Is there an emboldenment? Or, why do abusers get away with it?
I’ve been watching a remarkable development happening across all spectrums of human activity, and that is what I would call emboldenment.
We see it with the police.
We see it with politicians.
We see it with celebrities.
We see it with Christian leaders.
We see it everywhere.
It should be obvious to us by now that knowledge alone doesn’t change anything. Knowing about police brutality alone does nothing. Knowing about the privileges of power among politicians alone does nothing. Knowing about the abuse of power by Christian leaders alone does nothing. As the news of abuses of power spreads like wildfire across news channels and social media, so do the abuses of power increase. The more we know about abuse, the more we realize we don’t know about abuse. We come to the sad realization that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. But nothing changes. It only seems to get worse.
We read more and more horrific stories of police abuse so that it is almost daily. We watch real live videos of the brutality. Maybe a cop gets away with it. Maybe the cop is reprimanded, or suspended, or fired, or incarcerated. It doesn’t seem to matter, to the point where in one incident a victim cries “I can’t breathe!” as he dies, and in the next incident the officer shouts, “Fuck your breath!” as his victim dies. We get angry. The police continue to become more and more militarized, and the brutality escalates. They are emboldened.
Politicians get away with worse offenses than ever before, say the stupidest things, pass unbelievable rulings, and even establish discriminatory laws. They’re criticized from all quarters but their own, and nothing changes. We laugh or cry in dismay. They keep their seats. They are emboldened.
Celebrities are entitled to more than ever. They get legal breaks, mild reprimands for terrible behavior, overlooks and passes, blind eyes and tolerations… because of their fame and cultural value. We shake our heads in bewilderment while they walk onto their next stage. They are emboldened.
Creflo Dollar, along with several other tele-evangelists, are investigated for using church money to live extravagant, tax-free lives, such as having $20,000 toilets. After several months, the investigating committee gives up. While we stare blankly wondering how people get away with this indulgence, Dollar’s next move is to raise money to buy a multi-million dollar jet. They are emboldened.
Our so-called Christian leaders today (I use the term “so-called” to echo the Apostle Paul’s sarcastic critique of the super-apostles of his day who abused their power in the Corinthian churches) abuse people, employ coverup strategies, openly defy criticism, control the narrative by deleting dissenting comments, publishing false documents, raise peer support, and continue to bully their critics into silence with a vast array of intimidating tactics. We are aghast. Their ministries grow. They are emboldened.
While our belief in justice plummets, the stars of those in power rises.
This is my theory: I call it emboldenment. The more an abuser abuses and the less consequences are suffered the more emboldened the abuser becomes.
It comes as no surprise to my readers that I am particularly interested in how this applies to Christianity, the church, and our leaders, theologians, and writers. Here is a story that has direct parallels to my concerns. I read with fascination the report of the internal investigation into the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s handling of their star Jian Ghomeshi following the exposure of his sexual harassment and assault charges. Allow me to quote a few portions of the article:
”The report, written by Janice Rubin, a partner at Rubin Thomlinson LLP, admitted Ghomeshi was one of the network’s “stars” and was commissioned by the CBC in November after allegations he harassed people at work and complaints about him seemingly went nowhere.”
“We noted a tendency that as information was shared upwards… it became diluted,” the report read. “The evidence shows that while Mr. Ghomeshi’s star was allowed to rise, his problematic behaviour was left unchecked.”
”… we believe that management’s failure to effectively deal with Mr. Ghomeshi’s behaviour gave him license to continue…”
”They were too reliant on Mr. Ghomeshi’s rendition of events, and too quick to believe that he was telling the truth when he denied the allegation…”
To me, the similarities in this story to all other stories of abuse is striking. Here are a few:
1. We believe those in power over those not.
2. We are unwilling or reluctant to challenge those in power.
3. We will deny or disregard abuse to protect the system.
This applies not just to celebrities and the systems they support, but to politicians, police, and pastors, public personalities, and the systems they support.
The CBC has been advised, and will follow it:
”(the report)… contained several recommendations on how the CBC can change its workplace culture. One of those recommendations included the creation of a work and human rights ombudsperson who employees could use to raise concerns about the workplace.”
In other words, the problem isn’t just with the individual, Ghomeshi. The larger problem is with the system that protected and therefore endorsed the abuser.
I claim this is the problem in Christianity right now. Although it is important and necessary, it’s not enough to critique the individual abusers. I mean, we should critique abusers who behave as though they would say, “Fuck your pain!” But, this should lead to a critique of the systems that support their behavior. It must boil down to policy. It must boil down to human rights. It must boil down to changing the work place, the environment, and the culture that insulates and therefore perpetuates the increasing cycles of abuse.
Some have said to me that this might be possible with police, pastors, and politicians because they are indeed a part of a real system, an actual organization that may hold them accountable, but that this isn’t possible with so many of our Christian leaders who are unaccountable to any organization. Even pastors who are called to account can simply walk away to find another market willing to support and protect them. In spite of all the protests, life goes on when you’re not accountable.
But I suggest they are accountable. They are accountable to us… we, the people, the public. We are the ones who pay their salaries by purchasing their books, paying for their events and allowing them to continue unchecked as they build their ministries and fan base. I believe we are hearing more resounding critiques of these individuals, and this is good. But, my hope is that this will lead us to critique in more incisive ways the systems that support them. I hope this because I want to see the end of their abuse of power and influence, and the end of the broken lives they leave in their massive wakes.
Therefore, this is a call… in the face of the emboldenment of abusers and their systems… for the emboldenment of their critics. I dare you to join me.
Check out The Lasting Supper… a conclave of emboldened critics!