We need to talk about it...
This last week I’ve been watching the documentary on BBC iPlayer called ‘We need to talk about Crosby’. It reminded me so much of a podcast series I listened to last year from Christianity Today called ‘The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,’ and another documentary about abuse within Hillsong Church. It got me thinking: we really do need to talk about these things.
There are many individuals and charities around the world who have been, and are, shedding light on the abuse and mistreatment of individuals within the church. We need to talk about this abuse so that those with lived experience who want to share know that it’s a safe place to do so, and so that those who don’t want to share know that they are not alone.
All the documentaries I mentioned above speak to those who were abused by the perpetrators as well as acknowledging the difficulty many people have in believing those who come forward. Let’s be honest, you could replace ‘Mars Hill’ or ‘Hillsong’ with a number of churches or religious organisations; many of us reading this will have our own stories to tell.
"We need to talk about the abuse so that those with lived experience who want to share know that it’s a safe place to do so, and so those who don’t want to share know that they are not alone."
So why can it be so hard to talk about these things? In our domestic abuse training courses we talk about how it can be difficult to believe disclosures of abuse, because in doing so we have to face up to the reality that the perpetrator is not who we thought they were. It challenges our own ability to get judgements right on other people. The Crosby documentary highlights how he challenged racism and made it possible for people of colour to act in roles that once were unavailable to them. The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast acknowledges the number of people who came to know Jesus through Mark Driscoll's preaching, as well as the opportunities that many had to further their relationship with God through other members of the congregation. But in cases like these and in many others, we need to reckon with the fact that the people we hold in high regard are also capable of causing significant harm to others.
"It can be difficult to believe disclosures of abuse because in doing so we have to face up to the reality that the perpetrator is not who we thought they were."
We need to talk about the misuse of power in the Church because it matters. It matters to every individual with lived experience of abuse but it also matters to every individual without lived experience. It matters because power is so easily attributed within the Church; it matters because it’s too easy to talk about spiritual authority out of context; it matters because the Bible can be interpreted in many ways and is used as a tool of abuse. It matters.
The first thing we can do to stop abuse existing in the Church is to recognise how easy it is for abuse to occur. Then, we need to acknowledge the barriers we might have to believing and accepting that abuse is present. How do we do these things? By talking about them. I wonder when each of us last spoke with a trusted person about the things that prevent us from acknowledging the presence of power and the misuse of power in our own churches? I don’t say this in judgement - it’s a challenge to me as well.
"The Son of God, who held all power in his hands 'did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing…'"
Philippians 2:5-11 speaks of Christ’s humility. The Son of God, who held all power in his hands “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing…”. This passage speaks to those who hold power: that we are to recognise ourselves before God. We need to understand that power is not something to hold onto and misuse but to give away and to use for the glory of God.
But this passage equally speaks to those who have felt powerless. Danielle Strickland says humility is “ agreeing with God about who He says we are.” Who does God say you are today?
Over these last few weeks of Lent, I wonder whether we might choose to hold a conversation with someone in our church about abuse and the consequences of not recognising power imbalance. Or, I wonder whether we might choose to recognise who God says we are - particularly if we’ve had power used against us in the past.
Interested in exploring this further?
We have three levels of domestic abuse training, which explore key questions around domestic abuse and how churches can effectively respond to disclosures.