Smoke and Mirrors

It amazes me what can be accomplished by insinuation in the realm of public opinion. A few well-placed suggestions combined with groupthink, and suddenly suspicion is cast, doubt is created, and reputations are smeared.

I am fairly familiar with this tool of communication, having found myself on the wrong side of its damaging effect. Learning by experience the intricacies of how this method of persuasion works, I have also watched it used repeatedly, but effectively, on others at my CLB.

In our situation, the leadership at our former church had to explain why we suddenly left. Their options were:

1. The truth – that we disagreed with them to the degree that we would choose to leave our friends and church home.

2. Imply guilt about us.

I wish they had chosen option one, but then they would have had to deal with questions about the real disagreement. Instead they chose option two, and with downcast faces and hushed voices, they cloaked their vague accusations about us amidst claims of love and care for us. It was then suggested required that this should no longer be talked about.

People were shocked. Some cried. (A few might have been happy.) And everyone wondered what happened to Grace and her husband, “I wonder what they did.”

With no actual evidence, we were now guilty in the court of public opinion. Overnight, it was obvious on peoples’ faces when we ran into them around town. The lack of detail from the leadership was supposedly to protect us from the shame of whatever scandalous behaviors people were left to imagine.

This effectively dealt with the leadership’s problem and furthered their message that everyone better get on board lest the same thing happen to them.

Now that many people have left the CLB, I get to(?) hear the things that they thought or were actually told concerning us. The common thread in all of their stories is that there was never a specific statement of accusation about us, just suspicion implied of our guilt.

For example, at one point my former friend was asked specifically, “What would Grace and her husband say was their reason for leaving?” I think this is a great question, looking for perspective from both sides.

The answer given was, “You wouldn’t even believe it if I told you.”

That’s it! That’s all that was said. What is the purpose and result of a statement like that? It implies guilt and scandal.

We weren’t the only ones. This has now been used repeatedly to more clearly distinguish who is in/out and to intimidate those still there into not venturing toward the slippery slope of disloyalty.

The fact is that in every situation, the cloud of suspicion is huge in the minds of the people who believe it, while the true accusations are vague and unsubstantiated, even fabricated.

That has been my biggest complaint about the Driscoll message. The accusations about his “friends” are vague and unsubstantiated, relying mostly on the words of other authors to make his case. I mean really, why would we dig around in footnotes in order to prove our friend is questionable?

Surely there is a better way to deal with legitimate disagreement than to feed hyped insinuations to those who wait with sweaty palms hoping the “emerging conversation is coming apart at the seams.”

I knew my post yesterday wouldn’t be hugely popular, but I felt that it was important. I have since paraphrased it. If you missed it, you might enjoy reading the paraphrased version. It is from a sermon by Dr Isaac Barrow called “The Folly of Slander.” Who is it important for?

It is important for me when I would rather take inventory of someone’s faults than their strengths.

It is important for the various watchdog-type sites and blogs that want to believe the worst about their brothers in Christ.

It is important in how we view the Driscoll message and others like it that would attempt to judge and critique others in the court of public opinion.

I am not saying that there isn’t a place for legitimate public critique and discussion. However, I believe we must ask – are we approaching it with the appropriate charity, justice, and truth required in our treatment of one another?

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14 thoughts on “Smoke and Mirrors

  1. Grace,
    ‘Tis interesting the parallels with our respective CLB’s – though the former senior pastor of ours was much less charitable…I was called a con artist and a liar. Perhaps these parallels are what make us as uncomfortable/angry/indignant with the careless use of words that so easily leave the lips of “anointed leaders.” Would that Brother Driscoll be the only one to so easily speak this way. As you and I are both aware, he’s only one of many leaders who believe that they are some how righteous in God’s eyes based on the size of their congregations. They need to remember that even a burning building attracts a crowd. God, by His Word, is concerned with our hearts.

  2. Sadly, a very similar thing just happened to me at YWAM Denver. I was asked to leave for being “dishonest”. When suddenly people stood up and claimed there was no way I was being dishonest, and I wasn’t, the reason has become a secret so dark and terrible no one can talk about. And the rumors I am now hearing are insane. The level of groupthink is something I have never encountered before. People are actually telling me I need to repent of my sin and trust that leadership really loves me and wants the best for me. BS!

  3. Grace,

    In hindsight, do you consider it better to have left and discover what the real truth of the community was, or never to have left and been blind to what you were a part of?

    Also, Mark will probably some day wish he had never made that presentation the way he did. I found it interesting that the first five minutes were about his own arrogance and folly. I wonder if he will see this in the same light at some point.

  4. It’s happening all over. Sad, wrong, sometimes horrific – it should never be the case. I am so sorry it had to happen to you too, as well as the others who have commented here, other wonderful bloggers, and some of my own RL friends.

    The concept of grace is a difficult one in these circumstances. It seems you have found some in the middle of it all. It encourages me to see that.

  5. Vague and unsubstantiated “questions” designed to suggest deep, hidden evil in those leaving, while also providing deniability to those spreading the insinuations: “I didn’t accuse anyone — I just have some questions…”

    Yeah, that was the M.O. used on us as well. It’s so consistent across the board — you’d almost think there was a spirit behind it…

  6. Sound a bummer, and importantly you have reminded me again Grace of how crucial it is to follow the bible’s command to think the best of each other – it is so easy to believe the worst about people rather than the best, to dwell on the negative rather than think positively, to knock down rather than build up.

    I find it so easy, especially in this world of blogging, when you don’t see people or get to engage with them to end up perpetuating negative thoughts and suspicions and then repeat those so others get sucked in too :(.

    Your post reminded me of how blogs can be like you in your church situ after you’ve left, where people talk about you but don’talk to you, want people to hear our pious sounding versions of the story but don’t want to listen to yours…

    It is just far too easy to send christians into exile, cast suspicion on their motives and character and then just leave out their to die from 1000 pecks!
    from others

  7. I feel the greatest of empathy for all who have experienced these hurts and pains from those in the CLB. Somehow I missed that experience from my CLB.

    However, I do see this attitude, words and actions in my DLB (Denomination Left Behind). Since I believe there is a reformation going on in the ecclesia that will probably be as great as the one 500 years ago it makes me wonder if the “Accuser” is doing his work among us through manipulating these people. Indeed, there are parallels to the reformation of 500 years ago. Then it was acceptable to physically punish and kill people in order to keep them in line. Culturally, today this is not acceptable but it is acceptable to assassinate others’ character. The net result is the same in many respects.

    My prayer is for wisdom, grace and mercy for those who shoot the arrows and those who feel the pain of the arrows. God’s love needs to cover us all. May the Holy Spirit do the work of transformation in our lives.

  8. Sorry to hear about your experience, Grace. I’ve got similar stories. Have to agree with robbymac – I think there is a spirit behind it. And also appreciated traveller’s comments. I think what is being described here just might be “the way of Cain” discussed in Jude. God knows…

  9. Bill,
    I believe that our experience does make us quick to notice those who are using their position in an abusive or careless way and maybe less tolerant than most about this kind of behavior.

    israel,
    I’m so sorry that has happened to you. It really is incredible to observe. So often I was just amazed that the deception could happen to the degree that it did, but as you said, groupthink seems to have momentum and take on a life of its own. We were also expected to submit ourselves to the leaders after trust was broken. What a stupidly impossible predicament!

    jonathan,
    I found Mark’s comments interesting also. It was disappointing that he would use the repentance of previous arrogance to launch into his latest assault.

    We are incredibly grateful to be shown the truth of what we were involved in, especially to not be in the position of abusing others with false authority.

    Sometimes I miss the bubble of naivete when I thought all was right with the world. Which is better, to be happily deceived or disillusioned, yet aware?

    heather,
    It is sad that it happens so often. If anything, I hope that we can learn to believe the best rather than to be quick to join in the witch hunt.

    robbymac and makeesha,
    I’m sorry that you are both familiar with these sleazy tactics.

    As to the spirit behind it, we call it the shame/fear/control stronghold.

    Which operates in this manner…

    “Because I have something to hide, and I am afraid that you will discover it, I will use manipulation, deception, or whatever means necessary to control the situation.”

    paul,
    You always express yourself so well. You described the problem well. It requires effort and relationship to want to believe the best, to seek to understand when there is conflict. When we lack this desire and prefer instead to look for dirt or jump on the bandwagon of those who found dirt, it is time to look at our own heart issues.

    traveller,
    Very interesting association with the heretic hunts during the reformation, the new method of being burned at the stake.

    I’d love to read your blog if you have one.

    sarah,
    So true, and I believe this is why Jesus compared anger to murder, because with our accusations we do violence to our brother.

  10. Grace,

    Thank you for the very kind suggestion that I might have something worthwhile to post on a blog. I do not currently blog for a number of reasons, including the fact I travel to countries closed to followers of Jesus and do not wish to have my identity known publicly for this reason. While I am not a missionary in the traditional since that most folks from a CLB would think, I have a lot of wonderful spiritual conversations with folks and have the opportunity to help them in their journey to Jesus. While I could blog anonymously I am personally not comfortable doing so.

    If I ever start to blog you will be the first to know since you are the first ever to have asked!

    Seriously, I appreciate your insights and gentle way of responding to people. It is interesting to me that you have chosen to use the blog name Grace since you radiate grace. I see Jesus in you and I am privileged to be a small part of your blogdom. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your journey as well. I am excited to see Father at work in your life.

  11. traveller,
    I am grateful that you share your insights here at my blog. I appreciate the wisdom and perspective in your comments.

  12. Hi all,
    Having been through very similar situations myself, I want to HIGHLY recommend this website: http://www.shatteredtrust.com.
    John Setser has written a book about abuse by church/ministry organization leadership, and reading that plus dialogue with him has been extremely instrumental in my life.
    There’s a place on his website that you can share your story, or ask for his book (it’s free).

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