The Rev Miles' "Call to Break the Silence"
On Thursday, October 28, 2021, the Rev. Al Miles spoke at Safe Havens' Second Annual Virtual Vigil: Silence Hides Violence. The Rev. Al Miles is the Lead Chaplain serving with Pacific Health Ministry at The Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was born and raised in Gary, Indiana. He received his undergraduate degree from Anderson University and his Master of Divinity at the Anderson School of Theology. Rev. Miles became an ordained minister in the Church of God in 1983. Since 1993, Rev. Miles has worked for the Pacific Health Ministry at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu. He is an ethics consultant and chair of the hospital’s ethics committee and serves as the Coordinator of the Hospital Ministry Department.
Rev. Miles also speaks frequently to nationwide audiences on domestic and teen dating violence, child abuse awareness, and establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries in professional relationships. Not only is he an advocate against domestic violence, he is also the author of Domestic Violence: What Every Pastor Needs to Know, 1st and 2nd editions (Fortress Press, 2000 and 2011), Violence in Families: What Every Christian Needs to Know (Augsburg Books, 2002), and Ending Violence in Teen Dating Relationships: A Resource Guide for Parents and Pastors (Augsburg Books, 2005).
We were thrilled to have such an esteemed speaker, prolific author, and dedicated ally working to end domestic violence speak at our vigil. We wanted to make sure that the Rev. Al Miles' Call to Break the Silence was available to our entire community, so we posted it here.
A Call to Break the Silence
By The Rev. Al Miles
Let me begin by thanking the Rev. Dr. Anne Marie Hunter, Co-Director of Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse, for extending her kind invitation for me to provide a few words on this 2nd Annual Virtual Vigil. The selected theme, Silence Hides Violence, is both timely and essential because victimized women and men have frequently been told to ‘keep silent’ by well-intentioned people from both religious and secular communities.
As Dr. Hunter well knows, the stories that bring life and passion to my speaking engagements and writings come directly from victims and survivors of domestic violence. Rather than following instructions to remain silent, these brave individuals have boldly entrusted me with their sacred truths by discussing both the horrors and the hopes they have faced.
Tonight, I am honored to share the story of ‘Wanda’. This is not her real name. A few years ago, she disclosed to me a horrific physical beating she received from her husband, whom I’ve given the pseudonym ‘Peter.’
By the time Wanda arrived unscheduled in my office at 6am one day, she and Peter had been married for 16 years. She later described their union as a “typical Christian one.” However, as she stood in the doorway of my office that morning, nothing seemed typical:
Though pitch-black outside, Wanda wore dark shades
The temperature was 75*, but Wanda had on jeans and a thick turtleneck sweater
With every step she took, Wanda grimaced in pain, which compelled me to look at her feet. Both were bleeding and grossly swollen.
The night prior to coming to my office, Wanda said she had supper with her two sisters and their mother. For reasons not explained, Peter demanded his wife to return home by 9:30pm. Wanda arrived home from the gathering at 9:45pm and Peter immediately told his wife, “According to the Christian Scripture, you have been disobedient and, therefore, I have to discipline you.” He began beating Wanda about the face and torso with his fists and then retrieved a baseball bat out of the closet. Upon returning, he used the bat to continue to beat his wife about her feet and legs.
Peter then went to bed without rendering assistance to Wanda or uttering any words.
In my office the next morning, Wanda cried and pleaded with me to help her become “a more obedient and submissive Christian wife.” She also wondered aloud the exact chapters and verses Peter had cited to justified his brutal actions against her. NB: There are no verses in the Christian Scripture that instruct husbands to discipline their wives. Peter’s actions are a true sign of blasphemy, that is, taking what is intended to do good and using it to cause harm.
Fifteen minutes after arriving at my office, Wanda allowed me to accompany her to the medical center’s Emergency Department to receive treatment for the physical wounds Pater had inflicted upon her. Subsequently, I asked if there was anyone else she would like to contact. She named her pastor, ‘Reverend Johnson.’ (Also an assumed name.)
Wanda explained that Pastor Johnson was like a father to both her and Peter. He had provided them pre-marital counseling and officiated their wedding ceremony.
Rev. Johnson had also hired Peter as his associate minister four years earlier.
I located a private room for Wanda to meet with Pastor Johnson. Twenty minutes later, she returned alone to my office looking distraught.
“Pastor Johnson was initially very caring and concerned,” Wanda began. “He told me that Peter’s behavior was both sinful and criminal. He also said, he was very disappointed in my husband.”
However, Wanda stated that a few minutes into their conversation, Pastor Johnson asked her to please consider telling no one else about the violence Peter perpetrated against her. The reasons for this plea were:
Such a disclosure could cause Peter to lose his job.
Some people might encourage Wanda to leave Peter. Pastor Johnson called divorce an “abomination.” Author’s Note: Pastor Johnson used the word ‘abomination’ to describe divorce. However, he did not describe Peter’s violence in such a harsh tone.
Pastor Johnson told Wanda that if she disclosed Peter’s abusive behavior to others, people at the parish would become “divided.” This could cause a “schism” in the church.
It is important to note that none of the above requests made by Pastor Johnson to his abused parishioner, Wanda, enhanced her safety or wellbeing. The major intent of Pastor Johnson’s plea seemed to be offered to protect the reputations of the church, Peter, and Rev. Johnson.
As a result of the recommendations Pastor Johnson asked Wanda to consider, she remained married to Peter an additional 18 months. She described this timeframe as having to “endure immense emotional, physical, psychological, sexual, and spiritual terror.”
Wanda ended up finally divorcing Peter and now lives in another part of the United States where she encourages other victims and survivors to “speak their truth, when they are ready.” She also instructs all spiritual and secular leaders to “never attempt to silence a victim or survivor of domestic violence.”
The second story I want to share tonight has a more hopeful tone throughout.
I was invited a few years ago to a medium-size city in the continental United States to be the Keynote speaker and workshop leader at what was billed as, Domestic Violence Awareness Sunday. That evening, I was duly impressed when more than 2000 people filled up the sanctuary of a beautiful mega-church.
As the pastor and I came out of his office and stood in front of the throng of people on that Sunday evening, I noticed the first three rows of pews were empty. Moments later, everyone stood. Suddenly, in walked three dozen women and men to fill up the front pews. Their robes and stoles immediately identified them as spiritual leaders.
When I completed my formal address, people lined up in front of several microphones in preparation of asking me questions. However, in a unique twist, it was I who began the inquires. I asked the well dressed women and men to identify themselves and to tell me how they ended up in the first three pews of that beautiful sanctuary. It was immediately disclosed that they in fact represented most of the faith, philosophical, religious, and spiritual groups in their city.
As to how they all ended up in the front pews on that particular Sunday evening, the spiritual leaders said they had been preparing for my arrival for six months. “We worked together with our community service providers to ensure that domestic and sexual violence would not continue to hide silently in the pews and walls of our congregations, or behind lovely stained glass facades. We wanted to bring the darkness of abuse into the light.”
In the first story, Pastor Johnson’s recommendations offered to his battered parishioner, Wanda, to ‘keep silent,’ ended up causing her increased pain and sorrow. In story number two, the collaborative efforts of spiritual leaders and community service providers’ in one medium-size U.S. city, served as a fortress to ward off the often hidden and insidious nature of domestic violence.
Silence will always harm victims and survivors of abuse.
Silence will always favor offenders.
Therefore, it is very important that we join together as a community to address situations of domestic violence that are hurting individuals and families and destroying our country. In the words of our colleague, Ms. Sarah Mattea Lane, let us “move together from silence to naming to action.”
May the Spirit of love and life be with us all. Amen.
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