A Cultural Geography of Survivor Communities – Part 7B3: Researching Key Concerns About Major Christian Investigation/Resolution Agencies

 

PART 7B3

Researching Key Concerns About

Major Christian Investigation/Resolution Agencies.

As I near completion of this series, I want to share some things about why I began it in the first place. Two main observations were driving it.

First, I noticed that some individuals within the wider Christian #MeToo circles had significant issues with MinistrySafe – a Christian investigation/conciliation agency run by lawyers.

Second, it was clear from the range of responses/opinions about MinistrySafe that there were multiple subgroups or layers within this Christian wing of the #MeToo movement, beyond just different denominational ties.

So, I wanted to provide some observations about this, and offer links for those who want to research more on their own.

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1. Introducing the Issues

The primary issue is not reconciliation or peacemaking, it is repentance. A peacemaking process, while helpful for personal and relational reconciliation, is not the approach to address failed governance, biblical disqualification, and a toxic leadership environment.

~ From “A Letter from GCC’s [Great Commission Collective] Board of Directors,” posted January 17, 2019, by Julie Roys on Facebook.

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As I near completion of this series, I want to share some things about why I began it in the first place. Two main observations were driving it.

First, I noticed that some individuals within the wider Christian #MeToo circles had significant issues with MinistrySafe – a Christian investigation/conciliation agency run by lawyers.

Why were some survivors and advocates sanctioning everything associated with MinistrySafe – its investigation services, its trainings, its print materials: everything?

Similar “embargoes” had happened with other such investigator/conciliator agencies, such as Ambassadors of Reconciliation, which had been hired by Sovereign Grace ministries and come up with (not surprisingly, to abuse survivors/advocates) a positive report that exonerated the denomination. Similar agencies also had bad reputations with victims and their support networks, so something important was at the core of these opinions, and I needed to find out what it is.

I started taking notes on all of this in about May of 2018, and have been watching since then for clues about what’s going on and why.

Second, it was clear from responses/opinions about MinistrySafe that there were multiple subgroups or layers within this Christian wing of the #MeToo movement, beyond just different denominational ties.

What are the critical features that differentiate streams within Christian #MeToo?

What does that mean for these distinct subgroups as suggestions come up to find/forge common ground for the common good?

So, here we are – 10 months later from when I started taking notes on Christian investigator/conciliator agencies, and it’s time to move forward and complete that initial research cycle.

Here’s the plan:

In this post I will supply some general observations and analysis from what I’ve gleaned in looking at multiple investigator/conciliator agencies. Then I will list sources on specific agencies, for those who want to do their own research.

I will not be doing extensive analysis of the problems with MinistrySafe in particular – only overview why it appears to have become a litmus-test situation for distinguishing where someone’s or some group’s view places them within the overall values of Christian #MeToo.

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2. Christian #MeToo and MinistrySafe

The “Me Too” movement was begun in 2006 by Tarana Burke, as documented on its website, and in this New York Times article: The Woman Who Created #MeToo Long Before Hashtags, by Sandra E. Garcia (October 20, 2017). It was picked up in September 2017 as the #MeToo hashtag campaign on social media, in the wake of a series of reports and revelations by survivors of sexual and power abuse by Harvey Weinstein and others.

Differences among Christian abuse survivors/advocates started manifesting even before the #MeToo hashtag campaign got going in late 2017. The way I’ve been analyzing it, there four main clusters of survivors/advocates emerged in 2018 (even though their roots go back earlier):

Long-time activists, often with organizations like SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality). Their theological backgrounds vary. For instance, SNAP started out as Catholic-oriented, but has expanded to other theological streams. Their group is probably known more for their survivor advocacy and activism than for any one specific theology.

The Courage Conference, which began its annual event for survivors, advocates, and activists in 2016. Hallmarks include its racial and generational diversity; and those associated with it or attending the conference represent a fairly broad range of theological perspectives, including conservative, moderate, and progressive.

#ChurchToo. The #ChurchToo hashtag and campaign has its own history and identity. (This is why I use “Christian #MeToo” instead of #ChurchToo when talking about the larger movement; #ChurchToo is a specific group and not all in the wider movement resonate with the full set of their distinctives.) The history of #ChurchToo’s official emergence goes back to November 2017, when first used by Hannah Paasch and Emily Joy, as documented in their podcast with Exvangelical podcast host Blake Chastain: Ep. 59: #ChurchToo with Hannah Paasch & Emily Joy (December 6, 2017). Its hallmarks include pro-LGBT and progressive theologies. This group also includes many who consider themselves #Exvangelical and #emptythepews – now outside the evangelical church realm, perhaps no longer in any church or in Christianity.

GC2 Summit. Ed Stetzer led the way in creating “Reflections: A GC2 Summit on Responding to Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Violence.” This event was held December 13, 2018, and was “an initiative of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in partnership with the Wheaton College School of Psychology, Counseling, & Family Therapy.” This group is more aligned with conventional evangelicalism, and tends to promote “celebrity” experts on various topics related to survivors. (The other three subgroups are not celebrity-oriented.)

Some of the underlying differences among these groups showed up in 2018 — the first year of Christian #MeToo — in how they have dealt with endorsements for MinistrySafe. The differences have continued into 2019, especially with the attention being focused on the Southern Baptist Convention, many members of which are MinistrySafe customers for resources and trainings.

Here’s the core issue: Apparent proficiency in one product or service by an agency does not guarantee positive resources or results in another area. An investigator/conciliator agency may offer some good principles for interpersonal reconciliation. But those are not effective in dealing with resolving institutional problems, such as governance, transparency problems and cover-ups, etc., as noted in the opening quote from the Great Commission Collective/Julie Roys.

It’s problematic when someone who has used one product of a particular agency recommends their products and services in toto to other people, instead of selectively. It tends to set up already-traumatized abuse survivors for more cognitive dissonance, emotional ambivalence, indecision, and crisis of conscience to expect them to endorse the entire organization when at least some parts clearly (to them) are toxic.

As I researched and reflected on the evidence I was seeing, I concluded that most individuals involved with Christian #MeToo advocacy were against all of MinistrySafe’s products and services. This included people most closely associated with long-time activism, The Courage Conference, and #ChurchToo. They actively pushed back on the MinistrySafe directly — and also on any individual or institution that recommends the agency.

From the strong resistance of people in these three groups, it appears they consider it a violation of conscience to endorse anything MinistrySafe produces or does, whether in the realm of resources, trainings, investigation, or conciliation. Their tweets about MinistrySafe frequently related specific complaints people they know have had about MinistrySafe’s processes:

  • Contacting people who stated they did not want to be contacted.
  • Sharing with the hiring organization what was supposedly confidential information that got gathered from victims and witnesses.
  • Supposedly committing to given subjects the final report of their investigation, but either didn’t, or the report was only partial.
  • Being automatically biased in favor the institution that hires them, and they were hired by churches in notorious cases involving prominent survivors.

A few people have recommended MinistrySafe’s printed resources and/or trainings on child abuse prevention, but were silent or noncommittal about its investigative services for institutions. As best I could tell, these commenders all seemed to be associated with the GC2 Summit than with any other group.

It appears that, from how I interpret their paradigm, it is not moral compromise to point out the positives of something they see as worthwhile, even if there are controversies about the rest of an individual’s or institution’s products. It’s just analyzing specifics and assigning either a positive or negative value to them. (For example, MinistrySafe’s print materials and trainings are helpful, even if there are controversies about their stance on investigations.)

There may have been others who recommended both, or just the investigative services, but I don’t recall reading anything like that at any time on Twitter, which has been a crossroads social medium where all four types of survivors/advocates/activists interact.

Here’s the big-picture point: The question of recommendations is not a new problem among survivors. Similar questions show up, for instance, in what to do about the writings of John Howard Yoder, the Mennonite theologian and professor who sexually harassed/abused 100+ women victims. Yet he authored the important book, The Politics of Jesus, taught at the collegiate/seminary level, served on professional boards, etc. (For details, see case study #3 in this post on Three Examples of Remediation.)

This same basic issue emerged most recently in the wake of the firing of Harvest Bible Chapel’s celebrity leader, James MacDonald. (For details, see: Should We Keep Studying a Fired Pastor’s Work, compiled by Kate Shellnutt [Christianity Today; February 15, 2019]. “After LifeWay pulls James MacDonald’s Bible studies, Christians consider if and when a leader’s teachings remain edifying after a scandal.”)

Similarly, there are multiple other theologians, ministries, and agencies whose actions call forth at least scrutiny and perhaps condemnation. The issue has been more crystallized in Christian academic circles for some time — and now it’s surfacing and being clarified in abuse/violence survivor circles.

So — what should we do about situations of individuals or institutions where there is credible evidence of problems with misconduct in morals or ministry?

Do we: (1) censure, sanction, and embargo all their publications and teachings because they are tainted by issues of character/behavior that disqualify them from ANY role of Christian influence or leadership? This seems to be a more systems-oriented response, that the other view would critique as over-generalization.

Or do we: (2) review and deconstruct the body of their works for how sin/evil patterns tainted them and learn whatever we can, and not speak to whatever we have not studied? This seems to be a more analytic-oriented response, that the other view would critique as compartmentalization.

MinistrySafe has become an exemplar of the problems with investigator/conciliator agencies and survivor/advocate/blogger push-back. This has been amplified in 2018 and early 2019 because of its involvement in some high-profile cases of sexual abuse and misuse of spiritual authority: Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches and Highpoint Memphis.

To consider these issues of condemnation versus commendation more specifically, the final section presents links so you can research various major Christian agencies that survivors/advocates and survivor bloggers widely take issue with. For background research you can use for investigation questions and analysis angles, see earlier posts in my Cultural Geography series, especially:

  • Part 4 on investigations.
  • Part 6 (all) on tools and processes pervasively misused to silence survivors.
  • Part 7 (all) on survivor community responses to investigators/conciliators for hire.

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3. Christian Investigator/Conciliator Agencies

I’ve set up this section as a do-it-yourself research guide so you can check out what an agency says about itself, and any of its particularly “notable clients” that have been red-flag indicators among survivors/advocates. I give research leads through links to The Wartburg Watch and other website and Twitter posts.

I chose The Warburg Watch as the main resource for this exercise, because they have a very long track record — over 10 years of posts — in documenting and analyzing a wide range of abusive individuals, institutions, and ideologies. They also use a category system to tags posts on particular people, organizations, or topics; and there is a search system for the rest. So, if you are interested in details about why a particular set of principles or a particular person or organization raises the ire of advocates, The Wartburg Watch is probably the best broadband research source available.

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Ambassadors of Reconciliation

Organizational Website: https://www.hisaor.org/

Notable Clients: Sovereign Grace Ministries.

The Wartburg Watch Category and Articles:

http://thewartburgwatch.com/category/ambassadors-of-reconciliation/

http://www.sgmsurvivors.com/2011/08/26/ambassadors-of-reconciliation-issue-report/

http://www.sgmsurvivors.com/2012/04/17/the-report-from-ambassadors-of-reconciliation/?cp=4#comments

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Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation

Organizational Website: https://www.ccef.org/

The Wartburg Watch Search and Article:

http://thewartburgwatch.com/?s=ccef&x=0&y=0

http://thewartburgwatch.com/2010/09/14/connecting-the-dots-sgm-ccef-and-peacemaker-ministrie/

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Crossroads Resolution Group LLC

Organizational Website: http://www.crossroadsresolution.com/

Notable Clients: Willow Creek Community Church. (Reportedly also Mars Hill Church.)

Distinct Terms/Titles to Watch For: Certified Relational Conciliator

http://www.crossroadsresolution.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/David-Schlachter-Resume.pdf

The Wartburg Watch Article:

Willow Creek’s Attempt at Conciliation and a Smart Rebuff by the Victims

Articles and Tweets:

https://web.archive.org/web/20180613210928/https://www.willowcreek.org/en/elder-update-three

https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-willow-creek-reconciliation-20180524-story.html

http://thewartburgwatch.com/2018/05/27/willow-creeks-attempt-at-conciliation-and-a-smart-rebuff-by-the-victims/

https://vondadyer.weebly.com/blog/the-cart-before-the-horse

https://veritasbetold.wixsite.com/website/blog/updated-statement-from-betty-schmidt

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Institute for Christian Conciliation

Organizational Website: http://www.iccpeace.com/

Distinct Terms/Titles to Watch For: Certified Christian Conciliator.

http://www.iccpeace.com/certification.html

The Wartburg Watch Search:

http://thewartburgwatch.com/?s=%22Institute+for+Christian+Conciliation%22&x=0&y=0

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MinistrySafe

Organizational Website: https://ministrysafe.com/

Notable Clients: Sovereign Grace Ministries. Highpoint Memphis/Andy Savage.

The Wartburg Watch Search and Articles:

http://thewartburgwatch.com/?s=MinistrySafe&x=0&y=0

http://thewartburgwatch.com/2018/03/14/doug-wilson-attacks-boz-tchividjian-while-praising-ministrysafe-think-highpoint/

Articles on Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches:

SGM uses MinistrySafe materials – https://www.sovereigngrace.com/sovereign-grace-blog/post/sovereign-grace-churches-statement-to-christianity-today

https://www.wthrockmorton.com/2018/03/22/christianity-today-independent-investigation-sovereign-grace-ministries/

Articles and Tweets on Highpoint Memphis/Andy Savage:

https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/2018/02/19/pastor-involved-andy-savage-sexual-assault-case-resigns/350446002/

Articles and Tweets from Other Sources:

Additional comments on these threads are of value for interpreting how MinistrySafe is viewed among a range of members of abuse survivor/advocate communities, and why there has consistently been push-back about their institution-protecting actions that often negate truth-and-justice-seeking by victims.

Seminary professor Wade Mullen has done substantial, advanced analysis on toxic institutions and image repair. This includes observations on how institutions use various techniques to divert attention from themselves, silence victims, and make it harder for the truth to come to light. Here is one thread he posted on MinistrySafe.

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Relational Wisdom 360 / Peacemakers

Organizational Website: https://rw360.org/

Distinct Terms/Titles to Watch For: Certified Relational Wisdom Instructor / Certified Instructor.

https://rw360.org/certified-instructors/

http://www.crossroadsresolution.com/partnership-relational-wisdom-360

The Wartburg Watch Categories and Articles:

http://thewartburgwatch.com/category/peacemakersccef/

http://thewartburgwatch.com/2010/11/30/peacemaker-and-sovereign-grace-ministries-%E2%80%93-can-there-be-peace-without-repentance/

Articles and Tweets from Other Sources:

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