Bible, Relationships

A few thoughts on abuse and the telling of stories

I don’t generally use my social media channels to discuss current issues. There are other folks doing such things, and one could expend a lot of time and energy articulating a response to things that are all but forgotten two weeks later after the next media furore (hats off to the people who do). But there has been a lot in our media in Australia lately about domestic abuse in the church, and last week I went to a lecture on responding to the Royal Commission that we are in the midst of here into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

I don’t want to say much, other than this. Having worked within a professional standards unit of a church Diocese, and also from some experience, if there is one thing I’ve learnt, that I would like to impress upon people, it’s this: there really are two sides to every story. That might sound so cliché, like I’m stating the completely obvious, but just pause to think about how often you have actually formed a judgment, perhaps without even realising it, on a situation from only hearing only one side of a story (I see evidence of this on social media all the time). It is still somewhat disturbing how often people do make such judgments, or take a side in a story of some kind of misconduct or church fall out, when they have made no attempt to seek out or hear the other side of the story. And believe me, there is one. As humans it seems we are naturally inclined to believe and embrace the first version of a story we hear (at least until we hear a different version), but that is foolish, and if we wholeheartedly believe it because we ‘trust the character’ of the person telling it, or the person involved, that is more foolish. (You will not believe how much abuse has been perpetrated by so called ‘great’ people, that everyone loved and thought well of – and if it’s a regular person up against someone ‘in ministry’, you will know which party tends to be handed the free credit, but a theological degree does not make you less of a fallen human.)

And sometimes the party that is keeping quiet, and isn’t in the business of preemptively slandering to get in first with their version of the story, or loading things onto social media, might be the party with the truer story and position (not to mention perhaps a more godly approach to responding to it).

Also, bearing a false witness against a neighbour is a grave offence, a ten-commandments-style offence. And after the fashion of the sermon on the mount, I take that to include subtly overrating the other person’s wrong-doing and under-rating your own in how you tell a story. (Lord knows we’re all experts at that!) And never underestimate the capacity of people to ‘rewrite the script’, particularly as time goes by, such that a few years later what they say, and perhaps even believe, happened, can be very different to the account of events at the time. And if you are hearing a story second-hand, be mindful that the person telling it to you might also have a vested interested in believing one side of it, not just the actual people involved.

As someone who has been on one end of a situation at one time, I am a little amazed that there were people wo made judgments about that without even asking me for my story or for my understanding of the cause of what transpired (very few people to this day know my version). And I had no interest in defending myself, as I had never intended to cause any trouble, and the suspicion of the other party that I was going to cause trouble is what seemed to generate the scenario in the first place, and was only going to be exacerbated by me rising up and fighting the case. Sometimes situations, and what is really going on psychologically, are more complex than most people will ever know.

And you know, if you are the person so responsible, if you made the time to hear and understand both sides of a story, and walk into the mess, you might actually be able to bring resolution and redemption and life into it, rather than waving a big stick at one side. (Though obviously I am not referring to situations involving abuse or reportable conduct here, which need a very big stick and the full force of the law, but there are other situations that are more about being humans than about any specific sin.)

So, to conclude tonight’s little foray into current events, next time you are presented with a story, just  pause and suspend judgment till you might have heard, or at least considered, what happened from the other side. (Once again, I feel like I am stating the thoroughly obvious, but ‘there’s two sides to every story’ is talk we really do need to walk.)

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