My regular readers may have wondered why there have been fewer blog posts in recent weeks. The answer to this is that my wife and I are in the process of moving house. Anyone who goes through this experience will know that one becomes used to living with boxes and piles of unsorted papers. This is not conducive to thinking fresh thoughts on the issues around abuse. A second more immediate reason is that I have recently spent three days in bed with a temperature. I had forgotten how thoroughly a temperature depletes one’s thinking processes. I realise that writing this blog does not just consist of physically sitting at a computer, but it also involves a less conscious stage of shuffling around in the back of my mind ideas connected with our theme. A fever, of however short duration, stops both these processes dead. So I have been unable to write or work out what might be the themes for future blog posts.
In my last blog post I gave a longer summary of a letter I had written to the Church Times. Much to my surprise, the paper allowed the entire letter to appear in print. It will be interesting to see if anyone objects to my suggestion that evangelicals are fragmented and thus unable to provide an obvious model for the future of the church. The article to which my Church Times letter was a reaction, was also republished on the blog site Thinking Anglicans. In one of the comments to the online version a theologian from New Zealand commented that in his understanding only 25 to 35% of people were susceptible to evangelical styles of Christianity. He made the further more telling point that 65 to 75% of people were not just resistant to the blandishments of this evangelical approach but were in fact alienated by it. I have no idea the basis for his figures but it is an interesting hypothesis. Am I the only one who finds some aspects of conversion type rhetoric objectionable at a deep visceral level?
Other news items have appeared which have brought the topic of abuse into the public view. The first is the Oscar award for the film Spotlight. This is the story of the work of the reporters on the Boston Globe who uncovered the scale of the cover-up by the Catholic church of rampant clerical sexual abuse. Even if this film is only seen by a minority it will have the effect of helping people to realise that sexual abuse is still something that has to be dealt with. Bishops and others who possessed the powers of oversight lamentably failed the victims by their obsession to protect the institution at all costs. The second, this time fictional, event is the storyline on the British radio soap opera, the Archers and concerns a couple Helen and Rob. The script describes in agonising detail the way the wife is humiliated and made to feel worthless in the marriage. It is a fictional account of what the law wants to prevent since we had the passing into law of the legislation about coercion and control within a domestic situation. No doubt the scriptwriters felt it right to make us all familiar with what this kind of brutal humiliation of another person in the home looks like. Abuse, as we are never tired of saying, does not necessarily involve violence or sexual degradation.
This past week has also seen the announcement of an enquiry into the way that the affair of Peter Ball was dealt with back in the early 90s. It is hard not to conclude that someone in the Church of England put the reputation of the institution way ahead of the needs of victims. Meanwhile in the States we can see the way that a mistrust of institutions gives rise to the popularity of a maverick politician like Donald Trump. His lack of experience in the political arena paradoxically makes him enormously popular, especially to those who already feel disenfranchised by the status quo. This is a serious and potentially disastrous development in the political life of America. But it is a reminder to all who have responsibilities within all institutions to balance properly the needs of those who are not served well by these same institutions. Cover-ups, bullying and abuse of all kinds will eventually be unmasked, as we have seen in the Langlois Report. People’s memories last a long time and churches must always assume that things like secrecy and confidentiality agreements will not last for ever. We will be following with interest the Australian Commission on sexual abuse perpetrated against the young over several decades. This will be illustrating once again the diverse and sometimes tortuous methods taken by churches, schools and other institutions to suppress the horrors of this kind of behaviour. It was ironic to hear the Australian Cardinal George Pell speak from his sanctuary in Rome about the failures of his hierarchy to protect children on the same day as the Oscar awards. It has seemingly taken the church twenty years to start to catch up with public opinion and awareness. It seems once more that public exposure and shaming is the one thing that is able to move the church on in facing up to the Augean stables of abuse issues. So many nasty things from the past are hidden there and need to be cleaned out..
I will be adding to the blog as and when I find the time, but it will be less frequent until the trauma of moving house is completed. We hope to be in our new home by Easter and the blog posts will hopefully continue with better regularity.