Understanding the Dynamics of Whistleblowing
I was recently surfing around Netflix trying to find some acceptable entertainment (no easy task) when I came across a movie with the title The Whistleblower. I didn’t watch it. But the synopsis goes like this: “Sent to Bosnia in the aftermath of civil war, an American policewoman uncovers evidence that U.N. peacekeepers are covering up sex trafficking.” Then I looked at some other titles that Netflix associates with this movie: Margin Call, for example. The plot in this one is: “An analyst uncovers information that could destroy his employer in this drama about an investment bank in the early days of the 2008 financial crisis.” There is an entire genre of movies that we could call “Whistleblowing.” Someone is sounding the alarm that they have discovered some hidden, sinister conspiracy that is making its perpetrators rich and powerful.
- Serpico (Police corruption)
- All the President’s Men (Watergate)
- Silkwood (Workplace Safety)
- Erin Brockovich (Corporate corruption)
Each whistleblower story has common elements: some covert scheme that benefits the few and endangers the many; threats from those in power to silence any exposure of the evil; the mass of society as bystanders not wanting to get involved; persecution or murder of the whistleblower. The whistleblower is ostracized, shunned, slandered, or worse. Have you ever reported some wrong to your employer and ended up being the one who got in trouble for it? Then you know what we are talking about.
Alright then — the abuse victim as whistleblower. I suspect that there are books written by people who specialize in the psychology of whistleblowing and who are more knowledgeable than me on this subject. (I think Judith Herman’s book on Trauma and Recovery [*Affiliate link] has some discussion of this in it). Why is it that bystanders stand by? Why is the wrath turned upon the whistleblower? These kinds of things are important in the subject of abuse because they deal with the very same dynamics in, for instance, a church where an abuse victim has come forward and blown the whistle on her abuser. Church members stand by. Church leaders try to minimize and cover up. Efforts are made to silence the victim. If we are going to resist being sucked into these selfish and wicked patterns of response to abuse, then we need to be knowledgeable about the natural human bent toward making the whistleblower out to be the culprit.
Here is an example from Scripture:
Acts 19:23-29 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”
When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel.
The gospel was messing with what this “religion” of Artemis was really about: big financial gain to privileged people. So they had to shut up these apostles who were blowing the whistle on Artemis, pointing out that she was a dead idol. “Stop blowing the whistle or we will kill you.” This is the common strategy of evil. It is the strategy of the devil who does he deeds of darkness behind the scenes, providing his followers with power and money.
Local churches often succumb to the temporal benefits of money and power that the privileged few enjoy. Church members often go along with the flow because like people living in a Mafia chieftain’s district, they benefit indirectly from those in power and control. When an abuse victim blows the whistle, she becomes a threat because she is announcing that in fact not all is well in River City. There is trouble here, she says. Evil is lurking and working behind the scenes. Ripples form in the previously glassed over pond and boats begin to rock. And it is all the whistleblower’s fault.
The nature of the gospel is that as Christ’s truth is shouted out, the world gets turned upside down. To the degree that local churches are of the world, they too are going to be turned upside down. Money flow is threatened. Building programs come into jeopardy. Leaders fear their image will be tarnished is sin is discovered in the camp. All of these dynamics and more go to work to oppose the whistleblowing victim.
If we claim to belong to the Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in the light of His truth, then we must stand against this resistance to the exposure of evil. Will any true Christian be amazed to find that sin still exists in his own heart and in his own local church? How much better to see it, admit it, repent of it, and rescue victims from it? There is no shame in confessing sin and turning from it. There is much shame in covering it up.
Psalms 32:2-5 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah.
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah