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.  (link [Internet Archive link])

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.  (link [Internet Archive link])

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  ESV) 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 his 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 [Internet Archive link]1. 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 as 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.

(Psalm 32:2-5  ESV) 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

1 [We added the link to Wikipedia’s page on The Music Man, for readers who might not be familiar with Jeff Crippen’s reference to River City. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

[July 15, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to July 15, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to July 15, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to July 15, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (July 15, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.

17 thoughts on “Understanding the Dynamics of Whistleblowing”

  1. The website for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners has articles and podcasts on this subject. Here [Internet Archive link] is one podcast at the top of this page: ACFE Podcasts Archive [Internet Archive link]. [The podcast Robert Simpson is referring to, titled Fight or Flight: One Whistleblower’s Decision to Fight is not at the top of the Internet Archived ACFE podcasts page. To listen to the individual podcasts on the Internet Archived ACFE page, click on Download under each individual podcast, as the podcast likely won’t play if you click on the podcast itself. Editors.]

    June 2013 – This month we had the privilege of interviewing Tim Hediger, who not only holds the title of CFE, but of whistleblower, as well. From his initial suspicions and termination to wearing a wire undercover, Tim candidly recounts the personal and professional toll his path to justice took.

    A great book on the subject is the book by Cynthia Cooper, “Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower”.
    Description [Internet Archive link]1:

    Cynthia Cooper, Time “Person of the Year” in 2002, describes how her beliefs and values gave her the courage to expose one of the largest frauds in modern history. Not only does Cooper give a first person account of the events that led to the fall of WorldCom, she expands on her experience by sharing stories and lessons learned from childhood that helped to prepare her for the adversity she would later face as the internal audit manager of the company.

    At a time when corporate dishonesty is dominating public attention, Extraordinary Circumstances makes it clear that the tone set at the top is critical to fostering an ethical environment in the workplace. Provocative, moving, and intensely personal, this book is a wake-up call to corporate leaders and an intimate glimpse at a scandal that shook the business world.

    Available at Amazon.com and at some libraries.

    1[December 14, 2022: We added the link to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners’ description of Cynthia Cooper’s book Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower that Robert Simpson quoted. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

    1. WorldCom was headquartered in a small city in Mississippi. If I remember correctly, Cooper and her family attended the same church as some of the people committing the fraud and had children attending the same schools, etc.

  2. Well now you went and did it — used the M (Mafia) word. If it weren’t so frighteningly true, the fact that the power-brokers in one Reformed denomination jokingly call themselves the D______ Mafia has now been exposed as real. Stand firm, everyone….here it comes! Proverbs 26:23-28. I especially like verse 26:

    ….wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.

    1. Thanks, AISIO.

      As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
      so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.
      The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
      they go down into the inner parts of the body.
      Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel
      are fervent lips with an evil heart.
      Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips
      and harbors deceit in his heart;
      when he speaks graciously, believe him not,
      for there are seven abominations in his heart;
      though his hatred be covered with deception,
      his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.
      Whoever digs a pit will fall into it,
      and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.
      A lying tongue hates its victims,
      and a flattering mouth works ruin.
      (Proverbs 26:21-28 ESV)

  3. This same thing happened to me whenever I “tattled” as a child. The other kids got mad at me for telling their parents that they were breaking the rules when no one was watching.

    It’s interesting because as adults, people seem to have two reactions to tattling. They either see it as self-serving on the part of the tattletale, because they perceive the tattletale as trying to get in good with the authorities, or they (like me) see it as whistleblowing in embryo. To be honest there are probably both kinds of tattletales. I was the whistleblower type. I often wonder if investigative journalists, etc. did the same as children.

    1. Hester, you are a great whistleblower. And I like the way you point out that there are two kinds of tattlers. One kind does it self-servingly; the other does it for righteousness and justice’s sake and to advocate for the oppressed.

  4. Whistleblower [Internet Archive link]1 is a disturbing though good movie. If I remember correctly it is the private American military contractors that are running a horrific sex slavery ring but are not accountable to anybody. (Obviously I would not recommend the movie for rape or abuse victims.)

    1[December 14, 2022: We added the link to Wikipedia’s page on the movie The Whistleblower. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

  5. This sounds like what happened to me. The righteous who exposes the wicked or evil becomes the problem, instead of the evil being the problem. If there is a problem, and you bring it to light, then you become the problem. The book “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by Johnson / VanVonderen speaks directly to this issue and they call it spiritual abuse. As Christians, we are called to expose every deed of darkness. I guess our fight here just continues and the day of rest is coming, but it remains difficult and tiresome in the meantime.

  6. “The Whistleblower” blew my mind when I heard the director speak at a Portland screening. It reminds us that those who are supposed to be protecting the flock of lambs (police in this case) may be wolves in sheep’s clothing. So glad you mentioned the film today, with the UN report just out concerning child abuse enabled by the Roman Catholic Church for decades. Any institution with a “dominator” structure (hierarchical, patriarchal, rigidly authoritarian) be [it] in a church or the military or police, becomes a breeding ground for abuse or cover-ups. Thanks so much, Pastor Crippen!

  7. Jeff, that passage from Acts is so perfect — Amen.
    And yes, you can’t point out corruption within the workplace either, unless you want to be slapped down and lose your career. But God is faithful.
    I have a new job offer — just.in.time. 😉

  8. I LOVE your blog. Thank you so much for this labor of love, for the Lord and His precious people.

    This post reminded me of the huge scandal in the Calvary Chapel church movement. Have you heard of Alex Grenier’s blog (Calvarychapelabuse.com). Alex and his brothers were victims of TERRIBLE violence and abuse growing up. His father is a senior pastor of a Calvary Chapel and he has never dealt with his sin and he is still in the pulpit. Alex is the whistle-blower and because of that, many other pastors in the organization have come against him — that he is ruining the work of God. RIDICULOUS!!!! The church is rallying support around this wicked pastor.

    Dysfunction in churches works a lot like dysfunction in families.

    1. Your last sentence is one that I totally agree with too, The Last Hiker. I have come out of a church that was and is highly dysfunctional…. And yes I agree also with you I love this blog. I am finding it a great source of encouragement just now….it is indeed a labor of love.

  9. I had a thought on reading the original post and the comments generated….

    I think “whistleblower” could be equated with “scapegoat”.

    Been there. Done that. Bought the T-Shirt.

    There is a world full of scapegoats….and most have paid a price.

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