This post is going to be a follow-up of yesterday’s topic (how Christianity Today didn’t give survivors of Bethlehem Baptist Church an equal platform to tell their story), but in greater detail after reading Johnathon Bower’s tweets this morning.
Here is his tweet thread. (The first tweet is a live link so you can click on it and connect with the Twitter thread, the rest are screenshots to save some space, but I have the entire thread posted below.)
As a long-time blogger of personal spiritual abuse stories and a fellow spiritual abuse survivor, these tweets break my heart. Had Johnathon or any other survivor from Bethlehem Baptist (or any other abusive church) reached out to me, I would have counseled against sharing with Christian media outlets with this caveat: if you are wanting to give a glimpse into the picture of abuse going on, then that is okay to share. But, you will not get much more support than that.
I read Kate Shellnut’s words in Johnathon’s tweets, and she has covered spiritual abuse stories. In her note to Johnathon, she presented herself as trustworthy and empathetic. A survivor would only feel hope in reading her words, knowing that she represents a large Christian media publication. But as I said in an earlier post, she also gives abusers a platform (I would suspect that her editors require this, so I don’t want to put all the blame on Kate. I think she means well.) A key question to ask reporters when they interview you: “Are you going to be giving my abuser a platform in the article to share their side?”
The key takeaway is this: anytime an abuser is given a platform,
that space will never feel safe for survivors.
But we need to look at what her job is. She is a journalist, and a journalist’s job is to cover both sides, right? Also, let’s keep in mind who is funding Christianity Today? What big Christian Evangelical names do you know who are connected with that media outlet? Take a look at this open letter Brad Sargent and I posted in 2019 to Board of Directors at Christianity Today. (Brad Sargent has been working with me on this blog since nearly the beginning and has helped me document high-profile abuse cases I’ve exposed: Ravi Zacharias, James MacDonald, Tullian Tchividjian, etc.)
Here are a couple of paragraphs from that open letter:
In challenging systemic abuse, we’ve learned how consequences often impose themselves, because system parts and processes are interconnected. In this case, some of the key inherent consequences of CTI’s interactions with abuse survivors are that you cannot claim to have veracity for leadership or credibility for reportage among abuse survivors on issues and situations we face. Instead, your track record ranges from apparent indifference to abuse survivors through lack of timely coverage, to the appearance of outright complicity with celebrity Christian leaders who abuse their power and privilege.
We—and other abuse survivors/advocates—have posted about similar problems in recent years. Christianity Today publications have effectively given a positive platform to a celebrity Christian at the same time their victims have been sharing their narratives of maltreatment and crying out for justice. This affects CTI’s reporting and reputation negatively, while inflicting further harm and loss on those already traumatized by abusive Christian leaders. ARTICLE LINK
So, when I tweeted this below, it was based on several years of experience of working with them:
I think the thing that bothers me the most about working with Christian media is that they have an agenda to report a story. I think they want to get it accurate, but the reality is there will never be enough space to share an abuse survivor’s story in media. It’s just not the right place, unless a reporter is given the task to do a long feature story. (Here’s an example of a feature story in which we got to tell our stories, and abusers didn’t get to have any say: The Crusading Bloggers Exposing Sexual Assault in Protest Churches, by Sarah Stankorb. Sarah Stankorb did an excellent job.)
So, that said . . . who do you trust to tell your story? You go to people who have a track record of giving survivors a safe place to share their story, and using their own words. You go to someone who understands spiritual abuse, someone who believes you, someone who only has YOUR best interest at heart.
And honestly, I haven’t seen it done well (except for the feature story posted above) by anyone who gets paid to write articles. (Dee Parsons at The Wartburg Watch is a great place to have your story told. I have limited resources here at Spiritual Sounding Board to do that here now that I’m working full-time, but am willing to do so if someone does the writing. Another option is to set up your own blog/website to allow people to share their stories and allow comments/dialogue in a safe and monitored environment because there will be those who defend abusers who will want to disrupt.)
Several years into my blogging experience and sharing high-profile stories, and after being disgusted by how media treated survivor stories, I changed my practices in how I worked with media. When covering the Tullian Tchividjian case (predatory clergy sexual misconduct) and working with a few of his survivors, I was fiercely protective of them. Reporters from Christianity Today and The Christian Post already knew my name (and reputation for being truthful/factual) and many of them had my personal phone number.
I essentially forced media to get their information from the full stories posted on my blog. So, while the reporters exposed a problem with Fill-in-the-Blank Abusive Celebrity Church Leader, there was also a link back to quotes to my blog from survivors where readers could read their stories. These stories were told in full, with only minor editing by Brad or me for clarity. Finally, the survivors felt they were heard, believed, respected. And they knew, because of my coaching, that they could not expect media to get it right. They just don’t.
What to do now while this news is hot off the press and people are wanting to talk?
Right now (after the publication of the CT article) is a prime time for the folks at Bethlehem Baptist to meet virtually in a safe place and discuss what has happened to them, exchange stories, provide support to each other. Meeting together in a safe place is really therapeutic in the recovery process. Some of the folks who have left BBC will never go back to church again because of the spiritual trauma. Some will be rethinking everything they’ve been taught. Some will move on to a different kind of church because any kind of reminders of BBC will be too heartbreaking. Some may abandon their faith.
What is needed now is grace, understanding, and unconditional love for the many whose spiritual roots have been shaken to the core. My heart goes out to you all. I totally get it.
6 thoughts on “Should I trust Christian media outlets to share my deeply painful church abuse story? Here’s a follow-up article based on my years of covering spiritual abuse testimonies, including quite a few high-profile cases.”
JA you should talk to Meghan Murphy of “Feminist Current,” she’s very interested in stories like yours and she’s an extremely objective and credible reporter. You can find her email address on her YouTUbe page:
Thanks, David! I will check that out.
You may have already seen this video of Kyle Howard, a trauma informed counselor who felt the need to speak out against CT’s light hand in addressing Driscoll’s horrible teaching on gender and sex and his abuse of women in the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast. Though a Christian, he won’t identify with what he calls White Evangelicalism calling it a well oiled machine.
But just in case you haven’t seen it, here is the link.
I fully believe it is worth the watch.
When my church-within-the-church had been in the local press almost daily for several years and the international press on and off for months (without the worst details being known by even some us till years after) the proper church authorities got hold of some Jungians to look after us. They in turn engaged a young man with a venue for us, too far for me to get a train home at night. For others it was quite natural to take time thinking whether to attend. The dithery Jungians got the young man to announce it was off because “not enough” people were attending.
Then the old interlopers reconvened us separately based on our existing relationships. A further 17 years later I was one of very few that re-dropped out, by which time our movement had dug itself far deeper in bad (which is reported overly obliquely and very seldom, in specialised media). It has to be remembered that the identity and ethos of our erstwhile host denomination (that still sometimes hosted us in a neighbouring district) had been hollowed out during our lifetimes. As for balance of coverage including socially, I observed seven factions but identified myself with none of them: I thought it was right to “try” to be individual while (re)joining something, but that time round it backfired on me.
Always organise your venue independently even of those trying to be on your side.
Mutually oversee yourselves.
When the old nemeses turn up, don’t believe they will turn a new leaf or that it will be different.
BE STRONG – BE LONELY – BE RIGHT.
Always re-critique the updated basis of any host denomination, which probably isn’t just keeping up with the times: it may be you need to drop out of both for safety.
In the first place, give less than the “minimum” money and volunteer less than the minimum, especially when they mention your giftedness. THEN beware, even if that is “acceptable” to them: doing you a good turn especially a low key one is modus operandi.
This isn’t the 1970s any more. If religion looks amateurishly quaint or crazy (double bluff) or promises channels to well-connected authority, save your skin quick: it’s always worse than you think.
Continually changing their manner towards you (fake flexibility) is suspicious. You are being handled and minded.
Most church rows are non-textbook and are based on salami slicing of mischief making under different auspices and flying under the radar in plain sight.
Don’t rush into something steadier looking. Looking steadier is more in fashion than you think.
I lived through two serious church bust-ups since that one. In both cases there were mysterious connections / channels.
I think this is a very thoughtful and wise couplet of blog posts. I also think these issues go way beyond the abusers – it’s church culture in general. 80% of church attendees are spectators who come for a show, and I think that it may be possible that a size-able portion of the 20% are trying to derive some type of significance from the specific leader they are following. So, 80% simply don’t care, and a lot of the 20% find identity in their leaders, even if the leader turns out to be an abuser.
That’s why it’s not shocking to me that Driscoll can leave Mars Hill and start another mega church. However, I’m encouraged by the fact that throughout church history this seems to be a consistent problem – even Paul warned about people’s tendency to attach themselves to specific leaders instead of Christ. So, we’ll always have this problem – and that’s kind of depressing, too.
Could a Soviet Dissident trust PRAVDA & TASS to share his deeply painful KGB abuse story?
Could a German Jew in the Thirties trust Reichsminister Goebbels to share his abuse story?