Saturday, 12 April 2014

Silencing is Abuse

In my last post I talked about finding two common themes running through the email communication I'd received from one of the board members of my old church. The first was what I call magic words syndrome where people act as if there's some sort of magic in using words like "I'm sorry" which means that all the damage is mysteriously gone and there is no need to actually address any of the emotional or relational devastation that has been inflicted.
The second approach was the insistence that I was supposed to never, ever talk about my pain again. It is closely tied to the first idea because if things have been dealt with by the 'magic' then there's nothing more to be done or said, is there!? But the message in the emails was: We've let you whine (and probably lie) to us and validated you by saying we understand this is what you believe to be true ("we accept this is your reality"), you've spoken the magic words, now just shut up and stop talking about it.

In what was for me one last, desperate attempt to find some way beyond the abuse, I had urged 'D' to meet with us and (I believed) he had finally been convinced of the damage he had done to me. ("I spend half my time counselling those who've been abused by the church, I never thought I'd be the one guilty of the abuse!")*

At the end of that meeting we parted having made what I then believed was a first step towards beginning the process of reconciliation. However, when I wrote to him asking what he thought was the next step in moving forward, it seemed he had an absolute melt-down. He wrote to me, "you cannot even imagine the shock, the grief, the sadness and the shear (sic) frustration that hit me, when you broke the power of our reconciliation, instigated by Jesus. You continued with your accusations towards me of bullying and abuse which I have never owned and never will own."

He was now not only denying he'd admitted to abusing me, but also made it clear that he'd only asked forgiveness from God, but not me, because it was like when King David said to God in Psalm 51 "Against you and only you have I sinned." (Seriously! How does that even work!?)

I'd written suggesting that there had been a great deal of devastation caused, in part because of his own actions, and where did he think would be a good place to start rectifying it. (Just one of the devastating effects is being cut off from all relationship by my younger brother and his family because he relied on D's judgement against me.) But instead of viewing our meeting as a starting point in reconciliation, D had viewed it as an end of the matter and was furious that I thought he had anything to deal with. But what was (apparently) even worse was the fact that I had dared to tell anyone about our meeting. He had "felt [it] was sacred and private between us" and how dare I actually tell anyone that he'd admitted any wrong doing towards me! I was obviously being manipulating and trying to create further division!

My purpose in sharing all of this is to shine a spotlight on this type of behaviour so that others might more easily recognise it for what it is. If you are fortunate enough to have the abuser admit the truth in private, they then deny it if you try to bring that into a more public sphere. They refuse to take responsibility for the results of their actions and attitudes, and think that by saying "sorry" everything is made right again. They then further abuse the victim by shutting down any further conversation on the subject and attacking the victim anew if they try some other avenue for dealing with their pain, accusing the victim of gossip, slander and creating division.

When you have been damaged to the point of wishing you were dead, a simple sorry just doesn't cut it. To be berated and attacked because "sorry" doesn't just make everything better for you is really not ok! You have every right to expect issues to be dealt with and reparation made. It is appropriate that what was done in public (or had public repercussions) be addressed in public, with complete honesty and transparency. No-one has the right to silence you, and it is highly manipulative to use the accusation that you are "damaging unity" or "creating division within the body". Please understand, you do not have to submit to this sort of abuse from anyone! Ever.

* These were the words spoken by D at that meeting. He subsequently denied them. I only wish I'd been recording our conversation!


  1. We live in a culture anymore where people are just waiting to be offended, it's kind of annoying, but for the idea that we are experiencing how important an apology can be. Granted, when some basketball player says something stupid on Twitter, he is generally not seeking to reconcile as much as protect his image, his brand. Somehow the church can't seem to even get that far, and I think I know why that is. Pastors and church leaders have a peculiar brand, even under a facade of humility, their brand is about being RIGHT. The thing about apology, and even more so repentance and reconciliation is that you have to admit that you are wrong.

    That is why we can't even expect some fake sincere apology from these people because even the appearance of an apology tarnished their brand.

    1. I think you might be onto something there Dallas! The need for certainty and the obsession with 'being right' create an atmosphere where no-one can question or doubt anything. The trouble is, Jesus didn't call us to be right - he called us to love!

      There's no love to found in a place where 'brand' is of much greater worth than the person who is hurting.