I have ‘known’ Anne Marie Miller for a very long time. I started reading her blog around 12 years ago. I have read all of her books. She ended up marrying the cousin of a high school friend of mine. I have appreciated being able to pray for her regularly as I follow along with her life via social media and the occasional email. I am not coming at Healing Together dispassionately. I was an early reader of one of her earlier books, one where she first detailed her sexual abuse.
Anne Miller is an example of a number of (primarily) women that have taken their abuse public because the desire for a better response by the church. Her abuse was at the hands of a church staff. Rachael Denhollander’s was at the hands of a sports doctor; others have been abused by teachers, parents, etc. Regardless of the context, the pain and trauma continue, and the context will be forever tainted. Church-based sexual abuse is particularly a problem because the church should be one of the places that are most responsive to sexual abuse survivors. But even a casual understanding of sexual abuse can see that churches often re-victimize abuse survivors.
Healing Together is doing several things. One is Anne’s own story. I primarily listened to the audiobook of Healing Together with Anne reading. I did that intentionally because I wanted to be able to hear her voice tell her own story. Anne is still recovering from a freak accident where she lost several teeth and has had to have multiple surgeries to reconstruct her jaw. Because I have known her for a while, I can hear some of that damage in her voice, but the audiobook is certainly still a good option for this Healing Together.
The second focus of Healing Together is understanding of what sexual abuse is, how the legal system works, simple definitions of terminology, and a guide on how to be in solidarity with abuse survivors. Her context is the church but this is not just a church-based guide. It is a guide that would be helpful for anyone, whether you are aware of abuse in your context or not. The reality is that whether you know it or not, you know people that have been sexually abused.
Anne Miller has pursued removing her abuser from ministry but like many cases it is also a textbook example of how churches tend to not handle abuse well. When she first reported, her abuser was an executive with the SBC International Mission Board. IMB found her abuse credible, but instead of firing him and removing him from ministry, IMB allowed him to resign, and he returned to church ministry within a matter of weeks. When Miller realized years later that he had returned to another denominational position and that he could still be criminally charged, she pursued the criminal case. But while he eventually pled guilty, he was allowed to plead guilty to a minor charge. The sentencing phase made that minor charge worse, allowing him to serve only 30 days in jail, if he meets the terms of his parole, the sexual abuse label will be removed from his record, and theoretically, under current SBC rules, he can return to the ministry and a background check will now show his criminal sexual abuse.
I am aware of many examples of the harassment that Anne Miller has endured in the wake of the criminal prosecution. Even this book was dropped by Lifeway publisher because she refused to say that abuse victims needed to return to the church. So she had to find yet another publisher, turning to one that was owned and controlled by a secular company.
Books like this are not ‘fun’. But they are important. We need to understand how to be in solidarity with people and to do what is necessary, without further victimizing them. The Kindle edition is being kept at $2. The paperback can be bought by the case. Read it and give it to those in your life that need to know.