Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse – Part 3C – Step 4 – Concepts, Questions, and Continuums for Building a Comprehensive “Remediation Plan”

Part 3C Concepts, Questions, and Continuums for Building a Comprehensive “Remediation Plan” – Step 4

Step 4. Focusing in on “Repentance”

So, here we are. Most of what I think are key elements are in place for us to think through multiple levels for leaders who need healing, and systems that need repairing. There are just a few more preliminaries about repentance, humility, and being conciliatory.

Humility for Perpetrators and Enablers

For transformation processes to work, those who have demonstrated abusive practices need to embrace genuine humility. This is the opposite of pride. It is being:

  • pliable instead of rigid,
  • amenable instead of arrogant,
  • receptive instead of dictating.

In short, it’s the opposite of control.

If leaders who’ve demonstrated their toxicity refuse to listen, if they avoid challengers, if they make excuses for bad behavior, etc., those are indicators of entrenched pride. And the stronger the pride, likely the longer the process of coming to terms with it and the more they extend their time frame for rehabilitation – that is, if it is to be successful at all. Humbled leaders may possibly be returned to a role of role-modeling Christlike character. (Note my use of the passive voice there – be returned – which means once-toxic leaders are not the ones in control of the restoration process.)

This is a big deal. Every abusive leader I’ve encountered in the last 40 years absolutely hates to be seen as weak, not in control, wrong, imperfect. And, given that they’ve found their way into positions of authority where they typically can control other people, they rarely seem to end up positions where they are the least bit vulnerable. And when, by chance or by external situations beyond their control, they end up in a position of disadvantage, they know who and how to manipulate their way out of the problem and back into control.

So, humility is a tough character commodity for them to fake for very long. It’s against their personality and what’s become their public persona. Sooner or later, when pushed beyond their limits, they typically do something that irrevocably demonstrates to anyone listening, or watching, or researching, that they are bullies by nature.

  • They make a misstep that’s permanently captured on social media – tell a lie, berate someone, reveal confidential information.
  • They verbally intimidate someone when they don’t realize others are near enough to overhear their words and the cruelty in their tone of voice.
  • They hand-write and sign an angry letter that accidentally happens to contain a key piece of evidence proving they have lied.
  • They keep doing their same angry, competitive, controlling actions – and issuing remorseful sounding apologies – until one day, those around them can no longer take the abuse of them and of their grace, and they remove the bully from overseeing them.
  • They leave bills and/or loans to them unpaid, which leaves a paper trail that follows them even when they exit that organization.
  • They mistreat someone just barely beyond their repeat victim’s usual tolerance for abuse, and it creates a domino backlash effect when people find out about it.
  • They get reported to authorities by a whistleblower, and that one key action starts unraveling the entire façade of perfection they’ve manufactured.

Those are not hypothetical examples. Each is precisely what I have actually observed happening in one or more incidents. (I was not personally the recipient of the abuse in some of these cases, but I was in the situation and personally knew who the victimizers, enablers, and victims were.) Eventually, the light of truth shines on the lies of darkness that bullies perpetrate and their enablers perpetuate. They cannot hold everything together under their control forever – because, ultimately, there is One who holds all things under His control.

The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed. (1 Timothy 5:24-25, NASB)

This reality gives me hope.

So, as I see it, real “repentance” by abusers and their enablers must include indicators of humility – repeatedly shown over time. Such as:

  • A softening heart with a glimmer of compassion and a stronger conscience about their wrongdoing.
  • A change of direction and a willingness to be overseen in a change process.
  • A listening ear and following through on requirements placed upon them.

The longer these victimizers have been in control of others, the more practiced their manipulative arts, the longer it will take to demolish the strongholds in their life and recuperate. They cannot navigate or complete a transformation process alone. Their self-deceit will sink them. They need help, they need helpers who will show grace and mercy, but never to the point of sacrificing truth or justice. They need conciliators.

Being Conciliatory for Survivors and Advocates

So, what about the rest of us? What is the core character quality for us as abuse survivors and/or healing agents and justice advocates? What do we need to embrace and embody so that we can be constructive partners in the transformation of others? How can we serve to help rebuild a strong organizational structure – if it is not derelict to the point where that is deemed impossible? I believe our part is to be conciliatory.

I see a conciliatory attitude as:

  • welcoming others while not excusing their sins,
  • overcoming relational obstacles and defense mechanisms,
  • promoting healing for both abusers and their victims.

It involves tenacity in

  • persevering with the saints as they undergo challenges and changes,
  • seeking justice even when perpetrators of abuse refuse to take responsibility,
  • refusing to amplify antagonisms on what divides people. It is the human glue that helps bring about reconciliation.

I’d suggest a role model of conciliatory spirit is found in the father in the account of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The father remained committed to both of his boys, the one who ran off into licentious behavior, and the one who stayed home and was stuck in legalistic self-requirements. The father showed himself to be watching and waiting for his departed and errant son, while also present and available for his home-bound and obedient son – both of whom had gone astray in their own ways.

So, being conciliatory and facilitating reconciliation involves hospitality and welcoming, winning over with grace and good will and friendliness instead of hostility. It seeks to help those who at odds in life (whether with themselves and/or others) to overcome difficulties and differences, and bring unity. It seeks to restore and reconsecrate that which has become degraded. The very essence here is that we want the best for the other person and for the community, and we risk the cost to ourselves to help that come about.

However, in the following situations with four layers of taking responsibility, there are other important requirements for doing things that don’t exactly look conciliatory – such as confronting leaders on their points and patterns of sin, and overseeing toxic leaders in their transformation process because they’ve proven not to oversee themselves well. But these are all meant in the larger picture of things to bring about what’s in the best interests of the church and community. (To reflect on the spirit behind this, see Isaiah 58 about those who seek justice.)

Whether dealing with individuals or organizations, their transformational movement needs help from those whom Jesus called “people of peace.” From my observations through the years, I’ve concluded that hospitality and justice are two core aspects of balance that they exude. This means they stand against showing partiality to those with wealth or status, and that they also stand for protection and justice on behalf of the stranger and the marginalized.

I’m making a big deal out of being conciliatory, because it will be a major task in working out your own theology of redemptive relationships and restorative justice in a system that’s gotten sick. For each of the four layers requiring transformation, think about how you could serve as a person of peace, a welcomer, an advocate for the sanctification process.

IF YOU WANT MORE … For more on the personal side of people of peace, see the post on My Dad as a “Person of Peace.” To see what this looks like at the organizational and societal level, review the section on “What Does It Take for Remediation Actions to Work? in Part 3A of this series, and then watch Invictus. This movie shares the story of Nelson Mandela in the early years of his presidency. His legacy as both a survivor and an advocate provides a most stunning example of a conciliatory spirit without a spirit of control, as he sought to spearhead the repair of a nation damaged by apartheid.

There is a scene early on in the movie where President Mandela challenges the Sports Committee of the African National Congress to reverse their vengeful plans of changing the team name and jersey colors of the Springboks rugby team – one of the most beloved symbols of white South Africans, but one that, to black South Africans, had come to represent the worst elements of whites’ privileges and prejudices. Mandela’s speech to his fellow black South Africans captures the essence of the conciliatory role, as he challenges black South Africans to show “compassion, restraint, and generosity” – three qualities that were not shown to them by white South Africans.

How extensively do we embody those three qualities? Are we open to having our capacity for them stretched? How can that happen?

Review and Preview

Okay, let’s move toward integrating this process by going through a quick review, and from there to an overview of discerning and deciding what to do about abusers, survivors, and the systems that are all bound together. (Note: Steps 4 and 5 really won’t make as much sense if you haven’t worked through the concepts in Steps 1, 2, and 3 first.)

Step 1 pointed out how the entire process here is about repentance – personal and organizational transformation into great alignment with God’s mandates. I used remediation to try to get people to stop long enough to figure out what that word means and why it’s important, since repentance is a theological code word that doesn’t necessarily mean any more anything close to what the Scriptures say it means.

Step 2 set up the ideas: (1) of using a series of points (“snapshots”) to figure out patterns, and (2) that a cluster or series of points helps us identify a trajectory of transformation toward greater Christlikeness already in progress, or can help us establish one.

The chart in Step 3 was designed to spark our thinking about degrees of damage that happen in different kinds of physical maladies. That analogy bridges us from the physical to considering the spiritual parallels in actions of abuse and the damages they inflict.

Step 4 looked at constructive responses of humility and being conciliatory, and how they are needed to establish a system of grace for both victimizers and survivors.

So now we get to Step 5, actually considering how to respond to “malignant ministers” and their toxic systems. In this Step, we’ll consider as persons of interest those who are undeniably spiritually abusive leaders who hold a significant level of control in a definitely toxic church or non-profit. So, the question is not whether malady and damage are present, but to what degree and how stark our actions should be in dealing with them.

Keeping those “persons of interest” in mind, there are four specific layers for leaders in a system where both need “healing” – whether the need is only slight, very substantial, or in between:

  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 is toxic can be repaired, or should not even survive.

For each layer, I will suggest a four-segment continuum that runs from relatively healthy/intact to relatively unhealthy/deteriorated, and then describe the degree of damage and recovery in each segment. And now, on to those four layers …

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