A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

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.

 

16 Comments

  1. Still Scared( but getting angry)

    Oh my! You nailed it! Exactly! The brush off, the waiting, hoping, until they hope we forget so they don’t have to deal. Along with digs, accusations and twisting what is said. Thank you for keeping up the good fight for those of us who are so weary.

  2. granonine

    So many rugs with so many piles of stuff brushed under them!

      • thepersistentwidow

        Loren, That is right on. Thanks for sharing.

      • Thanks Loren. I’ve shared that cartoon on our FB page. 🙂

      • LorenHaas

        David Hayward is an ally, although not everyone will appreciate his theology. As a former pastor in multiple denominations his eyes are wide open. I find that his cartoons effectively pierce the veils of denial and self-righteousness.I frequently post his cartoons at church to provoke further thinking about our pastors Sunday messages.

      • granonine

        Yes. Exactly like that. Great picture. So sad, though, isn’t it? As a counselor, I have to deal with these issues way too often. I’m so thankful for truly godly Christian leadership that is humble, transparent, and willing to tackle the hard stuff.

  3. fiftyandfree

    Exactly! And it’s much of the same when we complain to the abuser about his behavior and treatment of us. I learned early on in the relationship that complaining never resulted in any positive actions on the part of the abuser and often resulted in escalation of the abuse. Never complaining became a means of survival.

    • Marah

      That’s something I’ve been thinking about lately, too. One of the questions I had earlier in this process was why, when all the “experts” claimed that abuse always intensifies/gets worse, the actual overtly abusive stuff in my relationship ended 15-20 years ago.

      Talking it over with my counselor solidified for me that it was because I learned fairly quickly to quit challenging, expecting to have respectful, adult disagreements, or complaining about the craziness or injustice. For a variety of reasons, I gave up after a few years, and began the process of losing myself: My husband never had to resort to extreme physical violence to control me; I was broken without him having to put that much effort into it. If I hadn’t eventually backed off he would no doubt have escalated his behaviors. Once I was pregnant with our first (wanted) child, self- and baby-preservation kicked in, and his basically non-violent personality was able to coast, knowing I was pretty much docile. It would only ever take mostly subtle, covert stuff after that.

      • Wow Marah, I have the feeling that quite a few readers will get light bulbs lighting up from your comment. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for your counselor’s wisdom! Bless you. 🙂

      • fiftyandfree

        I understand exactly what you are saying Marah. The overt abuse would have been much worse had I not learned to shut up, complain about nothing, expect nothing, etc. A few years ago I found a journal entry that I had written when my third child was about 6 months old. It was entitled, “My Survival Plan,” and contained such things as, “Ask him for nothing. ” “Expect nothing from him, ever.” and “Complain about nothing, ever!” I too was broken and hoped for nothing more than survival on a daily basis. My abuser kept me in line with threats of custody which he began when I was only weeks pregnant with my first child. He knew I’d never sacrifice my children so they were all the leverage he needed.

      • Marah

        It was a tremendously helpful thing to recognize. Part of learning to trust myself again was coming up with this notion, then not dismissing it until I had a chance to talk it over with my wonderful counselor, who totally agreed.

        I’ve been thinking about writing it out in more detail, to show more clearly the progression and the process. I think it would be really helpful so that I don’t forget.

  4. Brenda R

    In my job, I am the equivalent of an administrative assistant. I have never had a job description so whatever comes my way, I take it upon myself to do. If I receive a call and don’t know the answer to a question, I either talk to my boss or call someone within the company who can help me get the question answered appropriately. I will do this until I can adequately give a good valid answer. I am constantly learning. Why could this person not have done the same thing on such an important issue? Why wasn’t she or he concerned enough to want to know the answer to these questions? All employees should not only want to make sure that the organization they work for is run morally and ethically, but should want to know why if it isn’t.

  5. Not Too Late

    Bravo, Barbara! Even before I got to the end of the post, I was thinking about the similarity between how Christian organizations respond to our complaints and how abusers have treated us. Boy, don’t victims know that play – focus more on how the complaint was made than the essence of the complaint. It really is no surprise that we get treated that way by organizations. The dismissive attitude towards victims of abuse is exactly why abuse thrives in the church. The perpetrator knows that nobody is going to really believe her or take her seriously. The perpetrator knows that her grievance may be heard, but the focus will be on her “faulty character”, her emotions, her actions, etc. The perpetrator has long felt protected and vindicated in a church that puts more priority on saving marriages, promoting reconciliation, defending its actions and “reaching out” to perpetrators. Oh yes, the two are interconnected – the way our concerns are dealt with by Christian organizations and the abuse we suffered in our homes.

  6. Anonymous

    Keep me posted – good article and discussion.

  7. Finding Answers

    ^That.

    Marah’s comment did, indeed ignite a light bulb, though I’m not sure it would have had the same effect without a) the subject of the post and following comments, b) my work history, and c) reading prior posts on the abused wondering if they were the abuser.

    For any number of reasons, I missed the connection while reading the other posts.

    In my case, anti-x didn’t have to do any work at all. My family of origin had, essentially, done the work for him. When we first married, I was always afraid of “running over him”. I believed I was “the stronger” of the two.

    Somehow, in the process of being the family scapegoat, I started to believe it was all my fault and that I always hurt people. And with this sentence, another light bulb. I remember a counselling session over a decade ago when I referred to myself as being “a destroyer”. The counsellor never corrected me. 😦

    I wonder, now, if that was part of what attracted anti-x to me. He is not the kind to be physically violent and I was already compliant. An easy target.

    At the end of the original post, Barbara wrote “All this criticism is a very handy way of deflecting attention from the substance and gravity of our complaint.”

    And everyone said, AMEN!

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