Confronting evil in others?

confronting‘Why are people so critical of other people when things go wrong?’ This was the first sentence in a recent blog contribution. I thought about my response before deciding to make a blog post out of my reflections on what is my answer to this question. The simple answer is that sometimes when things ‘go wrong’, a large number of people may be affected by what has been done. The ‘wrong’ action has perhaps become an instrument of abusive suffering for maybe many people. It is important that the perpetrator of the action becomes aware of this fact. There is a particular issue when a person of power or influence misuses their power as all the people under their influence may well be affected. A different way of judging what is going on comes into play in such a situation.

Thinking about this further I have come to see that we need to think about wrong actions as existing on a continuum. The degree of seriousness which we ascribe to them will depend on the extent to which they have affected other people. A supremely wicked act might be one which initiates tens of thousands of people being slaughtered because of their colour or race. Being critical of another people’s wrong actions is obviously an extremely important task. That is why we have laws to express society’s disapproval towards evil actions that harm others. At the other end of the continuum of wrong actions we have an immoral act which only affects and harms the person doing it. The watching of pornography or the taking of drugs will no doubt be seriously harming the individuals involved and their relationships. Such things are no doubt wrong, but some of the time they are not illegal or deemed to be matters of public interest. It is probably not helpful that other people outside the situation (the press?) take the high moral ground by publicising these misdeeds and naming them.

In the case of the leaders of God TV, the mentioning of the issue of Rory Alec’s adultery is not in fact the same as taking a moral stand on the rights and wrongs of committing adultery. We may of course have strong feelings in the matter but in most cases we have to accept that this transgression is a private matter and not for us to probe into. We may of course privately speculate on the way that any act of sexual betrayal will normally be cataclysmic for the people close to the situation. But adultery or any non-criminal sexual affair takes on a different dimension when it is perpetrated by people in positions of trust. The situation is of course compounded when the activity is criminal in addition to being immoral. The Bishop Peter affair was far more serious than just a misdemeanour against young men. These young men were the immediate victims but many more people felt betrayed and the trust in the integrity of the church as a whole was undermined by the Bishop’s activities. In the case of Rory Alec and God TV, tens of thousands of listeners had believed that they were listening to the authentic word of God through the presenters, Wendy and Rory. For one of them to betray high moral standards would be potentially deeply disturbing to the listeners. However we understand the relationship between broadcasters and their audience in this situation, something important was going on in this relationship which gave meaning to the lives of those who follow God TV. Many had given considerable sums of money; they had followed these Christian leaders with enthusiasm and now they were being let down. Of course the adultery itself is important but here it only becomes of greater concern because massive issues of trust and betrayal were also involved.

It is interesting that there is much current discussion in the churches about what I would call private morality. The Anglican bishops for example are giving the impression that the most important moral issue today is that of homosexuality and the possibility of ‘gay marriage’. Whatever one’s moral stance towards this particular issue, it could be claimed that it is a clear example of a private moral matter which affects very few people beyond the relationship. It would be hard to claim that there is any abuse going on affecting those outside the relationship. In contrast, the historic betrayal and failure to protect children in many religious institutions and the imposing of religiously inspired ideologies harmful to women damages millions. This blog and its editor is concerned with these evils that are tragically endemic in many church institutions. These have the effect of damaging enormous numbers of people in the context of God and the Christian faith. Of course it is and always will be important to name and be critical of such behaviour. Here in this blog we explore the psychologically deviant among Christian leaders, corrupt and self-serving interpretations of the Bible along with bullying and other examples of abuse of power in the church. All these things have and continue to do enormous damage to the integrity of the church and that is why they must be explored. The naming of evil actions towards the vulnerable is the first stage towards preventing them happening in the future. Rory Alec’s failure was, to repeat, not simply or even mainly about sex. It was the fact that his action had the effect of betraying large numbers of people who looked up to him. It was in short a massive case of hypocrisy. That is serious, far more serious than simply going off with another woman while already married.

In writing this blog I have had to look at my own behaviour and identify the times when my actions have affected not just myself but other people, sometimes more than one. To betray or harm other people through selfish acts is far more serious on a moral scale than doing something that is stupid and foolish but only harmful to oneself. Many immoral acts against oneself involve some form of self-harm but these quite often can be corrected when the consequences, great or small, become apparent to us. A typical example would be the reforming drinker or viewer of pornography. When harm is done to others through our actions, the consequences do not always appear quite so readily. It may be that some people are around who still carry the burden of something abusive we said or did years later. It will be impossible in this lifetime to undo the damage of all our selfish actions towards other people, but at least we should be aware that such damage exists and, if it is possible, we have to do what we can to put these situations right. Identifying the difference between the harm we do to other people and the harm we do to ourselves may help to make us more careful in the future. In identifying the actions done by us which create the most harm to others, we can be morally more sensitive and less judgmental towards others, particularly in cases where the harm done affects nobody beyond the perpetrator.

10 comments

  1. EnglishAthena

    Very well reasoned, Stephen. Let’s face it, if a man is prepared to lie to the people he claims to love, the rest of us have no chance. And I’m in a place where gay rights are just about the only issue. Bullying or prejudice against women aren’t on the radar. And as you say, these things affect far more people.

  2. Cind

    Unfortunately, those who are least likely to take stock of their own behavior likely need it the most, but perhaps that is the most striking element of our humanness. I’ve recently been pondering the statement that we most need love when we deserve it the least. But it is so complicated to figure out how to show that love in the healthiest way for us and for others. May we go against the tide for the better.

    • EnglishAthena

      Ah yes. The perpetrators of abuse need love and pastoral support too. A challenging thought when you’re thinking about trying to love a mass murderer, but wrong if you are supporting a bullying priest at the expense of his victim.

  3. Chris Pitts

    Sadly, until the evangelical churches in this area (Outer London), see that there is more to the Christian faith than working out one’s own selfish salvation, ‘I’m Born Again, you must be too!’ Then whoever puts their head above the safe zone will be demonized.
    No Cenotaph for the victims. What (Who) do I mean when I talk about ‘Victims’? For the most part I believe that I am talking about a largely unknown group of people, disempowered by poor education and theologically naive.

    I suffered a personality disorder after evangelical programming. The Shepherding movement was bad enough however, I worked as a “Care assistant’ for fourteen years under a “Born Again Christian” Manager, that has produced the chaos of unforgiving. The word “God” and attempts to redeem me put me in a place where, the world (Particularly the Christian) is my asylum.

    So you se my friends that when Rory and Wendy of God TV hurt so many people,
    I regard those people as my family.

    “ Not yet will those measureless fields be green again”

    Charlotte Mew (The Cenotaph)

    Chris

  4. Chris Pitts

    By the way the “Born again” Christian manager mentioned above I can only describe as a career psychopath, bent on personal ambition. They believed that they were carrying out God’s Will. I honestly believe that I confronted evil in this person.
    Chris

  5. EnglishAthena

    You’re right about education empowering people, and lack of it making ready made victims. But a good education doesn’t mean you won’t get bullied, I’m afraid.

  6. Chris Pitts

    There is in this whole world we call ‘Christian’ a confusion between Truth, and present reality, where we protect ourselves for the sake of an ordered life in an organization, (The Church).

    The fact that this has no relation to Jesus and the uninhibited truth that he talked about seems to elude most churchgoers. Is it any wonder that we confront evil when the only reality that confronts us; is itself (Involved in) a mass evasion of the truth?
    I can see my own personal betrayal of Christ, so vividly laid out before me from the moment I swallowed that first lie, when Christ (ianity) became Churchianity.
    Of course the traditional (Mr. fix it) three point evangelical gospel, (Repent, believe, be born again) plays right into the hands of this ‘I’m all right jack’ delusion.

    If you are a victim of Church in its many sided forms, self pity is pointless. I hope I can say with confidence that I laid that particular crutch aside long ago.
    I agree with Stephen Fry on that point, Self pity is just another delusion because who really cares?
    The reason I decided to speak out on this blog was to confront this delusion in myself and, try to find a definitive statement (Or Understanding) of what it really means to be a Christian. This I continue to do so.
    Finally, because the Church of England has been so intertwined with the English way of life, class system and religious patriotism (I speak as a Patriot and admirer of the Queen) following Jesus has been blurred by idols of respectability.

    Somehow all of the above has to be untangled and the Jesus of history invited in.

    I fear it is not just the Church at Laodicea that makes Jesus sick? Revelation 3: 14- 22.

    Chris

  7. Sally

    This is a great article, enjoyed it. I have a question, it is clear and confirmation of what Gods word says about what needs to be ‘exposed’ and what doesnt need to be exposed. The example of adultery i believe as you said hurts the people involved especially if they are in a leadership role. Some element does need to be exposed to a congregation for example in Hillsong (bare with me, i know that many have issued with this church) a few years ago had a leader known as Pat second in charge to Brian Houston, well he was caught in the act of adultery with a woman he was counselling. Brian said as the service that Pat would be removed from leadership for a ‘moral failure” and that was all he was going to share as the details where not the business of anyone but the families involved. That made sense. However if I knew that a person in a very high position in the Church is guilty of sexually abusing a child and this person has been challenged to admit fault and DOES admit it, however remains in the position in leadership would that then need to be given over to the powers outside the church? that can and will expose him and remove him from his position? or the argument that is stated that he asked God to forgive him and so it is dealt with. What do you think about the proper procedure in this instance?

    • EnglishAthena

      In the UK, sexually molesting a child would be an offence with no statute of limitations. (Though we don’t have that concept) What is supposed to happen, is that when/if someone is caught, or at least there is enough evidence to be worried, the matter is handed over to the authorities. And that should apply always. The police, basically. Though sometimes that is via the child protection officer. An ordinary person does not have the resources to investigate, and does not have the moral right to judge. So hand it to those who do. That is justice. There are two other matters. One is consequences may follow, which the perpetrator still has to face. If they have embezzled, they may well have to replace the money, for example. They may have to face the person they wronged. Having it out in court doesn’t make all that go away. There is also God to deal with. He may be kinder than the courts, or harsher. And we may never know, or the perpetrator may only find out at the last day. But it is, in a way, a separate issue. It is between God and the sinner, any sinner, you and me, too. Normal human justice should still be followed through. We do after all live in a human society. If you think about it, a priest, for example, who confesses to child molestation, and is then sheltered and protected by the church, is not what you want to see. Loud cries of cover up. I’m no expert, but does that help?

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