How should you respond when a survivor reveals their story? What does he or she need in that moment? And can we avoid common mistakes that compound a survivor’s pain and trauma?
All too often, pastors, Christian leaders, and congregations respond to abuse survivors in the worst way possible. They employ something called DARVO—Denying the abuse, Attacking the truth-tellers, and Reversing the Victim and Offender.
In this insightful and pastoral talk at the Restore Conference, author and survivor advocate, Wade Mullen, explains a better way. Put simply: survivors need people who will listen actively to their stories and respond with truth and sincerity.
It seems common sense—even easy. But as Wade expertly describes, there are often “walls of denial” to overcome, especially if we’re responsible or complicit with the abuse in some way.
Using the simple acronym, SCORE, Wade outlines a godly way to respond to survivors. We refuse to deny, attack, and repeat the lies of the perpetrator. Instead, we Surrender. We confess. We own. We recognize. And we empathize.
The steps are incredibly simple, but they’re not easy. They require authentic repentance—something that can be excruciatingly painful. Yet, for the survivor, it is profoundly healing as Wade has seen over many years of ministry and advocacy.
Wade Mullen, Ph.D., is a professor, researcher, and advocate working to help those trapped in the confusion and captivity that mark abusive situations. His personal experiences and ongoing research enable him to write with both care and expertise. He is the author of Something’s Not Right: Decoding the hidden tactics of abuse and freeing yourself from its power.
How should you respond when a survivor tells you their story? What does a survivor need in that moment? And how can we avoid common mistakes that compound the survivor’s pain and trauma?
Welcome to The Roys Report—a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys.
And no doubt, abuse and responding to survivors has become a key issue in the church. But too often, pastors, Christian leaders, and congregations respond in the worst way possible. They employ something called DARVO—denying the abuse, attacking the truth-tellers and reversing the victim and offender.
But in this insightful and pastoral talk at the Restore Conference, author and survivor advocate, Wade Mullen, explains a better way. Put simply, survivors need people who will listen actively to their stories and respond with truth and sincerity.
It seems pretty easy and common sense. But as Wade expertly describes, there are often “walls of denial” to overcome—especially if we’re responsible or complicit with the abuse in some way.
Too often, people repeat the lies of the perpetrator. Or, they excuse the abuse—or minimize its impact. They justify, compare, deny, and do anything they can to avoid taking ownership.
But there is a better way.
Using the simple acronym, SCORE, Wade outlines a godly way to respond to survivors. We refuse to deny and attack and instead, we Surrender. We confess. We own. We recognize. And we empathize.
The steps are incredibly simple, but they’re not easy. They require authentic repentance—something that can be excruciatingly painful. Yet, for the survivor, it is profoundly healing.
I’m so excited to share Wade’s message with you. But first, I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast—Judson University and Marquardt of Barrington . . .
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Well again, you’re about to hear a message by Wade Mullen on the power of truth and sincerity. Wade is the author of Something’s Not Right: Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse—and Freeing Yourself From Its Power. For 10 years, he served in pastoral ministry. And for five years, he led the M.Div. program at Capital Seminary and Graduate School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He’s now a full-time researcher, writer, consultant, and survivor advocate. And we were thrilled to have him speak this year at Restore. Here’s Dr. Wade Mullen.
Dr. Marie Fortson, whose work I commend to you, including her book is nothing sacred tells the story of a woman in her 30s, who started meeting with Dr. Fortune. As the woman was piecing together some of the abuse she experienced as a child, inflicted upon her by her uncle, Dr. Murray fortune was her pastor at the time. And the woman got to a place of wanting to confront her perpetrator. And she was frustrated that she couldn’t do that, because he was no longer living, not uncommon.
So she decided she wanted to tell her father, who was the brother of her uncle. She wasn’t particularly close with her father, that Dr. Fortune helped walk her through what it might look like to tell him and what kind of response she might receive. And the woman decided she needed to do the truth telling, just for her, with or without any acknowledgement of the truth from her father. So she wrote him a 12 page letter and mailed it to him. He received the letter and got on a plane and went to her immediately. And the first thing he said to her was, I’m sorry, I didn’t protect you. I didn’t know he was abusing you.
But I knew you were struggling when you were 8, 9, 10 years old. I knew something was going on. And I didn’t bother to take the time to find out. I wasn’t there for you and I should have been your father. That’s my job. Then he said, I know you spent money on medical bills and counseling, how much did you spend that she told him and he said, there’ll be a check in the mail when I get home. In this 10-minute conversation with her father, Dr. Murray fortune points out that this woman received more than most survivors of abuse, receive in a lifetime, an opportunity to tell her story to someone who mattered. A pastor who was able to support her in that process, an acknowledgement of the truth, a sincere apology, and awareness of the impact and an offer of generous restitution. And weeks later, Dr. Marie fortune said that she met with a woman, and it was clear to her just how critical this was she had a journey that she still had to walk. But this was an important step. This morning, I want to share some of what I am learning about the healing power of truth, and sincerity.
I’ll briefly discuss the importance of facing the truth, that how it can be helpful for someone else to hear our story. And not just here, but to actively listen to it. And then I’ll spend most of my time discussing how people who matter to us, such as our faith community can participate in our healing by acknowledging the truth, instead of maintaining illusions.
A number of years ago, I met with a church leader in his office and shared concerns I had related to the church’s mistreatment of others. And that I had reached a point over the course of a couple of years of deciding to file some written complaints. And I remember being asked the question, Where did this root of bitterness begin in you?
Maybe you’ve been asked that. Where did this anger come from? And I didn’t quite know what to do with that. until sometime after that meeting, I decided to take an inventory of all the times I felt angry over the years after seeing others mistreated. So one evening I started writing, I was angry when, and I would name an incident. I was angry when and I would name another incident. And that continued well into the night. And seven pages later, I realized I have every right to be angry. I ought to be angry, everyone ought to be angry. In a way I was telling myself the truth, facing all of it in that moment, and it was eye opening and validating which gave me the moral clarity and the moral courage. I needed to keep taking the stand.
Sometimes people will use normal, understandable and justified emotions against you. That somehow anger over injustice is wrong in and of itself. Or empathy for the suffering of others is a sign of instability and weakness. But when Nehemiah heard the outcry from the people of Jerusalem and how the vulnerable were being mistreated, the text says he became extremely angry. We need leaders and people in positions of authority, people who matter to us to get angry over abuse and to grieve over its impact. We see that modeled by Jesus Himself. And when when others try to gaslight you, to get you to doubt what you know to be true, telling the story to yourself, for the first time or revisiting it can bring validation when others try to invalidate and discredit. And sometimes the story of what happened to you needs to be expressed to yourself before you’re able or willing to express it to others. I’ve spoken to abuse survivors who have found it helpful, for example, to write a letter to the person or people who betrayed them, even if they decide not to send the letter, writing it to themselves, in a sense was helpful. And I recognize that for some, there are traumas that cannot so easily be put into words.
So some use art or music or dance to express their experiences. And for some, no expression is possible. Until more much work is done to get to that point. One of the things I’ve learned is that there is no blueprint to healing. It is a process that is highly contextualized. It looks different for different people. But however it is done, I believe facing the truth is an important step toward healing.
I recognize that this can be difficult for a number of reasons, it might be hard to put all the pieces of your story together in a way that makes sense and isn’t overwhelming, because the destruction is so widespread and complete. To sort through all the lies, you’ve been told to find the words to describe your experience to go through the process of reliving trauma. But it’s a story that’s that that is important. If it can somehow be told, they can also be healing for the Truth to be told to someone else who matters. Even sometimes, if that story isn’t received with righteousness and compassion.
I have spoken with a number of survivors of abuse who decided they were going to tell their story, for instance, to institutional leaders who betrayed them, fully expecting based on prior experience and the experience of others, that the truth would not be acknowledged by those leaders. But they were doing it because they needed to for themselves to be able to speak truth to power. Others find ways to whisper truth to power, because it’s not safe to speak it out loud.
So they learn to engage in small, everyday acts of resistance. But ideally, there can be an opportunity, not just for the Truth to be told, but for your story, to be really heard by a compassionate witness, and by those who might be in a position to help because they have resources and or the authority to act.
The experience of being listened to can be a powerful agent of healing. I remember the first time my wife and I told our story in an unrest, unfiltered way, the order a couple we were visiting for support and advice, responded at the end of our telling, by pointing out how it was clear to them that until that point, we had never been given the opportunity to share our story to someone who would just listen to someone who would just hang with you. And they wanted to give us that space.
So the listening I’m talking about is an act of listening. I’ve been in settings where someone in a position of authority, he’s told the story of abuse, the hope is that the people listening to the story will do something. But it’s as if the story itself is a threat. So the person either reacts strongly to try to shut the story down, or retreats deep inside themselves. They’re there but they’re not really there. It’s a passive and absent listening that treats the words of the survivor and their story, as if they are weightless, meaningless, ineffectual, which sadly then becomes apparent over time as no action is taken.
And that can be very hurtful. John Steinbeck wrote and unbelief truth can hurt much more than a lie. What’s needed is active listening. Active listening requires a willingness to understand and a desire to understand. I’ve spoken with some survivors who have had the experience of reporting, misconduct or abuse that they’ve experienced to leadership. And they realized later, they didn’t even want to know. They didn’t want to hear. They didn’t want to understand the character Atticus Finch and To Kill a Mockingbird said you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. until you climb inside of his skin and walk around it. That’s active listening. It’s a response that says, I want to hear your story and understand it as much as I’m able, I believe you, this should have never happened to you. It is not your fault. And yes, I do think those things can be said, you can choose a side, the Bible causes us to stand with the oppressed and the vulnerable in the wounded.
Now telling the truth to someone else is difficult, because you do not know how another person or a community will respond to your story. And one of my hopes is that the work that is being done by so many of you to shine a light and to be a light in this world will cause the numerous walls that prevent survivors from ever, ever telling to crumble, that the many shadows cast by institutional betrayals that cause people to keep their stories hidden, will be dispersed by the light.
And that churches and church leaders will become safer, more compassionate and more understanding and more willing to take a moral stand, even if it means giving up their own power. I think of those leaders who have resigned in protest, because they could no longer be complicit with a system that perpetuated abuse and cover up, who are willing to say to those who have been abused, I will join you in suffering, I will stand with you in the fire.
Not only does the truth need to be faced and told and heard and listened to. But it also needs to be acknowledged by others, especially by those who contributed to the harm or failed to prevent it. And this is where I want to slow down and park for a bit to present some ways in which I think institutions and communities can contribute to the healing of survivors by acknowledging the truth. And I want to start with how words can serve to acknowledge the truth instead of maintaining illusions.
And I know sometimes people distinguish between words and actions, and that what really matters is action. And I understand what is meant by that distinction. But communication is an action itself. And one of the most difficult yet perhaps most significant actions a person or an institution can take is to speak the truth and love to name it. Some choose to die rather than tell the truth.
Dr. Judith Herman conducted 22, in depth interviews of victims of violent crimes, and published her findings in a paper titled justice from the victim’s perspective, which you can find online. She found that what victims want is not revenge. I’ll say that again. Because I think it’s important. She found that what victims want is not revenge. She writes an entire section titled The myth of the vets vengeful victim.
But what they want is validation. From those closest to them, like family members, and from the community. They want the truth to be acknowledged, not just by the perpetrator, but for bystanders to acknowledge the truth as well. Which makes sense because the betrayal by the community and by the institution is as harmful, if not more harmful than the betrayal by the perpetrator.
And there are two categories of truth that are important to acknowledge. The first is the basic facts of the offense, what happened. And the second is the impact on the victim and their world. And by world I’m talking about someone’s internal world, and their external world.
So their sense of identity, their agency, the things they value, their faith, and also their community, their network of support. These are the things that are deeply impacted by abuse. And these are the two categories of information that are filled with deception. Until the truth is finally acknowledged, the basic facts are denied, obscured, excused, and then the impact is minimized, justified or outright denied.
And I think in order to understand the significance of acknowledging the truth, you have to first understand the impact of deception. When I’m listening to survivors tell their story and describe what they need or desire for the future. One of the most common desires is for people to see through the deception and for the lies to be exposed. Words are carriers of meaning, like the wind that carries seeds or pollutants. The meaning carried by those words can deliver death and destruction, or they can deliver life and beauty.
When I last spoke at this conference a couple years ago, I went through a number of tactics that abusive person or institution might use to gain control over another person. How you can be simultaneously charmed and dismantled and how various forms of deception can be used to gain and exploit trust. And I want to briefly describe some of the defenses that might be put up when there is an opportunity to acknowledge the truth. In order to show you how significant that acknowledgment is, because I believe the winds of deception are fiercest and most destructive when truth Is close at hand. It’s what survivors often have to face and overcome in order for the truth to be established. By now many of you have probably heard of DARV). It’s an acronym coined by Dr. Jennifer fried, and I recommend her work and her book, blind to portrayal how we fool ourselves. We aren’t being fooled. But DARVO stands for Deny Attack Reverse Victim and Offender.
Each of these responses can take various forms, and for the person who faces them. It is like encountering a fortress of shifting was like navigating an ever-changing maze to try to get to the truth. It’s the cunning and clever strategies of deception that Ephesians four speaks of that tears down in contrast, with a speaking of truth and love that restores and builds up.
These deceptive strategies become learned over time by a person who hides the truth. And they develop a flexible, ever evolving script, like actors on a stage that can be altered for different audiences in different situations. So they might respond in intimidating and threatening way attack. Those who they perceive to have less power than when they get in the room with those with greater power, such as their board, they may act like a helpless lamb, who’s being victimized by people who are just jealous or bitter or disgruntled.
Some have described their attempt to identify the truth like nailing Jello to a wall. You expect and you desire truth to be in a solid state, especially in the church. Yet the deceiver is constantly changing it into a form that is hard to contain. And they may even use scripture to aid their deception.
The spiritual abuser uses the Bible as a collection of lines they can add to their script of deception, which only adds to the complexity and confusion. So the first wall and I’m gonna present four different walls of denial. The first wall that might be put up before the truth is acknowledged, is just an outright denial. It’s not true, never happen, it’s categorically false. Or that outright denial might take the form of silence. Silence is a type of deception, when it gives others the appearance that there is nothing to be said or made known.
And it is sometimes an active attempt a strategic PR response to deny that certain truths exist. And sometimes the pursuit of truth ends right there, sadly, because there’s nothing left to do.
But if you get past that first wall of denial, perhaps because more evidence comes to light, and the basic facts can no longer be denied. Then the second wall you might encounter is a wall of excuse.
Now, I want to say that there are legitimate excuses. And there are legitimate denials, and there are legitimate justifications. But a person who is intent on deceiving other people and hiding the truth will weaponize those types of communication.
So the second wall is a wall of Excuse an excuse says yes, this happened. But the person or institution in the wrong should not bear any personal responsibility. Perhaps the most commonly use excuses to deny intent. So the boss accused of sexual harassment says I never meant to make anyone feel uncomfortable, or do anything they didn’t want to do. Or a dark moment came over me. Or I stumbled into sin, or mistakes were made each of these frames abuse as accidental in some way.
Knowing that we are quick to excuse a person who unknowingly or without malice causes harm. And adding to the difficulty for the survivors when the community accepts and then mirrors these this these excuses. And that’s what I see I happen sadly, often with each of these walls of defense and the attacks and the reverse of victim offender, the community here sometimes the only narrative they hear is coming from the more powerful people and then they mirror that and so their survivor is not only facing what people who are in the wrong and need to make amends are saying but what the community is then mirroring back to them.
And so people say have we all made mistakes Who are we to judge? There, he’s human like the rest of us. Or someone might seek to excuse themselves from responsibility by denying they had any ability to act a different way. They were stressed, they were on medication, or they were grieving, or going through a challenging season. In other words, they did not have the power to make a different decision.
As an aside, I think one of the things we need to understand is how a person in a position of power and trust like a pastor becomes dangerous when they can no longer steward that power with integrity, but choose to hold on to the power regardless.
A third type of excuse is the one that shifts agency. So this is the classic blaming of another, it says, I am not the primary agent of harm. So the person of the wrong points their finger at someone else, we see this type of excuse at work and the very first recorded confrontation of human wrongdoing, in which God asked Adam, did you eat from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? And Adam replied, The woman you gave to be with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate. So then God asked Eve, what is this you have done? And you’ve said it was the serpent he deceived me and I ate both Adam and Eve deny agency as a type of excuse.
And it’s interesting that God did not seem to accept that. If you get past that wall, the wall of excuses then you might encounter the wall of justifications. And let me just stop here and say that it is it is very difficult to face these. And it and because it is difficult, it is easy then to accept them. It is easy to say okay, because you’re in a battle. And it’s hard. But if you get past that wall, the wall of excuses, then you might encounter the wall of justifications.
The difference between an excuse and a justification is that an excuse focuses on something about the wrongdoer. While justification draws attention to something about the wrong itself. So we excuse actors, and we justify actions. When it becomes undeniable that abuse has occurred, and irrefutable that a particular person or group is at fault, then the goal of escaping penalty might be sought through the use of justification. And there are two common forms of denial that seek to justify wrongs, a denial of victim and a denial of injury. Think of it as a kind of scale. And when a deceiver attempts to justify abuse, they put the victim metaphorically speaking on that scale, what I call the victims scale. And then they add to that scale claims about the victims background, their attire, their personality, their motives, to push them down the victim scale.
So when people look at this scale, they blame the victim. The victim should have known not to have been alone with him, or the victim should have done more to resist, or they brought it on themselves, or they somehow deserved it. And then they say, well, they’re not a “true victim.” Not only might the victim be placed on a scale, but so might their injury.
I call this the injury scale. If the victim scale brings attention to something true, exaggerated or fabricated about the victim, so others look at the scale conclude they’re not innocent, either. The injury scale brings attention to something true, exaggerated or fabricated about the injury. So others look at that scale and say, it’s not a big deal. This particular approach to justification attempts to minimize the gravity of the harm.
Perhaps the most telling sign harm is being minimized is when a person begins their defense with the words well, it’s not like I fill in the blank. And that again gets mirrored when people say, well, it’s not like he fill in the blank, or he didn’t actually fill in the blank. And what follows are comparisons to what the person speaking believes constitutes quote unquote, real abuse, or real trauma, and terribly hurtful statements are made and these statements put the injury on the scale, and then weigh it against other injuries deemed more serious in an attempt to build a case that favors the abuser.
In our attempts, attempts are made to suggest that no serious harm was done, and that too much is being made of the situation. And I think we see this often in cases of spiritual and emotional abuse. Both the victim scale and the injury scale use deception to distort the truth to tip the scale, so that when people look at the situation as defined by the abuser, they end up saying to the victim, you’re not a victim. or get over it, it’s not a big deal. And few strategies of deception are as harmful and as disorienting to victims and as dangerous to communities as those that seek to find justifications for actions that should never be justified. A legitimate justification for abuse can never be found.
They do not exist. A person is not abused because of the way they dress, or where they were at the time or how they spoke. They were abused because a perpetrator chose to abuse and they weren’t betrayed by leaders who didn’t prevent the abuse or respond well to disclosures. Because those leaked, because the victim didn’t tell their stories soon enough, or because they were too upset, or too fill in the blank. They were betrayed, because people in positions of trust and authority chose not to use their authority for the good of those under their care. There’s no justifications for that.
Now, if you make your way past the wall of justifications, you might encounter the wall of comparison. And this is the fourth wall of denial. This is where you encounter what I call complex deception. Now, in a sense, all deception is complex. But what I mean by complex is that a single statement might tell multiple lies, because the defense is based on making false associations.
So there are numerous ways in which this happens. Think of it as a web with many different possible points of connection, especially if the deceiver is Biblically literate, and theologically articulate. So for example, someone might say, this is a witch hunt, or Jesus was falsely accused too, or she’s a Jezebel. And there are numerous ways in which this presents itself. But these comparisons promote two lies at least at the same time. One, the victims are the true evil doers and deserve condemnation. And two that the abusers and those in the wrong are the true victims and deserve support.
So one statement can tell multiple lies. Or they might compare themselves to those who have committed worse offenses, or to cultural norms and standards and say something like boys will just be boys, on and on. These are the walls that a person sometimes has to face and navigate before the truth is even acknowledged. And the person or institution who uses these defenses, insists that the survivor carries the shame.
So the person or people in power can maintain an appearance of legitimacy. Threatened legitimacy threatens identity, and threatened identities–shame, and that shame is placed on the survivor.
When a person or institution takes a defensive posture in order to hide the truth, that those defenses those denials, can be followed by an attack against the person who is seeking the truth. So this is the A in DARVO and think of how upside down this is the survivor who takes the step to tell the truth, not out of vengeance. But out of a desire for justice, and safety, safety for themselves. Safety for others, is subsequently seen as a threat to be attacked, instead of a helpful voice to be cherished.
The person speaking the truth ends up being condemned by the community. And these attacks can take a variety of forms. I went through a number of those attacks in my talk a couple of years ago. And one of the points I made is that a survivor can tell their story with the hope of being met with light, but instead is met with darkness. And they then become a target of the same kind of dismantling tactics that the perpetrator used, attacking their sense of reality, or ruining their identity, cutting them off from support. Only now there’s a team of people, perhaps even a powerful institution, engaging in those kinds of attacks.
And then it follows that if the truth teller is seen as the one in the wrong, then the person or institution might begin to claim to be the victim. So they’ve reversed the roles of victim and offender. And this is incredibly effective, in part because in my experience, and I understand this is just my experience, but I’ve seen those in the wrong get to this point. And when they begin to describe what they want, what Justice would look like for them. They’re not as interested in a in a discovery and an acknowledgement of the truth. They are interested in seeing the truth tellers punished and they promote their victim role they sell it in an effort to invite condemnation on truth teller others.
So they might even claim they’re under attack from the devil. Think of what that communicates to the survivor, and the implications of that. And the kind of response that might invite from a community who now sees truth tellers as agents of evil. So someone who has gone through this and has already suffered abuse, they’ve reached a point of understanding what happened to them, they’ve reached a point of telling it to those who matter. Think of what it’s like then to receive a response like DARVO. And maybe in all of that there is some kind of a concession where the truth is partially acknowledged. But it’s not sincere. It’s not offered in the interest of truth and out of a concern for the abuse. But as a way of calling a scandal and disarming those who are fighting for justice. It can be very difficult to face this kind of opposition to the truth.
And you might be thinking, Well, why even put yourself through this? Well, part of what I’m trying to show is why advocates and church leaders with moral courage are so desperately needed. No survivors should have to face these walls alone. And yet they often have to, we need each other. As I bear the burdens of another and walk with them, someone needs to bear my burdens. And we gather strength and courage from standing together.
But if you are going to do that work, if you’re a pastor, or you’re an elder, you’re separate of the flock, you’re called to do that work, whether you signed up for it or not. And when you engage in that work, you will be combating evil. Walk in with your eyes wide open.
So what does it look like when the truth is acknowledged with sincerity. And I want to end with this. The acknowledgments should be unambiguous and straightforward. Elizabeth Heydrich wrote, truth makes its best entrance into the world, when it appears in bold and simple majesty. Another acronym that you can remember, and this is for assessing acknowledgments of truth, like an institutional apology is the acronym SCORE. So I write about this in my book, but it stands for Surrender, Confession, Ownership, Recognition, and Empathy. And I want to walk you through this briefly.
The hardest step is to give up the desire to defend and attack those in the wrong have to surrender legitimacy, and exchange it for what will undoubtedly feel like shame.
When I analyze statements of institutional apology, I often observe what remains, when every blame every excuse, every justification, self-promotion is crossed out. And at times, nothing remains. In some cases, one or two sentences of acknowledgement and remorse or all that is left because many are just unwilling to surrender their defenses.
And a survivor shouldn’t have to navigate all of that. By the way, an apology is not an opportunity to be a model for others, or to get a pat on the back. That might happen. But forget about that. It’s an encouragement that I give to institutional leaders, when they reached that point of saying, Okay, we need to make a statement, and we need to apologize, we’re willing to do that. And I caution them against turning that into a moment of self-promotion.
It’s a time for lament, not celebration, if you’re going to honor someone honor the victims and the truth tellers. And part of the reason is because that might not be all the person of the wrong needs to apologize for. But seeing the celebration from others, from the vantage point of the survivor, can put wounded people in a bind, because if they don’t accept the apology, they can appear bitter, unforgiving and unreasonable.
So James says, He goes through this process of being humbled, turn your laughter to morning and your joy to gloom. So I think people just need to sit in the brokenness for a while. So after that surrender, there needs to be a confession. Surrender paves the way for a confession, and I believe each rung must be rightly named.
So it’s not an affair when a pastor preys upon an adult congregation. It’s a dark clergy sexual abuse and it’s an abuse of power. Now that naming might require a period of listening or inviting investigation. Those who are serious about Confession will not avoid a truth seeking process because they know that healing is not possible until the wounds are properly named and assessed, and you might need others and institution might need others with more insight to do that assessment. And so they need to submit to that kind of process before there can be a confession. Because confessing is acknowledging what you know to be wrong. Submission. That often precedes confession is like going to a doctor and saying, Doctor, I know I have a problem here in my neck. But I did some research online and think it’s just because I slept wrong. The doctor will say, no, stop doing your own research, you need to submit yourself to the professionals. Because while the problem might be in your neck, the source of the problem is an underlying condition.
But once you have a clear picture of what’s true, then a confession can start with the words, we were wrong when. And then that content can continue that naming for as long as it needs until every offense is named.
The confession serves as a mirror that reflects back to the wounded and the community. All the actions that produced hurt a mirror that too often victims have to hold up in order to get people to understand and respond and it’s a very heavy mirror. In fact, a confession might need to become more than just a mirror that reflects what is known to be wrong, but a spotlight that acknowledges both exposed and unexposed wrongs. When confronted or exposed, surrendered people are more likely to voice a number of confessions that match or exceed the number of truths presented in the exposure, because they desire the truth. And that’s authentic Confession.
Confession is short chains as long as the truth remains undiscovered. So one of the most critical steps is for the truth to be fully acknowledged and fully named. Then after confession is ownership, this is the O, the abusive person or organization must acknowledge their active role.
So passive statements like “mistakes were made” seek to avoid shame by avoiding ownership. Shame as the settling and covering characteristic like a morning dew on grass. And one of the worst tricks of the abuser and their enablers is to use manipulation to make sure the shame only covers and settles upon the victim. This is why ownership is important and necessary, it says to the victim, you are not at fault. You never were, and you never will be. Therefore those in the wrong should take ownership by saying something like we take complete and full responsibility for and then they name that.
Another way a person demonstrates ownership is by inviting accepting or imposing consequences on themselves. For example, a church board that covered up abuse might resign in recognition of the gravity of that betrayal. And how important it is that a community be led by those who have not betrayed trust.
And then the R is recognition. So out of ownership should flow recognition, just as specific wrongs were named, specific harms should be identified. So leadership might say, we recognize that our actions resulted in . . . and then that continues for as long as it’s needed.
So if confession and ownership say we acknowledge the legitimacy of our actions, recognition says, and we will take upon ourselves all the shame and blame over the impact that our actions had on others, we see it, we recognize the damage.
It is at this point that the walls of defense are being removed, the lies are being extinguished. And the scope of the severity of the abuse is clearly seen and acknowledged, and the wounded and their wounds are faced instead of shunned.
And remaining is in a sense, metaphorically speaking, the solitary bridge across which those in the wrong must walk. And with vulnerability say in effect, we will claim the shame we’ve asked you to carry but was always ours to begin with. And we will surrender the legitimacy we’ve tried to claim for ourselves, but was always yours for the start.
And that’s vindication. Vindication is not vindictiveness. Vindication is setting someone free from burying blame and carrying shame that isn’t theirs to carry and creating a path for them. To be restored reputational Lee relationally. To help transform what was broken.
Dr. Judith Herman wrote, beyond acknowledgment, what survivors sought most frequently was vindication. They wanted their communities to take a clear and unequivocal stand in condemnation of the offense. Community denunciation was of great importance to the survivors because it affirmed the solidarity of the community with the victim, and transferred the burden of disgrace from victim to offender.
And then last, the E stands for empathy. Once the individual organization has finally absorbed the truth of their wrongdoing, and the gravity of their wrongs, and when that is sincere, then as a byproduct, perhaps they will feel the weight of the hurt, and the shame. No, they are defenseless, and at the mercy of others, and must begin the difficult work of restitution and restoration. They feel it, they get it. And out of that broken place of surrender, and confession, and ownership and recognition, and empathy, mighty merge words like we are so so very sorry. We lament. And the words will not weigh light in the hand because they’re insincere. But they will mean something, they will bring a measure of hope, and perhaps healing.
And then those words do need to be followed up with sustained action. And hopefully, at this point, a survivor can be saved to answer questions like, What do you need?
And a good principle of restitution is to give them whatever is asked for. I’ve never seen an unreasonable request. And it may not be what others expect. It may be some kind of memorial, like a garden to honor survivors. And it may be money to cover counseling costs and medical bills. But whatever it is, that restitution should be generous, generous, and part of what I’m trying to do is encourage people in positions of authority to raise the standards when it comes to this.
Zacchaeus gave up to four times what he took from others. And Jesus didn’t say come on Zacchaeus you got to pay up or else. It was his desire. And that’s a sign of true repentance. And I do believe this can happen we can see this more and more and authentic repentance that replaces cover up and lies.
My hope for you is that you will experience some measure of the healing power of truth and sincerity in all its boldness and simplicity. It’s an honor to be with you today and to share with you thank you.
Well again, that was Dr. Wade Mullen speaking at this year’s Restore Conference.
And just a reminder, you can find the transcript of this podcast at our website. Just go to www.julieroys.com and click on the podcast tab. Also, if you’d like to support our podcasts, just go to our website and click on the donate tab.
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