The day before thousands of Southern Baptists passed a resolution proclaiming a wake-up call to #MeToo-style mistreatment of women in denominational life, Anne Marie Miller continued a month-long struggle to save her family from financial ruin.
Miller, a former blogger and author of books including Mad Church Disease, launched a GoFundMe campaign May 8 seeking $28,000 to pay for psychiatric treatment she cannot force the Southern Baptist Convention to pay.
Miller says one story she has shared through years of writing and speaking is of sexual abuse by her 25-year-old youth pastor when she was 16. She learned earlier this year the man was not reported to law enforcement by the Southern Baptist organization that investigated the allegations internally in 2007, found evidence of the abuse and instead of firing him gave him a chance to resign.
Asking how that could be, Miller says she was advised by denominational officials to “let it go,” because dwelling on their attempts at “reconciliation” with her alleged abuser would do her more harm than good. They were right.
Within days, she called the police. Detectives launched a criminal investigation, asking her not to publicly identify the man until their work is done. Bloggers identified the man as a high-ranking official with the South Carolina Baptist Convention reportedly placed on administrative leave pending the investigation. State convention officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Diagnosed in 2010 with PTSD resulting from childhood abuse, Miller says rehashing past events — including interviews with the Southern Baptist Convention entity identified elsewhere as the International Mission Board – resurfaced her trauma.
Doctors recommended a 30-day residential treatment in another state. GoFundMe updates indicated she was doing well until Memorial Day, when during an impromptu game of water balloon baseball, a plastic bat slipped from someone’s hands and hit her squarely in the face.
Her injuries ended the treatment, meaning the $15,000 she managed to raise so far will likely cover the expense. Two days ago, she asked donors for permission to use any leftover funds for unanticipated medical expenses related to hospitalization, two surgeries, out-of-state boarding until she is able to return home and additional travel costs.
Miller says Southern Baptist officials ignored mandatory reporting laws when they investigated her allegations a decade ago. She says she believes the Southern Baptist Convention and the organizations that employed her alleged attacker should pay for her treatment, but she is barred from suing them by statute of limitations.
Miller says she and her husband recently depleted most of their savings to make a down payment on a house for the couple and their young daughter. Right now, they can afford just $2,000. Her treatment facility agreed to work with them, but she says they deserve to be paid.
“I think the SBC and the organizations for which this man worked, and the man personally, should be held responsible for paying for this treatment and any other treatment I need for the rest of my life,” Miller wrote. “However, the statute of limitations for the civil part of my abuse is long gone. I cannot sue them for treatment costs.”
Miller, a popular speaker at colleges, conventions and churches on topics of social justice, sexuality, mental health and addiction, says it felt “opportunistic and wrong” to publicly ask for help, but her husband, friends and advocacy group all told her it was the right thing to do.
A month into the fund-raising campaign and two weeks since her accident, Anne Miller’s Trauma Therapy Fund was a little more than halfway toward reaching its $28,000 goal.
Tuesday’s SBC resolution on abuse repudiated “with a unified voice all abusive behavior as unquestionably sinful and under just condemnation of our Holy God.”
It urged abuse victims to “seek protection, care and support from fellow Christians and civil authorities” and extended “compassion and support to all persons encountering the injustice of abuse, being careful to remind the abused that such injustice is undeserved and not a result of personal guilt or fault.”
It called on church authorities to “confess their crimes to civil authorities” and for pastors and ministry leaders “to foster safe environments in which abused persons may both recognize the reprehensible nature of their abuse and reveal such abuse to pastors and ministry leaders in safety and expectation of being believed and protected.”
The resolution finally resolved to “uphold the dignity of all human beings as image-bearers of God and the responsibility of all Christians to seek the welfare of the abused.”
Blogger Denny Burk, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the language in the SBC resolution borrows from an earlier statement adopted by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
The statement, adopted in March, said church and ministry leaders “have a special obligation to report abuse to civil authorities” and “are responsible for knowing the laws of their state about reporting the suspicion or accusation of child and spousal abuse, and for following those laws in good faith.”
“We believe that the church must offer tender concern and care for the abused and must help the abused to find hope and healing through the gospel,” the CBMW statement said. “The church should do all it can to provide ongoing counseling and support for the abused. The wounds of abuse run deep and so patience and mercy are needed over the long haul as the church cares for the abused.”