Remembering Antonia Teixeira – Mikeal Parsons and Joao Chaves

Remembering Antônia Teixeira: A Story of Missions, Violence, and Institutional Hypocrisy by Mikeal C. Parsons, João B. Chaves, Bill J. Leonard
Published by Eerdmans on July 18, 2023
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction, Biography
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Uncover the truth about the scandal that shook the Texas Baptist community, buried for over a century.

In 1894 Steen Morris raped Antônia Teixeira. Both had been guests in the house of Baylor University president Rufus Burleson. The assault took place in Burleson’s backyard and was the first of a series of assaults that eventually left the young Baylor student pregnant. Rather than hold the guilty party accountable, Rufus Burleson and other prominent members of the Baptist community in Waco launched a campaign of intimidation, victim-blaming, and cover-up to preserve the virtuous image of their institution.

In Remembering Antônia Teixeira, Mikeal C. Parsons and João B. Chaves painstakingly peel back the layers of concealment that have accumulated over a century of enforced silence about the case. Beginning with Antonia’s father Antônio Teixeira, a priest who had renounced Catholicism and become a pillar of the Baptist community in Brazil, Parsons and Chaves uproot romanticized and hagiographical accounts of the Southern Baptist Convention’s foreign missions. They then follow Antônia’s journey north, her assault, and the subsequent scandal that shook Texas—until it was intentionally erased.

Iconoclastic and meticulous, Remembering Antônia Teixeira calls attention to how religious institutions have used selective memory to maintain power. In doing so, this book takes a first step toward dismantling those structures of oppression.

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: Baylor University is accused of covering up sexual misconduct amongst powerful people in their ranks. Yeah, yeah, you’re thinking, we all know about that. We know that from 2012-2016, Baylor University suppressed reports of rape, sexual abuse, and physical abuse by some of its students—mostly its football team. All of this is part of a larger story of sexual abuse within the Baptist church and…wait…that’s not what this is about?

Remembering Antônia Teixeira is the story of Baylor University’s other cover-up of sexual misconduct. In the 1890s, a Baylor alumnus named Z.C. Taylor was working in Brazil as a missionary with the goal of converting Roman Catholics to Southern Baptists. He befriended a former Catholic priest named Teixeira de Albuquerque and his family, including his daughter Antonia Teixeira. Taylor went as far as to contact Baylor president Rufus Burleson and arrange for Antonia to attend Baylor University.

Teixeira arrived in Waco in 1892, only twelve years old, and lived in Burleson’s house. They paid her tuition fees, provided her room and board in their home, and instructed her in housekeeping practices. H. Steen Morris was a frequent visitor to the home, being the brother-in-law of Burleson’s daughter. On three separate occasions in 1894, he drugged and raped Antônia Teixeira. This book, written by Mikeal Parsons and Joao Chaves—two professors currently teaching at Baylor—tells this untold story.

The first part of Remembering Antônia Teixeira lays out the historical context of how Teixeira, daughter of a controversial ex-priest who became Brazil’s first native-born Baptist pastor, came to be at Baylor. More than just a personal history of her family, Parsons and Chaves wade into the overarching history—namely how the SBC’s presence in Brazil in the late 1800s was born from exiles of the Confederacy and awash with racism and colonialism. The second part focuses on the rape of Teixeira and its aftermath, including the public trial of Morris and the lengths to which Burleson went to cover everything up. Carefully and painfully, the book makes the case that not only was Antonia assaulted physically but that she was “oppressed, shamed, and discredited by the most powerful people in town” who then had her “deliberately and thoroughly erased” while their legacies continued untainted.

One cannot help but draw the line from this century-old example of abuse cover-up and the current sexual abuse scandals and cover-ups that have been endemic in the Southern Baptist Convention just recently. Will we allow history to repeat itself and the names of the abusers and their protectors and others live on while the names and stories of those whose abuse they covered up vanish?

In Remembering Antônia Teixeira, we are also called to remember present-day sexual abuse victims and the fact that their abusers and enablers still remain in places of power. As professors at Baylor—Parsons the chair of Religion and Chaves a professor of the history of religion in the Americas—the authors have engaged in a work that is historical but also sociological. They weave a story not of individual sin and evil, but of institutional and systemic sin that requires a complete and foundational rebuilding of the institution. For Parsons and Chaves, perhaps for Baylor University, this book is a form of penance and remembrance—a way of acknowledging past and present failures, of admitting that silence is complicity, and offering painful truths that can lead to healing.