The recent reviews into abuse have identified a lot that is deeply wrong in the UK Conservative Evangelical (CE) culture. Not only the abusive behaviours themselves, but leadership failings in response, governance failings, and at a wider level a ‘culture of fear’.
There can only be meaningful change, healing and restoration, particularly for the survivors but also for the wider culture, if the wrongdoing is owned and repented of. However, to do this we need to understand what real repentance looks like and the defensiveness of the sinful human heart that often hinders it.
Here are four common defensive tactics our hearts employ to avoid owning our sin and that are roadblocks to real repentance and restoration: Complain, attack, catastrophize, generalize.
In any situation where there is wrongdoing the perpetrator can deflect blame by taking issue with how the offended party is complaining to them.
To illustrate the problem in a recent livecast with Speak Life I gave the following scenario. Imagine in a moment of gross sin I slapped someone on the face. How would you expect them to respond? Would you expect them to calmly and gently say “Pete, that was really unkind of you, please apologise”? No, you would probably expect a lot of emotion, a fair bit of anger and probably, mingled in, some sin as they complain. Now if I then complained about their tone of voice and started criticising them for it, even if they were being ungodly in the moment, then I hope you can see that this isn’t the main problem. My offence and how I’ve hurt the other person is the problem. This is not to say that there is free-reign on people complaining in ungodly ways, but it is to highlight that it is so easy for complaining about the complaint to be a defensive tactic to avoid responsibility, rather than an authentic concern for godliness.
In the current responses to abuse, it is painfully obvious that survivors have been terribly hurt. Others have been hurt by bullying and the wider culture of fear. In some cases people have been trying to be heard for decades but their voices have been minimised, marginalised, and silenced. So unsurprisingly there is a lot of anger. Does anyone really expect it all to come out in a constructive and gracious way? That might be the ideal but it’s unrealistic. As with the illustration above, it’s also not the main issue. The main issue is the harm people have been subjected to. This is not to legitimise aggressive posts on social media or excessive criticism but a godly and repentant response will look beyond the ‘noise’ of emotion and sin that often comes with complaints, and instead listen carefully to the grievances raised.