Identifying Toxic Church Cultures (Part Two)
Scot McKnight gives Eight false narratives that toxic churches often tell to protect themselves. In Part one we looked at the first four false narratives. In this post, we will look at three more false narratives, leaving the last false narrative for the third post.
All quotes are in italics and come from the third chapter of McKnight’s book, “A church called Tov”. All quotes other than McKnight are cited. I have I have ordered McKnight material into sections: First a description of the false narrative and Second some examples for clarity. We will pick up where we left off with the fifth narrative.
5. MAKE THE PERPETRATOR THE VICTIM
A narrative that make the perpetrator out to be the victim. In it everything is flipped and the perpetrators become the victims. This self-victimization narrative is a textbook example of flipping the script by playing on peoples emotions. The perpetrator uses all the social capital they have to convince others they are the victim.
The aim of the narrative
Such a narrative is seeks to winning in the court of public opinion by falsely claiming victim status often through emotional means. The narrative aims at causing others to give to the perpetrator the compassion as well as the support people would normally give to those that were wronged. They play on the sympathy and emotions of bystanders thus triangulate and win allies.
Bringing attention to your own pain and thus diminishing the the victims experience. The perpetrator claiming, “we are all hurting here” or calming how ‘sad’ it was they were being exposed. Also claiming things like, How hard the ordeal has been on them and especially their family.
False accusations that reverse the moral landscape
“a survivor telling her story to others may be accused of hurtful gossiping or divisiveness. Anger is misdirected and listeners are angry with accusers for their mistreatment of the church or pastor.”
In a larger church context, the primarily the use language games to shift narrative by throwing shade at the victim while polishing the church and the leader.
A.) Subtly smearing the victim
Such smearing is seen in subtle ways and well crafted word choices.
They say things like: The “opinions” of a “few” “disgruntled” “former” members, in this way a church can tries to establish the unfairness of the issue.
They use non-verbals to suggest the accusations lack credibility without actually saying it lacks credibility only intimating by non-verbals and tone that its no big deal thus lower it’s credibility. Or hint at the people involved are motivated by malice without outright saying it.
They marginalize the concern by passively implying the victim is alone in there option. They make it sound like the victim is the only person with that option.
Then there is my personal favorite The “he is a good guy but” smear. This one caters tot he biases of the larger group. where you seem to affirm the person but also draw associations with groups seen as suspect to the in-group.They say things like “He is a great guy but he has been known to hang out with “those” people. AND You know they are suspect.”
B.) Polish their image
“The church seeks to polish its own image — using phrases such as “carefully expressed viewpoint,” “a happier and healthier church,” “God’s kingdom moving forward,” “we have chosen the high road,” and “grace-filled . . . attempts to reconcile.”
Types of Appeals use by church’s or leaders
1.) Appeal to sympathy
“[An] appeal for sympathy can be seen in the church’s reframing of the harm done to others as “mistakes” that the church has now “owned….these events are then described as something the leadership had to ‘endure,’ revealing a perspective that sees one’s self as the primary object of harm.”
“A pastor may lament his weariness or confusion about attacks against his character and against the ministry he spent his life building—and how wounded he was by his accuser going public with the allegations….. These manipulation narratives are highly effective because they plead sympathy for the evildoer. “
2.) Appeal to biblical protocols (as they see interpret them)
“Voices of authority at the church may explain how accusers are “not behaving biblically” or are refusing to engage in relationship restoration…. Churches also appeal to their commitment to biblical standards as another means of falsely claiming victim status. Church leadership contends the accusers are behaving contrary to biblical teaching. The church claims the high road because they are following the Bible. The accusers are discredited and the church becomes the victim”.
3.) Appeal to Protecting Reputations
Leaders may appeal to protecting the reputation of the ministers involved or of the church. In this way, the church is the victim because accusers are harming its reputation and good work.
6. SILENCE THE TRUTH
Sometimes churches create a “silencing narrative” often through legally means. This is the main distortion with the next narrative below, suppressing the truth. Silencing the truth draws most of it’s power from legal consequence.
The church preserves its public reputation, and its false narrative remains intact. Narratives that silence people prevent the truth from becoming known, create confusion for people who sense something is wrong but can’t put their finger on it, and sow discord between those who try to speak up and others who choose to believe the false narrative.
Aim of silencing narratives
An added layer of Protection by the prevention of “negative information from becoming known.”
Two common kinds of silencing narratives
1.) Members covenant (legally binding contract with a group)
Membership covenants, which have become increasingly common in some American churches, are a way for church leaders to prevent negative information from becoming known.
2.) A nondisclosure agreement (NDA).
“[A] nondisclosure agreements are designed to silence people who know about bad things that happened behind the scenes and who agree to keep their mouths shut in exchange for some type of severance package or other compensation.”
If you sign a NDA you’re legally bound under threat of the law to remain silent. They are “incapable of establishing justice by speaking truthfully about what they know or have seen or heard.”
7. SUPPRESS THE TRUTH
A variation of the silencing narrative is suppression of the truth, Forms of this include shaming, intimidation, threatening spiritual or financial consequences, or destruction of evidence.
There are numerous ways to suppress the truth it is all a matter of finding the leverage needed for the situation. Here are some common ways to suppress the truth:
1.) Leader responds to accusation, or suspicious questioning, by threatening a lawsuit.
Note: Such threats are heavy handed intimidation. It power rises from the economics of the situation. For the collective resources of a church community will always outweighs the the financial ability of an single individual.
2.) They may also accuse the accuser of sowing discord and division, or “bearing false witness” against one’s brother or sister. Social stigma and shame is a powerful tool to suppress the truth. Making speaking up the problem not the actual problem being the problem.
3.) They may state that an independent investigation has been done and found no wrongdoing, and thus cut off any further inquiry. This tactic draws power from the appearance of due diligence to the initial inquiry.
4.) They may also appeal to the pastor’s or church’s reputation to manipulate the victim into silence. They say things like, “Don’t tarnish the public wittiness of the church, you love!” Or don’t tarnish the name of Christ in bringing this to light..
5.) Another way of suppressing the truth is by coercion and intimidation of the witnesses. This one runs the spectrum from heavy handed clarity to implicate but threatening.
“Where there is a lack of transparency, there will always be some suspicion. When the truth is suppressed and silence is maintained, abusers are able to move on and abuse and wound others. The victim and the silencers are the only ones who know what happened. When silence and suppression become false narratives, the story they tell is that victims don’t matter and the abusers’ acts are not worthy of discovery.”
In Part Three, we will look at the last of McKnight’s false narratives. If you like this content and you may enjoy our video featuring Dr. McKnight on this subject. [Click here]. Also if you like this blog you will love the McKnight’s book amazon link below:
A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight.
 An independent investigation is support to be unbiased. The investigation is suppose to leave no stone unturned as they look for wrong doing. So that if no wrong doing is found is is justifiable to drop the issue. In today’s world transparency is needed at every point of the process. Questions like, How the independent investigators were selected need to be freely answered. As well as the evidence, methods and prodigals uses by the team should be open to scrutiny. Such openness insures the findings of an independent investigation will be above reproach or at least reasonably done without bias.
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