Another sad church abuse story has emerged but I want to focus on the things we say in response, that whilst well-intended, can actually further foster a culture of abuse. So here's some things not to say, and why:
1. 'Lets pray for this fallen leader!'
This centres grace on the wolf in sheep's clothing, rather than the victims. This re-frames abuse as an individual's moral failing. In reality, it is often a gross abuse of power where countless lives have been ruined, impacting survivors and their families for years to come. There may be a time and place for praying for the wolf, but firstly prayers should be offered up for the survivors of the abuse, who have probably been ignored for years. Remember that survivors are reading your comments.
So it's better to say, 'Lets pray for the survivors and for justice to be done.'
2. 'There are lots of ways I benefitted from their ministry!'
This centres the narrative on both the abuser, and the commentator, rather than the survivors. Furthermore, it misunderstands that these abusers 'bless' people in their ministries as a way of grooming by-standers. It is a strategy to get and maintain a network for abuse. The bystanders are unwittingly employed by the abuser to cast doubt in any allegations.
Even in the minds of survivors, we can sometimes think, 'but they did all those good things, maybe what they did wasn't really abuse, maybe it was for my good etc.' And then, when you hear other people talk about the good this abuser has done, it can cause you to doubt yourself, and not come forward.
So it's better to say, 'I was duped.'
3. 'We must protect the ministry this person was associated with'
This is a big reason why abuse gets covered up in church groups. But first and foremost we must protect the vulnerable people, not the ministry. Secondly, it's Jesus' name that must be glorified, not the name of our ministries.
Thirdly, abusers flourish when there is a structure around them that enables them - so ministries really do need to come under fair scrutiny in these cases. Fourthly, it's hard for us survivors to come forward when we see so many protecting their brand. Show us instead, that our dignity as image bearers is worth more than your brand. Show us that you believe Jesus' words that it's better to be thrown into the sea with a milestone tied around your neck than cause one of these little ones to stumble.
So it's better to say, 'We must protect the vulnerable more than our brand.'
4. 'This person didn't actually abuse in our organisation!'
If you gave this person a platform and a network, in which they could groom people and be vouched for, then your organisation played a part in an abusive culture. If people in your organisation were told about abuse, and you didn't go to the Police straight away, then you were complicit in the abuse.
If your organisation uses a technicality to keep trying to point out that you're innocent, then somethings wrong. Join the side of Jesus, the side of the oppressed, the side of justice, and be so against abuse that it's clear to everyone.
So it's better to say, 'Our organisation needs an independent investigation into any ways we've been complicit.'
5. 'Why didn't victims come forward sooner?'
Sometimes they did, but were silenced by people around the abuser. They learned that people would not listen to their voice because of the reasons above. Sometimes people can't speak about what happened because it's so hard for the brain to put words to unspeakable events. But when you say things that imply the victims did something wrong, you shift the blame to them, instead of the perpetrator.
So it's better to say, 'What happened was unspeakable, and I'm so sorry for all those who tried to speak but were silenced.'
Dr Duncan Forbes is the author of The Urban Catechism and runs Urban Ministries. He blogs at Council Estate Christianity. This article was originally published at Council Estate Ministry and is re-published here with permission.