Thursday, June 27, 2019

What NOT to say when an Abuse story surfaces

Another sad church abuse story has been officially admitted today. But I want to focus on the things we say in response, that whilst well-intended, can actually further foster a culture of abuse. So here's some things not to say, and why:

1. 'Lets pray for this fallen leader!'
This centres grace on the wolf in sheep's clothing, rather than the victims. This re-frames abuse as an individual's moral failing. In reality, it is often a gross abuse of power where countless lives have been ruined, impacting survivors and their families for years to come. There may be a time and place for praying for the wolf, but firstly prayers should be offered up for the survivors of the abuse, who have probably been ignored for years. Remember that survivors are reading your comments.
So its better to say, 'Lets pray for the survivors and for justice to be done.'

2. 'There are lots of ways I benefitted from their ministry!'
This centres the narrative on both the abuser, and the commentator, rather than the survivors. Furthermore, it misunderstands that these abusers 'bless' people in their ministries as a way of grooming by-standers. It is a strategy to get and maintain a network for abuse. The bystanders are unwittingly employed by the abuser to cast doubt in any allegations. 
Even in the minds of survivors, we can sometimes think, 'but they did all those good things, maybe what they did wasn't really abuse, maybe it was for my good etc.' And then, when you hear other people talk about the good this abuser has done, it can cause you to doubt yourself, and not come forward. 
So its better to say, 'I was duped.'

3. 'We must protect the ministry this person was associated with'
This is a big reason why abuse gets covered up in church groups. But first and foremost we must protect the vulnerable people, not the ministry. Secondly, its Jesus' name that must be glorified, not the name of our ministries. Thirdly, abusers flourish when there is a structure around them that enables them - so ministries really do need to come under fair scrutiny in these cases. Fourthly, its hard for us survivors to come forward when we see so many protecting their brand. Show us instead, that our dignity as image bearers is worth more than your brand. Show us that you believe Jesus' words that its better to be thrown into the sea with a milestone tied around your neck than cause one of these little ones to stumble.
So its better to say, 'We must protect the vulnerable more than our brand.'

4. 'This person didn't actually abuse in our organisation!'
If you gave this person a platform and a network, in which they could groom people and be vouched for, then your organisation played a part in an abusive culture. If people in your organisation were told about abuse, and you didn't go to the Police straight away, then you were complicit in the abuse.
If your organisation uses a technicality to keep trying to point out that you're innocent, then somethings wrong. Join the side of Jesus, the side of the oppressed, the side of justice, and be so against abuse that its clear to everyone.
So its better to say, 'Our organisation needs an independent investigation into any ways we've been complicit.'

5. 'Why didn't victims come forward sooner?'
Sometimes they did, but were silenced by people around the abuser. They learned that people would not listen to their voice because of the reasons above. Sometimes people can't speak about what happened  because its so hard for the brain to put words to unspeakable events. But when you say things that imply the victims did something wrong, you shift the blame to them, instead of the perpetrator.
So its better to say, 'What happened was unspeakable, and I'm so sorry for all those who tried to speak but were silenced.'

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

We Don't Need a New Strategy for Diverse or Deprived Areas

For a while, I've heard a variety of conservative evangelicals talk about having, a new strategy for reaching urban or deprived areas. People are recognising we haven't been good at reaching out to our diverse population, and are thinking a new strategy will help. This frustrates me because it was 'strategic thinking' that got us in this mess in the first place! I am convinced that what is needed is Repentance rather than Strategy. Strategising can easily be a false messiah promising fruit that will only come from repentance. Here's my reasons:

1. Historically, we 'strategically' targeted the wealthy and the white, creating a Christian machine that is almost unable to reach diverse and deprived areas. The idea was overtly driven by strategy, and no doubt covertly driven by the prejudice that exists in all our hearts. Strategising from sinful hearts didn't work then, why would it work better now? Surely deep repentance of all our prejudices must precede strategy. Surely such repentance also takes time, and the fruit is more, 'Can I sit with you and hear how I've hurt you,' than, 'I'm going to launch a new strategy.'

2. Some of those calling for new strategies are the same people who have been unhelpful to those ministering to deprived areas. Unless there is repentance, how can their new strategies bear fruit? Growth will not come from strategy unless the Spirit of repentance is doing the work. Unless there is character change, how can long term partnerships last? Conferences and initiatives can be fig leaves that ignore some of the relational alienation that has taken place through sin. Repentance on the other hand would involve rebuilding relationships before doing any online posturing about deprived areas. Repentance would lead to godly character, and character can lead to helpful strategising, but to skip character, is a dangerous an unbiblical approach.

3. The idea of a new strategy from Evangelical gatekeepers is so patronizing. It would be far better to say, 'We've got it wrong, we've caused pain, we want to sit down and listen.' Instead the message is, 'We've decided we're gonna do a new strategy, we will gather some people we have chosen, so that we can know how to make our strategy good. Repentance on the other hand would involve having a change of mind about patronizing behaviour. This would take time, as well as listening to those who have been pushed out of the 'chosen group' and who felt patronised. This would then lead to a change of behaviour which would be far more beneficial than a change of strategy. Godly behaviour rather than clever strategy is what the Bible consistently calls for.

4. The knowledge base is too small to make a good strategy.
Conservative Evangelicalism just does not know much about diversity or deprived areas. There's a number of people having a go at it, but we're few in number compared to Pentecostal and Charismatic groups etc.  Furthermore, our old boy network approach to ministry means that many of our practitioners never get to contribute to our narrow knowledge base. All this to say, I don't think we know enough to start new strategies, UNLESS we're humbly in repentance going to our brothers in Christ we've ignored for years, and asking their forgiveness, and then later down the road asking their advice.

What we really need is repentance that will bear fruit.

So, the next time you see the word 'strategy' in a blurb, try replacing it with the word 'repentance' and see if it sounds more biblical and might produce more fruit?