Radio Silence

Besides the messages of self-defense coming out of Moscow, CREC leadership, its pastors and elders, have remained conspicuously silent on the questions of abuse that have been raised in the past couple weeks. Some things may be going on behind closed doors, but out in the open, it’s very quiet. Unfortunately, silence communicates a message to victims.

It may seem unfair to be judged for what you’re not doing, but I remember a voice from my childhood, Keith Green, emphatically stating to his audience “the only difference between the sheep and the goats, according to the Scriptures, is what they did and didn’t do!” Christ’s message is shocking, “inasmuch as you’ve not done it, to the very least of my brethren, you’ve not done it unto me.”

Dear church, you have the weak and hurting and abused, bruised reeds and smoldering wicks, in your midst. They need your support. They need your voices. When someone who has been grievously abused speaks up, she deserves your attention. When someone else tells you how their church leadership silenced and hurt them, they need your support.

Your silence may be for many reasons. Perhaps you’re reluctant to be involved in discussions of such tricky issues in public forums. Perhaps you’re not sure what good speaking can do. I can tell you what harm not speaking can do.

Not speaking communicates to victims that you won’t take up their cause. That you aren’t going to support them. That you are willing to abide alongside these abuses. This silence is why many who speak up eventually sink back down into silence. No one will go with them or advocate for them.

Whatever conversations may happen now in private, whatever steps you may take to prevent these things from happening in the future, your silence is still a part of the problem. The next time someone wants to stand up and ask questions or appeal against unjust measures taken against them, your silence will be on record.

Now is not the time for silence

One of the issues which has arisen as we try to address abuse within the CREC is that some feel that we are “painting everyone with the same brush.” I do not believe this is true (many have held out hope for Peter Leithart, believing him to be a humble and godly man, and there was great rejoicing when he published his public apology for his participation in the Wight debacle), but I can see why it might appear this way.

The problem is that we’re not just trying to address certain abusive individuals. Yes, many stories begin with an abusive individual (frequently either allowed to proceed unhindered or sometimes even abetted by church leadership) or with the bullying or spiritual abuse of an actual church leader. We find a good example of this in Doug’s letter to Gary Greenfield. The issue is not just that Doug threatened to bar Gary from the table.  It’s that Doug wrote a letter insinuating that if Gary didn’t follow his advice, Gary would be a failure as a father. Given that Gary was already deeply hurting over what Wight did to his daughter, this was an especially cruel way to control Gary.

While all this is very concerning, we also have to address the culture of silence which we experienced. This is key to the abuses which go on. It is considered unChristian and bitter to try to speak to others about abuses, and when we speak to elders and church leadership about them, we either go around in circles or get shut down entirely.

Some of my friends are being asked to privately discuss their difficulties rather than put them out in the open as they have chosen to do at this time. The problem is, trying to handle things behind closed doors is part of what has brought us here. There are no appeals, no way to verify information given by/to different parties, and no real pressure to resolve issues and get them right.

Amber’s story is a good example of the kind of silencing that goes on. In the name of not gossiping, she was not permitted to share the pain and hurt she experienced, not able to benefit from what others knew about her fiance, and he was allowed to save face and remain in an influential position in the church. This is a frequent issue. Really strange stuff goes down behind the scenes and then the hurt party must pretend it was just a falling out among friends. Others may even see them as unforgiving because they are not aware of the extent of the damage that was done.

I think there are other elements to CREC culture which contribute to these issues, and I hope I can begin to address them in an edifying way in the days and weeks to follow. But I would like for some to begin to ponder on this issue.

One final note is that the degree of silencing and how intentional it is varies from person to person and church to church. I think for the most part this culture is perpetuated by people with really good intentions. All the more reason to bring this all into the open and allow everyone to see what has been happening.