To my Sisters in Christ,
Do you realize, have any inkling, as to the strength imbedded in the title BWIM?
Just the words, “Baptist Women in Ministry,” connotates the long fought for validation women like me who grew up in the Church of the fifties, sixties, and seventies craved. It is through the brave sisterhood of faith, a sisterhood that demands us to use our once silenced voices, that I’ve been able to write my story of clergy sexual abuse, Tell the Truth about Adultery, a Story of Love, Betrayal, and Hope.
Just in the last few years, I’ve experienced the lightening bolt epiphany that I, the minister’s wife, was a victim of my own husband’s abuse of clergy power.
As girls in the Church, we were raised under the tutelage of outspoken Christian leaders who espoused the mandate that a man, a male, was the head of a household. The Christian conference and revival speakers taught a hierarchal system of marriage in which the female was under the auspices of the male husband. And heaven forbid if you were single, because then you were still under the authority of your father or considered a freakish independent female. We were the generation that had the audacity to demand a place in the workforce, never dreaming for the day of receiving equal pay to our male peers!
A good Christian wife was to sublimate her intellect, her emotions, her desires, and her gifts, to never out-shine her husband. If she had the temerity to do so, she was negatively considered as being pushy, aggressive, and conceited. The same attributes on a male were viewed as desirable and tangible proof of admirable leadership qualities. This pattern was not only acted out in church circles, but in society at large. It was an atmosphere ripe for spousal abuse. Remnants of this teaching still permeate Christian circles today. That is another reason why I am now convinced that resuscitating this twenty-year-old story is appropriately timely. I want my granddaughters to grow into their full potential and not be repressed by a story that was not told, my adultery and divorce story, my younger-self story.
This familiar old chorus that we, women of the mid-twentieth century, sang in our church congregations needs to remain an old song. Let’s not repeat that old familiar chorus where we remain silent and, in our silence, perpetuate the tune that abuse is OK. By telling our stories, we uncover the secrets, expose the crippling pretentious religious man-made constructs, and free our grandchildren to thrive in their marriages.
I want my granddaughters to glory in transparent and honest marriages where they can pursue their passions and dreams without the fearful shackles of outshining their spouses. I want my grandsons to love their wives in such a way as to inspire growth in mutual celebration of gifts, to flourish in vulnerable love.
My wish for you Baptist Women in Ministry is that by my telling my old but familiar story, you will be able to use your new-found voice to shout your truth from your pulpits, be validated, and embrace the courage to continue telling your truth.
I urge victimized women to no longer believe the lies by which they’ve been manipulated in the past when their thoughts were held captive by their abuser. Tell your story and begin the process of healing. Be challenged. As your sisters hear your story, they will be encouraged and strengthened along with you.
Sheila Graham Smith is retired executive staff and faculty from Baylor University. Her professional work encompassed advocacy for students with special needs. She was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon and considers herself bilingual and bicultural. She came to study in the United States in the early 1970s and lives in Waco, Texas. Her book, Tell the Truth about Adultery, a Story of Love, Betrayal, and Hope, is available on Amazon.