"Hold Hands in the Dark" with Victims of Violence

Article NO. 4 from Dee Ann MillerBaptists Today series of 1995
See also author's page takecourage.org

"We are holding hands in the dark." These words are taken from a treasured letter I received recently. It came from Dr. Sarah M. Rieth, an Episcopal priest with fifteen years' experience in psychotherapy.

I posted them near my computer to remind me of the many other faces and voices with whom I connect across our nation and beyond. Some are more ready than others to have their full names used. Others want their stories heard, but still need to remain anonymous. I give them pseudonyms.

I am aware that most of us know scores, if not hundreds, of other survivors and pro-survivors by name. We form an invisible, worldwide chain of men and women in a movement which cannot be silenced.

Ironically, many are more afraid of us and our message than of the "wolves in sheep's clothing" which have not only drastically altered our lives, but have greatly weakened the message which Christ has called us to deliver.

I am a part of several sub-groups within the larger survivor movement. I am also a survivor, a mental health nurse, a writer, a former Southern Baptist missionary and the wife, daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Baptist ministers.

Recently Ron and I were privileged to participate in the healing service for a survivor of domestic violence in the parsonage. Unlike many survivors, she has chosen to stay faithful in the community of faith, and to tell her story, despite attempts to silence her.

At that service, I presented a letter of encouragement, portions of which I want to share with you:

"Dear Gloria:

"Be faithful to your story. Don't let anyone discount it or discount you for telling it. The truth is so beautiful, even when it is painful. Your story is your witness. It is powerful. When enough stories are told, we will see real change.

"You can 'rejoice and be exceeding glad' by recognizing that you are a part of something bigger than yourself. When you are dealing with denial, you must think of it as a huge iceberg. You must see yourself as just one little ice crystal on the whole frozen mass! That thought is both humbling and liberating.

"When telling your story, it is important that you be realistic in your expectations. You don't have to see great things happen to you, or even see personal justice, to have healing. (Grant it, it certainly helps!) You can rejoice that you are a part of something much bigger than yourself.

"Telling your story is a matter of pushing against oppressive boundaries. You are one voice among the masses, attempting to establish new standards for truth and justice.

"Your job is made difficult because oppressors are desperate to conceal the truth. Desperate people do desperate things.

"As you have already learned, telling your story creates backlashes. That's O.K. That means you are accomplishing something, not that you are being totally ignored!

"But how do we, as survivors, cope with our own fears, some of which may even be life-threatening or financially devastating?

"Perhaps we can take lessons in creativity from freed slaves. History tells us that when the frightened people knew the Ku Klux Klan was coming, they worked together to place ropes made of grapevines across the road to trip the approaching enemy. (Notice they did not try to kill the enemies, just disengage them.)

"They built their own churches and schools to use as fortresses. They found ways to disregard their limitations and kept looking for opportunities to make life better for the next generation."

(The letter goes on. Today, as I re-read it, I understand more and more how what has happened to survivors of the larger SBC struggle is closely parallel to what has taken place in the journeys of survivors of clergy violence. And I am proud to be a part of both camps.)

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 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) and The Truth about Malarkey (2000)