Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Assisting victims to become survivors

Elsewhere this blog has considered use of the word survivor in respect to those subject to instutionalised child sexual abuse.  It has been proposed that the word victim is more appropriate.  In context the word survivor is not without its place.  To understand the place for the word survivor one needs to understand first death and then also healing.  Death does not only occur when one’s bodily functions cease.

The understanding stems from Scripture to which I have picked Ephesians 2.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,  in which you used
 to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the
air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh
 and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature
 deserving of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Sin is death.  It is the death in that there is separation from God.  The separation does not need to be permanent.  Christ gives life.

The victim is a victim whilst dead in sin.  The sin need not be their own sin.  The sinful acts of another person can entrap the victim into the death of sin.  So, for a child who is under custodial care in an institution the sin of an adult sexual abuser entraps the child.  The entrapment can be in the form of physical scars or psychological scars.  The entrapment may later encompass resultant effects of the abuse – such as delinquency or disrespect for persons in position of authority.  In respect psychological scars, the adult’s abuser has often exhibited more than sexual abuse.  The adult abusers have often been guilty of theological sin (where the abuser justifies there actions based on an interpretation of the Bible), or authoritarian sin (where the abuser over-steps their role of office).  So, just as the sin of the perpetrator can be multi-layered so can the scars of the victim be multi-layered.

However, the scars can be overcome.  They can be washed by the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

The victim can become a survivor if they arise from the death of sin.  This is often a long process.  It is a process of healing.  The victim often first has to shed any guilt – any thought that their own actions justified the perpetrator’s behaviour.  Included within this is often a position of understanding self-worth – for example, some victims were in care because of their status as an orphan and they may hold to a stigma of first being orphaned.  The victim then also has to perceive that some form of justice is dealt upon the perpetrator.  The victim then needs to see repentance on the part of the perpetrator.  At all times the victim needs balanced support.  They need to be held in the love of Christ as they unpack layer upon layer of experience, ruminated thought and relived shock.  Through the process they overcome the death imposed upon them by others and return to life.  Indeed, through Christ they can return to life in the full. 

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is part of the process that brings justice.  That the churches have not brought robust and complete justice systems into play is a shame upon them.  The Anglican Diocese of Sydney is an example of one that has sought solutions of the Royal Commission (see this link). 

The church wants to identify victims as survivors but has not satisfactorily employed Biblical acumen in arranging passage towards them being survivors. Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia Philip Freier is the latest to use the word survivors yet allegations suggest that some of the church’s most senior figures – ones who still hold positions of authority - covered up abuse.  Effectively, the church will use the Royal Commission to fulfil a role that the church should have done itself.

Bishop Greg Thompson of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle is a victim and yet his leadership and forthrightness lend towards his emergence as a survivor.

Perhaps we should let the victims self-identify as victims or survivors – as an indicator of where they are on their journey towards life.  This would be better than tarring them all with the one favourable brush.  The church escapes no responsibility in drawing victims to survivorhood for that responsibility is incumbent upon the church in its role of dispensing the grace of God and the life giving stimulus of Christ.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Challenging an assumption

Rev. John Dickson recently proposed on Facebook that poor teaching by clergy would lead to the clergy being “sacked by their organisation”.  It is a neat comment and it fitted well into Dickson’s overall post:

“Do these evangelical preachers think that this Levitical penalty
 applies in our own times, after the teaching and ministry of Jesus?
 The answer is an unequivocal NO!

 These guys would be sacked by their organisation
 (the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches)

 for teaching this - and I would join in the chorus of condemnation
 against them. But this just isn't what they teach or think.”

However, I don’t believe it to be true.

Two jokes that I’ve heard said of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney play out the point.  In both jokes it is the congregants that are the butt of the joke.  More specifically, it is the lack of the congregant’s discernment that is under the spotlight. The first joke is all the more compelling in that it was said by an Anglican Diocese of Sydney Minister to his congregation.  The Minister's use of the joke was to promote his congregants to a suitable level of discernment:

Joke 1:
In the Sydney Anglican Diocese a Senior Minister
 can only be replaced if he commits heresy, is certified
a lunatic, or dies.  In some parishes all three
 events occur and still the congregation don’t notice.

Joke 2:
Bob and Pete, two long serving congregants, are
 seated in the rear pew before the Sunday morning
 service commences.
  With all attendees seated the Senior Minister makes a rather
 extravagant and loud entrance. 
In front of the parade of the Senior Minister are two male drummers clad only
 in red g-strings and two young woman in skin-toned body stockings. 
The young women are casting rose petals from cane baskets. 
The Senior Minister is wearing a pink lycra body-hugging
 suit with a gay pride t-shirt,
his hair dyed in different colours of the rainbow. 
Behind the Senior Minister the elders of the church
 carry a chair for the Senior Minister –
a purple upholstered chaise longue
 and the members of the Ladies Committee
 have bowls of grapes to feed the Senior Minister once seated.
Bob turns to Pete and says: “One more thing Pete, just one more thing,
and I am going to leave this church.”

The point is dismissal of clergy requires quite a few steps and quite a few turns of fortune:
1.      Someone has to report the matter
2.      The report has to be to the right person who can take action
3.      A sound structure of dealing with complaints needs to be in place
4.      There has to be an absence of a culture of cover-up
5.      The compliant needs to be correctly coined (transferring it from a general notion to one of church regulation)
6.      The complaint has to have a fair and complete hearing
7.      A conclusion of dismissal has to arise (rather than say a conclusion of issue of an apology)
8.      The finding has to be sound and actionable
9.      Any grounds for appeal have to be exhausted
10.  Action needs to be carried out fairly
11. The complainant has to be willing to pursue civil remedies if the church process falters.

Evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse indicate that 1 to 7 are often very problematic.  For instance, many complainants were troubled by absence of structure (step 3).

The jokes give insight into how complaints often do not get to step 1.


Note: links good as of 21 July 2016