Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse – Part 3B – Steps 1-2-3 – Concepts, Questions, and Continuums for Building a Comprehensive “Remediation Plan”

Part 3B Concepts, Questions, and Continuums for Building a Comprehensive “Remediation Plan” – Steps 1-2-3

OVERVIEW: Part 3B – Steps 1-2-3 develops a set of questions and concept frameworks to help us build a comprehensive “remediation [remedy] strategy” to address recovery issues both for organizations that have become toxic and for the people who control them. It begins with a few key ideas for analyzing problem situations for patterns. Then it looks at a general continuum for thinking through how healthy or sick a person is, using analogies like injury triage, hospitalization, and recuperation. It extends that health/toxicity continuum analogy to parallel situations in organizational systems.

Part 3C – Steps 4-5 sets up the frameworks to apply to four specific layers in a system that needs healing – whether the healing needed by leaders and organization is relatively slight, or all the way to very substantial:

  1. How to determine the levels of personal growth and recovery needed by leaders who harm others, regardless of how gifted they are or how much they help others.
  2. How to identify what levels of peace-making are needed in personal relationships where a leader has caused damage.
  3. How to ensure individuals qualified for roles to lead the organization stay, when those disqualified should be removed, and when/if they should ever be restored to a former position.
  4. How to discern whether an organization that toxic can be repaired, or should not even survive.

Part 3C also suggests appropriate responses to recovery processes by both perpetrators who are truly repentant and their victims who are receptive to reconciliation and restitution. It concludes with some ideas and questions to consider before we launch into creating a remediation plan that involves specific Christian leaders and organizations.

Step 1 – “Remediation” and the Language of Recovery

As I worked on this article, I found myself using a lot of vocabulary that starts with “re-.” Repair. Restore. Reconcile. Restitution. Renovate. Reclamation. Rehabilitation. I’m not particularly fond of alliteration. But, gradually, this series of over a dozen re- words made more sense. Actually, there was hardly any way around it. “Re-” is from a Latin prefix that means do again, repeat, go back to, cycle through. So they make sense since our subject is about how to return unhealthy people, toxic systems, and sick cultures to relative health.

You might be wondering why I chose remediation as my main descriptor of a strategy to reinstill health, instead of repentance. I have two key reasons.

First, repentance would be the expected term, but too often we’ve used the expected term too often, and so it has lost its meaning. It’s too easy for readers to skip over such words because they assume they know what I would mean by it – even if I spent time defining and describing it. (At least, I know I do that when I read, if I’m not as engaged with someone’s material as I should be.) Remediation is a rare word, though its relative word, remedy, reflects through. An unfamiliar term causes us to slow down and pay attention to its description.

Second, the definition of repentance is typically seen as something along the lines of “have a change of heart or thinking, regret, make a change.” Those are all relatively abstract ideas, a theoretical turning, a point. I was looking for something that implied concrete steps, a practical plan, a process.

How people misuse repentance to mean a point of supposed change, but without any kind of ongoing transformation process? For instance, as if giving an apology is all that’s needed to “repent,” when the damage done should require substantial work in reconciling the relationship, and potentially even restitution to restore what was taken by the sin involved. That’s why a lot of rehabilitation plans don’t work; the underlying idea of repentance is too weak. They look at one particular point of action only, such as an apology. But then there isn’t much attention given to follow-up evidence of a supposed change of heart or mind or actions to minimize the sin from happening again, and again, and again. To which I’d say, “A point without a process is pointless.”

So I chose remediation, which Dictionary.com defines as “the correction of something bad or defective.” When flaws are fixed, it tends to be observable. And this post deals with external indicators that we can see lived out – points and patterns in a person’s behaviors, and processes and procedures in system transformations. So, Remediation Plan it is … a practical way to heal wounds and cure illnesses, remove evil and restore right functions.

Step 2 – The Problem of Points and Patterns, Processes and Procedures: Figuring Out Character from Snapshots and Videos, Plotlines and Rewinds

When it comes to personal transformation, we Christians seem to have a problem with the differentiating points, patterns, and processes. We merge them together, or act as if the smaller thing is the larger thing.

Kind of like the example I used above, about a point of apology being taken as a full process of repentance. I see that happen frequently in push-back against calling out leaders whose actions are spiritually abusive. “He took responsibility and apologized for _ _ _ _ _ [fill in the blank with the offense]. What more do you want?”

But doesn’t the New Testament tell us that transformation (i.e., sanctification) is a continual process while we are on this earth? How is it that suddenly one small part inflates into the whole? It’s kind of like suggesting that the moon is as important as the sun (or more important), instead of realizing its light is just a reflection of the sun.

To help get around this problem, I use the concepts of snapshots and videos, plotlines and rewinds, to illustrate some differences among points, patterns, and processes. (If you want more details later, see my Futuristguy Tutorial on Transformation.)

There are various sayings around like, “Character is how you act when no one is watching.” And while I’d suggest that motives can matter, it’s also true that we can deceive ourselves. We can be alone or with others, and still think we’re doing something good for utterly right reasons, when actually what we’re doing is bad. So, ultimately, our actions (and inactions) – compared to the standards we say we live by – are what demonstrate our character. Good intentions fueled by the Holy Spirit’s work in us, should motivate us to improve our positive consistency in righteous actions over time.

Think of an action being like snapshot that captures the context of what happened, where it was and who was there, and what we did/didn’t do. Say that we take two photos of similar actions from 15 years apart, and put them side by side and compared them. What does it say about who we are if there is no real difference between the two – other than our age? Consistency. But what if we’re doing something detrimental in both of them? Or something virtuous in both?

What if the two photos aren’t alike, even though they’re in the same kind of context, but one has us doing something harmful and the other something helpful? What does that show? Change. But what would it mean if the helpful one is older, and the harmful one is now? How about vice versa?

Two photos 15 years apart can tell you something, but they’re only just two points of documentation. It’d be easier if we had more snapshots, taken over time, and lined up chronologically so we could compare and contrast things over time. Then we move from points to patterns. Maybe then we’d see something like a lot of older photos showing harmful actions, but gradually fewer of those as we get closer to the present. Or maybe we’ll see the same buddies showing up in a lot of the photos. What could that mean? Does the person we’re watching only do certain things when those friends are around? Are they enmeshed so much that they’re negative influences, or are they “soul friends” who’ve journeyed together for years and spurred each other to transformation?

Maybe it’d be even easier in a lot of ways if we had a 24/7/365 video of the people we’re watching, to see how they behave over time. Wouldn’t that aid us in seeing the course of their life, where they came from and where they’re going (despite the mountain of information a life video would mean we’d have to sift through to figure it out)? As an alternative, the larger the series of snapshots we get over time, the more like a video it becomes. Either way – large photo series or life video – we can run it forward from the start to see where the person’s going, or run it backward from a present picture to see where they came from.

So, this is all about a trajectory of transformation. In applying it to a ministry leader’s character, how were they behaving at the outset of their ministry, and how is now different from then? And the biggest question: How do both the before and after pictures compare with biblical requirements for leaders? That, I would argue, is at the core of figuring out how healthy or sick that individual leaders are. And that assessment helps us know whether they are qualified (at least meet the minimum criteria for maturity and for practical skills), unqualified (due to immaturity, but still could grow toward being qualified), or disqualified (due to patterns of behaviors that inflict damage).

And we can use a similar time-lapse photography concept to figure out how safe or toxic an organization is for the people who are part of it. If an organization were like a barn or other building, is the building in the latest picture renovated, or dilapidated? Is it structurally sound, or about to fall down? Similar kinds of analyses could help us see if there are minor problems that can easily be fixed, all the way to structural problems so complex and corrosive that it’s best to condemn and close it so it doesn’t lead to harm.

When I think of churches, ministries, and agencies in this way, I usually do picture them as a building. Do they need repair? Renovation? Dismantling? Demolishing? But when I think of leaders and those they commit to serve, I usually think of injuries and illnesses. Will this take only minor amounts of effort to correct? Or some significant time in recovery and recuperation? Or large amounts of effort and rehabilitation?

Step 3 – Injuries and Illnesses: Slight or Severe? Temporary or Chronic? Superficial or Systemic?

That analogy of how spiritual wounds are similar to physical wounds comes kind of easily. In my middle-school and high school years, I was in Boy Scouts. One of the important things we learned in first aid was a basic triage order for addressing injuries: bleeding, breathing, poison, shock. That’s been modified in some ways during the decades since then. (In fact, I find the different international triage systems in use now to be fascinating!). But the bleeding-breathing-poison-shock line was a useful framework for hikes and campouts, following the principle of dealing fastest with whatever’s the deadliest. (And we lived in rattlesnake country, so yes, snakebite kits were part of our first aid packs.)

It would be so much easier for treatment and recovery if all spiritual wounds and diseases had obvious external signs to tell of their existence and the extent of damage. But they don’t. And so much about the “impact of sin” is abstract, conceptual – it makes it too easy to negate the reality of concrete damage done. Real people fade into virtual statistics and we minimize the severity of our victimizing. We don’t listen to their personal story of how our actions impacted their lives for ill. We don’t spend time to see and hear what we have done. We don’t invest in caring for them and their recovery from the wounds we inflicted. We issue a generic, impersonal apology to assuage our supposedly small guilt, and think that’s sufficient, when in reality that just adds cruel insult to deep injury.

In fact, thinking through the concrete results of sin and evil in terms of injuries (points) and illnesses (processes) makes the people less objectified and gives the actual impact more weight. For instance, we don’t normally think of an apology for sarcastic words as any big deal. Maybe we should. The word sarcasm comes from Greek roots literally meaning to “rip flesh.” Metaphorically, our sharp words cut chasms into someone’s soul. If someone came up and sliced you with a knife, do you think it would be enough for them just to say then, “Ohhhh. I gave you a boo-boo. So sorry! Here’s a band-aidpology …”

Here’s a chart I made to reflect on ways that physical maladies relate with spiritual maladies, and what it would take for remedies. It covers different types of issues (injuries, infections, invasions, toxins, deficiencies) and a spectrum of increasing degrees of damage/healing. There are some gaps in it, and maybe I’ve even missed some whole categories of maladies. Like so many things in life, I’m still working on filling in the gaps … But anyway, here is the chart, followed by some questions to spark reflection and discussion. [Click on the chart to view a larger version.]

Thinking Through Physical and Spiritual Maladies © 2014 Brad Sargent

Thinking Through Physical and Spiritual Maladies © 2014 Brad Sargent

  1. What is your gut response to the idea of there being parallels between physical and spiritual maladies? Does that seem to apply for individuals as well as to for organizations?
  2. What words or phrases would you suggest to capture what you feel are the parallels?
  3. What are your general observations about this chart? Anything missing that you’d add in? Anything you feel is extraneous that you’d leave out?
  4. Which kinds of physical damages have you endured? What do you think could be spiritual abuse parallels to that?
  5. How do you think these categories or elements relate to personal recovery and recuperation from spiritual damages?
  6. What do you see as characteristics of people who do well as “healers”?
  7. Even if we aren’t “healers” to a high level of proficiency, what kinds of things can we be and do and say as friends to those dealing with the results of physical or spiritual damage?
  8. If someone you knew refused treatment for something in the far left column, whether physical or spiritual, how could you help them see their need to move toward healing?
  9. What about if their malady was in the middle column? Would you do things differently to challenge them?
  10. How about if it was in the far right column?
  11. What parallels do you see between physical maladies for individuals, and how they relate to the spiritual condition of institutions?
  12. What aspects of personal healing do or don’t seem to carry over to toxic organizations?

Here are links to the entire series on Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse:

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