9 A Cultural Geography of Survivor Communities (Compilation of Posts)

A CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY OF SURVIVOR COMMUNITIES:

  • Listing of Posts, Summaries, and Links
  • Introduction
  • Part 1A: Paradigm Profiling, Subcultural Emergence, Social Transformation Tracking
  • Part 1B: Application to the Collective Christian #MeToo Movement
  • Part 2: Confirmation Bias Much?
  • Part 3: Abuse Survivor Storying Systems
  • Part 4: Investigations and Integrations
  • Part 5: The Contours of “Watchblog” Communities
  • Part 6A: Introducing a Range of Institutional Responses Designed to Shut Down Survivors
  • Part 6B: Legal But Harmful Institutional Tools of Conformity and Control
  • Part 6C: Processes That Promise Resolution, But Instead Can Promote Silence
  • Part 6D: Analyzing Misused Tools and Processes: What are Key Problems and Their System Impact?
  • Part 6E: What Makes Systemic Abuse and Historic Oppression Different from Isolated Incidents of Abuse?
  • Part 6F: Why is “Restorative Justice” a Better Way Out of Systemic Abuse and Historical Oppression Than are Retaliation or Misused Alternative Dispute Resolution?
  • Part 7A: Frameworks for Evaluating Christian Agencies for Investigation, Public Relations, Crisis Management, Legal Aid, Arbitration, Conciliation, and/or Mediation
  • Part 7B1. Understand Community Values for Insights Into Response Patterns
  • Part 7B2: Examples of What Survivor Communities Have Actually Been Up Against
  • Part 7B3: Researching Key Concerns About Major Christian Investigation/Resolution Agencies

Additional parts to be added to the above listing as they are completed.

Here is the link to the @futuristguy Twitter Moment with the tweets that posted links to these Cultural Geography articles, plus occasional add-on notes.

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A Cultural Geography of Survivor Communities – Listing of Posts, Summaries, and Links

This post serves as an index to posts in the forthcoming series, “A Cultural Geography of Survivor Communities,” and to previous posts appearing in the futuristguy category of “Trends in Survivor Communities.” I have been working on some segments in the cultural geography for over six months, and hope to have most of the series posted before the end of 2018. The trends articles were posted as early as 2012, but often with observations and analysis going back to as early as the mid-1970s.

These are based on my personal experiences far more than theoretical research. As such, they are idiosyncratic — what I have observed, analyzed, and interpreted — rather than synthesizing the research of others. Still, I hope these resources will help those inside and outside the range of abuse/violence survivor communities to better understand some of the dimensions and dynamics involved.

~ brad/futuristguy, December 4, 2018

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“A Cultural Geography of Survivor Communities”

© 2018 Brad Sargent

Links to be added as articles in the series are posted. Also, I may end up changing (without notice) post content descriptions, adding new posts, or splitting a planned post between the background/theory and the real-world outplaying of it. I won’t know until I’m in the middle of them.

Introduction. This post shares some of my background related to archiving, cultural geography, and futuring, and how these disciplines come together in developing this series. In this cultural geography of abuse/violence survivor communities, I will attempt to capture the contours of topics and trends that I have worked in and around, some of them for over 40 years.

Part 1 – A Paradigm Profile and Cultural GPS of the Christian Wing(s) of the #MeToo Movement. This two-part article is the most technical in the series, but foundational to all else in analyzing this movement’s paradigm, problems, and possibilities.

Part 1A applies aspects of paradigm profiling, subcultural emergence, and social transformation tracking to the punk rock subculture and “emerging ministry movement.” This gives us a robust historical example as a framework to consider what brings people together into movements, and how things tend to change over time in it.

Part 1B applies these frameworks to give an initial profile for the Christian version of the #MeToo movement. I base this description primarily on my own personal experiences, online interactions, and other sources. It includes my initial analysis of key elements of common ground that unify this movement. I also identify issues where there are considerable doctrinal differences that may have the power to fragment the movement if participants choose strict conformity over stepped collaboration.

Part 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.

Part 3 – Abuse Survivor Storying Systems. In this post, I describe key changes I’ve seen since beginning in 2007 to track how abuse survivors have been sharing their personal accounts of victimization, push-back, and recovery. It includes storying opportunities for abuse survivors, provided by six sources:

(1) in-person sharing,

(2) “survivor blogs,”

(3) social media platforms and campaigns,

(4) conventional media/news sources,

(5) conferences, and

(6) independent investigations.

If I receive permission from the parties involved, this post will also include an example of how one person’s sharing of their story created a pebble-in-the-pond effect that has already rippled out to reach at least two more rings of impact.

Part 4 – Investigations and Integrations. For nearly eight months, I’ve been trying to figure out a concept framework that helps organize what I’ve been learning about what constitutes an “independent investigation” into a situation of abuse. This is a significant concern in survivor communities, because not every person or organization that says they’re for “independent” investigations really are. And the results for abuse survivors who end up in some kind of non-independent investigation often find themselves with buyers remorse later.

My resulting framework looks at five different system integration points for investigations. It profiles the purpose, mission, values, and vision that each integration point naturally produces. It also considers what differences in paradigms can mean in terms of constructive or destructive impact for abuse survivors.

Part 5 – The Contours of “Watchblog” Communities. In a recently filed defamation lawsuit, James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel labeled the people he’s suing as “attack bloggers.” Are they really just attacking him for reasons of revenge – or are they simply attempting to reveal individual and institutional actions that have harmed people whom the church should have helped, and shine a light on the ideologies that drove them?

Blogs have become a significant source of investigative information for survivor communities. So, they have sometimes been called “watchblogs.” But are all sites that engage in exposés of reported abuses actually survivor-friendly? What are the contours of blogging among survivor communities – along with subcategories and the distinctives of each? How does blogging relate to various types of abuse, and what are important patterns and trends that we see among them? This post maps out contours of the wider watchblog communities.

Part 6 – Pursuing a “Truth Before Reconciliation” Process – and Identifying Shortcomings of Reliance on Arbitration, Conciliation, and/or Mediation. Not all aspects of so-called “investigations” are geared to serve survivors by finding the truth and rectifying the abuse. Some processes seek to silence the victims. Others effectively limit liability to the individuals and/or organizations accused of perpetrating and perpetuating abuse. Some supposed reconciliation processes ultimately fail the system of people involved by not preventing future abuse. This post offers several frameworks to observe, analyze, and interpret how dependent or independent an investigation is. This includes considering conflicts of interest, theological misinterpretations, and net effects on victims and perpetrators of various elements used by investigative agencies.

In the four posts of Part 6, we’ll look at some of the means that Christian institutions use against individuals victimized in/by toxic organizations. These methods may achieve the institution’s integrating goal of self-protection. However, they typically leverage flawed theological points to manipulate survivors. Ultimately, giving in to these tools and theologies comes at a cost of legal and ethical consequences for survivors.

Part 6A. Introduction to legal-system tools and investigation/negotiation/resolution processes that benefit institutions over survivors.

Part 6B. Four legal-system tools (defamation lawsuits, non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements, non-compete clauses, and church membership “covenants” that are legal contracts). Includes brief examples, plus a longer case study from The Village Church and its membership covenant.

Part 6C. Initial exploration into three investigation/negotiation/resolution processes (arbitration, conciliation, and mediation), plus a case study from Willow Creek Community Church leaders hiring Crossroads Resolution Group and the women victims refusing to play by those rules, and why.

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.

Part 6E. This post on systems-related terms sets up the final segment in Part 6, where we will look at better ways of “restorative justice” for situations to situations involving systemic abuse and historical/societal oppression, through truth-finding before reconciliation.

Part 6F. In this final segment for Part 6, we look at the better way of resolution to situations involving systemic abuse and historical/societal oppression, through truth-finding before reconciliation. This last element sets up the basis for Part 7, comparing and contrasting agencies that promote independent investigations and restorative justice versus those that promote internal or partial investigations and dispute resolution processes that fail to dismantle systemic abuse.

Part 7 – Evaluating Christian Agencies That Deal with Abuse Investigations, Arbitration, Conciliation, and/or Mediation.In recent years, we’ve seen an increased number of abuse survivors refuse offers of involvement in investigations or negotiations with reportedly abusive individuals and institutions. Typically, these processes have required private, partial, or internal investigations; and/or arbitration, conciliation, mediation services as a gateway to “reconciliation.” How do we evaluate whether they are trustworthy and the process is just?

The previous post in this series laid out a framework for evaluating the inputs and impact of these various approaches to “making things right.” With that comprehensive framework in place for evaluating how independent an investigative method is, it makes sense to apply this to the organizations and networks that purport to conduct investigations into abuse. This should help people understand why so many in survivor communities have seen GRACE as setting the high bar for all truly independent investigative agencies – and why they reject attempts to use other processes and organizations that serve the hiring institutions instead of the abuse survivors.

Part 7A lays out frameworks for evaluating the inputs and impact of these various approaches to “making things right.” It lists questions to use for analyzing: (1) the ethical environment in which proposed resolutions are offered, (2) the infrastructures for interaction, and (3) resolution arrangements.

Part 7B applies these three frameworks (ethics, infrastructures, and resolutions), plus resonance with core values of abuse survivor communities, to major Christian agencies involved in victim situations. This is presented in three sections:

Part 7B1: Understand Community Values for Insights Into Response Patterns.

Part 7B2: Examples of What Survivor Communities Have Actually Been Up Against. This post serves as a “reader’s guide” to what has become a quintessential litmus-test case in the kinds of abuse, cover-up, and deflection that survivors and their communities have had to endure.

In this case of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM; more recently renamed Sovereign Grace Churches) and their celebrity leader, CJ Mahaney, that state of unresolved trauma and ongoing triggering for many victims of child abuse and reported spiritual abuse, has gone on for decades.

I chose this case study because it came into existence long before any form of the #MeToo movement got going, and it has resurfaced annually since then. A protective shell of other well-known evangelical individuals and institutions keep surrounding SGM and CJ Mahaney. This adds to the frustration of survivors, their loved ones, and their advocates who seek justice but have been met with silencing.

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 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.

Part 8 – Some Analysis on the Current “Collective” of the Christian #MeToo Movement. Background history and sources of conflict in three evident layers in the movement to date: The Courage Conference, #ChurchToo, and GC2 Summit.

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INTRODUCTION

Introduction. This post shares some of my background related to archiving, cultural geography, and futuring, and how these disciplines come together in developing this series. In this cultural geography of abuse/violence survivor communities, I will attempt to capture the contours of topics and trends that I have worked in and around, some of them for over 40 years.

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What cartography, GPS, and Google map videos do for physical landscapes, “cultural geography” does for cultural landscapes and their surrounding social eco-systems. This interdisciplinary approach to human ecology seeks to capture the composition contours and key issue features in some kind of social group, culture, or organization. That’s what I hope to do for Christian abuse/violence survivor communities, at least in a preliminary way, from what I’ve absorbed while working in and around them.

I know from my past studies in analyzing subculture emergence, social movements, and cultural paradigm shifts, that it’s difficult to be precise when you’re trying to survey what’s happening at the same time that you’re swirling in a whirlpool of change. But certain kinds of things do become evident – or at least present themselves of indicators of which ways the waters are moving. And that’s the situation that confronts us with the #MeToo movement and its related Church-based counterparts. There are some things we can grab on to fairly easily, but still a lot of questions floating around.

So – with that in mind – I want to convey three things in this introduction:

  1. What this series will cover.
  2. Why it is timely to do so.
  3. How I will approach things.

1. What This Series Will Cover

This series is a first-draft attempt on my part to share what I see as happening in mostly North American Christian dimensions of what has become known as the #MeToo movement. This will combine elements of:

  • Where this movement came from.
  • Some of the key people and organizations involved historically and currently.
  • What values, beliefs, and practices participants tend to have in common.
  • How things seem to work (or not work) in these communities – for survivors, their support advocates, and social change advocates.

But I use the term survivor communities (plural) intentionally, because this is a complex social movement with many sub-groups in the collective that have intersecting dimensions but not total overlap. So, while there is common ground for the common good, there are many dynamics of difference that can make collaboration difficult – even among those who all believe some equivalent of, “No one deserves abuse, and every victim deserves advocacy.”

So, I will attempt capture various ways that larger layers of participants and particular subgroup boundaries integrate to create an open or closed system. In other words, try to determine who’s in it, who’s not, who wants to be in but isn’t accepted by the larger collective. And, more importantly, try to figure out why some are in or out – what exactly is the paradigm glue that holds the collective together, and how background demographic issues (economic, racial/ethnic, political, social, theological) are potential sources of conflict between sub-groups within the larger movement.

At this point, there appear to be three major “streams” that have some degree of formal organization and events: The Courage Conference, the GC2 Reflection Summit, and #ChurchToo. I will profile all three as best I can without doing additional major research, and try to describe the paradigm of each, the overlap zones among the three, and where there are likely points of conflict. I will also be watching for other such currents in the Christian wing of the #MeToo movement, as well as looking to identify key issues that keep many Christian leaders and ministry institutions stuck on the shore instead of diving into the movement.

For an overview of key issues and institutions I plan to cover, you can read through the one-paragraph summaries that serve as an index to the series. NOTE: These posts and their contents are tentative. I am likely to refine them as I continue to process relevant information.

2. Why It is Timely To Do This Series Now

Why am I doing this now? It’s timely, as this season marks 10 years from the origins of 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 about a year ago, in late 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.

Likewise, the #ChurchToo hashtag and campaign have a history and a distinct paradigm. It goes back to about 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).

Getting this information out of my head and into blog posts is also a sort of now-or-never kind of thing for me. It’s been on my mind, and as a long-time writer, I know from unfortunate experience that if I don’t do something with what’s on my mind now, it may leak out of it soon and I won’t get to it later.

Also, my time is committed for 2019-2020. I need to focus on finishing production of the final three of four Field Guides in my training series on “Do Good Plus Do No Harm.” While the first Field Guide in the series is in final design/production stages, I’ve allowed myself the rest of this year to pursue whatever opens up – and this is what came forth as being the most important. I’ve worked on some of the pieces in this series for over six months, if that’s any indicator of its significance to me. (The more I think about it, I will likely update this material and use it as an extended online case study for Field Guides #2 and #3, since they deal with resistance against toxic systems, and how to analyze paradigms and sources of conflict between groups with certain kinds of paradigm differences.)

Because the time and energy I have for this project are limited, I will do what I can, when I can. That is why I’ll repeat that this is a first draft series on a complex system. Expect there to be gaps on topics you wished I had addressed or done in more depth, and excess detail on topics which may seem irrelevant. Still, at least it will be something. I hope this material proves worthwhile, and will help those inside and outside abuse/violence survivor communities to better understand dimensions and dynamics involved.

3. How I Will Approach Things

Two things have been central to most of my personal studies and writings over the years. One is media –books, toys, games, comic books, movies, music. The other is culture – what makes individuals, groups, institutions, societies, and civilizations “tick.” Both interests go as far back as I can remember, but culture has been more prominent.

In one of our first-ever two-sentence public speaking assignments in grade school, we had to tell the class what we wanted to be when we grew up, and why. I didn’t have to think about my answer all that much. When my turn came, I said, “I want to be an archaeologist. Because I like Greek, Roman, and Egyptian stuff.” So, that was my vocational track when I was 7 years old and in second grade.

The profession changed over the years: paleontologist, cancer researcher, public administrator, linguist, editor. I also picked up various interests and trainings along the way: an ecology internship, book and grant proposal writing, a strategic foresight (futurist skills) intensive. And, starting in 1972, I volunteered or worked for projects and non-profits: activities for senior citizens, teen employment, monitoring affirmative action implementation at the university, men’s ministry and recovery issues, HIV ministry, adolescents with recovery issues, church planting, social entrepreneur projects, social change impact metrics.

But through it all ran a love of cultures, going all the way back to my archaeological beginnings. At this stage of my life – semi-retired, early 60s – I am interested in how past, present, and future interconnect, for individuals, institutions, and social movements. So I use what tools are in my toolbox to describe, analyze, and interpret what I see in the #MeToo movement as it has manifested in Church settings. I’ll use a combination of concept frameworks, many that I have written about before in how to deconstruct the Christian industrial complex. To the techniques there, I will add the angles of systems and systemic abuse, paradigm profiling, and values-goals-methods analysis.

I believe that compositing insights from these different disciplines will provide a reasonable “spiritual MRI” on the Christian wing of the #MeToo movement. They suggest directions and better questions for those called to deeper research on any of the many perplexing questions that arise as we are in the midst of some massive changes within the Church, when it comes to abuse survivors, advocates, and activists. Such as:

  • Where did this movement come from, where is it now, and where does it seem to be going?
  • Who owns a social movement? Or is the real question who has legitimacy to participate in it and be considered a leader?
  • How did “conservatives” and “liberals” come together to support survivors? What tenets do they hold in common ground, and what issues (theological, social, organizational, etc.) will they likely continue to differ on?
  • What are the limits of tolerating differences? Will substantive paradigm differences permanently fragment the movement and lead to some streams exiting? Or can a theological-broad-band collective co-exist, and if so, how?
  • Why have abuse victims turned to “survivor blogs” to share their experiences, instead of to Christian news media?
  • What has motivated representatives of organizations that have shown themselves laggards in support of abuse victims to now act as if they were leaders? Or is a better question how can a broad-based movement seek to include those who’ve not been so interested before but are expressing interest now?
  • Why do survivors, advocates, and activists give so much attention to how investigations into abuse are conducted, and who does them?
  • How did some situations and individuals (e.g., C.J. Mahaney, Bill Hybels/Willow Creek Church, Christine Caine, ECFA/Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Nadia Bolz-Weber) become “litmus tests” for considering whether someone’s or some group’s interest in abuse survivors and in this advocacy/activism movement has legitimacy or just expediency?
  • What kinds of pressure from insiders and outsiders can corrode or co-opt a social movement? How can we protect it from that happening?

Final Thoughts

I hope these observations and resources will help those inside and outside abuse/violence survivor communities to better understand dimensions and dynamics involved. As accessible as possible, but a lot of concept frameworks and skill sets that are unfamiliar. So, where possible, I will link to more detailed information I’ve posted previously.

This series represents my own personal perspective. I am part of this movement but don’t represent any organization or sub-group in it. I know these posts will be idiosyncratic, based on my own experiences, questions, and perspectives. However, I do hope it will prove helpful in exploring the profile of this important social movement.

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PART 1A: Paradigm Profiling, Subcultural Emergence, Social Transformation Tracking

1 – A Paradigm Profile and Cultural GPS

of the Christian Wing(s) of the #MeToo Movement

1 – A Paradigm Profile and Cultural GPS of the Christian Wing(s) of the #MeToo Movement. This two-part article is the most technical in the series, but foundational to all else in analyzing this movement’s paradigm, problems, and possibilities.

Part 1A applies aspects of paradigm profiling, subcultural emergence, and social transformation tracking to the punk rock subculture and “emerging ministry movement.” This gives us a robust historical example as a framework to consider what brings people together into movements, and how things tend to change over time in it.

Part 1B applies these frameworks to give an initial profile for the Christian version of the #MeToo movement. I base this description primarily on my own personal experiences, online interactions, and other sources. It includes my initial analysis of key elements of common ground that unify this movement. I also identify issues where there are considerable doctrinal differences that may have the power to fragment the movement if participants choose strict conformity over stepped collaboration.

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Introduction: Paradigm Profiling,

Cultural GPS, and Transformation Trajectories

The Christian layers of the #MeToo movement create an informal collective of individuals, organizations, and networks who care about ending sexual abuse, harassment, and violence. Despite doctrinal distinctives, these survivor communities share enough of the same values, beliefs, and goals to communicate with each other, support one another’s work, and sometimes collaborate directly in varying combinations on campaigns and projects. The fact that this is a social movement with informal involvement leads us to some key questions:

  • What commonalities draw people into this collective together?
  • What differences in beliefs could split them apart?
  • Does everyone have to do everything in order to be considered a part of this movement?
  • What could/should people do when there are clashes over activism methodologies?

Paradigm profiling gives us tools and techniques to answer such questions. They provide us with a “cultural GPS” snapshot that records what IS in this movement as a social subculture, though not directly what SHOULD be there. That is the cultural creative task for those in the movement to forge together. That involves considering various possibilities for future directions, deciding what is preferable to pursue, and then following through on that pathway of transformation. However, paradigm analysis can provide significant kinds of information that equip movement members for the tasks of trajectory.

The how-to details to use paradigm profiling tools take up an entire Field Guide in the training series I’m developing. So, in this section, I’ll only overview the process of using certain tools, and show how I applied them in a parallel situation with the “emerging ministry” movement.

For over 40 years, I have been working on methods for identifying “paradigms,” their outworkings, and how paradigm shifts take place and what they can/cannot lead to. This has taken me into studies of:

  1. How people process information in different ways.
  2. How any given approach tends to directly and uniquely affect the values and beliefs that drive our personal world.
  3. How we apply strategies and infrastructures to organize ourselves, whether for social or spiritual activities, businesses, or government.
  4. How those deeper layers lead us to embody or endorse particular kinds of cultures, and what modes we prefer for collaboration (or colonization or isolation).

In the model I’ve developed, those four layers form a paradigm system, with layers #1 and #2 being the deepest and most abstract and invisible – but with very visible consequences! Layers #3 and #4 are the results of how an individual or group processes information and the values and beliefs that arise from that. To discern what’s driving the system, we have to start with what is seen and work our way backward to approximating what’s in those bottom two layers – as those are rarely put into writing.

Knowing this information becomes important, because collaboration among individuals and sub-groups within a movement only seems to be sustainable when there is enough overlap at these lowest levels to serve as glue to hold the partnership together. Once a person or group sees that their own paradigm doesn’t align enough with the rest of the movement, they are likely to split off into their own stream. Or maybe they will keep up some of the same activities as before, but will do them in isolation instead of cooperation with other people.

In short, paradigm profiling helps us explain why a particular subculture forms, understand who is drawn to it and why, describe how it functions, and hypothesize what commonalities lead it to sustainability or what differences may cause it to fragment into pieces.

When I sat down to analyze the ministry sources and potential for sustainability of the Christian #MeToo movement, it occurred to me that this looked a lot like what happened with the “emerging ministry” movement went through. Since its history embodies paradigm and subculture profiling, I’ll start with some key elements for tracking the life cycle of a subculture, then share a condensed history of the emerging ministry movement, and end with some wrap-up and suggestions for further reading.

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The Big Picture: Subcultures and Social Movements

This section is a moderately long read. But do yourself a favor – don’t skip it or skim it. It is always difficult to discern what is going on when you are in the middle of a whirlpool of change. So a parallel movement from relatively recent history sets us up to better observe, analyze, and interpret the times in which we find ourselves.

What you’ll find here is an extended example over several generations that embodies many of the same external influences and internal dynamics that show up in the #MeToo movement and its Christian versions. It helps us develop better questions to understand our own times, and discern what we should do. To my thinking, that makes it extremely valuable to us.

Subcultural Life Cycle of the Punk Rock Paradigm

Overview: Roots and Residual Influences. In the mid-1990s, I invested myself in a lot of independent study on alternative subcultures, such as punks, hippies, Goths, eco-spirituals, and neo-romantics. That was where I learned to discern the overall life cycle of subcultures and social movements. Here’s the overview of how that process unfolded with the punk subculture in England. This is relevant because some of the core values in punk rock showed up 20 years later in the American emerging ministry movement.

Needs as Seeds. The economic situation in England was dire for teens and young adults in the 1970s. The country’s unemployment was around 20%, and the future was bleak. About the most many young adults done with school could look forward to was no job, being on the dole (welfare), and living at their parents’ flat. Not exactly the kind of formation milieu for happy hippies who’d want to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony …

Emergence of Paradigm Shift. This desperate situation led to a type of nihilism – but in the face of hopelessness, young people engaged in a DIY do-it-yourself creative counterculture. They depended on themselves for entertainment and communication to express their anger and angst. Being more on the anti-authority and pro-anarchist side of things, they often clashed with establishment figures. And, on the whole, they never did get along with hippies; their worldviews were created to clash.

Development and Differentiation. The overall style was dark and harsh – full of spikes made of metal or hair, razor blades, garbage-bag clothing, tattoos. It reflected the larger society’s devaluation of this generation. But these fashion statements also put out signals for insiders to find one another. Groups, gangs, clubs ensued. Garage bands went punk – all you needed was a guitar and three chords. Women were more on par with men as cultural creatives. And because of the DIY nature of the music, there were probably more women in punk rock than in any other music genre of that era. They composited their own art, a sort of darker-humor, snarly version of Dada.

Sub-groups formed under the larger punk subculture umbrella, usually with some notable differences or add-ons in values. For instance Straight Edge punks generally didn’t drink, smoke, or take drugs; many weren’t promiscuous; and some were vegetarian or vegan. But they still fit in with the philosophy of punk in most ways. Various forms of punk migrated globally, adapting to local culture. Punk had especially strong culture contingents in the UK, North America, Germany, and Japan.

Dilution. From my own studies of what typically happens to subcultures over time, one pattern I saw was that the core values around which a subculture precipitated ended up in a far weaker form in the mainstream culture about 15 to 20 years later. This came out of at least two reasons: (1) Advance of generations. The next younger generation or two took punk values as a given in their formative years. So, it was part of culture of their formation more than something they chose to enter into as a young adult. (2) The mainstream adopted the style and fashion of a subculture, but without as much of its substance.

Fusions and Resurgences. Subcultures often morph or resurface, because many of the underlying needs continue that originally generated a subculture that met them. Or, individual preferences or social circumstances rekindle interest in a “vintage value set.” For instance, the punk DNA has not gone away. Versions of the deviance and DIY attitudes in punk found their way into cyberpunk, fused there into a hacker mentality with a futuristic technological style. Also, a 30-something friend of mine is lead singer in an all-women classic-style punk band.

And, 20 years later, lo-and-behold! A less-anarchistic version of punk’s DIY values and cultural creative mindset found its way into what became known as the “emerging ministry” movement.

Subcultural Life Cycle of the Emerging Ministry Movement

Beginnings of the Emerging Ministry Movement. The hints of something new being needed started in the early 1990s. Younger and middle-age church leaders were noticing how times were changing, and conventional methods weren’t working like they used to. By the mid-1990s, a group of mostly GenXers (born between 1965 and 1982) were connecting to explore news ways to approach ministry processes and organizational forms that better fit with the holistic, relational-systems paradigm of postmodernity.

Those who pioneered the spread of this new paradigm knew intuitively that the surrounding culture had changed – and that the then younger generation of Xers had this new approach as its native paradigm and culture. Gradually, informal networks grew as people with similar questions and interests found each other, many through a few key books in the early- to mid-1990s, and later through online blogs and virtual networks.

From to Decentralized/Informal to Connected/Formal. In 1996, Leadership Network hosted the first-ever event for what became the Young Leaders Network. It was primarily for church and ministry leaders age 40 and under. As this network formalized, executives at Leadership Network identified about a dozen men (yes, all males) who seemed to be point men for the movement – meaning they were the most charismatic, most active, most recognized by the rest of the movement as “thought leaders.”

Leadership Network arranged for this “group of 10” leaders (and their wives) to get together to share ideas and get more relationally connected. Those 10 men tended to become the same ones interviewed for news articles; same ones invited as keynote speakers on this “postmodern paradigm”; same ones whose perspectives became the published “orthodox” views on what to do and how, in the midst of emerging cultural changes. This meant men and women who were faithful and innovative in their on-the-ground ministries were pretty much excluded from formal recognition, and there was no way to break into this inner circle.

Spin-Offs and Sub-Groups. However, by the early 2000 decade, it was becoming clear that these 10 were not all on the same page. They had come together with common interests in doing things differently from their Silent Generation and Boomer elders. But opposition to methodologies of the past did not mean full unity for moving into the future on a shared postmodern-friendly paradigm.

Eventually, some of the 10 began to split off from the “emerging ministry pool” and into their own theological and methodological stream. Mark Driscoll went Neo-Calvinist with his hierarchical, mega-church/multi-campus Mars Hill Church. Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt were part of forming the flat-structured, theologically deconstructive Emergent network, which eventually morphed into a more progressive theology network. Several leaders stayed within the movement but developed a more distinctive theology, such as did Andrew Jones with missional and alternative culture ministries, and Chris Seay and Dan Kimball with a more emerging evangelical approach.

Residual Influences of the Emerging Ministry Movement. Just as the emerging ministry movement inherited cultural DNA from punk rock, there are residual ministry traces of the emerging movement in the wider Church today. For instance, we could say that a bit of the radical response to culture shows up in social entrepreneurship which is a next-generation form of community development and church planting. While those specific elements have some relevance to the Christian versions of #MeToo, it is the historical, social processes as a whole that gives us much to work with. And that we will take up in Part 1B, in which I lay out my understanding of its current governing principles and paradigm.

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For Additional Reading and Research

On the importance of developing questions. Two Reposts: Pursuing Questions That Lead to the Answer[er] & Finding a Culture’s Quest/ion.

On cracking the code of paradigm systems. Paradigm Profiling in The Missional Zone Part 1 – Missional SynchroBlog Post. This post was part of the “Missional SynchroBlog” in 2008 on “What is missional?” It gives an extensive introduction to how to profile a paradigm, and shares an earlier draft of my seven-layer model of paradigm analysis. It also includes numerous techniques for interpreting the results, and a case study in the Tessera Learning Trail as a representative of a holistic paradigm and missional methodological model.

On subculture emergence, and sources on punk rock. Barometer Subcultures for Studying Three Street-Level Postmodernist Edges. This post introduces the idea that subcultures give us clues about what the mainstream culture might eventually look like – an important tool of foresight, if we want to prepare for the future.

Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex (Compilation of Posts). A question that’s arisen lately on spiritual abuse survivor blogs has to do with how to dissect the “Christian Industrial Complex,” and analyze how and why it affects us. This blog page introduces three major frameworks I use for analyzing social movements and toxic systems, and builds toward describing what this phenomenon of a Christian Industrial Complex is, how it works, and how it can inflict damage. It also suggests a list of indicators for identifying layers of enmeshed involvement among celebrity leaders, Christian business industries, and followers/consumers in such probable toxic systems as this. It ends with some initial analysis and interpretation of toxicity issues in two streams that came out of the “emerging ministry movement” – the more conservative New Calvinism of Mars Hill Church/Resurgence and the progressive Emergent Movement of Emergent Village.

Just for fun. Today, At Last, I Became a “Screenager” as Futuristguy Blog Turns 13! My long-time friend Andrew Jones, who ministers to those from alternative cultures and marginalized people groups, was a key promoter of my getting into blogging. This post includes a piece he wrote for my 13th blogaversary that gives you his assessment of the kinds of work that I do that are relevant to this cultural geography series.

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Part 1B: Application to the Collective Christian #MeToo Movement

1 – A Paradigm Profile and Cultural GPS

of the Christian Wing(s) of the #MeToo Movement

PART 1B

1 – A Paradigm Profile and Cultural GPS of the Christian Wing(s) of the #MeToo Movement. This two-part article is the most technical in the series, but foundational to all else in analyzing this movement’s paradigm, problems, and possibilities.

Part 1A applies aspects of paradigm profiling, subcultural emergence, and social transformation tracking to the punk rock subculture and “emerging ministry movement.” This gives us a robust historical example as a framework to consider what brings people together into movements, and how things tend to change over time in it.

Part 1B applies these frameworks to give an initial profile for the Christian version of the #MeToo movement. I base this description primarily on my own personal experiences, online interactions, and other sources. It includes my initial analysis of key elements of common ground that unify this movement. I also identify issues where there are considerable doctrinal differences that may have the power to fragment the movement if participants choose strict conformity over stepped collaboration.

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Introduction to Part 1B and Part 2

In Part 1A, we looked at big picture of why and how social movements come together, and how they tend to change over time. The point was to see a historical example of how these processes work, because it’s difficult to identify many of these elements while they are happening in a current subculture of change like we have with the #MeToo movement. In this post, I’ll apply those general cultural storylines and change principles to look more specifically at key components in the paradigm in the Christian collective of the #MeToo movement:

  1. How do we identify paradigm dimensions that let us profile this collective’s GPS?
  2. What are the core beliefs and values most involved in the Christian wings of the #MeToo movement?
  3. What key issues already represent fragmentation fault lines or areas of ignorance?
  4. What unsettled questions on culpability for abuse could become fault lines that splinter the movement?

In looking ahead, this post bridges us toward Part 2, where we’ll look at a related segments of the Church population that is, may be, or should be interested in #MeToo. There we’ll look at who’s in, who’s out, who’s suspect, and why. This includes those who want to be in the movement but haven’t established credibility with insiders to be in a position to lead (at least, not yet); they may not even be listening yet. And there are those who need to be in the movement to support survivors, but who don’t really want to be. What are the dynamics of these wannabe and should-be groups? But first, some key doctrines and dynamics of those already inside this movement.

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2. What Currently Holds Us Together?

Core Beliefs and Values That Act as Unifiers

A Defining Question for the Christian #MeToo Movement

Survivors, advocates, activists, and various kinds of allies interrelate as a mostly informal collective. What unifies “survivor communities”? What keeps connections going among such a diverse group?

First of all, we can extract what seems to be a defining question that acts like a magnet to those who may be searching for support in their journey to answer that question or a similar-enough one. From what I’ve seen of the streams that merged into the #MeToo movement, I see its defining question as:

Do you really believe I am made in God’s image and so am inherently of human worth?

I phrase the core question this way, because the actions of those who perpetrate abuse or violence give their answer as “No.” And, the more aware we become of how damaging abuse is, we see it potentially corrodes any/every dimension of what it means to be fully human – emotionally, family, identity, mentally, physically, relationally, sexuality, spiritually. So, those who answer “No” dehumanize victims, corrupting the very things that define humanity and making it extremely difficult for the survivor to feel connected to God and/or of worth.

If we answer “Yes,” then we are concerned for giving all people due respect and treating them with dignity. That defining question serves as both a magnet to draw the hearts of answerers, and a border for the movement of those so drawn.

From there, we get into specific paradigm elements that are unifiers for those on that journey. These paradigm elements of common ground for the common good incorporate:

  1. Concrete values and core beliefs.
  2. Social organization strategies and structures.
  3. Everyday personal practices that create a corporate culture of recovery.

Concrete Values and Core Beliefs

Here are three concrete values and core beliefs that go with the tribe’s answer to the movement’s defining question of: Do you really believe I am made in God’s image and so am inherently of human worth?

No one deserves abuse, and every victim deserves advocacy.

  1. If everyone is made in God’s image, and is therefore of value, then no one deserves abuse.
  2. Every victim deserves support and advocacy, regardless of any other demographic factors.
  3. As survivors, advocates, and activists, we will do what we can to prevent abuse/violence from happening to others. We will also seek to hold past and current abusers accountable.

Social Organization Strategies and Structures

This includes institutional processes and procedures. They are directly shaped by our deeper paradigm elements of concrete values and core beliefs.

How will we promote prevention and intervention of abuse to support survivors, not limit agency liability?

Here are social organization strategy and structure challenges that go with the answer to that key question, and are part of the solution to addressing problems of systemic abuse.

Practices. Forms of abuse/violence are rampant in society – including the Church. This means significant numbers of women, girls, boys, and men in a congregation are survivors. Every church and ministry is responsible to be/become a safer place for all people. This includes intervention and prevention practices infused into organizational processes and procedures. Examples: mandatory reporting of known/suspected abuse, support for victims, background checks on employees/volunteers, prevention trainings.

Individuals. Abusive people who have had a ministry platform should no longer be financed or promoted. They should not be “restored” to a role of public influence unless there has been an exceptional and public process in place. This is not about retaliation for the past, it’s about protection against malignant people causing present and future harm.

Institutions. When an agency’s board members, administrators, staff, and/or volunteers have reportedly engaged in abuse, it should not use processes that focus on limiting institutional liability and thus have the effect of silencing victims and squelching truth. (Problematic approaches: arbitration, conciliation, mediation, non-disclosure agreements – which we’ll look at in a later post.) Requiring silence makes it easier for perpetrators to continue inflicting harm on others.

Cultures and Lifestyles

How do we develop a dynamic ministry that is both trauma-informed and theologically robust?

The deeper paradigm layers of how we process information, plus our concrete values and core beliefs, affect our everyday activities – what principles we practice, what lifestyles we approve or don’t, what kinds of cultural styles we find acceptable.

Here are lifestyle and cultural activities challenges that go with the answer to that key question.

Part of (re)humanization is to relate holistically with people. For Christians, this includes theology. In Christian survivor communities, we recognize numerous doctrinal issues of faith and practice that amplify the dehumanization of people. So, emotional recovery from whatever forms of abuse, harassment, or violence occurred integrates with layers of spiritual recovery to identify and reject caustic agents: false/flawed ideologies, toxic institutions, malignant individuals.

It becomes our lifestyle to stand up for those who are victimized. We do this in part by standing against faulty doctrines and religious practices that damage, such as these:

Legitimizing the grooming of victims for unconditional obedience to supposedly God-ordained absolute authorities.

Implanting cognitive conditioning to accept all suffering and thus all abuse/violence.

Reinforcing victims’ self-silencing out of duty, guilt, fear, and/or shame – presumably to honor the reputation of Jesus, the local church, and the gospel.

Our understandings of recovery typically lean toward approaches that are trauma-informed, evidence-based, and whole-person in their orientations. Also, our everyday disciplines of discernment and resistance help us to relate with survivors and with one another more holistically, and to educate and minister more astutely.

Bringing the Threads Together

If the defining question of this movement is what brings us together, and the paradigm-element unifiers create a social glue to help the movement hold together, what is it that could weaken the basis for common ground for the common good? What fault lines in our cultural geography could make this unified collective fragment back into separated pieces? Those are the key issues for the next two sections.

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3. What Could Drive Us Apart?

Fragmentation Fault Lines and Areas of Ignorance

Twitter is currently where I follow a fairly wide range (both theologically and demographically) of women and men survivors of various kinds of abuse, oppression, and/or violence, and who are committed advocates and activists. There is a set of issues I see them disagree with each other over, sometimes vigorously. Will these opposite views lead to social movement splits? Either we’re willing to work with those who hold to these differences, to develop common ground for the common good, or we aren’t.

The way I see it, the fault lines that could break the movement into bits deal with collaboration style, doctrines, and demographics.

Collaboration Styles

Normally at the third level of a paradigm system, I look at collaboration styles and not just cultures and lifestyles. [The first two levels were (1) concrete values and core beliefs, and (2) organizational strategies and structures.] However, how we do/don’t work together is one of the issues that I don’t see as unifier in this specific case of the Christian #MeToo movement. In fact, there seem to be diametrically opposed approaches about certain doctrines, and also about how best to keep the movement going and who should be viewed as a legitimate individual participant in it or partner ministry/organization to it. This is an issue that could split the movement.

The way I see it, our approach to collaboration is crucial to sustainability. It determines whether we maintain an open system that allows new people in, or a closed system that shuts people out and eventually withers. (Details on this in Part 2, which deals with who’s in, who’s out, who’s suspect, and why.) I will interweave some elements about this into this segment on what could drive us apart, and the next one on unsettled questions.

Theological Fault Lines

There are certain pre-set theological issues where various individuals and sub-groups within the Christian #MeToo movement differ in ways that likely will not change. It does not my purpose here to detail them, just list them. (Each of these could be an entire Ph.D. dissertation.)

Theological stream. It’s safe to say that no theological stream is complete free from cases of abuse/violence. Systemic abuse can take root via malignant individuals, institutional toxicity, and/or flawed ideology. But there seem to be layers of survivors and advocates in most if not all streams, regardless of how they self-identify their stream: fundamentalist, conservative, moderate, liberal, progressive, mainline, missional, evangelical, exvangelical, done, none, gone, Reformed, Calvinist, Baptist, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, charismatic, Pentecostal, etc.

Gender relations. There is a spectrum of views/practices on how the sexes should relate within marriage and family, in church participation and leadership, and in society. Although I don’t think I’ve observed in the Christian #MeToo movement any who consider themselves followers of patriarchy (“hard-core complementarian”), there are those who seem to be more the “soft complementarian,” and also several kinds of egalitarian, including unnamed in-between or alternative views on gender equity.

Sexual ethics in general are a significant source of difference – some are on the side of traditional sexual ethics, while others map out other ethical terrains. There are four specific items where I’ve noticed contentions within the movement: purity culture, LGBTQ, production of “ethical pornography,” and sex trafficking (some favor the so-called Nordic Model of decriminalizing the selling of sex plus criminalizing the purchase of sex).

Any of these could become fault lines in fragmenting the movement. Nevertheless, at this time, the Christian #MeToo movement encompasses people who hold differing perspectives on these doctrinal planks. We do well to keep this in mind:

  • No theology has all members in the #MeToo movement. People from particular streams may be invested in #MeToo on some but not all issues that appear in it.
  • Not everyone in the movement considers themselves egalitarian, and those who are more at the complementarian end of things probably aren’t as far over as patriarchy.
  • Not everyone in the movement is of one view when it comes to sexual ethics, and even if they hold to the same general set of ethics they may disagree on specific issues within it.

Demographic Fault Lines

Other potentially fragmentive issues emerge from a relative lack of relational bridges across demographic differences – racial, generational, gender and sexuality, social, physical, financial, cultural – and understanding of intersectional dynamics. These parallel the problems the Church in general faces. However, there are evidences of intentional diversity, such as shown in the range of speakers, sponsors, and attendees at The Courage Conference.

Perhaps the added unifiers of #MeToo will pioneer new arenas for cross-cultural connections and collaborations. For instance, the significant overlaps between abuse/violence issues in systemic abuse, and historical oppression in racism, opens additional dimensions for conversations about perceptions about abuse, violence, and oppression; and possibilities for practical solutions.

Speaking of issues and solutions, there have been problems with imposing a certain culture’s perspectives and practices as the norm for all. One issue that has been raised is that many practical solutions being promoted emanate from those with enough economic means to carry them out. For instance, in a situation of domestic violence, just advising the wife to leave. This does not necessarily work for those with lower economic means, or in communities where the wife is expected to stay in the situation and is ostracized if she leaves or attempts to. In either case, she would be cut off from means of economic and/or social survival.

Such issues call for deepening our connections with and developing empathy for the widest range of people who are survivors of abuse/violence. If demographic differences lead to separation, it could quench the spirit of the movement and lead to stagnation.

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4. Unsettled Questions on Culpability for Abuse

as Potential Fragmentation Fault Lines

Fault lines are preexisting issues that are known in the wider Christian community because they tend to be beliefs, values, actions that are already dividing the Church into denominations. But what I’m calling “unsettled questions” of theology or methodology may or may not turn out to be fragmentation fault lines within the movement. They are unsettled in great part because they’re based in experiences where information is emerging, but there isn’t necessarily enough data yet to figure out patterns and/or there hasn’t been substantial conversation about them yet.

Resistance and Responsibility. Here are some key issues that my futurist spidey-sense tells me there are unsettled questions. (And I see enough people asking about some form of them on social media to suggest they are emerging as more concrete concerns.) Most are about individual and institutional resistance and corresponding levels of responsibility for abuse, plus dynamics of calling for organizational changes and dealing with systemic abuse.

Where are the dividing lines between clear culpability (direct responsibility for perpetrating abuse or perpetuating it) versus complicity (indirect responsibility; used as a pawn to keep a system going, but no significant level of power or access to insider information)? How do we deal with malignant people who are culpable versus misinformed pawns who are complicit?

What level of responsibility do people have when they have been “loyal opposition,” who remained inside a toxic organization but sought to confront toxicity and change the organization? Should they be barred from future ministry platforms?

How should we confront/challenge toxic individuals and institutions? What are the limits to what we CAN do and SHOULD do? Are there methods we should/shouldn’t use?

Valuation and “Restoration.” An issue of special significance to theologians and other academics deals with source materials: How should we treat the writings of theologians who were/are involved in immoral, unethical, illegal and/or otherwise abusive actions? Should we not use their writings at all? Should we use them only with notes warning our readers/listeners as to the situation? Should we study those writings with an eye to see how the author’s brokenness/sinfulness affected their doctrinal faith and practice? For instance:

Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth had a wife, Nelly, and a live-in mistress, Charlotte von Kirschbaum, whom he refused to give up. This article by Dr. Matthew Emerson captures the conundrum of “What Do We Do with Karl Barth?”

Mennonite author and professor (and one-time President of the Society for Christian Ethics) John Howard Yoder reportedly sexually harassed/abused over 100 women between the 1970s and 1990s. (See Case Study #2 on this page.) The denomination did extensive remediation (repair) work in the 2010 decade.

Hypergrace evangelical theologian Tullian Tchvidjian had multiple best-seller books issued during a period when a timeline shows he involved with as many as seven women simultaneously – his then-wife, some women in clergy sexual misconduct, and others in grooming them emotional/relationally. He continues in his attempts to maintain a ministry platform, but, to date, has not made any kind of personal apologies or amends to the women he victimized.

These complex issues call on us to get into the ethics of responsibility and resistance. It would be easy to simply issue preemptive labels to stick on people, but that sidesteps the hard work involved. I expect these unsettled questions to get more complicated as more people eventually leave abusive personal relationships and toxic organizations. They may be asking themselves if they should have done more, tried harder, left sooner. Can we find ways to remove false guilt, unearned shame, and feelings of powerlessness?

Final Thoughts – Strict Conformity or Staged Collaboration?

Forbearance has generally prevailed in the majority of the Christian #MeToo movement, but it is sometimes an uneasy alliance. Any of these particular issues can become inflamed. The question is whether demarcation lines turn into fault lines that split the movement, or we will be as conciliatory as possible without succumbing to people who may want to claim ownership in the movement to hijack it for their own self-benefiting purposes.

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For Additional Reading and Research

On movements and difficulties arising in collaborations. Series starts here: Thoughts on the Missional Movement. I see teamwork as one way to navigate the choppy waters of the world as it now is, a way to expand the surface area of the raft we float on together in that ocean of uncertainty. The problem is, collaboration doesn’t work well when there are deeply-rooted, irreconcilable differences between potential ministry partners. It’s not that we can’t find a level of appropriate tolerance in letting people be where they are, not where we wish they were. It’s about what to do when conflict occurs not in the content of our perceptions but in the deepest processes we use to make those perceptions. These are what keep us from linking together effectively … and maybe that disconnection is something that we cannot or even should not try to overcome. This series explores some key aspects of how the Church in the US has fragmented during the modern-to-postmodern paradigm shift, what the field looks like in its missional re-formation, and what this may mean in very practical terms for our discipleship systems and collaborations.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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QUESTIONABLE INFLUENCES:

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?

Sustainability

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?

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Part 3: Abuse Survivor Storying Systems

Part 3 – Abuse Survivor Storying Systems

3 – Abuse Survivor Storying Systems. In this post, I describe key changes I’ve seen since beginning in 2007 to track how abuse survivors have been sharing their personal accounts of victimization, push-back, and recovery. It includes storying opportunities for abuse survivors, provided by six sources:

(1) in-person sharing,

(2) “survivor blogs,”

(3) social media platforms and campaigns,

(4) conventional media/news sources,

(5) conferences, and

(6) independent investigations.

If I receive permission from the parties involved, this post will also include an example of how one person’s sharing of their story created a pebble-in-the-pond effect that has already rippled out to reach at least two more rings of impact.

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BACKGROUND ON THIS ARTICLE

I wrote the first draft of this article on October 29, 2018, a week after attending The Courage Conference, October 19-20 and the leadership training and brainstorming session on October 21. I’ve edited this slightly and have noted at the end where I will add the real-world example, if the parties involved give permission to share their story publicly.

At The Courage Conference a week ago, I was thinking through the history of how things had changed with the ways people can share their story of abuse victimization and recovery. Some mechanisms have long been in place, others have entered the arena or gained prominence sometime within the last 10 years or so. Some of these elements interconnect while others remain relatively isolated.

I’ll use 2007 as a starting point for some observations and opinions on the history of how these systems for survivor communities unfolded. That was the year I began tracking more issues dealing with abuse as they popped up on social media, and I began processing my own experiences of spiritual abuse more in depth. (Note: This is off the top of my head, so I have not done fact-checking on exact dates, and the history is based on both my research and general impressions from being in online survivor communities since the mid-2000 decade.)

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1. IN-PERSON STORYING

(Before 2007 and Thereafter)

Back then, about the only way to talk about experiences of spiritual abuse was to share in person. Unless you had your own situation-specific blog to write about abuse, your option for processing was to talk with someone who would listen.

In late 2007 and early 2008, I watched what happened when Julie McMahon Jones – who was then the wife of Emergent Village/progressive Christianity celebrity Tony Jones – attempted to share on various evangelical, church planter, and missional blogs about her experiences of domestic violence and spiritual abuse. She typically got shouted down directly by commenters, inferred as being “batshit crazy” by some commenters, and blog owners often deleted her comments about Tony. Sometimes Tony himself posted to commenters, saying people didn’t know him or his situation and so they shouldn’t be commenting. It also came to light later that Tony and some of his inner circle of supporters approached blog owners to persuade them to remove comments by Julie and anyone else who expressed support for her. In some cases that worked, to the later regret of the blogger, and in other cases the blog owner let all comments stand.

So, if that kind of barrage of secondary abuse is what happened with a Christian celebrity’s wife who tried to shine the spotlight of truth on her own situation, what could any everyday Christian expect if they tried to share their experience of abuse? Julie had her own blog briefly, but how could she even let others know about it? And there were no “survivor blogs” at that point where people could share their story. It would still be another year or so before The Wartburg Watch would pioneer what I’ve been calling the “broadband survivor blog.” This kind of survivor blog reports on a wide range of abuse situations involving individuals, institutions, and ideologies – mostly in the theological conservative, moderate, and evangelical streams of American Christianity.

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2. ENTER THE SURVIVOR BLOGS

(2009 and Thereafter)

In 2009, best friends Dee Parsons and Deb Martin started The Wartburg Watch (TWW) after going through a difficult experience where their Southern Baptist church grossly mishandled a severe situation of child abuse. They thought no one would be interested in reading what they were writing about situations of abuse, but it turned out they were pioneering the broadband survivor blog with a mission of “putting the survivors first” (see “The Prime Directive” section on the TWW Rules of the Road) and also providing resources for preventing further victimization. Dee and Deb have demonstrated this by their personal support for survivors, listening to survivors share their stories, only printing those stories if/when a survivor was ready to go public and to deal with potential costs and consequences, and provide related research into theologies and organizations.

It seems that other broadband survivor blogs operate with a similar mission. And, regularly, some of these bloggers collaborate with each other on research-oriented posts, as different bloggers have different giftings, plus different areas of expertise in terms of knowledge on certain individuals, theologies, organizations, or denominations. Survivor bloggers sometimes collaborate in working with a survivor to help him/her prepare and share his/her story – or help them discern when it’s not a good time to go public, and why.

In the past, survivors often did not find a receptive audience with conventional media or news outlets, whether those were Christian- or community-based. So, the only real options were in-person sharing, or connecting with survivor bloggers. These advocates were gaining skill in empowering and equipping people to process their experiences so they would personally be helped, and the bloggers sometimes helped them publish their experiences so others would be educated and encouraged.

The use of post categories, tags, and archive search functions has made it easier to access information on specific issues, individuals, institutions, and ideologies when the need arises. This applies to other social media as well, and such platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have been increasingly used to publicize fresh blog posts as well as older but still relevant resource materials.

We’ll look at more survivor blogging details and dynamics in Part 5, “The Layout of the ‘Watchblog’ Community.”

NOTES ON CHRISTIAN PUBLISHERS

It occurred to me as I was doing the final edit on this article that I hadn’t mentioned Christian book publishing. As I pondered that, I realize it hadn’t simply slipped my mind, it was just that it’s rare abuse survivors have their experiences published by conventionalChristian publishers. It’s a niche market and has not been financially sustainable. The same seems to go for survivor advocates and activists, who write about support, recovery, and resistance processes, and for pastors and theologians who write about relevant issues of faith and practice. However, a growing number of women and men have been self-publishing their own material, the past five years or so especially.

There is also an insidious side to this situation. Unfortunately, a significant number of celebrity authors end up with credible accusations against them for some type of moral failure and/or abuse of power — such as clergy sexual misconduct with a congregant, authoritarian bullying, plagiarizing materials others produced, domestic violence, child sexual abuse. I have a hunch that Christian publishers who prove slow to address these situations or to remove these celebrities’ books from their catalog, also rarely publish any resources on dealing with systemic abuse or leaders who act like overlords. Research such potential connections would be something to consider for those studying patterns of complicity with abusers.

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3. SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS AND HASHTAG CAMPAIGNS

(Around 2014 and Thereafter)

Members of survivor communities – including bloggers, commenters, and advocates – got a further boost from social media in publicizing survivor stories. Christian abuse survivor hashtag campaigns that spotlighted malignant leaders and sick systems may have been around much earlier, but the first one I recall and participated in was in May 2014. It was to shine the light on Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM, now renamed Sovereign Grace Churches). Their leader, C.J. Mahaney continued to be revered despite credible accusations and ever-increasing evidence of mishandling child sexual abuse reports and of cover-up and disinformation. The #IStandWithSGMVictims had campaigns on both Twitter and Facebook.

Another hashtag campaign was instigated in January 2015 for #IBelieveJulie [McMahon], although this hashtag has been applied to others named Julie since then. This was in the midst of ongoing and increasing numbers of public postings by the now-divorced Julie McMahon and her former husband Tony Jones. This followed a hiatus of several years when Julie was relatively silent because Tony had threatened to sue for full custody of their three children. When Julie was ready to share her story again, her voice was amplified by numerous blogs, including a category of posts on survivor blogs The Wartburg Watch and Spiritual Sounding Board, and an in-depth case study that I developed on Diagnosing Emergent Movement.

Hashtag campaigns are now commonplace, especially with the wave of the #MeToo movement. It was started in 2007 by Tarana Burke and reignited in late 2017 from the exposure of serial predation by Harvey Weinstein and institution tactics that served to cover up his many instances of sexual harassment and assault. Online petitions and resource downloads have also become a staple in survivor communities, and often tie in with hashtag campaigns.

We saw with the Paige Patterson and Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) sexual abuse situations of summer 2018 how social media was a key component in resistance and activism. Take for example the For Such A Time As This Rally. They had at the least the following social media platform elements: website, Twitter account, Facebook account, their own Twitter hashtag campaign, and a downloadable PDF resource for pastors. This was in addition to an in-person rally on June 12 at the site of the annual Southern Baptist Convention messengers’ meeting. They also promoted the hashtags #ChurchToo, #ChurchDV (domestic violence), and #SBCtoo.

I suspect the reach of Twitter especially is amplifying the voice of survivor communities, as numerous survivors who do not have their own blogs often tweet parts of their own story and links to resources and social action projects. While Twitter seems to be where much of the action is for survivor communities when it comes to advocacy and activism, survivor blogs are still where it’s at for in-depth personal storying and critical analysis of those who perpetrate and perpetuate abuse. However, as the prominence of survivor bloggers has grown in the last few years, another element has been increasingly added to the mix: conventional media/news sources.

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4. CONVENTIONAL MEDIA/NEWS

(Around 2015/2016 and Thereafter)

It seems that survivor blogging and other kinds of investigative reporting (such as by GRACE – see #6 below) have gained enough trust that some secular and Christian news sources reference them as credible sources in abuse-related reports. This may happen more frequently, given the expansion of #MeToo into Christian survivor communities, #ChurchToo, and various denomination/situation-specific versions like #SBCtoo or #CatholicChurchToo. But the locus of access has shifted, and news-maker abuse survivors are now sometimes shielded (by their choice) behind confidential conversations with survivor bloggers.

Much has affected these dynamics over the past decade. Because news sources did not often break survivor stories previously, there was a period where survivors no longer tried to get their story publicized. But now, conventional media are more interested in abuse-related stories, due to #MeToo and perhaps other reasons.

These days, they sometimes have to go to survivor bloggers as intermediaries for the sources. News media has a primary obligation to information – to get the facts. In contrast, survivor bloggers have a prime obligation to impact – their directive is to listen to and support the survivor. In fact, these bloggers may have been a main source of emotional support for a survivor for several years before the person felt ready to go public. And the survivor may not even be interested in going public with a conventional news media source.

However, in the past five years or so, some working relationships between survivor bloggers and certain members of the Christian and community press have developed. Although those mostly remain confidential, they occasionally are public when survivor blogger interview quotes or comments are part of the news story. These bloggers are sometimes the best experts available for interpreting a case, because they have been doing research writing on trauma-related issues in general and perhaps tracking the specific situation for years. So, these kinds of emerging relationships are something to be watching.

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5. CONFERENCES AND OTHER GATHERINGS

(Starting Middle to Late 2010s)

As far as I am aware, conferences for survivors of abuse/violence have only recently emerged. MK Safety Net had an event a few years ago. The Courage Conference, led by Ashley Easter, started its annual event in 2016 and is in the planning stages to expand their reach in 2019.

Such gatherings have served to connect face-to-face people who may have previously only known each other from online interactions. For instance, The Courage Conference 2018 had around 150 people from all over North America. This included abuse survivors, family members and friends of survivors, support advocates, social change activists, organizational representatives (e.g., church and non-profit leaders), bloggers, investigators, abuse prevention trainers, therapists, counselors, social workers, and pastors. Also noteworthy is Ms. Easter’s tweet about the theological composition of event:

I suspect these kinds of conferences will amplify future resistance actions, because people will have a face and a voice to connect with an avatar and a handle. This will make collaboration far more personal, and easier to facilitate than trying to do everything virtually online. I think these events will also inspire more women and men to prepare themselves for when they come forward to share their story, because the courage of others who shared has infused into their own soul.

In light of #MeToo and the ripple movements it has started, all five of these sources for storying I’ve mentioned may well become more prominent. They add weight toward a tipping point such that church and society cannot just go back to the ways things have always been in excusing and covering up abuse. The more kinds of survivors who share their story, the more kinds of those who’ve been silent may be encouraged into recovery and perhaps eventually sharing their own story.

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6. INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATIONS

(Early 2010 Decade)

One last element in the storying system for abuse survivors is rarely available at this point, but still could become more visible in the future. And that involves organizations that carry out investigations.

Not all that claim to be an “independent” investigation are that. I am not sure where I got the following framework, probably from something that leaders in GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) said. But there are two kinds of investigations. One is by an organization that is committed to the best interests of “victims and the vulnerable” (a phrase I know GRACE founder Boz Tchividjian has used). The other is by an organization that is committed to limiting the liability of the organization that hired them. The former tend to share the story of the abused; unfortunately, the latter tend to become part of the story of abuse.

A 2015 article by Boz Tchividjian, posted on the Religious News Service website, sets out what are frequently seen as the four gold standard indicators of whether an investigation is truly independent or not: “Are abuse survivors best served when institutions investigate themselves?” He urges us to evaluate potential “investigations” by watching for who is (1) in control (2) of information, (3) of the process, and (4) of what is done with the findings. Some agencies that try to present themselves as objective and independent in actuality require some form of arbitration, conciliation, mediation, and reconciliation to carry out the task. Some technicalities of these approaches typically may limit the ability of participants to have any follow-up legal recourse, may include non-disclosure agreements, and may bury the findings – any of which could ultimately allow perpetuation of abuse to occur. (And, as has been mentioned before, survivors typically do not want what happened to them to happen to others, so prevention of abuse is a prime value to them.)

We have seen these differences in commitment – to survivors and the vulnerable versus to the hiring institution – several times in the past year. One example was the attempt initiated by Willow Creek Elders to engage reported victims of Bill Hybels’ harassment and power abuse into a conciliation process. Their approach would have imposed restrictions on the victims speaking about the process, and it sought reconciliation without first truth-finding. As such, the women survivors were against these pre-emptive efforts, as detailed in blog posts from Vonda Dyer and Betty Schmidt, and a news report from the Chicago Tribune (which broke the original news story about reported sexual abuse/harassment by Bill Hybels, and whose reporters issued updates regularly).

We will consider more details about investigations, what practices they use in attempts to resolve issues with victims, and categories of investigative agencies. Part 4 looks at “Investigations and Their Integration Points,” and whether they focus on benefiting information, institutions, ideologies, or survivors. Part 6 looks at “Pursuing a Process of ‘Truth Before Reconciliation’ – and Identifying Shortcomings of Reliance on Arbitration, Conciliation, and/or Mediation.” Part 7 looks at “Evaluating Christian Agencies That Deal with Abuse Investigations, Arbitration, Conciliation, and/or Mediation.”

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“Advocacy Dominoes – Tracking Ripples in a Story of Impact”

Note: If I receive permission from the parties involved, this post will also include an example of how one person’s sharing of their story created a pebble-in-the-pond effect that has already reached at least two more rings of impact.

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Part 4: Investigations and Integrations

Part 4 – Investigations and Integrations

4 – Investigations and Integrations. For nearly eight months, I’ve been trying to figure out a concept framework that helps organize what I’ve been learning about what constitutes an “independent investigation” into a situation of abuse. This is a significant concern in survivor communities, because not every person or organization that says they’re for “independent” investigations really are. And the results for abuse survivors who end up in some kind of non-independent investigation often find themselves with buyers remorse later.

My resulting framework looks at five different system integration points for investigations. It profiles the purpose, mission, values, and vision that each integration point naturally produces. It also considers what differences in paradigms can mean in terms of constructive or destructive impact for abuse survivors.

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Humble and Helpful – or Hindrance and Harmful?

In the spring of 2018, a highly publicized situation came to the forefront in survivor communities, where an organization that had been protecting a reportedly abusive pastor now wanted to make nice and “reconcile” with his/its victims. It was Willow Creek Community Church – a megachurch that had stalwartly supported Bill Hybels through accusations of sexual abuse and misuse of power. But as more women gave credible, detailed testimony to their experiences, the atmosphere surrounding Willow Creek’s image shifted, and now they were reaching out to survivors instead of continuing to accuse them of lying.

In a new manifestation of the same old problem, the church took actions that showed they were bent on controlling the process. And control is always a tip-off that it’s more about image management and institutional protection than about truth-finding and relational reconciliation. They hired a “conciliator” – without first consulting any of the survivors – and then they invited victims to participate in the process the church had initiated, which could then lead to potential further investigation and mediation.

It did not turn out well for the church, in great part because the women who’d been victimized would not let the church’s elders and staff set the narrative. Nor would they agree to the ground rules of Willow Creek’s proposed process which would preclude the victims from keeping certain legal options open. Instead of caving in to conciliation, the survivors called for truth-finding, then reconciliation, such as in this post by Vonda Dyer.

The stark differences in these approaches is nothing new to many survivors and bloggers. It is typical to see yet another set of leaders from offending organizations seek to repair their image by engaging such processes as arbitration, conciliation, covenants, internal investigation, mediation, reconciliation. Each of these has technical meanings, and, often, negative legal consequences for victims. More about all of that in Part 6.

The purpose of this post is to offer a big-picture framework that helps us organize details on the different kinds of paradigms behind such processes, and better understand the different kinds of elements and institutions surrounding survivor communities. That lets us answer questions like these:

  • What are some of the ground rules for protecting those who are vulnerable and/or victims?
  • What is image management about for institutions, and how can that automatically bias any efforts at damage repair to benefit the organization more than the survivors?
  • How do these approaches inherently create different systems – some in favor of survivors, others ultimately opposed to them, even if they initially give the appearance of peace-making?
  • What are some key attitudes and actions that serve as indicators that a particular paradigm – either healthy or toxic – is in play?
  • What can survivor communities do to resist and counteract processes that silence victims and otherwise cause further damage to them?

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Introducing Key Points for Profiling Paradigm Systems

I’ve invested a huge amount of time in over the years in learning how to profile the paradigm system that an individual or an entity functions from. I find it an important tool for analyzing the abstract ideas and the concrete cultural contexts that drive a system, and evaluating the practical impact the resulting system has on people.

It’s not necessary to detail the entire set of concepts and questions I use to do this, just enough to capture key paradigm points that can help answer those questions I posed above. We’ll need to look at concepts about integration points, and four main aspects of a social or business organization: purpose, mission, values, and vision. There is some overlap among the concepts, but each looks at the whole from a different angle, so that helps in considering the biggest picture possible of the entity we’re profiling.

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Purpose, Mission, Values, and Vision

Paradigm Profile Elements

Here are the four elements that give us a snapshot of the driving motivations, core concepts, and key activities of individuals or entities related to survivor communities. There are some basic questions to help identify each component.

Purpose addresses questions like: Why are we here? What/who drives us to do what we do?

Mission: Who (what kinds of individuals or groups or other entities) do we want to make a difference for?

Values. End-State Values – Where are we going? What is the endpoint of our trajectory? What qualitative differences will find there? Instrumental Values – How will we get there? What methods/means will we use? Will we use any methods/means possible, or only those which are ethical and legal?

Vision What will the world look like when our purpose and mission are accomplished? What legacy could we leave?

Sidenote: If we’ve described these various elements well, that can lead more easily to our developing a set of qualitative and quantitative indicators for measuring how well we are doing in making a difference and having an impact. This is noteworthy because we need to “measure what matters” in our enterprises. But we can’t do this if we haven’t detailed what matters – whether to us as activators or to whomever will be recipients of our activities.

For background, see my tutorial on The Transformational Index, which is an organizational development tool for planning, implementing, evaluating, and course-correcting our enterprises. See also this post on 15 indicators for discerning between healthy or malignant leaders, and trustworthy or toxic enterprises.

Background

Most businesses and organizations (e.g., churches, non-profits, social-benefit businesses) have some kind of “mission statement.” This is often a mish-mash of elements that can be more clearly described as their purpose, mission, vision, and values. I like this fourfold framework, because it does a good job in setting up a metaphor of journeying, that starts where we’re at and takes us to where we want to go, and describing the ways and means we intend to use along the way.

We can discern these elements and find what motivates individuals or organizations by reading their mission statements and resources they recommend, listening to those who are part of a group and especially their spokespeople, and observing members’ actions. This gives us a database of details to work from on both what they tell others is important to them, and what their actions show is actually important. Do the say/do match?

A research framework I’ve found particularly helpful deals with two different types of value structures: end-state and instrumental. Values are not merely our beliefs; they are what motivate us to act. We can reverse engineer what someone’s true beliefs are from examining their activities. They do what relates to what they care about. End-state values (also called terminal values) capture what we desire that the future should look like, and instrumental values tell us what methods we deem appropriate for achieving those ends.

Sociologist Milton Rokeach developed this values system in the 1960s and ’70s. He researched and tested various values, and created a system of 18 terminal and 18 instrumental values. He then applied this mostly to political ideologies and activities, showing how each major system (capitalism, communism, socialism, fascism) has a distinctive profile of ends and means. When you can sit with those profiles for a while, it becomes easier to understand some of the sources of conflict between political philosophies.

But I’ve found value profiling of goals and methods works for parsing other kinds of organizational forms, including emerging subcultures and social movements like #MeToo (see Part 2). I find it especially useful in evaluating the ethical nature of goals and methods – ends and means. When we say, “The means justify the ends,” we are basically saying that the methods we use declare righteous the goals, i.e., both are moral and ethical. But if we pursue the opposite, “The ends justify the means,” we state and act based on an amoral system whereby we will do whatever we want, and do whatever to whomever gets in the way of our goal.

In its core, #MeToo is about doing good plus doing no harm. This means it has moral and ethical elements, and you’ll hear its adherents characterize certain attitudes and actions as immoral, amoral, or downright evil. For instance, it exposes and opposes individuals, institutions, and ideologies that abuse people. It resists people and organizations that attempt to hijack a survivor community’s goals, trajectory, or methods. But this also means that differences between subgroups within the larger movement can lead to conflicts and possibly fragmentations. (I’ll share some additional thoughts on that in Part 8.)

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Integration Points

The integration point for a system is whatever thing brings the system together, and that the system then revolves around. It can be a person, concept, activity, social or political problem, organizational enterprise – just about anything that brings a system into being and motivates people to keep it going. Here are a few questions that show how to find that most essential thing:

  • Who or what constitutes my/our highest commitment, such that everything else gets evaluated and subordinated by that commitment?
  • What activities above all others drive the direction of our organization?
  • Who benefits most from our actions? Is it ethical/legal or unethical/illegal for these individuals or organizations to be the beneficiaries – or is it some hazy shade in between?

An system’s integration point may seem the same as purpose, but it has a different slant. A purpose can be an abstract concept or attitude – for example: to make a difference, to bring healing to people, to promote unconditional love. An integration point tends to be far more concrete than that. It is typically a key product, activity, audience, or enterprise around which everything else revolves. Integration points govern methodologies and activities. They help us determine what we must include in our organizational system, and how these elements fit together to accomplish what we want to achieve.

For instance, suppose that producing and maintaining a survivor resource website is the integration point for your main purpose, which is to support, inspire, and equip abuse survivors. Then you can organize all the people, processes, products, partnerships, etc., that are involved into a system that leads to website production and maintenance.

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Five “I” Integrators for Christian Abuse Survivor Communities

Some larger activities with very different integration points intersect with survivor communities. I believe these differences can either make for strong collaborations, or stark conflicts. See what you think, as you interpret what you observe going on between different players and layers who act as part of the Christian #MeToo movement.

The framework I developed to capture the most information uses alliteration with five “I” words. The kinds of integrators vary: Some are more about people and social entities, others about ideas and products.

Individuals

Christian #MeToo groups that integrate around individuals focus on those who are abuse survivors, along with personal advocates, family, and friends in  their support networks. Survivors tend to value truth-finding, personal recovery/growth, social justice,  and prevention of abuse so others do not suffer from such trauma.

Institutions

When the main focus revolves around an entity, it is typically one in which there are accusations of people being abused by malignant leaders and toxic systems. Such institutions value limiting its legal and financial liability, and preserving a positive image. For resources that expose the institution-promoting and critic-silencing techniques of institutional image “impression management,” see the tweets by Wade Mullen.

Ideologies

The integrator for a group can be a set of ideas – a theology or philosophy. Those driven by an ideology are consumed with perfecting it, promoting it, and protecting it from critique. When an ideological theology is opposed to survivors, its adherents often counter survivors by saying that going public with accusations of abuse harms the reputation of both the Church and Christ. Ideologues have a strong probability of treating others with contempt and condemnation, often using inflammatory rhetoric.

Information

Here the main activities are research and interview processes to find information related to stories of victimization. They include investigating, analyzing, synthesizing, interpreting, reporting, illustrating, and presenting their findings. Just because a group is integrated around information, that does mean it is automatically objective or pro-survivors, but the values are on reporting information, not supporting those who informed. This helps explain the reluctance of some survivors to share their experiences with people in media.

Impact

Social advocates and social change activists are focused on transformation. Though their values seem similar to those integrated around Individuals, in this case the realms are primarily social-political-legal change. These kinds of advocates and activists are typically looking for impact by transforming social systems to have trauma-informed support, institutional intervention and prevention of abuse, just consequences for abusers, and a legal system that is more pro-survivors and is not falsely protective of abusers.

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Integrators and Natural Collaborations – or Inherent Conflicts

It may seem counter-intuitive, but different kinds of entities can have the same integration point. For example, here is a set of three organizations where each has some variation of an integration point on individuals – victims, survivors, the vulnerable.

The Wartburg Watch is a survivor blog that is governed by their “prime directive,” which is to always put survivors first: “All commenters must acknowledge the pain some people have experienced at the hand of pastors and churches which overemphasize a particular doctrine or which apply harsh and capricious discipline.” Commenters who fail or refuse to express compassion for abuse victims may find their comments rebuked or even deleted.

Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) is an independent investigative agency that also provides resources and training on abuse intervention and prevention. Their mission statement includes this: “As followers of Jesus, the GRACE team seeks to be faithful and obedient to His teaching and the teachings of the whole of Scripture, which we believe put great value in the compassionate care and advocacy for children and vulnerable people.”

The Courage Conference offers gatherings, trainings, and other resources to provide support for “abuse survivors, advocates, and those who love them.” Their mission statement begins thus: “The Courage Conference exists to be a refuge for survivors, a place to educate and empower advocates, and a catalyst to spark the conditions where this movement for change can become a Justice Generation that resists abuse everywhere.”

Such sets of players and layers with the same integrator probably make for great partnerships. That’s because their particular shared integration point typically means their purposes, missions, values, and visions overlap significantly – or are at least highly compatible.

But conflict can be inevitable when the integration point reveals a whole paradigm of differences. For instance, opposition is almost guaranteed when one group integrates around the well-being and healing of abuse survivors; and another integrates around protecting an institution accused of harboring abusers by seeking to control the narrative, maintain a positive image, and limit financial liability. As mentioned earlier, this is seen in the conflict at Willow Creek Community Church, where the incompatible individual/survivor values on independent investigation, truth-finding, and then reconciliation clashed with institutional values on “conciliation,” keeping details private, and preventing future legal actions. (More about variations on conciliation in Part 6.)

Differences in integration points and paradigms also shows up in conflicts over the types of investigations each promotes. Here are some initial thoughts on that:

  • Individuals (survivors and their advocates) want unbiased fact-finding for the purposes of recovery, justice, and prevention, but may not recognize systemic elements involved in their situation.
  • Institutions often want an investigation where they control the processes, findings, and reporting; this does not qualify as an “independent” investigation.
  • Ideologies will view any information through the grid of their philosophy or theology, making for an automatically biased exclusion of otherwise relevant data, and severely slanted interpretation of remaining data.
  • Information-based investigations may be relatively unbiased, but not necessarily holistic (seeing systemic elements involved). Being unbiased involves a degree of separation or aloofness from the subject, and so reporters may not offer emotional support for interviewees who provide accounts of their experiences to them.
  • Impact-oriented investigations are likely to emphasize systemic aspects of abuse, but may de-emphasize personal recovery elements in the process.

More about independent versus controlled investigations in Part 7.

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Final Thoughts on Paradigm Profiles

The best “elevator speeches” and website “About” pages rely on many of these points to summarize what a person, organization, or social movement is all about. We’ll use this section to prepare for later examinations of:

  • The layout of the “watchblog” community (Part 5).
  • Arbitration, conciliation, covenants, mediation, and reconciliation vs. truth-then-reconciliation (Part 6).
  • Independent and non-independent investigative agencies in the Church (Part 7).
  • Advocacy and activism elements in the Christian wings of #MeToo (Part 8).

All of these survivor communities segments involve some level of investigation. So, the impact of how each subdivision perceives their task and carries it out can dramatically affect us as individuals and as Christian streams in the #MeToo movement as a whole.

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Part 5: The Contours of “Watchblog” Communities

Part 5 – The Contours of “Watchblog” Communities

5 – The Contours of “Watchblog” Communities. In a recently filed defamation lawsuit, James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel labeled the people he’s suing as “attack bloggers.” Are they really just attacking him for reasons of revenge – or are they simply attempting to reveal individual and institutional actions that have harmed people whom the church should have helped, and shine a light on the ideologies that drove them?

Blogs have become a significant source of investigative information for survivor communities. So, they have sometimes been called “watchblogs.” But are all sites that engage in exposés of reported abuses actually survivor-friendly? What are the contours of blogging among survivor communities – along with subcategories and the distinctives of each? How does blogging relate to various types of abuse, and what are important patterns and trends that we see among them? This post maps out contours of the wider watchblog communities.

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“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.” Ephesians 5:11, NASB

Background on My Blogging

I have been blogging since April 1, 2003. (Somehow, starting on April Fool’s Day seems appropriate.) I was then 47 years old, and my GenXer and Millennial friends were pushing me to get going. So I did.

I’ve been using WordPress since 2007, and that is around the time I began checking into spiritual abuse issues more deeply. I found out online from a friend’s blog that Barbara Orlowski was doing her Doctor of Ministry project on church/ministry leaders who’d been spiritually abused by other church/ministry leaders. She was using a 20-question survey for respondents to detail what happened, how they processed their experiences, how recovery was going, and how the experience changed their faith and practice.

A lot of my friends (many of them bloggers) took the survey. I completed the survey in early 2008. It took me nearly a week full time, since I’d had five different toxic ministry experiences in the previous 30 years in theologically conservative churches. The results are in Barb’s book, Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness (Wipf & Stock, 2010).

But Barb’s survey is part of what got me doing research writing on individuals and organizations that were spiritually abusive. And I began watching the news for abuse, and exploring the “watchblog community” to see what else was going on. I posted my first case study 10 years ago, starting September 2008, on Todd Bentley, the Lakeland Outpouring, and the New Apostolic Reformation that at first supported him. For a list of the resources and case studies I’ve done, see the right-hand navigation bar on my futuristguy blog, section “3 Abuse Case Studies and Articles.”

The rest of this post gives thoughts and opinions I’ve come to on various topics, based on my years in exploring and participating in survivor blogger communities.

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The Layout of the Watchblog Community

In looking at the big picture of abuse issues, a term that is sometimes applied to the landscape of writers is “watchbloggers.” (There doesn’t seem to be a standard term in use yet, so I’ll share what I use, plus what I see as some of the more common language uses.) Unfortunately, this generic mega-label lumps together several two main categories that do have some distinct differences – what insiders more often call discernment blogs, and survivor blogs. So, critics of “watchbloggers” may not be distinguishing between the two.

The key difference I see parallels that which survivors find between two kinds of abuse investigations – an independent one that serves the interests of the victims and the vulnerable, and the other a dependent or internal one that serves the interests of the institution and its ideology. Similarly, survivor blogs focus on the justice for victims and protecting the vulnerable from perpetrators while discernment blogs focus on a particular institution and/or ideology and promote conformity to them.

This distinction does not mean that all discernment blogs are 100% bad, or that all survivor blogs are 100% good. Each kind can be critiqued for strengths, flaws, and challenges. But, in terms of survivor communities, discernment blogs are far less frequently a constructive source of support for survivors and are far more frequently a source of protection for malignant celebrity Christians and their toxic institutions and ideologies. The following chart describes key aspects of discernment and survivor blogs, without getting into extensive critiques of either.

 

“Watchbloggers” / Composition of the “Watchblog Community”

Overall Types

Discernment Blogs

Survivor Blogs

Distinctives Focus on correct doctrine, promote a specific ideology and theology, often very perfectionistic with black-and-white thinking. Focus on people’s narratives of experiences with abusive leaders, theologies, and institutions.
  Theological critiques of individuals and their ideology and practices that do not conform to the blog’s stated beliefs of “correct doctrine.” Research and critique of doctrines, practices, and ministry power dynamics that harm people and crush their faith.
  Tend to be theologically conservative to fundamentalist, and emphasize right thinking with biblical knowledge as the key to maturity. Tend to be more theologically moderate and holistic, and emphasize whole-person healing, discipleship, and discernment for maturity.
  Tendency to be inflammatory, even contemptuous, in opposing those they judge to be false teachers. Tendency to poke fun at or be sarcastic on occasion, but not to the point of decimating someone’s humanity.
  Tend to be gender complementarian and for hierarchical power. Tend to be gender egalitarian and for distributed power.
Subcategories · One-issue or one-person-target blogs. (Ex. Anti-Billy Graham; anti-Charismatic/Pentecostal theology.)

 

· Broadband blogs. (Ex. Pyromaniacs, which seem to hate survivor blogs; Pirate Christian, which sometimes works with survivor bloggers.)

· One abusive leader, institution, or situation. (Ex. Recovering Grace, on Bill Gothard, IBLP.)

· One kind of abuse. (Ex. domestic violence.)

· Broadband – variety of situations (Ex. Watchkeep, The Wartburg Watch, Spiritual Sounding Board, Warren Throckmorton).

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“Anti-Watchblogs” – Counteractive Blogs

Maybe there is a whole other category, but it doesn’t exactly fit easily in the Watchblog Community, and that’s “anti-watchblogs” – websites set up specifically to counter the reports of experiences and research done by survivors of a particular person or program. They aren’t discernment blogs, they are more special-interest protect-the-status-quo-of-the-powerful blogs.

For instance, Recovering Grace focuses on narrative accounts of victims of Bill Gothard’s sexual harassment, and research on related theology and institutional dynamics of IBLP/Institute in Basic Life Principles and ATI/Advanced Training Institute. Over a period of about three years, Recovering Grace posted a portfolio of some 60 personal stories of victims, which gave a base for demonstrating patterns of similar grooming and harassing behaviors by Bill Gothard. The blog Discovering Grace is a pro-Gothard site set up to counter the survivors.

Thinking about this in the moment, maybe Counternarrative Blog or Disinformation Blog would work better as a descriptive term? That’s the intended function.

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Notes on Subcategories of Survivor Blogs

Based on over 10 years of my watching watchblogging, I’ve concluded there are distinct subcategories of survivor blogs. Some have a very narrow focus, others more broad-based. Some have frequent posts, some irregularly. If nothing else, these observations and details show that there is a range of ways to participate in survivor blogging. Here are the kinds and trends I’ve seen.

Single Situation or Denomination Blogs

There have been a number of these over the years. Recovering Graceis perhaps the stellar example of how a more recent one got built up over time with a compilation of personal accounts, analysis of leaders and theologies involved, research on the related institutions, etc.

An earlier, now archived, site worth noting is Stop Baptist Predators, compiled over the years by Christa Brown. It focused on the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and various ministers who were “convicted, confessed, or credibly accused” of sexual misconduct. With the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements sparked late in 2017, the #SBCToo hashtag came into being. All the goings-on with then-president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Paige Patterson and some of the related SBC hashtag campaigns started referring to Christa Brown and Stop Baptist Predators, and also to past posts on the Istoria Ministries Blog by SBC pastor and former International Mission Board trustee Wade Burleson. These included the For Such A Time As This Rally website and Twitter account, which began just prior to the June 2018 annual meeting of the SBC, and the Justice for Anne [Marie Miller] website and Twitter account. Anne Marie Miller was reportedly the victim of sexual misconduct by Mark Aderholt, an SBC minister who was later an SBC missionary and leader. This all goes to show how important it is to have archived historical material available when a providential moment arises and a new wave of people are ready to hear.

There are also individuals who wouldn’t consider themselves survivor bloggers necessarily, but who may have a personal connection to a specific situation and therefore post about it. What comes to mind immediately here are a number of bloggers like “Brother Maynard,” Bill Kinnon, and Andrew Jones who were connected with the situation of Emergent Village leader Tony Jones who was credibly accused of abuse against his wife, Julie McMahon Jones. They each did a few posts at critical moments in that situation, and their personal observations/insights proved important. You can find links to their posts by searching for their names in the Diagnosing the Emergent Movement case study site.

Blogs on a Single Kind of Abuse

Some survivor bloggers tend to focus on the main type of abuse they are recovering from: domestic violence, clergy sexual misconduct, sexual assault, abuse of spiritual authority, etc.

Related to this, a number of times over the past 10 years, there have been efforts to cross-list resources for multiple forms of abuse, or to bring together a partnership among some of the bloggers on single kinds of abuse.

Barbara Orlowski is one of those “hub people” who network widely, and she was involved in the now-defunct Abuse Resource Network. It was a relatively early effort in the mid-to-late 2000 decade to connect writers and professionals with expertise in different types of abuse/violence, especially to find the commonalities among their fields of interest. It folded because the person who’d volunteered to do the IT work was not longer able to maintain their website.

There have been occasional behind-the-scenes talks about some kind of clearinghouse or archive for survivor blogs. Sticking points are usually with time and technology. Those who do investigative work and help people tell their stories are often doing this on the side, so their time is limited. And, there has not yet been any consistency of tech workers to produce and maintain such a website. Maybe sometime soon there will be, as survivor blogs take a bit more prominent role in shining the spotlight on malignancies in the Church.

Meanwhile, there seems to be a growing awareness among survivors and survivor bloggers about the common roots of different forms of abuse – and, really, that they all stem from the desire of an abuser to control the victim and using a specific combination of tactics to do so. The one-page handout from the SBC For Such A Time As This Rally introduced pastors to a spectrum of abuse forms: physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, financial.

Broadband Situations

Even within the broadband types of survivor bloggers, there are some distinctives worth noting. Most function within the range of theological conservative to moderate streams of the Church.

TYPES OF EMPHASIS. Some cast a very wide net for what they investigate and report on (for example, The Wartburg Watch and Spiritual Sounding Board). A lot of this may depend on emerging news, and who contacts them for support and possibly sharing their personal story.

Others may have a few situations or denominations that they tend to focus on (Watchkeep – SBC, SNAP/pedophiles in ministry, clergy sexual misconduct. Thou Art The Man – Neo-Calvinism, Acts29, 9Marks, ARBCA, Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches).

Professor Warren Throckmorton tends to focus on the academia and institutional angles of stories instead of personal experience narratives.

At futuristguy, I focus on the big picture issues of toxic systems and in-depth case studies from a range of different theological streams and church/ministry organizational forms.

GENDER-INTEGRATED TEAMS. I mentioned in the chart that survivor bloggers tend to be gender egalitarians. I find it intriguing that many of the broadband survivor blogs have women and men partnering in teams to write, edit, and discuss posts. Many sensitive issues arise in preparing blog posts, and this kind of teamwork not only helps get research and writing done, but contributes to a better discussion on whether or when it is time to post on a particular situation.

  • The Wartburg Watch has Dee and Deb (who has stepped back for the time being), and Guy Behind The Curtain who keeps the site going.
  • Spiritual Sounding Board has Julie Anne, Kathi, me, and several women who occasionally help with research and writing.
  • Thou Art The Man teams up Todd as the main writer and Jana as his editor.

SPAN OF COVERAGE. From my work writing case studies on spiritually abusive individuals, institutions, and ideologies, it is my firm belief that abuse infects every type of church or ministry. This includes: every theological stream, every form of church polity/ecclesiology, and both hierarchical and “flat structure” organizations.

This seems important to note right now, for at least two reasons. First, no theology or denomination can claim they are free of abuse. Somewhere in survivor blogdom, there is likely something from an article all the way to an extended case study that proves that assertion wrong.

Second, certain people or situations become a litmus test of whether someone or some organization is serious about abuse or it’s just a buzz word to expand their platform. How someone responds to the credible accusations (or acknowledgments) of abuse are telling. Do you critique these individuals, or protect them? Some examples we’ve seen in the last year, all of which have issue trails that go back at least a decade:

An intriguing tweet showed up in my Twitter feed in late October 2018 and, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to relocate it. A survivor who blogs commented on the Tony Jones situation and said something to the effect that he found it much easier to identify with “exvangelicals” who’ve left the Church than with progressives, because so many progressives talk a good line about abhorring abuse but then say nothing about the case of Tony Jones or openly support him.

A lot of abuse survivors end up as nones, dones, or gones from the Church. So these kinds of litmus-test people can become indicators of whether a survivor is interested in going back to some kind of church, or (re)adopt some kind of Christian label. If a particular local minister is supportive of a litmus-test leader, they’ve likely repulsed abuse survivors. Malignant leaders who are not removed from positions of power are millstones to survivors and may be ongoing milestones as to whether they ever return to a church.

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Final Thoughts

For what it’s worth, I am increasingly convinced that lawsuits – and perhaps even instigation of RICO (racketeering) criminal cases – will be the only way to break through denial where leaders in Christian institutions refuse to listen to those they victimized and to offer genuine remediation to repair the damages done. In the U.S. at least, it is common for churches and ministries to become non-profit corporations. This makes the whole an “individual” in the eyes of the law. The state and the IRS give the corporation certain legal rights, but also legal responsibilities, and potential accountability and liability for misdeeds perpetrated by the corporation.

When sin and evil end up in unethical and illegal activities, these corporations – and those in roles of responsibility – should beware the authority God has given civil government. Demands by church leaders for victims to engage in quiet conciliation or an impossible Matthew 18 confrontation process or unconditional submission to authorities will not alter the reality of corporate responsibility as a legally constituted entity. Perhaps lawsuits and such won’t spark personal repentance, but at least they may lead to some justice, financial reparations, and maybe even dismantling of a corrupt organization.

Meanwhile, for the victims and the vulnerable, survivor blogs have been a godsend. Many survivors have left their church. They often have nowhere to process their experiences and emotions, no one who is trauma-informed to listen and help interpret what happened – until they stumble across survivor blogs. There they find a community of people who care about providing a listening ear, functional justice, and spotlighting evil in the Church to prevent more people from being victimized. Far from perfect we are, but a bridge to rebuilding one’s soul and spirit and body we can be.

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Part 6A: Introducing a Range of Institutional Responses Designed to Shut Down Survivors

Part 6. Legal-System Tools and Resolution Processes

That Prioritize Institutions Over Individuals

Having looked at different ways people integrate their beliefs and actions about abuse, we will now focus in on specific means that promote institutions instead of protect individuals. We need to do this because not all facets of so-called “investigations” or “reconciliations” are geared to serve survivors and the vulnerable by: (1) finding the truth, (2) rectifying the sources of abuse, and (3) dealing justly with the consequences.

Some tactics actually silence victims. Others effectively limit liability to individuals and organizations involved with abuse. Some purported resolution processes ultimately fail to prevent future abuse because they do not dismantle current systemic abuse.

This post describes common legal-system tools and resolution processes encountered by abuse survivors, and analyzes how these favor institutions instead of individuals. It offers frameworks, short examples, and case studies for evaluating the destructive net impact of these methods on survivors in recovery. It also lays out  a better way forward with an alternative path of “truth-finding before reconciliation.”

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Why do so many abuse survivors and front line advocates respond with vehemence when offending institutions supposedly want to “reconcile” – but to do so, they require victims to sign away their legal rights and agree to processes that protect the institution?

In the four posts of Part 6, we’ll look at some of the means that Christian institutions use against individuals victimized in/by toxic organizations. These methods may achieve the institution’s integrating goal of self-protection. However, they typically leverage flawed theological points to manipulate survivors. Ultimately, giving in to these tools and theologies comes at a cost of legal and ethical consequences for survivors.

Part 6A. Introduction to legal-system tools and investigation/negotiation/resolution processes that benefit institutions over survivors.

Part 6B. Four legal-system tools (defamation lawsuits, non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements, non-compete clauses, and church membership “covenants” that are legal contracts). Includes brief examples, plus a longer case study from The Village Church and its membership covenant.

Part 6C. Three investigation/negotiation/resolution processes (arbitration, conciliation, and mediation). Includes brief examples, plus a longer case study from Willow Creek Community Church leaders hiring Crossroads Resolution Group and the women victims refusing to play by those rules, and why.

Part 6D. Analysis of key problems in these legal tools and resolution processes and their impacts, how these have affected (and disaffected) survivor communities, and the better way of truth-finding before reconciliation.

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PART 6A. Introduction

Introducing a Range of Institutional Responses

Designed to Shut Down Survivors

Part 6A. Introduction to legal-system tools and investigation / negotiation / resolution processes that benefit institutions over survivors.

When I sat down to develop the opening to this introductory post for Part 6, it took less than three minutes to generate a list of seven ways we’ve seen toxic individuals and institutions use in the past few years, to deflect or defame victims, or delay substantive actions to bring justice. I posted an initial version of this list on Twitter, and edited it for here, plus added links for the examples.

I note the time it took just to illustrate how common these have become in survivor circles, that they came to mind that quickly. This is the order they just happened to emerge, along with the first examples I thought of for each.

1. DIY crisis management – use media and your own platform to berate accusers publicly. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Elders.

2. Hire a professional crisis manager/PR agent who manages public statements. Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church). Tullian Tchividjian (see the section on What ways have you seen national organizations and media keep Tullian Tchividjian “in control” of the narrative?).

3. Hire a legal firm that investigates and reports to/for the institution. Highpoint Church Memphis, with their Andy Savage situation.

4. Hire a conciliation firm as an institutional bridge to work with victims. Willow Creek Community Church Elders.

5. Give a preemptive media interview or statement to lay out your position and mea culpas (Ravi Zacharias + RZIM/Christianity Today) or write a (pseudo-)apology post (Tullian Tchividjian/ExPastors.com).

6. Create a study group, advisory group, or commission. J.D. Greer, new president for the Southern Baptist Convention. (Although the group got underway several months later, there have been no progress reports in the three months since it started.)

7. Sue the whistleblowers, advocates, bloggers/reporters for defamation, and potentially include their spouses or others who aren’t really involved, but it increases the pressure. Charles O’Neal (micro-church leader/Beaverton Grace Bible Church). James MacDonald (mega-church leader/Harvest Bible Chapel).

Interwoven with these actions may be:

  • Disinformation, partial information, and highly slanted information.
  • Brute displays of power.
  • Use of tools that are legal but not necessarily ethical.
  • Misinterpreted or misapplied Scripture used as ideological leverage to send survivors into silence through guilt, shame, and fear.

Let’s take a look at some details about such actions, so we can think through the dynamics that draw forth the strong reactions we witness from survivor communities. Here’s the plan for the rest of Part 6, which focuses in on tools and processes that prioritize the protecting of institutions over individuals.

Part 6B. Four legal-system tools (defamation lawsuits, non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements, non-compete clauses, and church membership “covenants” that are legal contracts). Includes brief examples, plus a longer case study from The Village Church and its membership covenant.

Part 6C. Three investigation/negotiation/resolution processes (arbitration, conciliation, and mediation). Includes brief examples, plus a longer case study from Willow Creek Community Church leaders hiring Crossroads Resolution Group and the women victims refusing to play by those rules, and why.

Part 6D. Analysis of key problems in these legal tools and resolution processes, how these have affected survivor communities, and the better way of truth-finding before reconciliation.

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Part 6B: Legal But Harmful Institutional Tools of Conformity and Control

PART 6B

Legal But Harmful Institutional Tools of Conformity and Control

Part 6B. Four legal-system tools (defamation lawsuits, non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements, non-compete clauses, and church membership “covenants” that are legal contracts). Includes brief examples, plus a longer case study from The Village Church and its membership covenant.

A note up front: I am not a lawyer. The descriptions in Part 6 come from my work in research writing, and represent my lay person understanding of technical concepts involved. The following topics are here to inform readers about tools that may be built into agreements or covenants you may be asked to enter into.

If you are in a situation of interaction to resolve issues with abusive individuals or institutions that caused or covered up damage, I strongly recommend that you consult a lawyer for legal counsel.

We will look at the following four tools. They may be stand-alone actions/items, or part of a larger agreement or contract.

  1. Defamation lawsuit.
  2. Non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreement (NDA).
  3. Non-compete clause.
  4. Church membership “covenants” that are legal contracts.

All of these tools and tactics have something to do with control of information and investigations. The net effects include stopping information that could come from victims, and skewing information that gets to the public. In the big picture of things, these tools are ultimately harmful both to the individuals and institutions involved, and do not serve the common good either.

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1. Defamation Lawsuits

A lawsuit (or threatened lawsuit) by an individual or organization, meant to intimidate into silence abuse victims, whistleblowers, or bloggers/reporters. The plaintiffs typically have money and time to do this, and a court case creates hardship for defendants who don’t have such resources. Defendants can file for an Anti-SLAPP measure. (SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, i.e., a frivolous lawsuit meant to silence opponents.) If granted, the court stops the discovery process and puts the case into expedited consideration. Further description here.

Examples: Charles O’Neal and his church (Beaverton Grace Bible Church) lost the defamation case they filed against survivor blogger Julie Anne Smith of Spiritual Sounding Board and others, and were required to pay all court costs and the defendants’ legal fees – all of which totaled about $65,000.

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2. Non-Disclosure / Non-Disparagement Agreements (NDA)

Those who sign an NDA as part of a legal settlement are bound by silence, typically from sharing proprietary information (non-disclosure) or details about what happened during negotiations or mediation and the settlement terms (non-disparagement). Some of the out-of-court tools (such as arbitration and conciliation) still may include legally-binding agreements that require silence on the processes and any settlement.

Examples: This two-page NDA from Harvest Bible Chapel, posted on Wondering Eagle, has confidentiality and non-disclosure sections, and much more. For instance, any mandatory arbitration could result in non-disparagement requirements. Scot McKnight addresses the moral and ethical dimensions of NDAs in his article of September 13, 2018, “Non-Disparagement Agreements And Truth-Telling In The Church: Willow Creek.” Lori Anne Thompson’s article, “NDA’s,” describes the net effect of this tactic, from the point of view of a victim.

At times, if the party in control breaks the agreement, it frees the other(s) to speak. Or, the party in control can release the other(s) to speak, as was the case recently with Vermont’s Catholic bishop releasing abuse victims from the settlement NDA. Or, the survivors may choose to break the agreement and speak, as recently happened with Eliza Dushku, when she provided an opinion piece to the Boston Globe about her being fired from CBS, though she was reportedly a victim of sexual harassment by actor Michael Weatherly. There may be penalties specified in the contract for breaking the agreement.

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3. Non-Compete Clauses

This form of contractual element has shown up in Christian circles in agreements with exiting staff members, requiring them not to start a new church with a certain radius of their former employing church. From situations that have been exposed in recent years, this typically appears to be tied to receiving a severance package. No non-compete, no financial package. How should we not view this as a form of manipulative silencing and control?

Example: Mars Hill Church and the case of an elder there, Phil Poirer, from Warren Throckmorton’s blog. His additional article maps out what this looks like.

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4. Church Membership “Covenants” That are Legal Contracts

It has become popular in certain circles – especially theological Neo-Calvinists, and 9Marks and Acts 29 churches – to have church membership covenants that have the effect of a legal contract. These typically seem to include such elements as binding members to: obey local church leaders, follow church by-laws, submit to church disciple and/or to mandatory arbitration in case of conflicts, and not “gossip.” (Should reporting the truth about abuse situations constitute gossip?)

Potential members may not realize the legal implications of membership covenant terms that are couched in theological language, and they may have severe difficulties in removing themselves from membership and/or avoiding church discipline/shunning. These forms of covenant clauses are often promoted by Christian conciliation services with a net effect of limiting liability for church corporations. (See this Wartburg Watch post that summarizes sources of and problems with membership contracts.)

Example: The Wartburg Watch has probably posted more about church membership “covenants” as contracts than any other survivor blog. Dee Parson did an analysis of CityView Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and used that as the central case study for “A Tutorial: How to Assess the Membership Contract at Fort Worth’s CityView Church” (May 4, 2015).

As the nearly 400 comments illustrate, this post highlights a series of theological and organizational issues in membership contracts that would definitely be of concern to abuse survivors – especially if their situation involved any church leader(s). And, as it turns out, some of those problematic points arose in the case study below of The Village Church, which planted CityView Church.

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Legal-System Tools Case Study:

Karen Hinkley, The Village Church,

and Problems Amplified by Membership Covenants

The purpose of this case study is to introduce the overall situation and present select online materials that provide extensive documentation and analysis for readers to evaluate for themselves. Here are some questions to keep in mind as you go through these materials.

  1. At what points do you see integration point(s) demonstrated – and by whom? For individuals/survivors? Institutions? Ideologies? Information? Impact?
  2. What overall ideological issues, specific doctrinal planks, and particular practices at The Village Church (TVC) caused or amplified problems?
  3. Why/how did the initial apology from TVC fall short of leading to resolution? How did the second apology and statement of forgiveness bring closure?
  4. Who and what changed during the process of this conflict? Were changes for the better, or for the worse?
  5. How could things have gone differently if the church had different paradigm integration points that governed their interactions and methodologies?

Overview of the Situation

The specific situation that probably brought the greatest awareness to the highly flawed nature of membership covenants was that of Karen Hinkley Root in 2015. It also demonstrates how survivor communities and bloggers came alongside Karen to be a support in multiple ways.

The many interwoven elements in this complicated case revolved around her then-husband, Jordan, using child pornography. They had not been married for long, and she discovered his pedophilia while they were outside the U.S., serving as missionaries. It led to her subsequent filing for annulment of the marriage for his fraudulent misrepresentation of himself to her.

However, Jordan Root was accepted back at The Village Church (TVC) in Flower Mound, Texas, for being “repentant,” while Karen Hinkley was placed under church discipline for the annulment and not submitting to church leadership, for instance, by refusing to engage in reconciliation attempts (However, according to Texas state law, attempts at reconciliation could have negated her efforts for annulment.) This was after she had already officially notified TVC to withdraw her from membership. Karen faced ongoing shunning by church members and misrepresentations about her side of the situation to church groups.

There was significant coverage of the situation by survivor bloggers, and public pushback from survivor advocates/activists. Questions continued about the extent of church leaders’ support for Jordan that may have put children at risk, such as whether they had failed to warn congregation members about Jordan being a pedophile (even though supposedly repentant), and how well they were monitoring him to prevent interactions with minors at church. A public protest at TVC organized by child sexual abuse prevention advocates from SNAP to warn congregants about Jordan’s pedophilia.

Karen threatened to take legal action. Eventually the church leaders changed their views on some of their actions, though not on their membership or discipline policies. They issued an apology, but this did not bring closure to the situation. Upon review, and with the consent and cooperation of Karen, TVC Lead Pastor Matt Chandler and the elders sent a formal statement of their repentance and apology to church members, and Karen Hinkley gave a formal statement of her forgiveness.

The timespan from the beginning of public posting with details of the situation, to resolution and the final set of apology/forgiveness statements, was only about three weeks. The ripple effects and consequences lasted much longer, as this case sparked significant awareness and discussion in abuse survivor communities.

Source Materials, Mostly from Survivor Blogs

Case studies can contain all kinds of source materials. Expert Robert K. Yin describes six categories in his textbook Case Study Research: Design and Methods (Sage Publishing, 5th edition, 2014, page 105-118).

  1. Documents. Letters, emails, text messages, calendars, meeting minutes, reports.
  2. Archival Records. Government “public use” data, service records, budgets and personnel records, maps.
  3. Interviews. Prolonged interviews (totaling two hours or longer, whether in one sitting or multiple), shorter interviews, and survey interviews/questionnaires.
  4. Direct Observations. Notes and quotes from the observations of the person(s) producing the case study.
  5. Participant-Observation. Notes and quotes from case study producers while they also play an active role in the enterprise or situation.
  6. Physical Artifacts. Physical or cultural items that are evidence, such as technological devices, tools, artworks.

Many of these six kinds of sources show up in the situation of Karen Hinkley and The Village Church – some from the primary people involved, others are secondary analysis by those looking on. Both primary and secondary sources have value as we sift through the evidence to put the pieces together and see what we can learn.

Developing a case study is about curating materials. I have selected groups of blog posts designed to lead you through several deeper layers of evidence and analysis. Keep in mind the five questions I posed at the beginning of the case study.

OVERVIEWS OF THE SITUATION AND THE “SO WHAT?” ELEMENTS

Good introductions to the situation and key lessons are here:

Insidious Behavior at The Village Church Regarding a Pedophile and His Former Wife” by Julie Anne Smith at Spiritual Sounding Board (May 21, 2015).

Five Lessons from The Village Church and Karen Hinkley” by Steve Smith (May 28, 2015).

DOCUMENTS AND DETAILS, MOSTLY FROM KAREN HINKLEY

Amy Smith at WatchKeep provided a series of in-depth reports plus documentation, including many statements and documents provided by Karen Hinkley herself.

She Speaks: The Village Church protects a confessed pedophile and ‘disciplines’ his wife, a brave young woman and missionary” (May 20, 2015).

Stories of The Village Church and other Abusive Church Survivors” (May 26, 2015).

Karen Hinkley’s response to The Village Church 5/23/15 email sent to 6000 “covenant members” about her and Jordan Root” (May 27, 2015).

Raising awareness at The Village Church to protect kids” (June 1, 2015).

New SNAP statement on Jordan Root, SIM and The Village Church” (June 11, 2015).

An open letter to every senior pastor whose church wants to minister to those who pose a risk of harm: guest post by Simon Bass” (August 9, 2015).

EXTENDED REPORTING, ANALYSIS, AND COMMUNITY COMMENTARY

I chose to focus on The Wartburg Watch (TWW) for both its extended coverage and its survivor community response. TWW research writers Dee Parson and Deb Martin contributed significantly to the reporting and analysis of this situation. They supported Karen Hinkley emotionally and personally. They also set up a GoFundMe campaign so the broader community could provide some financial support during her necessary transitions.

Here is an almost complete series of articles from TWW on this situation. (I excluded some posts related to questions about forthcoming updates and about the GoFundMe campaign.) All of the following articles were posted by Dee Parson, other than the June 10 article by Deb Martin.

Here are some additional questions and observation guides to keep in mind as you go through these posts:

  1. Many TWW posts had 300 comments or more. Note the comment count total given for each post, and add them up as one indicator of the impact Karen’s situation at TVC was having.
  2. Watch for commenters who likewise had been involved in problems due to a membership covenant/contract.)
  3. Observe what issues and actions drew out different reactions, emotions, and questions from survivor communities.
  4. Dee and Deb founded TWW in 2007. How do you think it might affect perceptivity and perspective on abuse in this specific case, when someone has almost 10 years of survivor blogging/research writing to their credit already?

Church Membership Covenants – Legal Contracts that are NOT Biblical!” gives a general overview of the content and problems with covenant contracts, and links to several samples.

Part 1-Jordan Root Is a Confessed Internet Child Sex Abuser: Should The Village Church Trust Him?” (May 25, 2015).

Part 2: The Abuse of Church Discipline at The Village Church” (May 26, 2015).

Watchkeep: Karen Hinkley’s Response to The Village Church Email” (May 27, 2015).

Karen Hinkley Did Not Have a Valid Marriage Covenant; Some Information About Pedophilia” (May 28, 2015).

SNAP Press Release: Written by Amy Smith” (May 29, 2015)

SNAP Plans Protest This Sunday at The Village Church: Dallas Northway” (May 29, 2015).

A TWW Tutorial Analyzing The Village Church Elders Apology to Karen Hinkley and Others” (May 29, 2015) with a full copy of the apology plus a series of questions and her analysis.

Matt Chandler’s Sermon Asking for Forgiveness While Stressing the Need for Church Discipline” (May 31, 2015).

The Village Church/Matt Chandler: The Problems With Membership Contracts” (June 1, 2015).

Deb Martin posted, “An Apology from Matt Chandler/Elders of The Village Church and a Statement of Forgiveness from Karen Hinkley” (June 10, 2015)

Lessons Learned From The Village Church and Matt Chandler on Membership, Abuse and Repentance” (June 15, 2015). Dee Parsons addresses numerous issues of control and complicity, including by those who may not realize how they contributed to this destructive situation.

Membership Covenant Abuse: A Rebuttal to Leadership Journal Post on Church Discipline” (June 19,2015).

REVIEW THE FACTS AND LESSONS TO LEARN

Pastor Wade Burleson provides a valuable critique in his article, and the 100-plus comments give more depth to historical and contemporary theological issues involved with membership, congregant submission, and church discipline.

Five Reasons to Say ‘No’ to a Church Covenant” (May 27, 2015)

SOME FINAL QUESTIONS

  • After all this reading and thinking, what do you think of “membership covenants” now?
  • What actions will you take as a result of those conclusions?
  • What unanswered questions do you have, and where can/will you look for answers?

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PART 6C

Processes That Promise Resolution,

But Instead Can Promote Silence

Part 6C. Initial exploration into three investigation/negotiation/resolution processes (arbitration, conciliation, and mediation), plus a case study from Willow Creek Community Church leaders hiring Crossroads Resolution Group and the women victims refusing to play by those rules, and why.

A note up front: I am not a lawyer. The descriptions in Part 6 come from my work in research writing, and represent my understanding of technical concepts involved. The following topics are here to inform readers about tools that may be built into agreements or covenants you may be asked to enter into.

If you are in a situation of interaction to resolve issues with abusive individuals or institutions that caused or covered up damage, I strongly recommend that you consult a lawyer for legal counsel.

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Why is an Examination of

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Necessary?

I write on a whole range of subjects, from the light and delightful to the intense and disturbing. No matter the topic, the key for me to actually getting it written is finding the way into the subject matter, so way to organize all that information in a way that makes it make sense. Once I find that entryway, the rest usually falls into place – rarely does it do so rapidly, but at least eventually.

What I’m tackling today is one of the subjects about abuse survivor communities that I find most disturbing: as the title says – processes that promise conflict resolution, but instead promote silence about the situation of abuse. I started background research on this piece in May 2018, a few months after the Bill Hybels/Willow Creek sexual misconduct and spiritual abuse scandal erupted. But I couldn’t find my way into the subject yet. Do I just provide information and let readers draw their own conclusions? Or do I post my conclusions, and then show how the information relates to them? Or something else?

Lots of legitimate slants, but I’ve learned from experience that if I can’t yet make the material accessible to my own brain, it’s not time yet to try to do that for others. I needed some kind of question or quote, some metaphor or meme, that would set up a framework for organizing what I was learning.

So I kept taking notes, observing the cultural field of survivor situations, researching relevant concepts and organizations, halfway completing comparison charts and “family trees” of resolution agencies that create problems for survivors … but still, no entryway showed itself. Until today.

As I was wafting into consciousness after a night of insomnia, a metaphor came to mind: hills and fog.

It’s natural for me to talk about this. For a decade, I worked in an area with San Francisco bay inlets close by on the east, the ocean farther away on the west, and a ridge of hills in between. You’d think that hills on the ocean side would protect us from the fogs rolling in. But the impact was just the opposite. During the winter season, something about the configuration of those hills and strategic gaps in it, drew those chill winds right in and smothered us in a thick layer of fog.

However, if I ventured out and drove north up the highway for less than a mile, and the fog would miraculously lift and skies above be totally clear and blue. Or if I drove northwest a mile or two to visit a friend, at his place the nearby hills actually shield the town from wind and cold. Go figure … different configuration of hills, significantly different weather patterns.

In this metaphor, individuals and entities that offer to facilitate investigation, negotiation, and/or resolution processes are the hills. They might be law firms, churches, individual agents, certified consultants or conciliators, non-profit ministries. When there is a conflict involving some form of abuse – and potentially even crimes and cover-up – these all stand out. Their profile has substance. However, these hills stand on the outskirts of the survivor communities, but close enough to influence the local spiritual weather and environment.

The key problem, as I see it, goes back to the issue of integration points (Part 4). These individuals and entities work on behalf of INSTITUTIONS, and limiting their liability, not on behalf of INDIVIDUALS – the vulnerable and the survivors. So, in the context of Christian “reconciliation” and under the guise of investigation, negotiation, and conflict resolution, they ultimately put the freeze on those already victimized.

I found a series of three images that I feel captures that problem, from the perspective of survivors who’ve been given the option of using Christian Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes by the organization accountable for the abuser/abuse.

Survivor Views on Christian ADR/Alternative Dispute Resolution

Does that sound harsh? Surprising? I do think it describes what’s happening across the Christian wing of the #MeToo movement. It explains overwhelmingly negative responses by abuse survivors to accused/accountable institutions who want them to agree to ADR and/or investigations that are not independent. Situations where this happened have come up regularly in survivor communities, and are often reported on survivor blogs. Probably the 2018 case of women victimized by Bill Hybels and other Willow Creek Community Church leaders has brought these contentious issues to the forefront more than any other situation in the last few years. (More about this shortly.)

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Three Tools Used for Investigation,

Negotiation, and Resolution

I’ve been research and writing about spiritual abuse since 2007. Numerous terms related to “resolution” and “reconciliation” processes show up in articles, testimonies, and case studies on abuse. The key ones are arbitration, conciliation, and mediation. They aren’t always used with precision, and they often cause confusion. But that is understandable, because there are no standard legal definition (they differ from state to state). There are also some vastly different practical how-to descriptions influenced by differing paradigms and integration points.

Sometimes the confusion probably just unfamiliarity with the technical elements of how that process works. But other times, you have to wonder if it’s just part of an intentional design, by someone who wants things to look like they are functioning in “good faith,” but actually are attempting to remove legal liability.

Abuse survivors frequently see toxic individuals and institutional representatives attempting to deflect responsibility by using vague language. We’ve often seen the use of these resolution process terms along with similar concepts, which ends up confusing. For instance, there could be conciliators who act as investigators for the hiring institution, and use mediation techniques for ADR, and binding arbitration can be a result of negotiations they lead. This may sound like conflict resolution, but is it really just conflict management for image maintenance?

We need to understand the essence of what arbitration, conciliation, and mediation mean so we can answer the questions that regularly get raised when they’re offered to survivors by offending individuals and institutions. Questions like:

  • What is the main focus of the type of ADR being proposed?
  • Are there issues that will affect the process, based on the jurisdiction where the ADR will happen?
  • Who facilitates the process, who chooses that person or group or agency, and who pays?
  • How do the parties involved present or represent themselves – documents only, in person, with lawyer, other methods?
  • Once parties agree to a specific ADR process, is it possible to back out at any time, or is it required to pursue the process all the way to resolution?
  • Are the findings, results, and/or awards legally binding; or is acceptance of them voluntary?
  • What happens if we cannot come to a mutual agreement?

Those are basic questions that I will leave for your own research – though we will take a look at some angles and implications in a later article in the series.

The best quote I found on the key distinctions comes from the Chicago Tribune, in their May 27, 2018, article, “As Willow Creek seeks reconciliation, pastor’s accusers seek independent inquiry” by Manya Brachear Pashman. They posted this at a turning point in the Willow Creek situation, as the church’s elders continued backing off from their initial position that all the women victims were lying, and hired Crossroads Resolution Group to get conciliation efforts going. Ms. Pashman notes:

Conciliation is not to be confused with mediation or arbitration. Unlike arbitration, it has no legal standing and the conciliator cannot offer an award. Unlike mediation, the goal includes the repair of a relationship. But parties can decide to pursue mediation to reach an agreement.

~ Manya Brashear Pashman, reporter for the Chicago Tribune

We can look at the emphases as follows. In very broad terms:

Arbitration is damages-focused. The results have legal standing, and the process is done outside of the court system by a person or group that is independent and neutral. (Similarly, litigation has legal standing, with the process done inside the court system.) *SEE NOTE BELOW.

Conciliation is relationship-focused. It seeks to identify the breeches that have divided the parties, rebuild trust, and repair the relationships.

Mediation is problems-and-solutions-focused. It encourages the parties in conflict to work toward reaching a mutually-acceptable agreement.

*UPDATE NOTE, 01/07/2019.My Twitter friend @XianAtty read this post and noted: “This is really good. I’d add only one small suggestion. To your description of arbitration, I’d add that it’s the only type of ADR in which a neutral party makes a binding decision about which party is at fault. That decision is the basis for an award of damages.” My thanks to @XianAtty, who has helped with important clarifications to my posts, blog comments, and tweets over the years.

I believe it is important to be conciliatory – hospitable, open-minded, kind – in any attempts to resolve conflict, but never at the cost of creating damage or perpetuating injustice. The commitment to hold conciliation with justice together is the essence of the Golden Rule, of doing good without doing harm. So, the key thing becomes to discern whether the offer for ADR is truly conciliatory, or meant to stall truth-finding and promote cover up.

A final note on this for now, as we’ll look at more in-depth questions later: I understand there can be compelling reasons for victims to go through alternative dispute resolution processes – to stop threats, to get it over with, to put it behind, as a means to confront victimizer, etc. I’m not judging that, simply trying to lay out a systematic way for people to think through options.

As I learned long ago from a wise elderly saint, “Your decision is only as good as your information.” The more broad, accurate, and organized our information, the better our decisions will likely be. For survivors, this is not about moral issues – right/wrong and it’s sin if you don’t do the “right” thing. It’s about wisdom decisions and discerning the range of options from worst to wisest – and picking the wisest option that best (not perfectly) fits all the constraints we find in our situation.

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Resources for Additional Study

Articles that Overview Several Kinds of ADR Tools

I found these articles helpful for overviewing multiple kinds of ADR tools, so as to get a feel for the entire field.

From the Program On Negotiation at Harvard Law School comes a relatively short article: What are the Three Basic Types of Dispute Resolution? What to Know About Mediation, Arbitration, and Litigation. Subtitle: How to choose the best resolution process.

A longer article comes from FindLaw dot Com, on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): Overview. This includes sections on: arbitration, mediation, minitrials, summary jury trials, and early neutral evaluation. Plus it has a final section on Conclusion: Negotiation, ADR, and Litigation.

Articles from The Law Dictionary on Key Terms

As I surfed the internet for resources on ADR terms, The Law Dictionary, featuring Black’s Law Dictionary, seemed to have the widest coverage with concise descriptions. I’d recommend reading all of the following (and most are short).

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

Arbitration, and Binding Arbitration.

Conciliation, with sections on conciliation is not (quite) mediation, conciliation is not arbitration, and conciliation is conciliatory.

Mediation, and Grievance Mediation.

Reconciliation.

Good Faith, and Bad Faith.

Due Diligence.

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Resolution Processes Case Study:

Willow Creek Community Church

The Willow Creek Community Church situation of reported sexual misconduct by senior pastor Bill Hybels, and of abuse of spiritual authority by numerous church leaders, has given us the most prominent case for remediation (repair work) in the last year of Christian #MeToo. I created the above-linked website as a time capsule and case study of links to documents, articles, and commentary for March through August 2018. That gives extensive information and some analysis.

What I believe will help most here is to focus in on what I earlier termed a turning point in that situation, and give a few guides for analyzing it. Namely, when the Elders hired Crossroads Resolution Group and put forth an alternative dispute resolution process to the women victims.

FIVE STEPS FOR THIS CASE STUDY

1. Read the Elders’ Statement, for a snapshot of the proposed process.

This May 23, 2018, update from the Willow Creek Elders introduces their hiring of Crossroads Resolution. Here is an excerpt:

We have asked Crossroads Resolution Group (CRG) to serve as an independent, neutral third party to listen to the women involved and discuss with each of them their requests and desired process outcomes. CRG will work toward mutual agreement on any further investigation or mediation. Crossroads’ focus is to work with each woman individually and with the church on a plan that is agreeable to everyone.

Additionally, Crossroads has agreed to provide trained conciliators to serve as an independent confidential resource for anyone who has concerns and does not feel comfortable contacting the Elders. We are committed to providing this resource—and confidentiality—to those in need of it. [Contact i]nformation can be found below.

This snapshot of their proposal for reconciliation seems good. But is it? How can we discern if it is or not?

The Elders use many key words in these two paragraphs: independent, neutral, investigation, listen, mutual, mediation, agreeable, conciliators, confidential, comfortable. What do you think they mean by them? Do the details of any terms here contradict each other?

2. Read the Chicago Tribune article posted after the Elders’ Statement, for the larger context that frames the Elders’ proposal.

As Willow Creek seeks reconciliation, pastor’s accusers seek independent inquiry, by Manya Brachear Pashman (May 27, 2018).

This Chicago Tribune article includes a historical overview of the Willow Creek defensive moves in response to the reported sexual misconduct and spiritual abuse by Bill Hybels. It also reports on some of the typical evangelical reasonings behind “reconciliation” practices, and some of the reasons for opposing these theological interpretations.

What does this historical and theological context contribute to our broader understanding of the situation? Do you think it helps or hurts the Elders’ case? Does it help or hurt the case of the women survivors?

3. Read the women survivors’ responses, for more  backstory and why they all said “No.”

The Cart Before the Horse, by Vonda Dyer (May 24, 2018).

Sequence Matters, by Nancy Ortberg (May 24, 2018).

Updated Statement from Betty Schmidt, by Betty Schmidt (May 25, 2018).

What “Caring for the Women” Would Look Like, by Nancy Beach (May 25, 2018).

If the Elders’ Statement seemed good / nice / conciliatory, how does seeing some of the history from the victims’ points of view potentially flip the script on that evaluation?

As a group, what elements of the Elders’ plans are these women rejecting, and why?

If you composited what these survivors state is needed from Willow Creek in order for genuine repair work to happen, what would be on their list?

4. Read Dee Parson’s article on The Wartburg Watch, analyzing this development and giving some commentary from survivor communities.

Willow Creek’s Attempt at Conciliation and a Smart Rebuff by the Victims, by Dee Parsons (May 27, 2018).

How does this backstory and commentary on Crossroads Resolution Group and David Schlachter shed additional light on critiques of the Willow Creek Elders’ approach?

5. Read my article for my interpretation of the situation, and two background pieces that help differentiate between “snapshots” that can look good, but “videos” that are bad.

Willow Creek and Rapprochement: Truth THEN Reconciliation; Accountability OR Consequences, by Brad Sargent (May 25, 2018).

Snapshots versus Videos: read Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse – Part 3B, and tutorial on Transformation.

How has your opinion of the Willow Creek situation evolved over the process of reading and thinking about this series of articles?

Going back to the core of this post, what details on the processes of alternative dispute resolution hoped for by the Willow Creek Elders made their plans seem either truly conciliatory or problematic?

Last questions: If you were in a position to recommend processes for resolution to both the Willow Creek Elders and to the women victims, what would you suggest and why?

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PART 6D

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.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

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:

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

PART 6E.

What Makes Systemic Abuse and

Historic Oppression Different from

Isolated Incidents of Abuse?

Part 6E. This post on systems-related terms sets up the final segment in Part 6, where we will look at better ways of “restorative justice” for situations to situations involving systemic abuse and historical/societal oppression, through truth-finding before reconciliation.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

This post may seem to be a detour, but I sense it is necessary if we are to better understand internal dynamics of differences within various streams of the Christian #MeToo movement – which is the topic of Part 8. Representatives in some streams seem to want to address abuse only as isolated incidents, without engaging the institutions and ideologies involved. Also, they are actively disengaging from survivors, advocates, and practitioners of other streams who could (and likely would) be of help to them if they chose to look at the bigger picture of abuse in systems. i believe it’s possible to understand their point of view better when we see the expanded list of concepts they are avoiding, despite the limited list of ones they are advocating. To those of us in this for the long haul, systems make a significant difference.

Throughout Part 6, we’ve looked at various elements of legal tools and resolution processes that can be misused to shut down victims and avoid accountability by perpetrators and their protectors. We’ve considered some aspects of individuals, ideologies, and institutions similarly used to mess with a genuine resolution process.

Recalling the situation at Willow Creek from Part 6C, there the women survivors of sexual misconduct and misuse of spiritual authority were wise in their rejection of those individuals’ accusations and the institution’s offers. I believe they were considering the bigger picture in what they called for instead: truth-finding before reconciliation. This sounds more like big-picture “restorative justice” than arbitration, conciliation, or mediation do – more TRC/Truth and Reconciliation Commission than ADR/Alternative Dispute Resolution.

What makes restorative justice different from dispute resolution? What could that process actually look like? How does it relate to situations of systemic abuse and historic oppression? What examples can we study? We will get to that in Part 6F. Meanwhile, this post provides the elements that help differentiate how TRC deals with systems of abuse, where ADR tends to address only incidents of abuse.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

The Spotlight Investigation Lights the Way

to Understanding Significant Differences

The way we understand our task directly affects our actions. If we’re trying to deal with just one situation, we’d do things differently than if our calling is to address something with magnitudes of larger scale.

The 2015 movie Spotlight won the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year. It does an excellent job of introducing us to some distinctions between incidents of abuse, and systemic forms of abuse/oppression. The following excerpt comes from a January 2017 post I wrote on case studies in systems and ministry accountability. I’ve edited it only slightly for clarity.

In the movie Spotlight, then-editor of the Boston Globe, Marty Baron, talked about disclosure based on the purpose of the team’s research. At one point, they had enough to go with a story about Father John Geoghan and child sexual abuse cases within the Catholic churches of Boston — and reporter Mike Rezendes was anxious to publish it. But Marty Baron forced them to wait, and keep working on the report a few more months. He knew the information they had already could stop one pedophile priest, but if they wanted to prevent future child abuse, not just intervene in past abuse, they needed more to go with a story about the system that was covering up these cases involving as many as 90 priests.

So, it took about seven months total before the Spotlight research team hit the systems disclosure threshold. They published their initial mega-story on January 6, 2002, and their phones were busy constantly — mostly with leads from other victims. The Boston Globe followed up with over 600 articles and individuals’ stories over the course of that year, and several hundred more the year after that.

It may have been emotionally satisfying to have published sooner and outed Father Geoghan, but think of the far more positive and widespread impact worldwide of having deconstructed the whole system that shuffled around pedophile priests. It minimizes the damages done, marginalizes those victimized, and wrongly protects those responsible for incurring harm or accountable for its correction to:

* Rush the process in order to give the appearance of “dealing with the problem.” Systemic abuse requires systemic solutions which are never quick fixes.

* Not consider the past (i.e., fail to intervene; minimize the damages done), or the future (i.e., fail to prevent; minimize moving forward).

* Fail to document the discernment process, decisions made, and actions implemented (or failures to do so), etc.

* Fail to appropriately publicize the process, findings, and follow-through of solutions. For instance, attempt to keep the process private when the abuse occurred in public, or reveal inappropriate details publicly when the identity of victims should remain private.

System insiders may well have blind spots when it comes to observing, analyzing, and interpreting their situation. So, these processes may benefit from involving outsiders who have expertise to evaluate these aspects effectively, as well as discern how relevant the solutions are in relation to the damages done in and through the system. However, a warning: Do not rely on individuals or organizations to investigate when they have a bias toward the accused abusers, due to connections that involve family relationships, friendships, institutional ties, finances, or shared prestige (such as having recommended each other’s books, done conferences together, cross-listed each other’s ministries, etc.).

Now, four years after the movie and 18 years after the initial Spotlight Team investigation, we are witnessing the continued exposure of multi-generational abuse and cover-up in the Roman Catholic Church. [Sidenote: For details on what happened to Cardinal Law and his diocese after the reports were published, see the book on which Spotlight was based, Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church, by the investigative staff of The Boston Globe. Be sure to get the 2015 edition, which includes a Preface from the movie’s director Tom McCarthy and screenwriter Josh Singer, and an Afterward by The Boston Globe staff.)]

Here’s where I believe this all comes together for integrating investigations with resolutions: Typical approaches to alternative dispute resolution seem to address an individual who has been abusive, and perhaps how that he/she has twisted the related institution to support and cover up that abuse. ADR may arrest that development – but it does not seem to deal with the underlying ideology/theology that buttressed the abusiveness, nor does it address the systemic and historic dimensions. It may cut out one, two, or a few parasites, but the body is still infested with hidden eggs, larvae, pupae, and other adults.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

A Tutorial on Terminology:

Systems, Systemic Abuse, Historical/Societal Oppression.

So – if we’re going to show how dealing with systemic abuse and historic/societal oppression differs from what often gets proposed by institutions that get caught – we need to define system and other terms. Here are some definitions and descriptions I use, followed by links if you’re interested in more detail.

Systems and Systemic Abuse

Systems are a specific set of seven parts – people, principles, practices, products, processes, partnerships, and impacts – that are all interconnected and function within some kind of boundaries as a unit.

In that sense, we can see a family, work team, church congregation, or non-profit board as a system. Its members (people) work together (partnership) from a particular worldview (principles) to accomplish goals (products) that are compatible with what they show that they value and how they typically behave (practices). It takes the investment of their intention, time, attention, and resources (processes) to build the level and quality desired in doing something that makes a difference (impacts).

[…]

Systems are about how the parts in a set interconnect and make the whole more than the sum of those parts – and systemic abuse is about how people with malignant intentions (1) manipulate the parts to order to take over the whole and then (2) manipulate the connections to keep the whole under control.

[SOURCE: Systems, Systemic Abuse, and Transforming Corrupted Systems ~ Part 1.]

Open System, Closed System, and Bounded Choice

Organizations that allow or endorse individuals who turn it toxic become a closed system. They rely on bounded choice to keep people orbiting around the status quo, with nowhere else to go.

An open system lets in new participants, new inputs, new energy. This allows the system and those within it to grow, get rid of pollutants, and take care of other tasks to keep things sustainable. In an open system, individuals have freedom of choice to discern and decide their own trajectory within all possible options.

However, a closed system is either self-contained – no new inputs, nothing old output – or at least socially isolated in ways that limit outside influences that would supposedly contaminate the purity of those living inside the system. A closed system creates what is called bounded choice.”

Bounded choice is a basic type of “conditioning” designed to control someone’s behavior. This removes freedom for self-determination, allowing individuals to operate only within specified choices. As they do that, it may look like growth or change because people are active, but actually, it’s just an orbit around the set of rules and regulations designed to limit personal freedom and keep people in line. So, even if someone is no longer tethered to the system, they’ve been trained to self-constrain themselves to negate any doubts, objections, or questions that arise. In other words, they keep on the same toxic trajectory, just because it’s become the only thing they really know.

[SOURCE: Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex, Part 4 – Psycho-Social Strategies and Structures.]

Historical/Societal Oppression

Over time, these malignant individuals and toxic institutions use a flawed, self-benefiting theology or philosophy to justify their self-benefit from the system. Their abusive influence then goes wider (societal) and lasts longer (historical), making it long-term oppression and not just temporary repression.

HISTORICAL/SOCIETAL OPPRESSION. When there is societal oppression, the things people typically fight for in order to obtain a democracy are the things that get restricted for one or more segments of society. The restrictions are historical—they last more than two generations. This means prejudice is “institutionalized.” So, there becomes a historic record of abuses, and an ideology that justifies the maltreatment of some for the supposed benefit of others. In other words, victims supposedly deserve what they get because they are inferior racially, morally, intellectually, physically, etc. Historical/societal oppression is a form of eugenics; it is the justification for physical, social, and/or spiritual genocide—killing the body or the spirit.

The main distinction for the purpose of this training series, is that historical/societal oppression holds back some demographic segments of a society, while totalist psychology exerts total control over all segments of a society. In both types, justice and peace-making efforts require looking at a much bigger picture than if only a Pyramid of Abuse were involved. Repair and reconciliation will first require truth-telling about the historical records of wrongs. This includes putting into the public spotlight issues of agency and culpability by key individuals and institutions, plus complicity by entire social segments who benefited from the harm done to those who were stigmatized. Peace is not achieved otherwise.

[SOURCE: Chapter 12 in forthcoming Futuristguy’s Field Guides #1, How to Identify Systemic Abuse and Analyze Systems That Harm.]

And …

A study of societal oppression looks at larger-scale toxic systems, such as an industry, society, or alliance of countries. It considers the historical elements involved. For instance, how this system came into existence for the benefit of some social demographic groups, to the harm of others, and how it is then maintained over multiple generations. Societal oppression typically involves multiple social domains—political, economic, cultural, media, educational, religious, etc.—and has a strong ideological base to it that justifies why certain classes of people should be privileged while others should be oppressed. In the largest scale that combines both systemic abuse and societal oppression, the control is even more pervasive. This means nearly all social demographic groups and all their generations are under the authoritarian rulership of a small class of people. These elite dictators are chosen based on their power, wealth, knowledge, family social status, charisma, etc. This is typical of a totalitarian country. It relies on methods of total psychological control and an extensive hierarchy of people who enable and enforce the control in every aspect of the state or society. Once we begin talking about toxic systems and historical oppression, we eventually find ourselves right the middle of discussions about the details of what freedom means, and the control methodologies used to restrict or remove freedom. So, those are the topics of Essentials #1 and #2.

[SOURCE: “Introducing Key Concept Frameworks” in forthcoming Futuristguy’s Field Guides #1, How to Identify Systemic Abuse and Analyze Systems That Harm.]

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

So What? What Differences Does This Make

for Survivors and Our Communities?

So – back to the opening question about what differentiates various scales of abuse? And add to this, How do these differences affect the nature of survivor communities?

Survivors may begin their journeys of recovery and advocacy by dealing with their own situation of abuse. But a change often takes place as they join with others in survivor communities: We’re in it for the long haul, to do something about the big picture. And that involves dealing with systemic abuse and historic oppression.

We need to keep this in mind as we consider the truth-and-reconciliation option for investigation and justice. It resonates better with this global perspective than do arbitration, conciliation, mediation. It’s also a significant dimension in what makes #MeToo a sustainable transformation movement that will benefit the many, and not just a temporary support group that helps out me.

Next: The better way of resolution to systemic abuse and historic/societal oppression through truth-finding before reconciliation.

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For Additional Reading

Field Guide “Essentials” — A Series of Three-Frame Tutorials on Dealing with Systemic Abuse. This “Essentials” post has a series of three-frame tutorials, or “Threetorials,” as I have sometimes called them. In the 10 Threetorials posted, the first slide usually gives a definition of the concept framework, or a summary quote about it. The second slide usually gives some kind of visual image, chart, or graphic, plus a few details. (Note my Fotolia licensing information at the bottom of such slides.) The third slide expands on some of the most important points in the first two slides.

The above post gives an overview of concepts related to systemic abuse and historic/societal oppression. The green section (Essentials Slides #12 through #20) of Futuristguy’s Field Guides — Essentials Tutorials #1 and #2 gives more detail on the progression from personal to organizational to societal to total and historical control.

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PART 6F

Why is “Restorative Justice” a Better Way Out of

Systemic Abuse and Historical Oppression Than

are Retaliation or Misused Alternative Dispute Resolution?

Part 6F. In this final segment for Part 6, we look at the better way of resolution to situations involving systemic abuse and historical/societal oppression, through truth-finding before reconciliation. This last element sets up the basis for Part 7, comparing and contrasting agencies that promote independent investigations and restorative justice versus those that promote internal or partial investigations and dispute resolution processes that fail to dismantle systemic abuse.

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Restorative Justice versus Retribution

I have come to the conclusion that (1) internal investigations instead of independent ones, and (2) alternative dispute resolution (ADR) tools as have frequently been misused in Christian situations of reported abuse the past few decadeshave actually done much to perpetuate systems of abuse and protect malignant people in positions of power. Surely we must have better possibilities! But what are they?

Organizations with leaders who have been caught in misconduct often hire out for partial investigations, some form of conciliation, crisis management, and/or PR experts. Almost inevitably, these tactics get used to slant the truth in favor of the offending person or organization. (I cannot recall a single instance where they weren’t, and I’ve been tracking this as best I can since 2007.) These hiring actions make it look like due diligence is being done. It is generally discovered that abuse was inflicted by just one isolated individual, who then is disciplined, resigns, or perhaps even is fired. Such subsequent actions give the organization the appearance of sincerity in dealing with toxicity, but in fact it is an insidious mask. It typically leaves institutional and ideological elements unaddressed. The organization may remove offensive individuals, but infrastructures that sustained the offenders do not get dismantled, and the doctrines that support silence do not get deconstructed.

I’ve been able to watch some Church-related cases over time where a church, ministry, or organization outsources their crisis management. Here’s what I’ve seen … or not seen.

  • Specific details are rarely released about any institutional culpability uncovered during internal or partial investigation.
  • Binding agreements for non-disclosure/non-disparagement keep staff and survivors from breaking confidentiality about any findings, actions, or awards.
  • Maybe you get a pseudo-apology-confession from the celebrity at fault, and they continue on with their performance platform.
  • Perhaps a PR agent issues a statement on behalf of the credibly accused person and then says there will be no questions taken and no further statements, please respect said person’s (and his/her family’s) privacy.

Basically, everything happens behind a veil. Questions about the individuals and institutions involved persist, because the vacuum of silence they themselves created makes questions pop back up into public view like some whack-a-mole vermin problem on the Church prairie horizon.

This partiality approach to resolution lets offending individuals and institutions control the process, the investigators and/or facilitators, the findings, and the reporting. This is everything that Boz Tchividjian of GRACE warned us against in his article, Are abuse survivors best served when institutions investigate themselves?

And so, when they use a flawed approach that favors the hiring person or organization, it turns out that their process doesn’t resolve past systemic abuse and doesn’t necessarily prevent future abuse. Then, how best can we achieve justice for the recovery of victims, and implement prevention for protecting the vulnerable?

From what I’ve seen, restorative justice process offers a far better way for addressing past, present, and future than alternative dispute resolution tools have been.

They are based in an attitude of being conciliatory (hospitable, open-handed) versus being retaliatory (hostile, closed-fisted). Organizational leaders who propose ADR sound conciliatory but it all too often turns out to be controlling.

The core actions in restorative justice revolve around truth-finding followed by reconciliation. Thus, it combines investigation, publication to make findings known, and relational work.

The arena involves finding patterns in systems and history so toxic systems can be dismantled. It integrates investigating individuals, institutions, and ideologies that seem inseparably interwoven into the fabric of systemic abuse and historical/societal oppression.

Many, if not most, abuse survivors who go public say something along the lines of wanting justice to stop those responsible, and prevention so it happens less from here on out. As I noted in a recent Twitter thread, “resolution of past abuses AND prevention of future abuse” – these are “two dominant values in survivor communities. Christian alternative resolution processes seem to fulfill neither value for survivors; restorative justice approaches tend to do both.”

What could a restorative justice process actually look like?

What examples can we study?

What about financial reparations – are they always involved?

Do the cases have to deal with the same kind of abuse our own situation involves, or can those dealing with different forms also be relevant?

There have been over 40 Truth Commissions and Commissions of Inquiry. These Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) have been scattered across the globe and dealing with many kinds of social and political situations involving abuse and violence. Other similar investigation and reconciliation processes have been practiced in church-based settings.

You may be aware of the process in Canada for restorative justice with indigenous people, and the issue of forced attendance of children at residential schools. This specific violation was set against the backdrop of a range of offenses and discriminatory treatments.

Perhaps you’ve heard of how the Mennonite denomination  eventually dealt with sexual misconduct and systemic cover-up for theologian John Howard Yoder (see Case Study #2). Decades after the first women reported his misconduct, they finally entered a three-year investigation and repentance process that delved into multiple dimensions of their denomination’s training, publishing, institutions, etc.

Probably the most widely known application of a TRC happened in South Africa, set up in 1995, which I will overview later in this post. Meanwhile, I want to introduce the practice of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission by looking at one conducted in 2016 by Black Women’s Blueprint. I find it particularly significant because it focuses in on systemic abuse via sexual violence, in a context of historical racial oppression.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

But before presenting those case studies, I want to share a brief personal aside. If you’ve been reading my blog a while, you know I’ve been adding a lot of posts to my category of Peacemaking and Becoming People of Peace. I have been on a very long journey to listen more widely, to empathize more deeply, to make a difference in society. Some of the personal experiences I share go back to the 1960s and ’70s … connections with Japanese Americans who were in internment camps or alternative work situations during World War II, friendships with Native American men and women, friendship with international students from Iran during the Iranian crisis. I have more such narratives to share when the time is right.

By the mid-1970s, I was on a pathway to learn more about the concerns of women, and was starting to grasp the significance of transitions from the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Power Movement. But I totally didn’t get it yet about apartheid and the calls of fellow university students for economic sanctions against South Africa. This all frames my selection of case studies from Black Women’s Blueprint and post-apartheid South Africa. I developed these as much for me as a way to think through situations of restorative justice, as for illustrations related to spiritual abuse survivor communities. I hope you’ll find them thought-provoking, too.

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Black Women’s Blueprint:

The Black Women’s Truth And Reconciliation

Commission On Sexual Assault

A recent tweet (January 9, 2019) brought my attention back to a Truth and Reconciliation process engaged in by Black Women’s Blueprint.

I became acquainted with the work of Black Women’s Blueprint through Lyvonne Picou, a social entrepreneur I was introduced to in 2017 by friends at Matryoshka Haus, who met her when they taught at DO GOOD X – “Empowering Christian Social Entrepreneurs to do good in the world.” At that time, Lyvonne was doing research for her Beautiful Scars ministry.

After the post-Harvey-Weinstein #MeToo hashtag got going in late 2017 – over 10 years after the “Me Too” movement was started by Tarana Burke – Lyvonne posted, “It’s Not a Scandal, It’s a System,” From it, I learned of this specific research:

The Black Women’s Blueprint has an ongoing study that found 60% of Black women are sexually abused before they turn 18-years-old. Sixty. Percent. And, since the Black church is 85% women, that means that half of Black church congregations have been sexually abused.

When we watch the video at the above tweet, we hear the speaker talk about that statistic and describe powerfully just what that has meant as a historic fact for African American women. We see the nodding ascent of women who are listening.

Because abuse and violence against women is systemic both in the U.S. and globally, the Black Women’s Blueprint TRC processwas important. The preparation included exploration of strategic questions, as noted in this Prevent Connect article, posted April 7th by David Lee, Director of Prevention Services at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault:

But talking about how and why sexual violence happens is not easy, and certainly not always comfortable. In order to prevent sexual violence, we must understand the context of sexual violence and center how legacies of racism, classism, patriarchy, and heterosexism collide and collude to create conditions ripe for the violence to occur in the first place.

Short videos were produced for each of seven key questions, posted on the Black Women’s Blueprint YouTube channel. Each video featured clips from multiple people, from a range of generations and backgrounds, speaking to nuances of issues raised by that particular question.

A Reckoning: Truth and Reconciliation As Prevention.

Leading up to the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission from April 28th to May 1, 2016, Black Women’s Blueprint (BWB) asked a few strategic questions about the history of sexual violence against Black women in the US.

1. Have Black Men Ever Hurt Black Women?

2. What Does This Nation Owe to Black Women?

3. What Can White Americans Do to Make Things Right?

4. How Does Sexual Violence Affect Homes and Communities?

5. What Can White Allies in the Feminist Movement Do?

6. What Can Black Men Do To Support Black Women When They Experience Sexual Violence?

7. How Do You Think Violence Has Affected Your Life Or Black Women That You Know?

The first tribunal of the Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Sexual Assault was held April 28-May 1, 2016, in New York. The Archival Information page offers a description of the commission and its grassroots origins, a list of those involved and who they are, a summary of the 2016 Digital Reckoning Campaign, and an approximately four-minute video of question #4, “How Does Sexual Violence Affect Homes and Communities?”

Women and girls of African descent, many of whom were denied access and assistance from the criminal justice system, began to organize, realizing their own and collective transformation could not happen without public recognition and acknowledgment of the injustices and harms they had experienced.

[…]

The Digital Reckoning Campaign is a call-and-response digital project grounded in the concept of reconciliation for Black women with Black men, white men, white feminists, and other people of color to acknowledge the ongoing, complicit oppression of Black women. From descendants of slave owners coming to terms with the sins of their ancestors to Black men admitting to remaining silent and not showing up for Black women who continue to be brutalized, Black Women’s Blueprint calls for a dynamic dialogue on Black women’s pain and struggles. We hope to feature a myriad of intergenerational voices responding to violence against Black women.

A May 12th follow-up article from Prevent Connect offers details about the commission events and thoughts on their significance from Sandra Henriquez, Executive Director of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

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“Restorative Justice”

A situation of long-term abuse, violence, oppression, and violation of human rights calls for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. TRCs typically have four mandates, as mentioned in the January 9, 2019, Black Women’s Blueprint tweet:

  • Truth.
  • Justice.
  • Healing.
  • Reconciliation.

These are interwoven elements, achieved holistically through a highly intentional process. The truth of what has actually happened historically must be investigated, made public, and dealt with. Otherwise the sources will never be dismantled, the symptoms of injustice will return, those who have been victimized will not find recovery, and there cannot be genuine repair among those with enmity remaining between them.

This is all at the core of restorative justice.

The Wikipedia article on Restorative Justice gives a concise overview, including the history of the concept and a range of examples in its application. It also includes some important statements defining its process and contrasting its philosophy with the kinds of alternative dispute resolution methods so often pushed for in minister/church abuse cases:

Restorative justice is an approach to justice in which the response to a crime is to organize a mediation between the victim and the offender, and sometimes with representatives of a wider community as well. The goal is to negotiate for a resolution to the satisfaction of all participants. This may include a restitution to be given from the offender to the victim, or to take steps to prevent the offender from causing future harm.

A restorative justice program aims to get offenders to take responsibility for their actions, to understand the harm they have caused, to give them an opportunity to redeem themselves and to discourage them from causing further harm. For victims, its goal is to give them an active role in the process.[1] Restorative justice is founded on an alternative theory to the traditional methods of justice, which often focus on retribution. However, restorative justice programs can complement traditional methods.

[…]

As Braithwaite writes, “Court-annexed ADR (alternative dispute resolution) and restorative justice could not be philosophically further apart”. While the former seeks to address only legally relevant issues and to protect both parties’ rights, restorative justice aims at “expanding the issues beyond those that are legally relevant, especially into underlying relationships.”[8]

Let’s take a look at some aspects of how restorative justice was applied in the post-apartheid era in South Africa. It was a complex situation that where basic human brokenness manifested itself in severely immoral, unethical, and criminal actions.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

How Does Truth-Finding-Then-Reconciliation Work?

TRC in Post-Apartheid South Africa

A Social-Cultural-Political System Example

of Systemic Remediation (Repair) and Repentance

Note: I originally posted the following as Case Study #3 on Institutional Examples of Remediation, on my companion website to Futuristguy’s Field Guides. I’ve edited it only slightly for reposting here.

Since early on in the 2010 decade, I’ve explored the topic of apartheid in South Africa, and the role that peace-making played there in the 1990s. I’ve looked at how Nelson Mandela in particular sought to reduce enmity between the races, and to forge a sense of one nation out of what had been a horrific race-based split. Among the many documentaries and dramatizations I’ve watched about apartheid are Invictus, including all the related special feature interviews, about how the 1995 Rugby World Cup became a symbolic center for uniting the nation, and a related documentary, Reconciliation: Mandela’s Miracle.

In them I see deep lessons on both humility and having a conciliatory spirit, and how these two complementary attitudes can fuel peace-making efforts that embody “compassion, restraint, and generosity.” Those three qualities were absent under apartheid, according to a speech Mandela gives to his fellow black and colored South African citizens in Invictus. And now, as their newly elected president, he hopes these qualities will be exhibited by the black and colored majority toward the white minority.

One social-political approach South Africa used to redress the realities of harm under 30-plus years of apartheid was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), an approach that has also been used in other countries where animosity and atrocities between people groups had occurred. According to that South African website, their motto was: “Truth, the Road to Reconciliation.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created by the Government of National Unity to investigate and report on gross human rights violations committed between 1960 and 1993. It will also consider applications for amnesty by people who committed political crimes. The Commission will be in operation until December 1997.

The hope was that airing the truth of the mistreatment that happened under white domination would help ensure it did not happen again. The TRC hearings have been critiqued by some, lauded by others. Two decades later, the outcomes are still considered mixed. But, they at least testify to holistic efforts made to bring peace to a troubled nation by involving people from all cultural sectors – religion, media, politics, police, community leaders, everyday people. It also finally gave a chance for sharing the truth and for being heard – whether as a victim or as one who was a victimizer.

Over several years, I looked into the abuses of apartheid, Nelson Mandela’s facilitation of a culture of forgiveness, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission practices that ties together the issues of survivors, perpetrators, and the larger community. Three key thoughts emerged out of my studies and reflections:

First, it was clear to me that black South Africans sharing their stories was crucial for their healing as individuals, and reclamation of their dignity as a people group. They spoke of atrocities of violence committed on themselves, of family members tortured and murdered. They received public catharsis that had been withheld from them by requiring they hold on to their narratives in silence privately, as if they and their loved ones were of no value. They reclaimed truth about what had been lost and dignity in who they were. Some were able to openly forgive their oppressors, including in some cases in front of the specific individuals who had harmed them, after first confronting them.

Second, the opportunity for amnesty gave others the chance to search their actions and clear their consciences of misdeeds that had brought great damage to others. I was startled as I watched excerpts from the TRC hearings and other interviews when white South African policemen and security agents described specific tactics of terror and torture that they’d used on black South Africans. Several whites also spoke of how their separation from blacks under apartheid was all they’d ever known, and that they had believed it was right. And so they had been willing to commit themselves to its protection – including doing whatever it took to preserve their privileged way of life. Some were visibly shaken by the realization that their life-long beliefs had inflicted such toxic impacts on other human beings.

Third, now the nation knew both sides of their history and could not officially hide. Not everyone was keen to dig through the past; some thought it would just reopen wounds. However, a much fuller knowledge of the horrific truth had been laid out in public hearings and in printed materials. It could not now be retracted, even if someone then willfully chose to ignore it. But those investigations and hearings for justice were also part of a larger relational movement toward health and unity as a nation. The process instilled in many a hope for a united future after decades of official apartheid that had followed over three centuries of subjugation of blacks and other races by white European settlers.

I think the TRC proceedings hold some stark and astonishing potential parallels to what we see in spiritual abuse survivor communities. As I have observed repeatedly in cases of spiritual abuse, when victims share their accounts of what happened, and are listened to respectfully and reflectively, there’s very often a significant transformation that takes place. Something fundamental changes.

For instance, I wonder if, for some who finally receive (or give themselves) permission to share their story, that is a moment when their identity shifts from an orbit around “victim” to a trajectory as “survivor.” Giving voice to truth fuels movement forward, even when both victim and survivor remain important terms.

Sharing one’s experiences also becomes a forum in which the evidence shows that others were culpable to some degree, whether they actively participated as accomplices, or passively benefited as bystanders. Through the investigation and publication processes, they may begin to see the drastic, destructive impact of their actions.

There is a difference between being responsible for something that happened, versus taking responsibility for our part in it. Hopefully, being confronted with other people’s very human stories of damage caused by the inhumane actions of perpetrators and those who protect/promote them sparks their conscience and fuels their trajectory toward taking responsibility.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

PART 7A

Evaluating Christian Agencies for Investigation,

Public Relations, Crisis Management, Legal Aid,

Arbitration, Conciliation, and/or Mediation

In recent years, we’ve seen an increased number of abuse survivors refuse offers of involvement in investigations or negotiations with reportedly abusive individuals and institutions. Typically, these processes have required private, partial, or internal investigations; and/or arbitration, conciliation, mediation services as a gateway to “reconciliation.” How do we evaluate whether they are trustworthy and the process is just?

Part 7A lays out frameworks for evaluating the inputs and impact of these various approaches to “making things right.” It lists questions to use for analyzing: (1) the ethical environment in which proposed resolutions are offered, (2) the infrastructures for interaction, and (3) resolution arrangements. Part 7B applies these three frameworks (ethics, infrastructures, and resolutions), plus resonance with core values of abuse survivor communities, to major Christian agencies involved in victim situations.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Dealing with Systemic Abuse:

Doing It Wrong, Doing It Right

Did Part 6 help with understanding why survivors say such tactics are revictimization?

Some Basic Issues of Wrong and Right

An individual’s or institution’s reputation understandably gets depleted when there are multiple failures in dealing with interlinking layers in the system. A good reputation relies on trust. From the perspective of survivors, for a credibly accused person or organization to establish, repair, or restore trust requires flipping the script on traumatization and lies, and promoting justice through truth-telling and other corrective steps.

Interpersonal dimensions. This is a relational dispute, and individuals have been harmed.

Social dimensions. Typically, other people are informed or otherwise find out, so harm has been done in the public eye. When public accusations or misinformation are involved, this cannot be fully resolved privately, and non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements block correction of misperceptions of the public.

Organizational dimensions. The actions typically involve an institution, so there may have been failures in corporate governance, transparency, and self-dealing/self-benefit by directors, employees, and/or volunteers.

Legal dimensions. Some actions taken by individuals and on behalf of related institutions may potentially constitute misconduct, malfeasance/malpractice, or negligence – or other issues that could end up in as criminal cases, civil litigation, or actions by regulatory agencies.

Ideological/theological dimensions. There are likely a range of issues to address, from general brokenness to specific sins, leadership disqualifying actions and character disorders, and even the promotion of evil.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Basic Questions for Evaluating Partial Investigations

and Alternative Dispute Resolution Proposals

These were the basic questions I posed in Part 6C for thinking about core issues when considering Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), which often include some kind of investigation process.

We need to understand the essence of what arbitration, conciliation, and mediation mean so we can answer the questions that regularly get raised when they’re offered to survivors by offending individuals and institutions. Questions like:

  • What is the main focus of the type of ADR being proposed?
  • Are there issues that will affect the process, based on the jurisdiction where the ADR will happen?
  • Who facilitates the process, who chooses that person or group or agency, and who pays?
  • How do the parties involved present or represent themselves – documents only, in person, with lawyer, other methods?
  • Once parties agree to a specific ADR process, is it possible to back out at any time, or is it required to pursue the process all the way to resolution?
  • Are the findings, results, and/or awards legally binding; or is acceptance of them voluntary?
  • What happens if we cannot come to a mutual agreement?

Those are basic questions that I will leave for your own research – though we will take a look at some angles and implications in a later article in the series.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Expanded Question List for Evaluating

Alternative Dispute Resolution Proposals

There are other specific issues and questions about ADR. I needed to put them into some kind of organizing system to grasp the flow of process and possibilities, a framework of questions and indicators to evaluate specific situations. After weeks of mulling over how best to make these issues accessible, this is what emerged.

I designed this system primarily based on knowledge of survivor cases that emerged in 2018 from the theologically conservative/evangelical stream in the Church. We’ll look at some of those in Part 7B. If you are aware of these cases, it will probably make sense that I’m asking these kinds of questions. These issues actually came up, though not all in any one particular case.

ETHICAL ENVIRONMENT

What constitutes negotiating in “good faith”? What is “poisoning the well”? Is this just? Success depends on establishing trustworthiness. If there is already a “DNA of deflection/bad faith,” the process and results are doomed.

  1. What if there have been criminal issues involved? Have they been reported? Have statutes of limitation run out? Will any binding agreement include reporting the crimes so the criminal complaints are on the record – even if the statute of limitations has run out – to contribute to establishing a track record of filings on the perpetrator? Or is there any item that precludes any party from filing criminal reports, regardless of when the crime happened?
  2. Have “weasel words” or weak acknowledgments been used to minimize the level of crime, damage, and/or responsibility? (Pseudo-apologies equal “Acknowledge everything but take responsibility for fixing nothing.”)
  3. Have parties impugned the veracity of others without evidence, for instance, calling them liars, labeling their reports as false allegations? Is the overall atmosphere amiable, or hostile?
  4. Any “moral equivalency” statements made that poison the well? (For instance, “Well, we’re all sinners.” Or, “What were you wearing when you say you were sexually assaulted? Did you invite it?”)
  5. Are parties in the dispute resolution process viewed as peers? Treated as peers? Or is there an inherent power differential that skews the process and/or results in someone’s favor?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

INTERACTION INFRASTRUCTURE

How does the proposed formal framework for interacting facilitate or impede the process and achieving hoped-for outcomes?

  1. Who facilitates the investigation and/or resolution proceedings – an individual or a group? What kind(s) of professions or certifications do they have? Is the facilitator “neutral” – no conflicts of interest with the hiring organization and/or those reported as offenders?
  2. Who chooses the arbitrator(s), conciliator(s), mediator(s)? Who pays for the process? Do either of these elements – selection or payment – create an inherent ethical problem, slanting the process and/or outcomes in favor of a particular party?
  3. Are there any current or historical background issues that taint the proposed facilitator? For instance, does the facilitating agency have former clients and/or current recommenders who are not trusted (or even who are reviled) within survivor communities? Have they made contemptuous statements about survivors before, in news articles or social media?
  4. If the facilitator uses a specified set of principles, is that ideology relatively neutral toward all parties? Is it pro- or anti- any category of participant: pro-survivor, pro-authority figures, pro-institution, etc.?
  5. Who represents the parties in conflict? Themselves? Lawyers? Other? And are the parties in conflict present during the process, or do they just submit documents?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

RESOLUTION ARRANGEMENTS

What are the formal structures for reaching problem resolution or process conclusion, and for what happens after that?

  1. Can parties opt-out after initially agreeing to enter the process, or back out after already being involved in it?
  2. Does the set of principles used for the particular process – investigation, arbitration, conciliation, mediation – require binding agreements? Are parties required to accept in advance whatever will turn out to be the “verdict,” once they’ve entered into the process? Or is acceptance of proposed resolutions voluntary/non-binding?
  3. Are there elements that significantly change the course of the future, such as non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements, binding terms to forego any future litigation, etc.? If so, how do these affect justice in the current situation, and prevention of further abuse in the future?
  4. What happens if no resolution is reached? Are the doors to additional resolution processes still open? Is litigation still an option if all other approaches fail?
  5. What happens if there is a resolution agreement, but then one or more parties violate any of the binding terms? For instance, has anyone apparently violated a non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreement by speaking about the process, parties involved, outcomes, etc.? Has the accused individual or institution released statements or given interviews to the press that revealed their side of the situation? Are the other parties then free to speak openly?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Part 7B1. Understand Community Values

for Insights Into Response Patterns

In recent years, we’ve seen an increased number of abuse survivors refuse offers of involvement in investigations or negotiations with reportedly abusive individuals and institutions. Typically, these processes have required private, partial, or internal investigations; and/or arbitration, conciliation, mediation services as a gateway to “reconciliation.” How do we evaluate whether they are trustworthy and the process is just?

Part 7A lays out frameworks for evaluating the inputs and impact of these various approaches to “making things right.” It lists questions to use for analyzing: (1) the ethical environment in which proposed resolutions are offered, (2) the infrastructures for interaction, and (3) resolution arrangements.

Part 7B applies these three frameworks (ethics, infrastructures, and resolutions), plus resonance with core values of abuse survivor communities, to major Christian agencies involved in victim situations. 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Introductory Review/Preview:

Looking Backward, Looking Forward

I recently posted a Twitter thread on the question posed in this article: Why Do Survivors Often Reject “Reconciliation” Offers from Reportedly Offending Individuals/Institutions? I’ve edited it slightly.

Why do survivors often reject “reconciliation” offers from reportedly offending individuals and institutions?

I can’t think of a single situation among Christian abuse survivors where reported victims asked for an internal investigation, arbitration, conciliation, mediation, NDAs. Can you?

If anything, they ask for, even push for, negotiations that use an independent investigation/truth-finding-then-reconciliation process. In these approaches to repairing the damages done, the reportedly offending individuals and institutions are NOT in control of the investigator, process, findings, or final report.

With few exceptions, reportedly offending individuals and/or institutions have only offered to undergo a partial investigation or alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes such as arbitration, conciliation, and mediation. Or, they may already require a form of ADR in their church membership contract.

GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) is the only site I know of where reports for a few cases of independent investigations have been posted. See this link for background information on independent investigations, and this link to access the public report archives.

If these observations are close to reasonably full and accurate assessment, it seems to me a compelling case for understanding why victims of abuse in Christian settings avoid (and should avoid) automatic acceptance of whatever reconciliation processes offending parties offer. The weight of evidence from news reports and social media records of Christian abuse victimization cases indicates a significant level of “buyer’s remorse” among those who went with partial investigation and/or ADR. The end results? Bad binding terms that stymied both justice for abuse victims and prevention/protection practices to guard the vulnerable.

Sadly, the history of behavior by individuals/institutions alleged to have permitted or protected abusers recommends itself to skepticism by survivors and advocates. Many investigation and reconciliation alternatives look open, transparent, and conciliatory – but turn out closed, leaving things hidden, and binding.

Here is a listing of some frameworks I’ve presented in Part 6 and 7A. These helped me organize my thoughts so I could write about specific situations and organizations. Hopefully they’ll help you do your own research into situations where someone or some organization is calling for resolution to reported abuse/violence.

Different integration points, and how they can be misused to the advantage of undeserving individuals, institutions, and ideologies.

Legal tools and tacticsthat end up silencing victims through fear and intimidation, or with victims signing away rights to disclose the process and rights to future litigation.

Differences between independent investigations versus partial institutional investigations.

Distinguishing features of arbitration, conciliation, and mediationand their potential misuses as alternative dispute resolutionprocesses.

How alternative dispute resolution falls short of the goals that restorative justiceseeks.

These frameworks give a base for comparing and contrasting agencies that promote investigation and reconciliation processes that fail to dismantle systemic abuse. I believe it is this last issue – failing to dismantle systemic abuse – that lies at the center of strong reactions from abuse survivors against most. It is not mere reactive, emotional response; it is a reasonable, rational response because proposed resolution actions violate core community values – providing neither justice nor prevention.

Justice for victims and protection for the vulnerable are keys to dismantling systemic abuse. Any proposal that fails to do just that will – and should – receive a “No.” They prioritize preserving the institution and ideology over protecting people.

With those frameworks in place for evaluating how independent an investigative method is, it makes sense to apply this to some of the more prominent Christian organizations and networks that purport to conduct investigations into abuse, and/or facilitate “peacemaking.” (We’ll get to that shortly, in a section dedicated to that topic.) This should help people understand why so many in survivor communities have seen GRACE as setting the high bar for all truly independent investigative agencies – and why they reject attempts to use other processes and organizations that serve the hiring institutions instead of find justice for abuse victims and protect the vulnerable.

I am dividing Part 7B into three sections:

  • Part 7B1. Understand Community Values for Insights Into Response Patterns.
  • Part 7B2. Examples of What Survivor Communities Have Actually Been Up Against.
  • Part 7B3. Researching Key Concerns About Major Christian Investigation/Resolution Agencies.

This is to facilitate readers who want to spend time reflecting after reading, or to do some research on their own. Otherwise, the combination of three sections has far too much information to absorb, all in one sitting.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Part 7B1. Understand Community Values

for Insights Into Response Patterns

Reactions to situations of abuse/violence do not come out of a vacuum. The reason we see patterns of similar responses by survivors and advocates against certain kinds of proposals for “resolution” and “reconciliation” is that they violate a common set of values – even if those values are never stated formally. How else can you get similar responses from Christians representing a wide diversity of demographic backgrounds, from different theological streams, over multiple decades? So … what are those values?

As the pool grows of abuse/violence survivors who have gone public with their accounts of individuals and institutions that harmed them, I suspect patterns of resistance to pseudo-reconciliation will manifest even more strongly. In my recent reflections on the reasons for this, it boils down to two key issues:

  1. Institution-favoring processes violate core beliefs and values typical in abuse survivor communities.
  2. Actual situations keep proving how these processes prove unjust and retraumatizing for victims – regardless of presumable sincerity and good-faith image presented by the offending individuals and institutions.

The institutions always seem to the ones who win, and victims end up losing.  I recently posted something about this on Twitter, asking whether anyone could show contrary cases. It was in response to a notice of a Harvest Bible Chapel announcement about “peacemaking.” Here are the original tweet plus some comments on it:

Check out the whole comment thread after The Elephant Debt’s initial tweet, if you want to sample the kinds of responses that such announcements now draw out of abuse survivors and advocates. Be sure to follow the threads of comments that branch off of each main comment. I think you’ll find it enlightening.

What do you think is going on, in terms of values that are being violated, and goals that are being blocked by such peacemaking enterprises?

Here is a chain of three graphics on What Unifies Survivor Communities? I developed these almost six weeks ago, a week after I began posting segments in this cultural geography series. I was attempting to capture the essence of what typically motivates survivors in their interactions with offending institutions, and what is on their radar as issues to be aware of. See what you think …

In mulling over how best to present the values set that motivates similar responses to offers of negotiation and reconciliation, it occurred to me to use a very different angle:

If survivor communities were a non-profit agency instead of a social movement, what would be on its “About” webpage?

I have been involved with five kinds of organizational start-ups: social service and social change enterprises, a grassroots political campaign, informal networks for people with common interests/goals, church plants, and non-profit corporations. A fivefold framework I’ve found useful for organizing key information to make it more accessible is: purpose, mission, values, vision, and goals/activities.

Purpose – What drives our decision to organize?

Mission – Who do we want to make a difference for, and how?

Values – What are the way things should be (end-state values), and how should we treat one another on the pathway in getting there (instrumental values)?

Vision – If we make the impact we hope for, what would our preferred future look like?

Goals/Activities – What specific tasks keep us focused on transforming the present to create that future?

I applied this framework to what I’ve experienced, observed, and researched in/about abuse survivor communities. Here is how I’d put together those core essentials if I were developing an “About” page for them as a new non-profit agency. Some of the elements get interwoven, such as where general values and vision drive specific goals and activities. Still, the distinctions can be helpful for thinking through interconnections among our thoughts, feelings, motivations, and actions.

About Survivor Communities:

Our Principles and Practices

Purpose. (What drives our decision to organize?) – To make a difference in eradicating all forms of abuse/violence.

Mission. (Who do we want to make a difference for, and how?) – Justice and recovery for victims, protection for the vulnerable, abuse awareness and taking action by/for all.

Vision. (If we make the impact we hope for, what would our preferred future look like?) – As this is accomplished, toxic systems get dismantled; malignant individuals are curbed from roles of influence, access, and power; there is far less abuse/violence, and far greater healthiness and kindness.

Values, Goals/Activities:

Key values:

  • Truth/integrity
  • Justice
  • Prevention = disempowering perpetrators and perpetuators

… which require …

  • Transparency – openness, letting the light in so the darkness can be chased out.
  • Humility – admit something went wrong.
  • Accountability – taking constructive action to repair the damage.

… and aren’t seen when there is …

  • Hiding – restricting testimony, covering up the truth about damage done, the damagers, and those who covered it up.
  • Arrogance – misuse of abilities, positions, and power for benefit of self and other preferred insiders.
  • Deflection – use own status and/or institutional means to waylay discovery of truth and repair of damages done.

Those call forth:

  • Discovery and calling out
  • Removal from position of power
  • Dismantling toxic infrastructure

Mottoes.(How do we communicate essential elements about our organizations philosophy and goals?) – No one deserves abuse or violence. Every victim deserves advocacy. Do good plus do no harm.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Preview and Homework for Part 7B2: Examples of What Survivor Communities Have Actually Been Up Against.

Here are the short-form and long-form versions of the three-part framework of ethics, infrastructures, and resolutions. Review them, along with considering elements in the above “Non-Profit Profile,” and then answer these questions:

What positive and negative examples of these can you cite that illustrate what survivors of sexual abuse, harassment, sexual assault, spiritual abuse, domestic violence, or other forms of abuse/violence have had to deal with in getting the damage repaired?

Why might survivors consider independent investigations and restorative justice processes to be infinitely superior to the alternatives?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

The Short Form of the Threefold Framework

ETHICAL ENVIRONMENT

What constitutes negotiating in “good faith”? What is “poisoning the well”? Is this just? Success depends on establishing trustworthiness. If there is already a “DNA of deflection/bad faith,” the process and results are doomed.

  • Issues of crime.
  • Vague wording that can be manipulated for misinterpretation.
  • Labeling victims.
  • Moral equivalency.
  • Power differentials / power dynamics.

INTERACTION INFRASTRUCTURE

How does the proposed formal framework for interacting facilitate or impede the process and achieving hoped-for outcomes?

  • Facilitators and their qualifications: professionalism, neutrality/bias, integration: hirer or survivors.
  • Selection and payment, and how that affects process and outcomes.
  • Agency’s past clients and whether this earns a trustworthy reputation among survivors. LITMUS
  • Agency’s required rules for the process.
  • Representation/assistance during process. (Can lead to problems with power dynamics.)

RESOLUTION ARRANGEMENTS

What are the formal structures for reaching problem resolution or process conclusion, and for what happens after that?

  • Opportunities to change participation by leaving before/during process.
  • Binding agreements of any kind re: findings, awards, resolutions.
  • Binding agreements affecting future rights: NDAs, litigation.
  • Impasse.
  • Violations of agreements, and consequences.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

The Long Form of the Threefold Framework

Expanded Question List for Evaluating

Alternative Dispute Resolution Proposals

ETHICAL ENVIRONMENT

What constitutes negotiating in “good faith”? What is “poisoning the well”? Is this just? Success depends on establishing trustworthiness. If there is already a “DNA of deflection/bad faith,” the process and results are doomed.

  1. What if there have been criminal issues involved? Have they been reported? Have statutes of limitation run out? Will any binding agreement include reporting the crimes so the criminal complaints are on the record – even if the statute of limitations has run out – to contribute to establishing a track record of filings on the perpetrator? Or is there any item that precludes any party from filing criminal reports, regardless of when the crime happened?
  2. Have “weasel words” or weak acknowledgments been used to minimize the level of crime, damage, and/or responsibility? (Pseudo-apologies equal “Acknowledge everything but take responsibility for fixing nothing.”)
  3. Have parties impugned the veracity of others without evidence, for instance, calling them liars, labeling their reports as false allegations? Is the overall atmosphere amiable, or hostile?
  4. Any “moral equivalency” statements made that poison the well? (For instance, “Well, we’re all sinners.” Or, “What were you wearing when you say you were sexually assaulted? Did you invite it?”)
  5. Are parties in the dispute resolution process viewed as peers? Treated as peers? Or is there an inherent power differential that skews the process and/or results in someone’s favor?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

INTERACTION INFRASTRUCTURE

How does the proposed formal framework for interacting facilitate or impede the process and achieving hoped-for outcomes?

  1. Who facilitates the investigation and/or resolution proceedings – an individual or a group? What kind(s) of professions or certifications do they have? Is the facilitator “neutral” – no conflicts of interest with the hiring organization and/or those reported as offenders?
  2. Who chooses the arbitrator(s), conciliator(s), mediator(s)? Who pays for the process? Do either of these elements – selection or payment – create an inherent ethical problem, slanting the process and/or outcomes in favor of a particular party?
  3. Are there any current or historical background issues that taint the proposed facilitator? For instance, does the facilitating agency have former clients and/or current recommenders who are not trusted (or even who are reviled) within survivor communities? Have they made contemptuous statements about survivors before, in news articles or social media?
  4. If the facilitator uses a specified set of principles, is that ideology relatively neutral toward all parties? Is it pro- or anti- any category of participant: pro-survivor, pro-authority figures, pro-institution, etc.?
  5. Who represents the parties in conflict? Themselves? Lawyers? Other? And are the parties in conflict present during the process, or do they just submit documents?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

RESOLUTION ARRANGEMENTS

What are the formal structures for reaching problem resolution or process conclusion, and for what happens after that?

  1. Can parties opt-out after initially agreeing to enter the process, or back out after already being involved in it?
  2. Does the set of principles used for the particular process – investigation, arbitration, conciliation, mediation – require binding agreements? Are parties required to accept in advance whatever will turn out to be the “verdict,” once they’ve entered into the process? Or is acceptance of proposed resolutions voluntary/non-binding?
  3. Are there elements that significantly change the course of the future, such as non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements, binding terms to forego any future litigation, etc.? If so, how do these affect justice in the current situation, and prevention of further abuse in the future?
  4. What happens if no resolution is reached? Are the doors to additional resolution processes still open? Is litigation still an option if all other approaches fail?
  5. What happens if there is a resolution agreement, but then one or more parties violate any of the binding terms? For instance, has anyone apparently violated a non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreement by speaking about the process, parties involved, outcomes, etc.? Has the accused individual or institution released statements or given interviews to the press that revealed their side of the situation? Are the other parties then free to speak openly?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

PART 7B2

Examples of What Survivor Communities

Have Actually Been Up Against.

This post serves as a “reader’s guide” to what has become a quintessential litmus-test case in the kinds of abuse, cover-up, and deflection that survivors and their communities have had to endure.

In this case of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM; more recently renamed Sovereign Grace Churches) and their celebrity leader, CJ Mahaney, that state of unresolved trauma and ongoing triggering for many victims of child abuse and reported spiritual abuse, has gone on for decades.

I chose this case study because it came into existence long before any form of the #MeToo movement got going, and it has resurfaced annually since then. A protective shell of other well-known evangelical individuals and institutions keep surrounding SGM and CJ Mahaney. This adds to the frustration of survivors, their loved ones, and their advocates who seek justice but have been met with silencing.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

With the onset of some additional Christian streams emerging with the #MeToo movement in late 2017, it seems many more abuse survivors have been on social media. They may or may not be new in their participation and advocacy, or in their knowledge of what’s gone on before in survivor communities. So, I thought some background history would be helpful for those who are new to this.

I’d been working through how to introduce the next segment about what abuse survivor communities have been up against from malignant ministers and toxic institutions, but I got stuck on what angles to use to get into the material. List the kinds of issues that continually crop up? Give short descriptions of various unresolved situations? Use a longer case study that shows the many ways that abuse people traumatize victims? Do the presentation and analysis, or give links to let readers do their own research?

Sometimes circumstances help get indecision off dead-center. An article on C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) by Benjamin Sledge was posted on Medium.com. SGM (recently renamed Sovereign Grace Churches/SGC, and it still shows up online under either term) is one of the unresolved cases I’d been considering, so the providential timing sealed the deal.

The unresolved case of SGM/SGC and its main leader, C.J. Mahaney, has been ongoing for decades. (And by “unresolved,” I mean that victims have not received justice, not all who perpetrated abuse or protected abusers have been held accountable, and there has been insufficient focus on prevention of future abuse. There seems to have been scant (if any) public acknowledgment that their leaders have done any self-critiquing their theology for elements that contribute to harming congregants. The SGC/Mahaney situation also involves many – if not most – of the legal and conciliation methods use to hold off abuse survivors and critics. has become a sort of litmus test of whether an individual or institution really cares about dealing with systemic abuse or not.

So, here is the plan: I’ll recommend you read five key articles that overview the historical situation, and provide resources and some frameworks for analysis of this case for you to use in your own additional research.

P.S. You may want to review the threefold framework (ethical, infrastructure, resolution) in Part 7B1 to refresh your memory on key points about methods for resolution of disputes. Otherwise, as you read the articles, consider:

  • What was done initially that victimized people?
  • What were the responses of leaders, on behalf of their institutions?
  • How were these (in)actions helpful or harmful?
  • What has caused this situation to drag on without resolution?
  • What do you think it would take for insiders who are responsible for abuse and/or cover-up to change? What about for outsiders who are complicit for helping shield individuals and institutions that have been demonstrated to be abusive?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace

as a Litmus-Test Case for Caring About Abuse

SGM probably the best case study to consider the harm done from abuse/violence, and the resounding damaging inflicted when nothing gets done to deconstruct the situation, hold accountable the malignant people responsible for the trauma, and dismantle internal and external infrastructures that maintain moral corrosion and coverup. SMG/CJ Mahaney constitutes a litmus-test situation, indicating how serious a public person or institution connected in any way with CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace is about ending systemic abuse. Here’s why I say that:

This situation was in place for decades before the emergence of #MeToo movement in September 2017.

It resurfaced after the emergence of #MeToo, with issues early in 2018 and again in early 2019.

What has happened embodies just about every victimization angle you can imagine on abuse, harassment, and trauma. (See list later in this post.)

It encompasses most of the tools and tactics talked about in early parts of this series: Part 6B (lawsuits – not necessarily by them, non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements, membership contract/covenant, internal/partial investigation) and Part 6C (arbitration, conciliation, and mediation).

They may not have had a crisis manager or PR agent, but they did hire MinistrySafe (which we’ll look at in Part 7B3) to conduct some kind of investigation.

There has been what seems extreme protection of SGM people and platforms from multiple other leaders, institutions, academic organizations, informal networks, conferences, etc. This indicates the existence of some sort of Sovereign Grace Industrial Complex where outside commenders use the resources of their own position and organization to support and promote SGM.

It’s official evangelical theology has morphed over the decades (charismatic, Shepherding, neo-Calvinist). But it appears to have consistently weaponized doctrine elements (such as unconditional submission to leadership) to keep power in the hands of the few who overlord it over the many.

There is a very long trail of documents and evidence for those who want to track and confirm what they did, and how it traumatized and revictimized survivors.

Justice has not yet been achieved, malignant people have not been held to account, and toxic systems have not been dismantled. This means it ignores core values of abuse survivor communities, and therefore cannot legitimately claim any moral authority to speak to any issues of abuse, recovery, or reconciliation.

You don’t have to accept my conclusion, but if you don’t, I hope you’ll at least examine some of the evidence – including trial records and admissions made under oath. The case of SGM has been tracked for well over 10 years, and I’ll be linking you to articles that introduce the backstory and draw together many of the ongoing threads; interview key witnesses and whistle-blowers; and analyze organizational and ideological issues that maintain the malignancy.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Eruptions in 2016, 2018, and 2019:

Background, Analysis, and Additional Links

I compiled this section from two series of comments I posted on Twitter –January 29, 2019and January 31, 2019– and on Facebook. (There is no link to the Facebook source, as that thread was on a friend’s page that is not set to be public.) I’ve edited the language for clarity, occasionally reordered the merged material, and added in other resource links.

*     *     *     *     *

A Loop Beginning in 2019

Benjamin Sledge’s (@SledgeHS) well-sourced, well-documented article on “Together for the Go$pel“ (Medium dot com; January 28, 2019) draws together details from a whistle-blower, survivor blogger, people impacted by this industrial complex, independent investigator. Read his article and Twitter thread.

I responded with two tweets that suggest some of the possible significance of his article.

This will be an important article to track on Twitter, to see who is commenting (positively or critically) and who is retweeting it.

Farther Back, in Early 2016

Although much of what Benjamin Sledge wrote is not “new news” – though an important viewpoint — it seems to be the first major report on SGM/CJ Mahaney in the era of #MeToo. Here is what was probably the most extensive news report article from before that, in 2016, from The Washingtonian.

The Sex-Abuse Scandal That Devastated a Suburban Megachurch: Inside the rise and fall of Sovereign Grace Ministries, by Tiffany Stanley (February 14, 2016).

This follow-up article by Elizabeth Dias in Time magazine gives extensive background information from Tiffany Stanley, who wrote the investigation report that appeared in The Washingtonian.

Inside the Investigation into Child Sexual Abuse at Sovereign Grace Ministries., by Elizabeth Diaz (February 19, 2016).

So, those who continue their association with Mr Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries/Sovereign Grace Churches now, have had another three years to do something about this, but as yet have done pretty much nothing, as best I can see.

Forward to One Year Ago, in Early 2018

In early 2018, there was a series of three news and interview articles from Christianity Today (CT) magazine, with links to articles from 2013-2014. One year ago today — on January 31, 2018 – CT (@CTmagazine) posted the interview of Morgan Lee (@Mepaynl) with Rachael Denhollander. In light of Ms. Denhollander’s prominent role in the Olympics gymnasts’ case of Larry Nassar, this article represents a significant moment for Christians in the then-surging #MeToo movement.

My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness, interview by Morgan Lee (January 31, 2018).

That interview included the topic of scandals in Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). This led to a series of additional articles, statements, and rebuttals. A follow-up article on February 6 by Kate Shellnutt (@kateshellnutt) links to those items and puts them into context.

Sovereign Grace Disputes Rachael Denhollander’s Remarks, by Kate Shellnut (February 6, 2018).

A March 22, 2018, CT article by Mark Galli (@markgalli) overviews the history of the lawsuit against SGM, filed in 2012; references core issues from as early as the 1980s; then brings it up to date. He ends with analysis of investigation issues and calls for resolution.

We Need an Independent Investigation of Sovereign Grace Ministries, by Mark Galli (March 22, 2018).

Back to Now in 2019, and Some Analysis

A year later, it seems there’s been no movement to resolve underlying issues, hold responsible individuals to account, or dismantle institutional ties protecting a platform for Sovereign Grace celebrities and ministries. @SledgeHS picks this up in his Medium dot Com article.

Roots of this situation go back decades. Survivor bloggers and news reporters have spotlighted Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches and its main celebrity CJ Mahaney for years. Yet, the problems remain and institutional protectors stay silent about SGM, even if they decry abuse.

Sadly, this case shows the range of trauma types experienced by survivors: the abuse; the coverups through denials, deflections, church discipline; the building of a sort of Sovereign Grace Industrial Complex to protect and give undue preference to SGM-related people/projects.

Nothing has moved this case off dead center, either before the surge in the #MeToo hashtag campaign starting in September 2017, or since. But it’s become a severe stumbling block to evangelicalism claiming moral authority to address forms of abuse when they don’t deal with this.

It’s been a whole additional year since the last major eruption of SGM/SGC and CJ Mahaney on evangelicalism’s horizon. How much longer will this remain unresolved? What will it take to dissolve the protective shell they’ve been apparently granted by other evangelical celebrities?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

My Own Tracking and Talking

About SGM/SGC and Mr. Mahaney

Blogging, hashtag campaigns, articles, and more go even farther back from the eruptions of SGM issues since 2016. This section gives a sampling from my own writings. I’ll go in reverse order.

I originally posted the following article as a Twitter thread on March 10, 2018, about Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC) and its former version, Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). It is a compilation of 15 tweets and related links.

Only an Independent Investigation Can Remove the Cloud of Suspicion Over Sovereign Grace Churches.

Here’s an article I posted in April 2016. It has another dozen links to articles, news reports, social media hashtag campaigns, and more.

An Open Letter to “Together for the Gospel”: Don’t Tether Your Future to C.J. Mahaney’s Past.

I posted this article in 2014, in light of the hashtag campaign, #IStandWithSGMVictims.

Conducting Restitution When Our Leadership Causes Damage.

And here is a tutorial I posted in about 2012 that uses SGM as a case study …

Tutorial 09-Transformation.

… it links to a detailed analysis I did of a SGM church members’ meeting in 2012, the article of which was posted at BGBC Survivors blog (Julie Anne Smith’s/@DefendTheSheep blog before her Spiritual Sounding Board got going). …

Sovereign Grace Ministries: Analysis of CLC Members Meeting.

… and it also relates with this how-to article from 2013 on preparing to share our accounts of spiritual abuse.

Is It Time To Tell My Story?

The larger point is this: I am just one of many research writers, survivor bloggers, and news reporters who’ve spotlighted this abusive system for years. Yet, men in leadership inside and outside Sovereign Grace remain silent, keep associating with SGM/SGC, laugh off toxicity as if it has not and does not exist.

They have little excuse. Many of these are leaders of institutions and networks that train next generations of leaders. What do they think they are passing along as approved DNA of leadership? What we see as endorsed are weaponized doctrinal principles and toxic practices, such as:

  • Authoritarianism.
  • Legalism.
  • Unconditional submission to disqualified leaders.
  • Deflection of responsibility.
  • Avoidance of accountability.

This is all DNA of corruption, and there are days when it feels pointless to keep pointing out the well-documented truth about these historic and current abuses.

But systemic abuse cannot be cracked until it is identified.

It cannot be deconstructed – and dismantled if necessary – until cracked.

Not reconstructed – if still possible – until deconstructed, so malignant agents can be removed, toxic infrastructures flushed out, healthy people and principles and practices implanted.

Deconstructing systemic abuse and oppression, and (re)constructing healthy systems, are at core spiritual endeavors. They must be based in truth and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Kyrie eleison …

If those processes of deconstruction and (re)construction are of interest, see the last section in this post on How to Deconstruct a Christian Industrial Complex.

Meanwhile, I’d suggest to Southern Baptist Convention celebrities/entities especially to take note: If you continue to show preference to, or even shield, C.J. Mahaney and SGM (now Sovereign Grace Churches) that is a barometer indicator for survivor communities to know whether your SBC spaces are safe or still in shadow.

Abuse survivor communities highly value (1) justice for victims that includes (2) righteous accountability and consequences for perpetrators of abuse/violence and (3) dismantling infrastructures that protect abusers, (4) to make places safer for all, especially for those who are vulnerable to bullying and grooming for abuse.

Patterns of failure to address systemic abuse such as represented in this litmus-person/barometer-situation in effect deny in practice any ideology of Imago Dei in people. It demonstrates only some people are valued, not all. No one deserves abuse. Every victim deserves advocacy.

If your organization wants to assess how safe and sustainable it is related to preventing forms of abuse, or deconstruct and reconstruct because you’ve identified problems, there are resources already available – for survivors, counselors, pastors, denominational developers – and survivors/advocates willing to be of help personally. No need to reinvent the wheel!

That said, I believe there will eventually be accountability and consequences for the individuals who lead institutions that have refused to engage in correctives about this toxin-spreading relationship. And their institutions may also face radical consequences for corporate (in)actions. Sovereign Grace Ministries/CJ Mahaney and his Shepherding Industrial Complex is a quintessential barometer issue to indicate these institutions’ environment for abuse/toxicity or for safety/sustainability. If people want to know whether an organization that’s previously been intertwined with SGM/Mr Mahaney is truly serious about addressing systemic abuse, Benjamin Sledge’s article gives the clarion call: Now or perhaps never.

I do hold a very small hope that there may be constructive responses. However, if they continue in silence, I expect the resistance to amplify (and so should they). And those individuals and institutions who refuse to deconstruct and reconstruct should, in the long run, expect to self-destruct. We cannot laugh off harm done by ourselves or our organizations forever … all Christians have one final accounting.

And yet, we need to remember that there is a Holy Spirit component to all this. The information and truth about spiritual abuse and abusers has been available for a long time. “Seeing” it is a spiritual discipleship and discernment issue, not a strictly political or cultural one. Any of us can willfully ignore such clearly and forcefully presented data … at least, until it happens to use or someone we care about. Sometimes it takes that kind of shock to believe the survivor accounts and start moving toward accountability. Will they wait until the shock is so great that it can’t resuscitate their body?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Links Categories and Tags: CJ Mahaney,

SGM/SGC, Together For The Gospel

Lists of relevant articles from survivor bloggers can be found at these sites, especially at the specific category and tag links as bullet-listed:

SGM Survivors

The SGM Survivors blog was one of the main online outlet that victims of SGM-related churches and ministries found for connecting, support, and sharing their experiences. It has blog archives going back to November 2007.

Warren Throckmorton

Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Spiritual Sounding Board

CJ Mahaney.

Sovereign Grace Ministries.

The Wartburg Watch

CJ Mahaney.

Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Watchkeep

Watchkeep does not have a category system, but does have archives going back to 2010.

Thou Art The Man

Categories from the blog of Todd Wilhelm, who has written extensively on topics and situations related to SGM/SGC and Mr Mahaney:

CJ Mahaney.

Covenant Life Church.

Sovereign Grace Churches.

Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Sovereign Grace Church Louisville.

T4G/Together For the Gospel.

This tweet raises issues from the 2018 Pastors Conference where CJ Mahaney talked about disqualified leadership.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

How to Deconstruct a Christian Industrial Complex

This four-tweet thread and links addressed how to research/parse a Christian industrial complex – the people, principles, and practices involved; the platforms that maintain its privilege, power, and funding; and even how some doctrines can get weaponized.

With recent reports that call on us to “follow the money” and “stop institutions that protect perpetrators,” it just feels like these times call for reposting links to a series of how-to articles on cracking an “industrial complex.” A basic overview is here:

6 Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex (Compilation of Posts).

Then, with some repeat, but more in-depth overall, there is this series of five steps/practices for deconstructing an industrial complex, with application to a the case study the entire website focuses in on. (See pages 10, plus 11A through 11F.)

10 Institutional: Christian Industrial Complex.

Step #1. Overviewing the Elements Step #2. My Process for Detecting the Pieces Step #3. Your Turn: Identifying and Interpreting the Pieces and the Bigger Picture.

11A Framework for Detailing of the Emergent Complex [Steps #1, 2, 3].

Step #4. Main Entities in the Complex

  1. Associations, Networks, Philanthropic Enterprises
  2. Businesses, Brands, Events, Media, Marketing
  3. Publishing
  4. Academia, Seminaries, Training Programs

Step #5: Influential Individuals in the Complex.

11D My Initial Findings: Dominant Entities and Influential Individuals [Steps #4, 5].

The following compilation of 12 posts is the most extensive writings I have on responsibility for spiritual abuse, culpability and accountability issues, and suggestions for dealing with abusive leaders and systems.

Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse. Note that the most recent version of my “Pyramid of Abuse” model is on my Systemic Abuse Researcher Notes website.

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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 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.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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 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.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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

*     *     *     *     *

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/

*     *     *     *     *

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:

http://thewartburgwatch.com/2018/05/27/willow-creeks-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

*     *     *     *     *

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:

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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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