU leadership until this week came in a single e-mail in 2002, written in reply to my recent request to collaborate. My request was basically the same as what had been printed in the article series of 1995. The respondent assured me that she knew there was a great need. She promised to get back, but never did!! So my hope soon faded, but never died.

Then, a short time later I asked Garland if she thought there might now be a possibility that the WMU would help finance survivor retreats or offer a hot-line for survivors to call to receive support. These were practical matters that fit right into their aspirations to reach out around the world to women caught in distressful situations, who were in situations of human trafficking. Why not? we wondered. She even had a good friend, a former student of hers, she was certain would be able to help. So I put in a request for us to discuss this in a conference call. The WMU leadership was most welcoming as several joined us one bright, sunny morning for a lengthy visit.

I found much validation, even gratitude for my work. The leaders knew I was speaking truth. They had all heard plenty of stories themselves. Yet I wasn't really surprised to hear the explanation for their reluctance to seek monetary assistance for retreats or even to help get the word out. "We have to walk a fine line here," were the exact words courageously spoken with clarity.

They agreed to collaborate, but only with an article they would like me to contribute to their national magazine. An editor would be contacting me. I was disappointed, but at least encouraged that I'd be given a voice to this group who had been so instrumental in my own life. After all, without their financial support, Southern Baptist missions would not even exist.

The real disappointment came when not a soul followed up. The greatest insult of all, however: not one of those women would even answer an email after my repeated attempts to express gratitude for their listening. And not after I repeated wrote to ask what happened that I'd heard nothing from anyone.

ONLY THEN, did a throw in the towel with Southern Baptists. Twenty years after our resignation, working so hard, I saw NO hope.

In 2007, I'd noted that I'd be watching with great interest and renewed hope, gladly posting positive developments as they come from the Little Rock conference or the larger organization. I believe they had (and still have) what it takes to make all of the difference, once again taking the risk of going against the grain and stepping up to the plate. My observations are recorded as "wishful thinking."

Now, in 2015, I'm no longer hoping. Even after all Christa Brown has done, I do not believe there IS hope for Southern Baptists to address this issue. It seems the system is broken, and nobody is leading out to even try to fix it anymore. If I've missed something that indicates otherwise, I'd love to know. While Christa Brown still maintains the site , she has dropped back, too, but found to strength to continue her efforts through her blog The proposed 2008 data base didn't go. I knew it wouldn't, for it would force people at the top of the Convention to be responsible, setting up a system that should work. Yet it would require a total restructuring to re-define where the buck could NOT stop. It would hold Baptists responsible, same as Catholic bishops and cardinals are now being because they ignored the truth and refused to do their job. And who would want to be in that position? Better to let the vulnerable youth and adult women, the most likely victims, to suffer while the SBC diverts attention and focuses mostly on the small children who are indeed vulnerable, yet not nearly as likely to be victimized by clergy.

Sadly, Diana Garland, long-time Dean of Social Work at Baylor, passed away this year, 2015. What a legacy she left! Her work will continue to reverberate for centuries, I'm convinced. Yet who in the next generation will step up to take her place and mine?

Meanwhile, I intend to continue offering survivors and advocates of all faith groups a place of solace and comfort, a place of resources for all who have ears to hear.

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)