GUEST BLOG: Dancing in the Darkness
My friend Amy doesn’t do windows. Unless she happens to be working on a computer system using Microsoft. In that case, she’s an expert, on single PC’s or corporate systems. In the course of this work, with all the fast clicking often required to solve complicated, technological issues, she’s sometimes found herself accidentally running across a whole can of worms no ethical person would dare to ignore. Amy does do doors, if need be. Even if those doors open into places where others might fear to tread.
by Dee Ann Miller
My friend Amy doesn’t do windows. Unless she happens to be working on a computer system using Microsoft. In that case, she’s an expert, on single PC’s or corporate systems. In the course of this work, with all the fast clicking often required to solve complicated, technological issues, she’s sometimes found herself accidentally running across a whole can of worms no ethical person would dare to ignore.
Amy does do doors. Even if it requires entry where others fear to tread. Soon after a corporate case of unbearable sexual harassment, she once found herself surviving behind the wheel of a city cab. After sitting pretty in a government office in Washington, D. C., she scrambled again, following discovery of a great impropriety that “shouldn't concern her.” Yet it did concern her, same as several years later when she opened Pandora's box while innocently clicking around as a volunteer in the church office, where she typically donated many hours each month to save her congregation the expense of hiring an outsider with her expertise.
To those of us with long-term experience in advocacy and activism with gender-based violence, Amy’s a rare breed. It didn’t take her two seconds to understand that looking the other way rather than appropriately reporting the clear evidence of her own pastor’s sexual abuse of an innocent woman was just as dangerous to the health of the entire church system as she would be leaving a virus on one of their computers. Yet not everyone appreciated her concerns, as you may well imagine.
Since then, she’s driven thousands of miles to visit us, always bearing gifts as meaningful as her warm presence, though none was ever as timely as the one she delivered on a hand-stitched plaque five years ago, shortly after Ron and I were forced to face the news that he was destined to navigate the rest of his days in a power wheel chair as a paraplegic. That message, needing no explanation, covered a multitude of past sorrows and joys, typically shared in any deeply-nurtured, long-term relationship between three good friends:
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
Back in the early days of her struggle, on one of her many sleepless nights, Amy surfed the Web diligently, searching for professional expertise, hoping to soon comprehend this bizarre set of circumstances she’d recently encountered. Suddenly, she stopped to read several articles on my website before reaching out with a grateful email.
Soon I was waiting at my own front door as she made her way across state lines to re-route her passion, pledging to set up a more efficient computer system for me while I explained the intricacies of how church systems often malfunction as easily as computers do with deadly viruses. That all led to her eventually knocking on the office door in one of the tallest buildings in America, where she was welcomed by one of the top executives serving United Methodists.
Her reception was a far cry from that of Ron’s. Back in the dawn of our own advocacy journey, in 1988, at the height of the highly political “glory days” of the Moral Majority, he found no hearing at all after traveling solo halfway across the USA to speak to the powers-that-be at the largest-by-far among Protestant mission boards, that of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Those men couldn’t understand, even from a voice of their own gender, how unjust and unsafe it was to allow a twenty-five-year veteran colleague of ours to return to the mission field, despite a long track record as a sexual predator. It was “fortunate,” as they saw it, that his latest victim, an African teen who landed in the emergency room of a large city hospital, was too intimidated to explain her injuries to a concerned medical assistant. That revelation could have been most embarrassing to the system, after all! Better to sacrifice a couple with only a decade of tenure, they soon decided, as they took steps to end our careers, assuming this would silence us for good. It was an experience Ron recently declared to be ten times as traumatizing as the devastating blow that has him now surviving as a paraplegic.
Personally, by 1989, I’d ceased caring much at all about the single case in our particular mission. Instead, what intrigued me were long-standing patterns I was already convinced ran deep into every system, faith-based or otherwise. So, I wrote each morning and sang often at midnight to defy both the literal darkness and unknown future as I made my way across ominous terrain toward home after exhausting shifts, as evening charge nurse, at the acute-care psychiatric facility where I spent evenings listening to story after story of adults still suffering from preventable childhood trauma, thinking all the while: “This should also be the work of the church.”
We got by financially, thanks to my credentials and our two enterprising teenagers. Yet, spiritually, we struggled daily, with Ron’s credentials in question—by him, that is. As an ordained minister, he considered many options, even as he prepared to use insights gleaned through a remarkable program in pastoral counseling, centered on systems’ studies, certain he’d find useful wherever he ended up. Even if he carried out his on-going threat to throw his ordination papers into the nearest river, he knew he’d have my blessing as much as I had his.
By 1990, he’d stepped into a senior pastorate, where we were welcomed into a new denomination with a greater appreciation for diversity, authenticity, and a willingness to dialogue about difficult issues. Then, a year later, a colleague of Ron’s told me about a lady by the name of Marie Fortune, who’d been crying in the wilderness against fear-based denial in faith-based institutions in regard to gender-based violence since 1977, mostly in mainline circles where, even with far more liberal views, the marginalization for such prophetic voices was still fierce.
In 1994, we were thrilled when an invitation came that had us soon sitting in a small circle with two other Protestants and twenty-two Catholics, all eager to discuss ecumenical strategies for bringing hope and lasting change to a world filled with the evils of abuse perpetrated by clergy. Richard Sipe, the heroic voice of wisdom who speaks across the miles by phone in the movie Spotlight, quietly rose as our meeting drew to a close, and in a single, simple sentence, spoke volumes:
“Solving this problem is going to take us all.”
Recently catching up with Richard and many other dear souls from that group, I realized that it’s been the networking and “dancing,” each in our own way, that’s kept us all going. Even in the midst of our most discouraging days, simply giving up for good has never been an option.
In so doing, we have learned to celebrate the progress of past generations, even while moving forward to join world-wide efforts on other continents in places we might have least expected a few years ago, led by women and men with great vision.
Likewise, in 2017, in this intergenerational work, may we continue to revel in the joy of learning new dance steps and meeting new partners for taking on whatever storms and stumbling blocks may come around the next bend.
Come on now. Let’s dance!
Dee Ann Miller is best known for her 1993 book "How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct" and her extensive efforts both to "comfort survivors of abusive clergy" and to "confront collusion with abuse in the faith community." The book she is currently working on, "Enlarging Boston's Spotlight: Views from Inside a Baptist Parsonage" is expected February 1, 2017. It chronicles her 30 years working to combat clergy abuse and misconduct. Those who are interested in more information can email Dee or visit her website www.takecourage.org.