A Cultural Geography of Survivor Communities – Part 2: Confirmation Bias Much?

2 – Confirmation Bias Much?

2 – Confirmation Bias Much? When it comes to concepts about “systemic abuse,” what’s on our radar? How did those ideas and indicators get there? If we don’t detail our presuppositions when describing a situation we see as “abusive,” does that invalidate our conclusions? Are we only allowed to critique public figures or situation if we personally know them?

What’s on our discernment radar about abuse, and conflicts we have with other advocates over concepts, become especially relevant in the current #MeToo environment. There, individual and institutional abuse is being called out – but Christian figures are often behind the curve in understanding what this social movement means for the Church and survivors.

This post summarizes the common ground of #MeToo as a movement, and suggests basic reasons for conflicts among factions when it comes to the Christian version of it. It also include a series of questions that help reveal what’s on our radar about systemic abuse/violence, and where we may have problem-causing gaps.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Confirmation Bias and Its Basis

When it comes to various kinds of abusive individuals, institutions, and ideologies – what is on our radar?

Everyone has an imperfect paradigm for modeling reality. A pair of metaphors I’ve used over the years for this is “spiritual osteoporosis” for when our paradigm feels intact, but actually is full of holes where it should be fully solid and the gaps can cause collapse – and “spiritual bone spurs” for when there is an excessive amount of substance where it shouldn’t be, and it can tear through muscles and tendons that should be making us strong and flexible. So, if we care about having a holistic and comprehensive paradigm that better fits reality, we need to fill in the gaps and file off the excesses.

One type of paradigm problem that comes up in survivor communities is confirmation bias, supposedly seeing problems that aren’t really there. This kind of accusation has been used in attempts to silence survivors, advocates, and activists – suggesting that they’re making things up. However, the same issue can exist in reverse about accusers, of failure to see problems that actually do exist.

What some may deem as confirmation bias may in fact just be application of larger patterns about abuse, derived from examining a series of situations. I would rather have indicators that are evidence-based guiding my radar about abuse, than not. A recent experience illustrates why.

The whole issue of confirmation bias arose in a big way during a social media exchange in which I shared my analysis of a situation I interpret as spiritually abusive. I based what I said on having developed case studies about abuse. Plus, I personally witnessed a particular pastor, church, and community that showed disturbingly parallel destructive impact to the one I commented about. Both included spiritual abuse of power by “Shepherding-style” authoritarian leaders who used forms of ideological control over their congregation. They also sought to impose the church’s presence and power in the surrounding community to a point where they made Christianity a scandal – for all the wrong reasons. Many townspeople came to despise this church and speak against it for all its uncivil attempts to exert control in the town.

Perhaps my comment series appeared to be just a rant because I wrote it so quickly. Anyway, another commenter responded with accusations and questions about my assumptions. Did I myself go to this church/ministry? Did I live in that area? Did I know any of the people who go there? And I got the distinct impression that he considered anyone’s observations and analysis invalid unless they were an organic part of the organization or otherwise had direct experiences with it.

He used the same approaches with other commenters who had negative experiences with and/or evaluations of this church. These can be important and legitimate questions. However, he wouldn’t directly reveal what is on his own radar about abuse – if anything. At least, not at first. But by the end of the exchanges, I wondered if this other commenter had ever considered indicators of what makes for a healthy versus toxic system – whether a church, ministry, business, etc. He’d had apparently only positive experiences with some individuals and ministries of the church, so it must be impossible that it really was as bad as I (and other commenters) suggested.

But many survivors of abuse know that they’ve been destroyed emotionally by the very same person whom some people have only positive experiences with. So, the latter not only doubt the former, they often target them as well for gossip, bitterness, making up accusations, etc.

Here’s the thing: We all have imperfect paradigms – perhaps including a degree of confirmation bias about systemic abuse and historic oppression – because we all have limited experiences and exposure to relevant situations. One of the best ways to lower the bias is to expand the basis. In other words, connect with others, listen and learn from their accounts of what’s happened, and work to broaden the basis of our discernment radar.

What about when a social movement like #MeToo puts abuse in the spotlight, and we have a lot of problems spots in our paradigm to discern when abuse has happened?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Expanding Our Paradigm Base About Abuse

Through Participating in the #MeToo Movement

Who “owns” a movement?

What is the common ground for “participating” in a movement?

How does that differ from expectations insiders have for those who act like they’re “leading” in it?

The informal rules for participating in a movement aren’t the same for leading or linking in a formal collaboration. That’s why I talked in Part 1A about subcultures plus mainstream – those who have the original, concentrated value set and those with a derivative, diluted value set.

We cannot control who is in a social movement (or claims to be) but we can challenge when their actions don’t fit with the movement’s core values – and especially if they are presenting themselves as public figures in the movement: role models, leaders, teachers, publishers, event organizers, etc.

But, what exactly seems to be the core of the Christian #MeToo movement? At this point, probably the most apt description of what’s happening is that it’s still sorting itself out. It seems the overall connections are more informal, as with a collective, rather than formal, as with collaborations, coalitions, or partnerships. (I’ll deal more with the collective’s layers and players in Part 8.)

Meanwhile, the contours of its cultural map are clear enough from the core values of #MeToo in the past year, plus what’s been coming out of Christian survivor communities for many years. Here are two angles on that, from lists I’ve written in the past week, plus a set of questions I developed two years ago.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Being Taken Seriously as Survivor Advocates.

Initial Thoughts: Who’s In, Who’s Out, Who’s Suspect, and Why

I posted this Twitter thread on December 10, 2018, a few days into my series on “A Cultural Geography of [Christian] Survivor Communities.”

This week, I’ll be posting articles in my series on Christian survivor communities in the #MeToo movement. Here are few observations about who’s in, who’s out, who’s suspect, and why or why not when it comes to those who want to be taken seriously as survivor advocates.

1. Christian survivor communities value expertise. Practitioner advocates and activists who contribute media content and create resources based on their observations and experiences, are valued more than theoreticians without a track record who state what supposedly “should” be.

2. Listen to longer-established abuse survivor advocates/activists and you’ll hear their heart to demonstrate transparency, credibility, and sustainability. Interested parties who don’t yet understand or demonstrate those qualities should invest in asking, listening, learning.

3. Credible advocates willingly critique their own home-base paradigm, leaders/role models, institutions, and systems. Those who passively ignore or openly refuse to look at what’s happening in their own church, denomination, or organization can expect to be considered poseurs.

4. Certain reportedly malignant public figures and toxic institutions have become litmus tests of trustworthiness. Unresolved, unrenounced complicity with them is seen as disintegrity that tends to disqualify you from being taken seriously about survivor recovery and advocacy.

5. Expect vigorous push-back from these communities if you block survivors, advocates, and/or activists on social media – especially when they have credible evidence to question a litmus test person or situation in your realm of influence, or challenge your reported complicity.

These are some of the planks in my analysis of the common-ground paradigm that shows up in online Christian survivor communities. There are more such guidelines, but these especially help explain points of conflict about who gets listened to, or not, as thought leaders and why.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Five Absolute Minimum Actions to Show “Good Faith” Efforts

on Behalf of Abuse/Violence Victims, Advocates, and Activists

This list comes from a Twitter thread of December 12, 2018. What do survivor communities look for in those who claim to be allies? Credibility. But what does that mean and why are some people still suspect? Look at this list of five positive actions that demonstrate transparency, accountability, and integrity – and their polar opposites. Consider individuals, institutions, and ideologies with a public presence/platform: Why do they either have credibility or not with survivors?

While “people of peace” want to do good by being hospitable and taking others at face value, they are also justice-oriented and want to prevent harm. Survivor community members need to figure out realistic contours of credibility that promote and protect the common good. This helps us go deeper into what constitutes legitimate boundaries and gates for the Christian #MeToo movement: who’s in, who’s out, who’s suspect, and why.

Credibility of claims that we “do good plus do no harm” is established through consistently demonstrating a combination of:

Transparency – we are not hiding the truth.

Accountability – we take responsibility for our own/our organization’s actions.

Integrity – we follow through on what we say we will do.

If we want to have credibility with survivor communities, there are five essential actions their members are looking for from us as individuals and as institutions, and from our underlying ideologies.

  1. Protect the vulnerable – not exploit them.
  2. Support abuse/violence victims, advocates, and activists – not passively ignore them or actively silence them.
  3. Obey the laws of the land – not usurp civil/legal authority in the name of your theology.
  4. Arrange for a timely independent investigation into accusations against personnel or complaints of systemic problems – not equivocate, cover up, or hide behind “investigations” designed to limit liability.
  5. Where there has been past failure, make and report good faith efforts now to remediate (repair) the damages done, and to develop a safer and sustainable future.

You will have no-to-low credibility within survivor communities if you fail to live up to actions #1 (protect the vulnerable), #2 (support victims, advocates, activists), #3 (obey the laws of the land), and/or #4 (conduct timely and independent investigations into accusations).

If you engage in the necessary remediation and development work that #5 requires, it will still take time for survivor communities to observe your ongoing efforts and reevaluate your level of credibility with them. Please be patient and remain diligent!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Who or What Can Help Us Expand Our Outlook?

And Where Can We Share Our Experiences and Questions?

Where can we go, if we’re seeking to broaden the basis for our paradigm to understand systemic abuse and historic oppression better? I suggest there are at least these six sources for connecting and learning:

  1. In-Person Sharing
  2. Survivor Blogs
  3. Social Media Platforms and Campaigns
  4. Conventional Media/News
  5. Conferences and Other Gatherings
  6. Investigators – Independent and Otherwise

I’ll spend much of the remainder of this series detailing the possibilities and limitations of each, and wrap up the series with some analysis of what the current overall collective of the Christian #MeToo movement looks like.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *


Evaluating Factors that Impact Systemic Abuse

Questions are an essential part of developing qualitative indicators that help us assess our perspectives and practices, and their real-world impact. I developed this set of questions to help assess how systemic abuse does and doesn’t into our current paradigms.

Qualified/Healthy Leaders and Public Representatives for Our Organization

How do responsible role-models act?

What are their “must have” character qualities and behavior patterns?

How do irresponsible role-models act?

What are their “can’t have” character qualities and behavior patterns?

What processes does our organization have in place (or need to establish and practice) for evaluating the qualifications of those who lead and represent us?

Trustworthy/Healthy Organizational Systems

What do I need to know about an organization before I join it—before it may be too late and I put myself at risk of violating my conscience, criminal or civil action, or professional censure?

What does a toxic organization look like in each of the seven system parts? And then the same question, but with a healthy organization?

  1. People.
  2. Principles (beliefs).
  3. Practices (values and actions).
  4. Processes.
  5. Products (tangible items or intangible goals).
  6. Partnerships.
  7. Impacts (personal, social, organizational).

What are the general “must have” and “can’t have” patterns when it comes to:

  • Moral and ethical behavior of all participants.
  • Legal requirements (criminal/civil) all participants must uphold.
  • Regulatory agency requirements we must uphold (e.g., permits, licenses, permits, non-profit regulations).
  • Professional association standards and requirements.

What are the specific “must have” and “can’t have” patterns our type of organization need to deal with when it comes to:

  • Moral and ethical behavior of all participants.
  • Legal requirements (criminal/civil) all participants must uphold.
  • Regulatory agency requirements we must uphold (e.g., permits, licenses, permits, non-profit regulations).
  • Professional association standards and requirements.

“Grooming Grid”

What general features and specific tactics of an individual or institution draw people in?

What general features and specific tactics of an individual or institution lock people in so they’re reluctant to leave?

What kinds of attitudes and actions constitute “positive” conditioning?

What kinds of attitudes and actions constitute “negative” conditioning?

What happens to children raised in a toxic environment of “social control,” since they don’t usually have a choice to leave the group until they’re adults? What unique ways does the social conditioning affect them?

Freedom versus Suppression

What do personal and social freedom look like?

What do personal and social bondage-servitude-suppression look like?

What are typical dynamics for someone inside a “high-demand system”?

What issues does someone usually face when they leave a high-demand social system they’ve been in short term? Long term, as an adult? Long term, starting as a child?

Recovery, Advocacy, Activism

How does abuse tend to affect victims in their own personhood? In relationships with other people? In relation to other institutions?

When people are unwilling to hear what happened to you, have you (or survivors you know) tended to “go shrill,” or “go silent”? Why do you think that is? What do you see as different dynamics between those responses?

What are ways that family members, friends, and colleagues can help abuse survivors in a role of support/advocacy?

What are ways other people talk or act that tend to be more destructive and demoralizing for the survivor of abuse?

What are ways that we can challenge individuals and institutions that demonstrate themselves to engage in practices that inflict harm on people?

How do we discern where we best fit in potential roles of advocacy and/or activism? What indicators can we use for clues? What process gives us better opportunity to figure out where we fit?

Individual and Institutional Responsibility/Accountability

What are ways to deal fairly with individuals who prove UNqualified at this time for role of public influence? What about with those who prove DISqualified—perhaps permanently? How should the procedures differ?

How should we deal with an organization that is involved with harming people?

What would a conscientious process of rehabilitation for an individual involve?

What would a conscientious process of remediation for an institution involve?

Where do repentance, remorse, restitution, and reparations fit with these processes—or not?

Are there issues I/we need to resolve in order to have a clear record?

If so, what do I/we need to do, and who can evaluate my/our progress in that process without partiality?


What are our ground rules for keeping teams and project workgroups healthy?

How is our group/organization doing in fulfilling those?

What are our policies about whistleblowers?

What procedures do we have in place for dealing with someone reported as creating a “hostile work environment”? How well have they worked?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *