Counting Voices

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I have lost count of the number of women who have come forth over the past year alleging that actor, author, comedian, and producer Bill Cosby sexually assaulted them. I believe the count is over forty women.

Just to be clear, I am not making any judgment on whether or not Bill Cosby did what he is accused of doing. At the time of this posting, no current charges have been filed against Cosby. Therefore, I will not try him in the court of public opinion.

Still, even more recently, an alleged recording from a 2005 deposition became public. On it, you can allegedly hear Cosby admitting to obtaining Quaaludes with the intention of drugging women. Actress, singer, and songwriter Jill Scott took to social media to relent on her previous support of Cosby with these words, “I stood by a man I respected and loved. I was wrong…”

While I admire Jill Scott’s earlier determination to not abandon her friend until more evidence became known, I still have to ask: What does the timing of that decision say about our culture? Why did the lone voice of a man on a leaked recording seem more valuable, carry more weight, and have more veracity than the voices of more than forty women?

Additionally, something that I kept hearing when these accusations first surfaced was this:

“If it’s true, why did they wait so long to say something?” or

“I don’t believe these women. I mean, why wait forty years to come forward?” or

“If it’s been that long, why bring it up now? Just let it go.”

Could any of this be because Cosby is famous and likable? 

I understand our penchant to protect and cover favorable people. Even in our churches, that happens with well-loved leaders as well as with personable congregants. We do not want to believe horrific things we hear about those whom we admire.

In Genesis chapter 9 we read the familiar account of Noah getting passed-out drunk and unclothed, and the consequences of his sons’ reactions. Noah’s son, Ham, instead of covering his father’s nakedness, tells his two brothers, Shem and Japheth. Shem and Japheth behaved appropriately, walking backwards into their father’s tent, in order that they could cover Noah without themselves also seeing his nakedness. After Noah awakes and finds out what Ham did, Noah curses Ham’s descendants, which would be the nation of Canaan.

Why were the descendants of Ham cursed? Because Ham should have covered Noah instead of leaving him exposed. In our churches, we are not supposed to leave our brothers and sisters exposed, even when they make bad decisions. We should cover our family instead of shaming them. 

Nevertheless, I am sure we are all aware of churches mishandling cases of abuse, oftentimes under the guise of “protecting privacy”. While I definitely understand the need to maintain confidentiality, I do have to ask: When does protecting privacy outweigh protecting the flock? When does protecting the privacy of someone who has offended take precedence over protecting the people who were hurt? 

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Community Builder

You raise a very good question and I have asked myself the same questions with regards to some incidents within the CRCNA.  I recall the incident when Synod nominated someone for executive director of the CRCNA but after his nomination something was announced that it was no longer proper for him to serve in this capacity.  I do not know if the reason was ever made public.

Community Builder

"When does protecting privacy outweigh protecting the flock?" That's a very good question. Such questions are common when people with a record of criminal sexual behavior join our congregations. They arise when a beloved church leader is found to have committed sexual sin. Who needs to know? When? How is it communicated? How do we avoid descending into malicious gossip? These decisions are not easy, there are often many, many variables that must be taken into consideration.  It is best not to make decisions quickly. Prayerful reflection, getting input from others, and sometimes also legal counsel is important. Safe Church Ministry has resources that can help with many of the more common questions that arise. Safe Church Ministry is also available to offer consultation when these difficult and complex questions arise. 

Participant

I know this is months after the original post...  I struggle with how the Church has expanded and elevated confidentiality to conform to the patterns of the world instead of to scripture...  ie.. attorney client privilege, pastor-penitent privilege, the confidentiality of the "confessional", robert's rules of executive and strict executive session, non-disclosure agreements...  as one pastor shared with me... confidentiality is killing us...  there is something very unhealthy with the way we, the Church, practice confidentiality...  God's way is to bring things into the light so that it may be clearly seen that is was His way... the enemy's ways is to keep things hidden in darkness out of fear...

I Timothy 5 says to publicly rebuke a leader who is sinning, in the presence of ALL, without partiality, that the rest may fear and as a warning.  and of course the 3 steps of Matthew 18... with the 2nd and 3rd expanding it beyond 2 people.  Of course we do this with wisdom and discernment (see Bonnie's comment), but somehow we have sacrificed justice on behalf of those harmed on the altar of confidentiality. A significant reason is protecting reputations, especially if we like the person who did the wrong and so are not impartial and want to defend our friend, our colleague... so we protect the reputation of the one who did the harm, instead of protecting the dignity of those harmed (although leaders will say that they are protecting the reputation of the one bringing the charges, but they are empty words because in reality it is damage control and cover-up because this secrecy actually does more harm, and instead of validating, this response ends up being as harmful if not more so than the original situation and traumatizes further instead of being part of the healing process - there is a reason that many who have been harmed by the Church struggle with post traumatic stress).

I'm pretty sure that is not what God intended in Proverbs about keeping people's secrets.

 

 

Community Builder

In situations of abuse between adults, the purpose of confidentiality must be to guard the one who has been victimized. He or she has experienced the traumatic powerlessness of abuse, and now must be empowered again. One way to do that is give choices to the one who has suffered abuse. He or she must be the one to make the choice about whether or not the abuse becomes public - no one else has the right to make that choice for him or her. I know people who have been victimized, but are not at all willing to make their experience public. It's their choice, and that choice must be honored. However, there may come a time in the process of healing,  when someone may choose to make their experience of abuse public, to increase awareness, to protect others who may be in harm's way, or for many other reasons. It's sad to me that our churches are not always safe places to disclose abuse. These stories of abuse must be met with understanding and compassion. 

We must be careful in using an argument of confidentiality to protect the one who chooses to abuse: What is the potential for future harm, are we putting others at increased risk? Are we complicit in minimizing the issue? (Minimizing prevents the person who has perpetrated abuse from fully acknowledging the sin, which is the first step toward repentance and change.) What is the message being sent about the value of the one who has abused compared to the one who has been victimized - whose reputation is more important in God's sight? (Note: Jesus is almost always seen in the Gospels standing on the side of the powerless rather than the powerful; we are called to follow his way.) How will this action help or hinder genuine fellowship and unity in the community?  It's truth that sets us free. Abuse must be acknowledged before any healing is possible. 

 

Participant

totally agree Bonnie... and in the secular world I feel this happens more often than not, that the one harmed is given the choice... in the Church, not so much... and I think because the response of the Church is often so hurtful (the one harmed gets blamed, discredited, shunned, the abuse is minimized, dismissed, get over it, move on, let it go, forgive, what's the big deal, nobody's perfect, etc. the abuse is invalidated in so many ways), even if someone is given a choice, that is a significant reason someone would choose to keep it silent if they are given the choice... they are already so vulnerable and unfortunately going public would open them up to more hurt and pain, etc. from the Church instead of the justice and healing that the Church is called to on their behalf...   but usually if it's kept silent in the church the purpose is more in the interest of protecting the reputation of the person who did the abuse (especially if it's a well-liked leader).

and then I came across this statement a few days ago, that made me think about this discussion on confidentiality... from Unholy Charade (p 114, 2015, Justice Keepers Publishing, Jeff Crippen, Rebecca Davis)

God does not want us to keep evil in the Church a secret. EOQ

and that lines up with John 3, where it's the enemy who wants to keep evil things in the dark.  So the point is, that confidentiality isn't a cover for the enemy.

I'm wondering if we need an advocacy ministry that is somehow separate from any particular denomination or congregation.  When the church pays a person's salary...  there is too much potential for the employer to exert control/influence over that person and can make it really, really hard for the person to do the right thing, when there job/pay is threatened...  however, even if a ministry is independent, church leaders can subtly sabotage that ministry if they feel threatened.    the impartiality/avoiding conflict of interest seems to be very difficult in Church leadership in abuse situations... it's one of my concerns...  maybe i'm wrong, but I'm really wrestling with that aspect.

 

 

 

 

 

Community Builder

I often recommend The Hope of Survivors - www.thehopeofsurvivors.com - It's a wonderful resource for those who have been sexually abused by clergy or ministry leaders; also a good resource for anyone wanting to know more about this issue.