Analyzing Misused Tools and Processes:
What are Key Problems and Their System Impact?
Part 6D. Overview of key problems in misuse of these legal tools and resolution processes; some ways their impact has affected (and disaffected) survivor communities; and some resources on pastoral care, survivor recovery, and building better perspective.
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Back to The Big Picture:
Rejecting Tools, Processes, and Ideologies
that Prioritize Institutions Over Individuals
In wrapping up Part 6, I want to summarize some key issues that have left survivor communities with destructive impact to deal with. We’ll end with an overview of a more constructive process: truth-finding then reconciliation, from the example of Truth and Reconciliation Commission work in post-apartheid South Africa.
This will prepare us to launch into a closer examination of specific organizations that we’ll do in Part 7. There I’ll share a series of questions I’ve developed to guide discernment in evaluating Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) proposals, and Christian agencies that offer them and/or investigation services. There I’ll also link to some specific survivor situations – many that emerged in 2018 – that demonstrate these problems and call forth questions that to guide our discernment.
I want to start with to this question: Why is it even necessary to take a look at these legal tools and conflict resolution methods? Because:
- They come up consistently in abuse survivor recovery and advocacy.
- They have ramifications that can prove harmful to individuals personally and legally, even when they’ve been explained with theological and ministry terminology (for example, “reconciliation” and “restoration” and “submission to authority”).
- They have been used to protect institutions where abuse happened, even when descriptions make it sound like they are pro-survivor. So, there are a number of law firms, consultant agencies, and conciliation ministries that have negative reputations among a range of individuals and streams in Christian abuse survivor communities.
I also wanted to mention assumptions again. I’ve more than hinted at the following, but here it is, overtly declared:
I hereby declare my integration points and therefore my biases. I am for (1) the best interest of survivors, and (2) positive advocacy impact within the wider communities. Bottom line: An independent investigation is in the best interests for recovery by survivors, intervention into toxic systems, and prevention of serial abuse by perpetrators and those who perpetuate it.
So, in being ethically consistent with these parameters, I am against tools, ideologies, and tactics that have the net impact of (1) weighing survivors down mentally, spiritually, physically, ministerially, and/or financially, and (2) ultimately serving to cover up the perpetration of abuse and that let institutions and systems avoid substantive consequences for their roles in perpetuating abuse.
I believe arbitration, conciliation, mediation, and membership covenant contracts, non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements, and lawsuits – as we have seen them typically misapplied in church/ministry settings – fall into the category of destructive ideologies, tools, and tactics.
Regardless of any appearance of “good faith” by an individual or institution involved with abuse, it ultimately is not in the best interests of the victim involved or the common good of the community to get someone to sign away their rights. This includes such rights as to disclose details about an investigation process, its findings, and any settlement; and/or to forgo options to future litigation/lawsuits.
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How Have Misuse of Legal Tools and Resolution
Processes Affected Survivor Communities?
There are three main system realms in which the misuse of legal tools and resolution processes create problems: individuals, ideologies, and institutions. Here are some thoughts about the destructive impact on each of those realms.
INDIVIDUALS: They compound harm to survivors, their personal support networks, and their communities.
They entice survivors with a promise of coming to closure, ending the exasperation, and moving on with their lives. Those who promote these tools make it sound like the process will promote personal recovery and provide justice.
What seems to happen instead is discouragement at how things turn out, regrets at accepting a deal that requires silence, and even a crisis of conscience about not protecting others from suffering abuse from a serial predator/abuser and toxic organization.
IDEOLOGIES: They corrupt theology and promote false authority in churches, ministries, and Christian agencies.
Those who seek to control others use doctrines to assign undue responsibility to others (usually to victims) and deflect accountability from themselves. They may hide it under the guise of being “transformed” by obedience to God’s Word, but what is actually going on is being conformed by obeisance to their own word. These bully leaders and their “bouncers” can continue in their roles of power by getting others to conform to what they decide everyone must say, do, and be. At the farthest extreme, this ends up being “totalist control” – in other words, a cult.
The following seven demands are among the most common offensive and defensive tactics that rely on doctrines to justify attempts to make survivors conform.
1. Do not go against the authorities God put in your life. They demand absolute, unconditional submission to elders by everyone else. [Hebrews 13.] But what if they have disqualified themselves from being a role model of Christward transformation? What if they are leading you into sin and evil?
2. Shut up. They label attempts by victims to go public about wrongdoers as “bitterness,” “gossip,” and “maligning.” But if victims go silent, how can they warn people to protect themselves and others against those who are serial abusers?
3. Don’t take believers to court. They decry the “world system” as evil, and use this or other justifications as an excuse to avoid submission to its systems. Sometimes they even includes the laws of the land (such as refusing the mandatory reporting of known/suspected child abuse). [1 Corinthians 6.] But his passage talks about how Christians should be able to take care of TRIVIAL matters in house. Is spiritual abuse of authority “trivial”? Is clergy sexual misconduct “trivial”? How about harassment, or misappropriation of funds by leaders, or covering up for leaders who have severely failed morally and ethically?
4. God’s Word can fix every problem. They promote the idea that trauma can be solved just by a series of Bible verses (mis)labeled as “biblical counseling.” But is this kind of simplistic fix-it mentality really conducive to transformation, or is it just retraumatization?
5. Don’t talk to me about this until you’ve confronted the person you’re accusing. They obligate abuse survivors to use a supposed Matthew 18 process for confronting public figures or other people in power. [Matthew 18.] But what if there is an obvious power differential between victim and accused abuser? What if the abuser already has a track record of manipulating the victim? How is this supposed to get to the truth? And is that passage really supposed to apply to situations of serious sin, including those that may even be crimes?
6. Stop – you’re hurting the church. They declare that going public with accusations of abuse harms the reputation of both the Church and Christ. But isn’t the reputation of the Church and Christ sullied by those who sin and refuse to deal with consequences, instead of by those who expose the sins? Isn’t transparency a biblical virtue?
7. Where are your witnesses? They require that victims have two or three witnesses to what happened, or else it simply didn’t happen. This especially applies when accusing an elder. [Deuteronomy 19:15; 1 Timothy 5:19. (But note, they usually leave off 1 Timothy 5:20 when giving the reference.)] But what is a victim to do when the sin and crime occurred in a one-to-one setting with no one else around?
Certainly, each of the above points needs a separate article to explore how they use misinterpretations and misapplications of Scriptures. Even without an in-depth study, though, their net negative impact is undisputed in survivor communities:
Faulty theology and false authority displace onto survivors tasks that should never be theirs, and impose a fake sense of guilt, shame, and fear. That is why the main verbs in the points above have the tone of authoritarianism: demand, label, decry, promote, obligate, declare, require …
Talk with an abuse survivor who tried to “do the right thing” within a church or ministry setting. Check out the testimonies of their experiences on survivor blogs. You’ll soon see how prominent these patterns are in using such burden-shifting, survivor-silencing tactics.
INSTITUTIONS: They corrode the trustworthiness of the Church at large, and the reputations of Christians in general.
Reputations are built on how trustworthy an individual or institution proves itself to be, or not to be. In the Church, newly emerging scandals get spotlighted regularly, and old, unresolved ones keep resurfacing. It doesn’t take much sampling of news reports to know that corrosive situations involving power, money, and sex crop up in every theological stream within the Church, every organizational form of authority structure from congregational to hierarchical, and in both centralized and decentralized networks of connection.
It seems that no wing of the Church remains untouched; all have their malignant ministers and toxic agencies to contend with. Where is the transparency? Why are whistleblowers silenced?
Why are there so often bad ethics swirling underneath what appear to be good optics?
We cannot expect people to come to trust in Jesus Christ, if His representatives prove themselves untrustworthy – deflecting consequences of their own sins and protecting the evil of others.
Survivors who will not be silenced are not ultimately who deplete the reputation of Christ and His Church, but the takers and traumatizers who benefit themselves. They may give off an appearance of good, while siphoning the life off of God’s people and promoting false reconciliation.
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Some Resources on Pastoral Care,
Survivor Recovery, and Perspective-Building
I heard Rev. Gricel Medina share at The Courage Conference 2018, though I had been following her before that on Twitter. For her insightful pastoral perspective on misuse of doctrines and protection of abusers, see her article from December 2018, “Hundreds of Abuse Allegations in Baptist Churches: What Now?” Her analysis of doctrinal deflections and her practical advice for healing ministry comes out of what she’s witnessed of how victims are traumatized, and she offers four points for positive actions to counter what we all too often see happening.
For Such A Time As This Rally involves “Christians standing for change in the Church’s treatment of women and all abuse survivors.” In advance of the June 2018 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, they developed a Ministry Leader Abuse Resource Page. It overviews types of abuse (physical, emotional/verbal, spousal sexual abuse, financial), and gives brief sections of “best practices,” recommended readings, and phone/internet resources.
Wade Mullen has done invaluable research writing on institutional image repair and how it affects survivors. He notes that, “In 2018 I started using Twitter threads to describe the tactics used by abusive people and organizations to manage threats to their image. I believe it is important for us to discern deception if we hope to identify and reveal truth. Here’s a thread of 10 threads from 2018.” He shares the sources of his perspective in the last two tweets in the thread:
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Next: Principles and examples of “restorative justice” as a better alternative to alternative dispute resolution.