A Cultural Geography of Survivor Communities – Part 8: Coming Full Circle on Issues That Could Divide Us



PART 8: Conclusion

Coming Full Circle on Issues That Could Divide Us.

In December 2018, I started posting a series on “cultural geography of survivor communities.” As it unfolded, it turned out far longer and more detailed than I’d anticipated. But, it seemed the thing to do at the time, and I’m glad I did. It’s my time capsule that summarizes the past 10 years of trends among abuse survivors and advocate ministries, and attempts to provide a snapshot of where things stand in 2019.

I’d eventually planned to conclude the series with a post analyzing distinctives and conflicts within in the broader Christian #MeToo movement. After all, that is what I began with in Part 1B. However, due to other writing commitments that begin in January 2020, I am not able to invest the time needed to complete that piece the way I’d originally hoped for. But I will wrap up the series with some key points of observation and analysis. It’s a bit rough and random, but it’s the best I can do with the time I have available.

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Survivor Community Trends for 2019:

Differences that Could Become Dividing Lines

If there’s one key trend I’d note for 2019, it’s that some significant – and potentially destructive – internal differences among abuse survivors, advocates, and activists became more noticeable in social media.

Several important storylines combine to provide the overall backdrop to differences among members of survivor communities:

  • Three conferences on abuse: GC2 (December 2018), and The Courage Conference and SBC Caring Well (October 2019). The SBC conference was preceded by a series of resources being produced and posted, and controversies afterward about whether/how some materials protected perpetrators and promoted actions that would give them continued access to potential victims.
  • The “Abuse of Faith” newspaper series, starting in February 2019, from the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. This spotlight on the Southern Baptist Convention detailed decades of alleged sexual abuse situations, victim silencing, and institutional cover-ups. This helped put pressure on all SBC entities to
  • More details emerging in ongoing situations of abusive ministers/ministries (such as Willow Creek and Harvest Bible Chapel), and many new cases being documented.
  • The “exvangelical” and #ChurchToo movements becoming more cohesive and having more presence on social media and via print resources.
  • Increasing levels of theoretical and practical resources produced/posted by researchers and content experts on individual and institution methods for grooming, social control, manipulation, and deflection of accountability.

In short, 2019 brought with it many more specifics and resources to equip survivor communities for advocacy and activism, and more situations needing to be called out and challenged to accountability.

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What are the Primarily Theological Differences?

There have long been differences among survivors which is why I’ve generally talked about “survivor communities,” plural. Some differences are usual demographics, others the same kinds of theological “fault lines” that differentiate denominations. Differences aren’t necessarily divisive, but can be.

It was only September 2017 that the #MeToo hashtag started taking off. That seemed to spark a significant period of connection on Twitter of survivors, advocates, and bloggers, both old-timers and newcomers. The underlying fault lines that could fragment the whole took a while to manifest.

Some of the emerging conflicts are more ideological in their origins. Four are primarily ideological factors:

  1. Theological backgrounds: abuse survivors come from every theological stream/tradition.
  2. Gender relations views: complementarian, egalitarian, some views may not exactly fit either of these paradigms.
  3. LGBTQ views: Side A says that sexuality and gender are features, regardless of what they are. Side B says that some of these are flaws.
  4. Sexual ethics: Traditional, progressive, anti-purity culture, other.

I provided some details on theological differences in Part 1B, in the sections on: 2. What Currently Holds Us Together? (Core Beliefs and Values That Act as Unifiers), 3. What Could Drive Us Apart? (Fragmentation Fault Lines and Areas of Ignorance) and 4. Unsettled Questions on Culpability for Abuse as Potential Fragmentation Fault Lines.

As I currently see the contours of the Christian #MeToo map, four layers have emerged in the last 2 years. They’re best seen in handles and events:

  • #ChurchToo
  • The Courage Conference
  • GC2 Summit
  • #SBCToo/Caring Well

You can set up a checklist of the ideological factors to see generally what kinds of people are featured or not in each, in terms of the four theological issues listed above, and the overall profile that created for each conference or movement and its related resources. If you do a search for these terms in the Cultural Geography compilation, you’ll find additional descriptive details on them.

Those theological differences have been well noted. Whether these “fault line” differences become divisions that fragment the whole remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, what I believe has emerged more in 2019 are methodological differences. These are becoming more clear, and these are ones that are already creating some rifts between different individuals and wings among survivor communities.

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What are the Primarily Methodological Differences?

Some of the emerging conflicts are more institutional in nature. I see three such factors of how a formal organization interrelates with individual survivors, and with ideological or demographic groups.

  • Inclusion
  • Collaboration
  • Designation or Co-Optation

I’ll introduce these elements, then show some of how they interrelate in the sections on “Allies or Co-Belligerents?” and “Resources: Sets, Systems, and How They Relate to Advocacy.”


Who is welcome (or not) to participate, especially to be given a role as a content expert, an acceptable story-sharer, or other panelist at events? Are these individuals generally seen as positive additions or negative detractions by the wider survivor collective? What is the diversity of survivors and content experts in terms of race, gender, LGBTQ status, church-attender vs done or gone, still-Christian vs ex-Xn, etc.? In the eyes of abuse survivors, there are what I’m calling litmus-test people and barometer people.

Are “litmus-test people” included or not? These are typically Christian survivors, advocates, and content experts who have been public with their personal experiences as a survivor, vocal in challenging the institution as an advocate, or are acknowledged experts/practitioners (such as trauma-informed therapists). They might even no longer be involved in a local church or Christianity at this time as a result of processing experiences of abuse in a religious setting (i.e., “nones, dones, and gones”).  It broadcasts a message about the institution, whether they are included or excluded. Inclusion of litmus-test people by the institution is generally taken by the survivor collective as an indication of good faith in dealing with systemic abuse.

Are “barometer people” included or not? These are people who may be survivors, advocates, or content experts – but are deemed unsafe by acknowledged voices in the broader survivor communities. In such cases, there is often documentation available from news reports, survivor blogs, and social media that makes the “not safe” conclusion well reasoned. Since a barometer indicates the status of the environment, inclusion of barometer people is taken by individuals as bad faith by the institution, and indicates “stormy weather” ahead for situations involving abuse.

For instance:

1. The GC2 Summit event in December 2018 was questioned/criticized for including Beth Moore (for ongoing connections with Hillsong Church despite issues of child abuse by Frank Houston, father of Hillsong’s founder Brian Houston, and subsequent questions of cover-up) and Christine Caine (for plagiarism). Its convener and spokesman Ed Stetzer was (and still is) himself under a cloud with abuse survivors for his connections with Christian celebrities like James MacDonald for whom there is ample evidence of harm done by his ministries.

2. The SBC Caring Well conference in October 2019 was brought into question by advocates and criticized for including representatives of MinistrySafe (which has had multiple clients in the SBC and so is seen as protecting the institutional clients rather than seeking justice for individuals who are abuse survivors). It was also frequently noted that the conference excluded multiple survivor/advocates who were sexually abused in SBC settings, had been featured in news reports and social media, and were generally well-respected in online survivor communities.

So, this SBC event excluded litmus-test people, but included barometer people. From many threads on Twitter (a main space where survivor community members interact) during the conference and months thereafter, commenters raised challenges along these lines. If the SBC system was genuinely serious about changing its trajectory on abuse, why did they include individuals and institutions deemed problematic/unsafe by survivors/advocates — and exclude the kinds of people who represent the net results of abuse in an SBC setting?

(These example individuals and institutions have been documented and commented on extensively online, so I will not elaborate on them here.)

Some survivors and advocates state, in essence, that an institution gives proof of their seriousness about abuse when they include various ideological and demographic groups, include current or former insiders who are litmus-test people for being vocal about that system’s abusers/abuses, and exclude barometer people who create an unsafe environment. Others may recommend but don’t require this.


On the individual side of things, what kind of organizations am I willing to work with? What requirements and other factors do I consider in making those decisions? This has been an ongoing source of conflict in survivor communities, evidence by occasional tweet wars that erupt.

Some survivors, advocates, and content experts are willing to give input into institutions in a range of situations. They may have a formal, publicized set of criteria for discerning and deciding that – or not, and/or may choose not to publicize how they decide where, when, and how to participate.

Some people don’t want anyone working with an institution that doesn’t seem to take abuse repair “seriously” (according to their criteria for what constitutes “seriously enough”). They may also challenge those who are willing to collaborate, demand they justify their participation, or simply insult them for doing what they do.


When an institution has not been inclusive – even with survivors, advocates, and content experts who would willingly collaborate – are those individuals deemed acceptable by the institution actually being co-opted? Are those individuals chosen/allowed to tell the story of their experiences serving as a deflection for the institution? Are they complicit?

This is the most current concern where some survivors and advocates have ended up at loggerheads. The question of “designated survivors” led to a number of posts at The Wartburg Watch, mostly in August and September 2019, set off in part by the publication of speakers for the then forthcoming SBC Caring Well conference in October. A number of well-known, well-respected survivors of high-profile sexual abuse in SBC settings were not included, leading to legitimate questions of who constitutes an “acceptable” survivor/advocate, and how does the processes used reflect institutional interests or not?

SBC Leadership Wants Designated™ Survivors. Why They Need to Hear From Those Who Don’t Make Them Feel Comfortable. (August 7, 2019)

Does the *Caring Well* SBC Still Ignore Survivors Who Were Ignored By Designated™ Leaders? Tiffany Thigpen, Jerry Vines and The Houston Chronicle. (August 28, 2019)

Why Didn’t the SBC/ERLC/Caring Well Leadership *Designate* Survivors Jules Woodson and Christa Brown as Speakers? (September 27, 2019)

SBC/ERLC/Caring Well: Tiffany Thigpen, Anne Marie Miller and Dee Ann Miller Aren’t Speaking at the Conference. Why in the World Not? (September 30, 2019)

I’ve come to believe this is a manifestation of some deeper issues, but one that’s closer to the surface and so more noticeable. The deeper issues deal with paradigm elements related to justice issues and remediation (repair), plus values, beliefs, and practices about how best to collaborate with advocate and activist peers – or separate from them.

Some of these interwoven issues were addressed in a December 30, 2019, Twitter thread started by Mike @sacwriter. I interacted with him on it, and that dialog is captured in the section that follows.

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Allies or Co-Belligerents?

I compiled the the original Twitter thread discussion on this topic into a Twitter moment entitled Mike @sacwriter on Allies and Co-Belligerents. (I did not include all response tweets, and also edited the thread slightly to clarify abbreviated twitter-speak. Also, for ease of reading, I have put my tweets in regular text form and added Mike’s tweets where he responded.)

“A necessary skill for all who use social media to process ideas and feelings: Learn the difference between ALLIES (those who espouse the same values, principles, and caring for your well-being) and CO-BELLIGERENTS (those who oppose what you oppose).”

Here is my Q&D/quick-and-dirty attempt at before and after Venn diagrams. I have thought a lot this year about the realities behind this very situation in survivor communities, but your set of terms gives that a good framework to work with. Thanks, Mike!


Allies and Co-Belligerents – 1 Before

Allies and Co-Belligerents – 2 After

I think emergence of allies/co-belligerents has been a trend in 2019 for survivor communities. Systemic abuse situations such as in the SBC became more public/prominent — and social media (esp Twitter) created strong connection point for self-identified “survivor advocates.” 1

A spectrum has emerged where distinctives could become division points. Some advocates have decades of experiences, others relatively new. Theological systems run the gamut from conservative to progressive, complementarian to egalitarian, Sides A and B on LGBT concerns. 2

Not all survivor advocates hold a collegial view of working together on advocacy/activism. Not all are conciliatory toward individuals or institutions that are wanting to change their systems to be more healthy. Not all offer practical, specific solutions–just castigation. 3

Thus, many potential points for separating out allies vs co-belligerents, and makes sense to be aware of this process. Not required to trust everyone simply because they are advocates, but be willing to negotiate and navigate where we/they hold common ground for the common good. 4

I just looked back at date on my first post in my “cultural geography” of survivor communities series. It was Dec 11, 2018. All the stuff in this thread sparked by your terms allies/co-belligerents is what I’ve been wrestling with for a full year, as Part 8/capstone of series.

Which is to say, I think survivors + advocates + activists being aware of these categories, distinctives, and means of collaborating for the common good will be increasingly important in 2020 onward. IMO the safer we make advocacy spaces, the more we prove we deserve to be heard.

I think your terms and processes they imply are going to be helpful going forward for survivors, advocates, and activists. There is not uniformity among these communities, but there can be working together to develop common ground/common good for the sake of all. 5

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Resources: Sets, Systems,

and How They Relate to Advocacy

On December 31, 2019, I posted a Twitter thread on resources about sets and systems. It helped me tie together some of the concepts on differences and difficulties that had been clarified in the discussion with Mike on “Allies or Co-Belligerents?”

I believe we cannot overcome these potential fault lines unless we move to an open-system/centered-set approach in our advocacy and activism. This allows us coexist with those who have differences in theology and tolerable differences in methodologies – while negotiating to develop common ground for the common good.

Although some potential allies might end up sidelined in these efforts, we cannot succumb to those who would impose a closed-system/bounded-set approach to advocacy. In my view, that would be counterproductive because it requires submitting to bullying.

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Resource Thread: SETS AND SYSTEMS. The concept frameworks of open vs closed systems and bounded vs centered sets are relevant to recent discussions of autonomy and accountability, competition vs cooperation/collaboration, allies and co-belligerents. Here are some resources links. 1

OVERVIEW OF CONCEPTS. See the “Tutorial on Terminology” for a brief look at key terms on systems and systemic abuse, and how they relate to healthier (open, centered-set) systems vs toxic (closed, bounded-choice) systems. 2

A Cultural Geography of Survivor Communities – Part 6E: What Makes Systemic Abuse and Historic Oppression Different from Isolated Incidents of Abuse?

How OPEN VS CLOSED SYSTEMS Relate to COOPERATION VS COMPETITION. Finite and Infinite Games is a classic resource on how systems and set theories–which can seem so abstract–show up concretely in ways we relate with one another as individuals and how we structure our institutions. 3

James Carse’s intriguing book lays out overly black-or-white, competitive thinking that drives us toward always demanding a winners/losers scenario–and thus constantly polarizes people–vs kinds of thinking that lead to collaboration & win/win scenarios. 4

“There are at least two kinds of games,” states James P. Carse as he begins this extraordinary book. “One could be called finite; the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”

How BOUNDED SETS VS CENTERED SETS Relate to ORGANIZATIONAL SYSTEMS. I was heavily involved with church planting & contextual/missional ministry from 1995-2005. Many discussions involved applying social set theory to church & org systems development–strategies and structures. 5

How we approach the synthesis of all this guides ways we both view and do key elements of social organizing: People and inclusion/exclusion – who’s in/who’s out? Participation – who can lead/who must follow? Power – is it centralized/hierarchical or decentralized/distributed? 6

For details, Brad Brisco links to Deb Hirsch teaching on “Bounded Set vs Centered Set” at Sentralized. I haven’t finished listening to it yet, but I’ve been connected with Deb and Brad–both missional church planters–for decades and trust their work is solid. 7

How SET THEORY Relates to SURVIVOR COMMUNITY “ALLIES” VS “CO-BELLIGERENTS.” Mike @sacwriter posted an insightful thread for abuse survivor advocates to consider who they connect with and how in terms of personal communication and social media collaboration. 8

Because this involves degrees of inclusion and interaction, they are essentially issues of social set theory and boundaries. This Twitter Moment unrolls the interaction I had with Mike about the terms, descriptions, & sorting-through processes he shared. 9

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So, this concludes this first edition of my Cultural Geography of Abuse Survivor Communities. I hope you’ve found it of some help in identifying and understanding key issues of concern to our communities. Some of the basic material will be woven into the forthcoming Futuristguy’s Field Guides #2: Detoxification, a major portion of which focuses on survivor recovery and resistance, advocacy, activism, and institutional accountability and responsibility to repair damages done.

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