Survivor Blogging Trends 2017
Part Two: Survivor Blogs Aren’t the Same as Discernment Blogs
Over the years, I’ve seen blogs that post supposedly “negative” articles about the Church critiqued as being self-authorized, self-centered, and self-congratulating watchdog operations. According to opponents, blogs dealing with abuse are just out to cause a ruckus and tear down the Church as the Bride of Christ.
One of the key problems for critics, though, is this: How many churches, denominations, and ministry networks authorize and protect whistle-blowers who warn leaders and members alike against internal malignancy and toxicity? What ongoing processes do you have to ensure those in roles of influence haven’t gone off the rails and are inflicting damage to Christ’s disciples by their own shepherding overlordship?
If prophetic voices must work from the outside because all internal checks have failed, so be it. Jesus Christ spoke up and acted in defense of those who were weak and harmed by others – and against those who misused their position and power to the detriment of others. How is He a role model to us in ways we should confront corrosion and corruption within the Church?
Part One in this series on Survivor Blogging Trends 2017 summarized five years of previous articles on trends. Part Two looks at two issues I’m seeing as coming into the foreground.
- First, how critics of survivor bloggers seem to conflate them with discernment blogs when they’re not, and some thoughts on sources of conflict they have with survivor blogs.
- Second, things known probably just by those who host survivor blogs and write for them, about the reflection and restraint that goes on behind the scenes.
Survivor Blogs, Discernment Blogs, and Sources of Conflict
“Survivor blogs” are not the same as “discernment blogs.” I’ll be speaking here at the big-picture level, which means there are likely many individual exceptions to the generalizations. But, we’re at a crossroads moment of contentiousness where it seems particularly important to consider categories and patterns that we can compare and contrast.
That said, from what I’ve seen, survivor bloggers seek to provide a redemptive presence that gives victims of abuse an opportunity to share their experiences, be heard, and be validated about what happened to them. They seek to advocate for and protect those who have been harmed, and to activate abuse prevention in organizations so there are fewer victims in the future. While survivor bloggers often address theological issues, it is more from the perspective of identifying inherent tendencies of particular doctrines to end up in harmful practices. This often includes identifying teachers and practitioners of those doctrines, challenging them to see their destructive impact in the lives of real people, and calling out and resisting organizations that promote them.
Meanwhile, discernment or “watchdog” bloggers typically promote a very specific set of doctrines and their applications as “THE (one-and-only) biblical truth.” Their form of orthodoxy is the standard by which all other bloggers, teachers/preachers, and theological systems get judged. There is often an expectation that all “true” Christians should have perfect doctrine. This doesn’t exactly allow for people to become followers of Christ from different backgrounds, or allow for our showing grace to them as they persevere in a life-long trajectory of transformation. Orthodoxy seems to be all-or-nothing, now-or-never.
In short, survivor bloggers defend actual people; discernment bloggers defend abstract perspectives. It seems to me that some critics of writers who call out abuse and abusers online haven’t always gotten the distinctions between these two. In fact, it seems to me that many critics of survivor bloggers are demonstrating the darker side of discernment blogging. They often promote unconditional obedience of laypeople to spiritual authority figures, and also believe women should not be in authority over men, period. This is bound to spark conflict, because authoritarianism and patriarchalism are two frequently cited theological roots of spiritual abuse.
Behind the Scenes with Survivor Bloggers
In the recent eruption of conflict about “freelance bloggers” (especially women), various critics seem adamant that one core problem is lack of submission of said bloggers to formal authorities in the Church. There are many insightful responses to such claims, including how women are typically excluded from authority structures, that the issue should be freedom instead of restrictions, and tracing how Evangelicalism – and its publication of Christianity Today magazine – were themselves established outside of formal authorities in the Church.
I see a key difference in views of gifts, calling, and authorization by the Holy Spirit leading to posting online, versus needing validation by a formal authority. I wonder if authority-promoting critics would consider some of the behind-the-scenes dynamics I’ve personally witnessed during my 10 years of research writing on spiritual abuse. What follows are some details about the settings I’ve worked in, and observations from what I’ve seen happen.
I am in regular contact by email and/or direct messaging with at least a dozen major abuse survivor bloggers. Half of them consistently work with a team, and have for years.
Many of the teams involve both women and men, working as colleagues.
Even if they don’t have a formal team to work with, all of these survivor bloggers periodically seek input from other survivors who know them. So, there is an equivalent of a peer preview/review panel.
We often ask each other for prayer as we prepare potential articles or post them. We also ask for input on what’s there, what may be missing, the timing, etc.
In those teams and panels, I’ve heard specific questions like the following get asked – and the article not get posted until they’re clearly and carefully answered.
- I’m thinking about an article on [fill in subject or situation]. Is this an okay time for me to work on this, or am I too close to the people/issues in it right now?
- Have we done “due diligence” with our research? Are there gaps we need to fill before we post this?
- Should we wait, or is this best timing for this in terms of our readers? Are we ready to help them if this “triggers” them?
- Do we have follow-up resources and links available on these topics? Are there other people or organizations we can refer readers to for personal help?
- How do we introduce and end this article in ways that facilitate constructive dialog on its topics?
- Have survivors been free to tell their own story in their own voice, or have we done too much sharing of it on their behalf?
- With this person’s testimony of reported abuse going public, are they spiritually and emotionally and relationally ready for the consequences of that? Once it gets posted, they need to assume it can never be fully erased. Do they have the support system needed to go public? Do we have the time needed to be available when posting brings up issues for them?
I know of situations where article ideas were quashed because the blogger wasn’t emotionally ready to write it yet.
I know of situations where a survivor’s experiences were not made public – nor details shared with anxious reporters from Christian news agencies that wanted them – for many months, until the person said they were ready and gave the go-ahead.
I know of situations where articles or series have been finished and available to post, but have been held back for months until there was consensus by the team that readers were ready for it or that otherwise the timing was finally right.
So, although survivor blogs are not the same as discernment blogs, there certainly is a lot of spiritual discernment and considered decision-making going on – in addition to analysis of theological systems and leaders’ lives, and what they do to harm God’s people. That doesn’t mean we always get it right. And there are rare times when an article gets pulled after being posted, or corrections and retractions and apologies are added.
But – from my experiences – spiritual abuse research posts are rarely slap-dash put-together just to raise a reaction. Their main goals are the protection, spiritual support, and recovery of survivors; and this requires putting a spotlight on the abusers, tactics, theologies, and/or systems that inflicted damage. And since these goals are the governing principle for what we do, then survivor blogging must be a Spirit-led endeavor to have the hoped-for impact.
NEXT POST: Part 3: Positive Trends and Continuing Challenges in Survivor Blog Communities.