Commenders Who Prop Up and Perpetuate an Authoritarian System

SOME POINTS OF BACKGROUND/DISCLOSURE: I have been a student of political sociology, dynamics of dissent and social change, and organizational development since the mid-1970s. Since January of 2009, I have been writing a book for non-profits about dealing with leadership and organizational systems where abuse of power is involved. I had already been tracking many potentially relevant situations in the larger evangelical community for a long time prior to that, including goings on around Emergent Village and many other “streams” that came out of the “emerging ministry movement” of the mid-1990s to early 2000s.

On June 8, 2014, I published a blog post entitled, Thoughts on Redemption in the Wake of Abuse: Agents of Damage versus Agents of Healing. (The post below will make more sense if you read the Agents of Damage/Healing post.) There is a section in that post where I introduced an original framework I developed over the past five years on “10 Pairs of Roles in Systems of Damage versus Healing.” This is the same set of 10 roles that I’ve been using to talk about a “Pyramid of Responsibility” and what level of direct culpability or indirect complicity people have in toxic systems.

What follows here is an until-now-unpublished companion piece on “Commenders” that I produced around that same time as I published the Agents of Damage/Healing piece (June 2014). I present it here **without any editorial changes** except that I have removed the Fotolia images that I planned to use. I note that in part because I used the term “theological thugs,” which also appears in this important post on David Hayward’s Naked Pastor blog where I am simultaneously publishing this post as a comment. David Hayward’s post started out being about Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What came first, the thug or the theology? However, it turned into a significant thread about issues with people related with Emergent Village.

I didn’t write about Commenders with this current Emergent Village situation in mind, but because I have generally been seeing an increased level of push-back against Commenders from the spiritual abuse survivor community over the past five years. (For instance, see this post on Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month: Emerging Issues, 2012 – Issue #4 is Expanding the concept of accountability to “system partners” that enable abusive behavior by celebrity Christians.) I suspect we will see much more such push-back to come …

Anyway, maybe this material will help readers in expanding their context (or at least in understanding my opinion) on why the calling out there of those who may be considered Commenders could help bring light and resolution to questions about Emergent Village system toxicity. Many of the questions on the Naked Pastor thread now were raised in blogs at least in December 2009 through early 2010. Understandably, the series of comments there has brought out a lot of heat along with light. However, for what it’s worth, please consider that because of these questions/comments being deleted, deflected, or otherwise unanswered in 2009-2010, the heat now perhaps could’ve been prevented by open responses then. But instead, apparently both behind-the-scenes and on-the-blogs attempts to resolve issues were blocked. So now, it is what it is.

Okay, and now, here this is. Commenders … and see this comment from April 2014 for more about what I mean on the term “interlocking directory.”

Commenders Who Prop Up and Perpetuate an Authoritarian System:

Focusing in on “Commenders” and “Defenders”

Within the Perpetrator/Perpetuator system is a super group – COMMENDERS. (They are the counterfeit opposite of DEFENDERS in the Survivor/Supporter system.) Commender members in this special category invest their own resources and reputation to promote the Dictators and to demote, defuse, deter any who would challenge the presumed rights and reputation of their Dictator colleagues.

Many Commenders have positions in their own agencies or businesses that are part of an interlocking directory (i.e., professional network) with that of the Dictators. So, they are able to offer opportunities (like speaking engagements, publishing contracts, event participation) with positive payoffs in terms of exposure, publicity, and finances. This means that, in defending the Dictators, they are also banking their own influence as loyalists to elevate the entire network of individual and organizations in this negative support system, and not just the Dictators.

They also shield Dictators from scrutiny, negative publicity, and any other form of challenge. They use every other tactic in the Perpetrator-Perpetuator system to reinforce what the Dictators deem as “right” and extinguish all other thoughts, speech, actions, and identities as “wrong.” They also enable a “false positive” profile of the Dictators’ system by lauding and applauding them/it publicly and avoiding the identification or acknowledgement of anything wrong.

However, they are not pawns in this. Commenders should know better because of their own position of responsibility and authority. But for whatever combination of personal and/or professional reasons, they continue to promote and protect those who perpetrate evil. They twist the truth and act like “theological thugs.”

So, when the truth about the Dictators comes out, shouldn’t their Commenders deserve the same fate as their Dictator friends? After all, they helped perpetuate the Dictators’ reigns. But as the prophet Isaiah states in the Bible:

Doom to those who call evil good and good evil,

who present darkness as light and light as darkness,

who make bitterness sweet and sweetness bitter.

(Isaiah 5:20, Common English Bible)

The Bible also states:

The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever. (1 Timothy 5:24-25, New International Version)

The Dutch philosopher-theologian Erasmus said, “He who allows oppression shares the crime.” So – if/when the Dictators’ deeds become evident that they have engaged in evil and inflicted harm on others – what constitutes appropriate consequences for their special Commenders? What options should be considered, based on the types and degrees of support they gave, and the level of damage that resulted among the victims of their Dictator friends/colleagues?

  • Public exposure documenting their participation in corruption, and calls for censure?
  • Disqualification from public leadership and removal from their position?
  • Calls for a transparent, public process of accountability through apologizing and restitution?
  • Dissolution and dissembling of their organization?

Whether these Commenders have supported their Dictator friends through their own blind spots or through blind loyalty, they have given us ample reason to question their critical thinking, discernment, and decision-making skills. They have not proven themselves trustworthy.