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Southern Baptists Face Calls For Criminal Probe Into Sexual Abuse Report


The Southern Baptist Convention is facing calls for criminal investigations into sexual abuse within the denomination. This, after two Texas newspapers published reports showing that over the last two decades Baptist leaders, employees, volunteers, sexually abused more than 700 people, many of them children. Anne Marie Miller is one of the survivors. She was 16 years old when her family left a small town in Texas and moved to Dallas. She was searching for connections, and she met a local youth pastor who was in his mid-20s.

ANNE MARIE MILLER: It started as just a casual friendship, but it did get more physical and sexual as we continued to meet.

MARTIN: After it ended, Miller thought of it as a relationship gone wrong, until years later, when a friend told Miller about her own experience of sexual assault by a Baptist youth pastor.

MILLER: She said it so perfectly. She said, I wasn't - it wasn't consensual. I was compliant. So at the age of 16, even legally, I was not able to give consent.

MARTIN: In 2007, Miller reported her assault to Baptist Church officials. They determined that it did happen, but they never fired her abuser, who then found another position within the church. Last year, Miller, who is now 38 years old, reported him to the police. In December, he was indicted for sexual assault of a child. I asked Anne Marie Miller what went through her mind when she read the investigations in the newspaper.

MILLER: I think it's wonderful. And I know a lot of people are shocked with the amount of victims and amount of predators there were. But I know - I know for a fact that there are so many more. The SBC has failed in a huge way to be proactive in stopping abuse that they know about. Because they have this - I call it the idol of autonomy. Each church is local, and each church is, you know, responsible for its own actions.

MARTIN: Right. It's not like the Catholic Church, where there's a big hierarchy and each church is beholden to a larger church structure and, ultimately, the pope. This is a decentralized kind of system.

MILLER: It's decentralized, but that's just an excuse. Because if you know that people are getting abused, and you know that you have pastors and leaders doing it and yet you don't do anything about it, you are not fulfilling the mission of protecting the most vulnerable, which is what Jesus was all about.

MARTIN: So the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention - the president, J.D. Greear, also Dr. Russell Moore - say, clearly, this is evil, it is something that needs to be wiped out. They also say - Dr. Russell Moore did on our program - that some tangible changes need to occur. I want to play a clip of him from our interview.


J D GREEAR: There are a number of steps. One of those has to do with training churches to know how to respond when there is a case or a suspicion of a case. And then there has to be a way to connect churches to one another to know when there has been an incident or an allegation of abuse happening at another church, to prevent someone from simply moving from one church to the other under cover of darkness.

MARTIN: What do you make of that?

MILLER: I hope that it happens. I think those are very realistic first steps. I know Dr. Moore personally, and he and Mr. Greear have been supportive of me personally during this time, and I have good faith in them. I don't know if it's going to happen because people have been suggesting those very things to them over the last decade or more, and they haven't been implemented. They're missing a very key component, I think. It's great and it's essential to protect future people from being harmed and protect predators from moving from church to church. But what are you going to do about the survivors now?

I can tell you that, myself included, it is going to be a cold day in hell when I step back into a Baptist church. Like, you're not helping heal the damaged. And so there definitely needs to be something for victims. We need counseling. We need resources. Our families have been traumatized by this. And just by keeping that within the church, you're going to miss a majority of the people that have been hurt by the church because most of us that have been hurt by the church are no longer in the church.

MARTIN: You say you are no longer a member of a Southern Baptist congregation. But have you been able to more broadly rebuild your faith, your Christian faith?

MILLER: That's a touchy subject for me. I haven't. I've gone through phases where I think I have. But then this always comes back around, and I'm just not sure. Sorry. I don't mean to get emotional. But I know there's a God, and I know that there's Jesus. I believe in Jesus. But it breaks my heart to know that there are men and women who have destroyed other men and women and children under the name of Jesus, and in God's name and in God's house. And so I don't know if I can see that church is a safe place again, I really don't.

MARTIN: Anne Marie Miller, thank you so much for talking with us and sharing your story.

MILLER: Thank you so much for listening.

MARTIN: Anne Marie Miller was sexually abused by a Baptist youth pastor in the 1990s. She is now a writer in Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.