Southern Baptist Women's Response to Crisis of Abusive Clergy

by Dee Ann Miller

The Woman's Missionary Union of the Southern Baptist Convention has shaped the lives of many women. Certainly this is true for me. The organization was like a collective mother to me. It inspired me and gave me a world view, as I told leaders of this organization when I approached them six months ago, asking what they might be able to do to reach out to the oppressed women in their midst who had been abused by clergymen.

During a lengthy phone call in 2008, I was not surprised to hear the explanation for their reluctance to seek monetary assistance for retreats. "We have to walk a fine line here," were the exact words courageously spoken with clarity. I understood fully--the women are walking a fine line, just as Shaw describes in God Speaks to Us, Too. (see review) Not just because the men keep them in check, but there are plenty of women who join the men in supporting patriarchal beliefs, some of which are clearly reflected in interviews that Shaw did with women who remind me very much of the slave women who learned to play the games of "satisfaction" with a "we’re living with God’s plan as slaves." In other words, the organization is infiltrated with female colluders who are unable to see how much their belief system has blinded them to the oppression under which they are not fully aware because they are too close to the oppressors.

One question, during the phone conference, left me slightly puzzled. They knew that I was a former SBC foreign missionary who had lost my career because I refused to be silent in the case of a sexual predator, missionary colleague. Yet one asked: "What made you decide to come to us to ask for help?"

Of course, the choice was one that I’d been long in making. Yet this group was the first one that came to mind when I started the first draft of How Little We Knew twenty years ago. Why? Because this organization was like a collective mother to me. It was only natural that the organization that had nurtured me should be the one to whom I decided to turn when I felt the rare need for monetary support in order to expand a ministry that I knew full well was already going to develop, though slowly, despite them. There was no reason that could logically be give to deny my request except "we have to walk a fine line here." Those words made perfect sense, even if they came from a group who seemed to not fully understand why they were the natural ones to whom I should be turning because of what they have stood for in my life and claim to continue to stand for.

The commitment that I understood they were making is one that I’m still waiting to see fulfilled. It’s a commitment that, while they will not be able to provide any other support, a request would be made to their editors to produce an article that would give testimony of one lady, still active in SBC circles, who attended last years retreat and wanted them to know how important it had been in her life.

Six months after the conference call, I have received no confirmation that editors have been contacted. Nor any answers to my e-mails inquiring about this matter.

I continue to wait and to work on projects to which my heart leads me as the WMU continues to struggle with how to walk the fine line. Such is the best way I know of praying the Serenity Prayer while dealing with collusion."

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)