Making complaint . . . and getting the brush-off
Someone recently implied (in an email to us) that we ought to be more circumspect and less hasty to judge a Christian organization simply because one of their lower level staff members did not respond to our concerns in a way we thought was fully adequate. For example, in the thread from our Review of “Sexual Issues” – A Really Bad Book for Pastoral Training, one of our team said she phoned Dallas Theological Seminary and expressed her concerns about the book to an admin assistant. In that phone conversation, the assistant said she did not know the legal codes for reporting of child abuse. That does not show that the organization is unethical biblically and legally; all it shows is what one might expect: that most admin assistants’ job descriptions do not require them to know legal codes about child abuse.
But this email set me thinking about the whole business of expressing complaints and concerns.
When we survivors of domestic abuse and advocates contact a Christian organization to express concern about how the organization is mishandling abuse cases or mis-teaching on the topic, we typically don’t get very far. Our message is fielded by the lowest level person and rarely gets passed to any higher up people. If we push harder in our lobbying and try to contact the higher-ups, we are given any of the following:
- the silent treatment (no answer)
- the form letter ‘thank you for your message’ — and then the silent treatment
- the patronizing pat on the back that is really just a dismissal: ‘We appreciate the work you are doing on abuse. May God bless and strengthen your ministry.”
- the promise of future action: they will do an investigation, review their curriculum, re-write their article, run a training event, etc, — but it never eventuates.
In the last case, we are left twiddling our thumbs trying to exercise patience and hope . . . because maybe (please God!) this particular organization might make things a bit better for victims, if they actually get round to doing what they said they would do. So we’d better be careful not to press them too hard, we’d better keep them on-side . . . maybe they are dealing with other more pressing issues and will get to ours in due course. . .
So when someone admonishes us for the way we have expressed our complaint, it rather gets under our skin. It’s actually just a repeat of the stuff our abusers did to us. When we made a complaint about their bad behaviour, they criticized us for
- the way we made the complaint (who we complained to, what words we used, etc.)
- the emotions we showed when making the compliant
- the emotions we showed when we received a disappointing response to the complaint.
All this criticism is a very handy way of deflecting attention from the substance and gravity of our complaint.