Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and the Body of Christ

I have been concerned and grieved for years by the statement: “Our church required we sign an NDA. There would be no compensation if we ever spoke about what happened”. In other words humans who have been mistreated, abused or used in some fashion must keep silent or the church would, bluntly put, do harm to them and/or their reputation. It is my understanding that some churches are actually requiring signed NDAs in order to even become a member.

Non-disclosure agreement…disclose means to reveal; to allow something covered to be seen; to uncover. Non-disclosure is to cover-up, hide away. To agree with something is to consent; like-mindedness. An NDA is an agreement to hide something. In the cases I have encountered it has always been an agreement to exercise power over and hide sin. Also in my experience, such a requirement is demanded for the sake of a system – usually a ministry of some sort. So a Christian is asked to agree to cover-up wrongdoing for the sake of the system – or worse, for the sake of God’s reputation. It suggests that to speak truth is to hurt God and his name. How can this be?

How did we get here? C. S. Lewis summarized it well in a sentence (he was good at that!) from The Weight of Glory – “The root principle of all these precautions is the same: to guard the things temporal.” We are so dedicated to protecting our very temporal systems we fail to protect Truth, which is the name of our eternal God. We say: “How can you bring down such a dynamic preacher?” “You will cause our church to shrink”. “You will disrupt God’s great work here”. The system is primary.

I have been re-reading G. Campbell Morgan’s commentary on Jeremiah. It is stunningly relevant. He writes about how the temple in Jerusalem (a system), which was meant to be the Temple of Jehovah, required people not speak a word against it. It was treason to do so. But there was a split between religion and morality (sadly a familiar theme). Morgan says, “This conception that the city was the city of the King and therefore must not be spoken against was evidence of their forgetfulness of the true strength of a city” (p, 138). Isaiah reminded them. “Cry aloud …rejoice in this…that greatness in thee is Holiness (Jehovah)”. Their true strength was not silence about wrongdoing. Their true strength was holiness and holiness demands truth.

Our strength is not in the church or ministry system.  Our devotion is to be focused on hearing our God. We are easily hindered because of the buzz of temporal things. We are devoted to service, to systems, to outcomes, to fame. These externals are the Pied Piper of holiness. The externals lure us away from love and obedience to Jesus Christ. Frankly we often confuse the two.

Listen to this God we name as ours. “This is what the Lord says: Administer justice and righteousness. Rescue the victim from the hand of the oppressor” (Jeremiah 22:3). “For I the Lord love justice” (Isaiah 62:8). “I am the Truth” (John 14:6). “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (I John 1: 5, 6).

Jesus did not try to salvage the church of his day. He spoke clear and hard truth to religious leaders. His words were always an invitation into His light and likeness. NDAs cover ugly things. NDAs protect systems rather than precious humans made in the image of our God. NDAs require deception for the sake of the God of Truth. The exposure of Ravi Zacharias is an invitation to all people who name the name of Christ. There are many around the world who have been used, abused and mistreated and silenced by Christendom.  Victims have been told that the truth in their case should never be exposed. By maintaining silence the system is utterly failing to look like the God whose name they say they protect.

David French, in a recent and powerful article says: “Nondisclosure agreements—especially in Christian ministries—are poisonous and enable additional abuse. Do not trust instincts over evidence. Never say, “I know this man, and he would never do anything like this.” The goal of any organization facing claims of abuse should be discerning truth, not discrediting accusers. All accusers should be treated immediately—publicly and privately—with dignity and respect.” (David French, The Dispatch, You Are One Step Away from Complete and Total Insanity. Do keep in mind our Lord “trusted no man because he knew what was in man” (John 2:24).

Dear body of Christ, to cover up sin is to leave the sinner in his/her prison of deception. You leave him/her at the mercy of the cancer that will kill them. To cover up sin is to abandon those used and tossed out by individuals and systems. To cover up sin is to be utterly unlike our Lord. People of God, hear God’s voice in the horrific disclosure of Ravi Zacharias and the system that protected him. Tend the sheep; do not silence them. Tend to the systems of which you are a part and remember they are not your God. And may we all pray with Daniel: “For your sake, O Lord, let your face shine on your desolate sanctuary…O Lord, hear! O, Lord forgive! O Lord, listen and take action. For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by your name (Daniel 10:17-19).

When the Sheep are Preyed Upon: Acknowledging the Tragic Reality of the Church’s Spiritual Abuse Problem

“A church that follows her Head, the Good and Great Shepherd, is a refuge for the flock, a place of green pastures and clear waters, a place of restoration for wounded sheep, and most certainly, a place that fights off the wolves…”

Today’s Crises Have Multiplied & Exposed Trauma, How Will the Church Respond?

“The God of truth and light speaks through today’s difficult and frightening circumstances, inviting us to examine ourselves…”

Bearing the Image of Christ While Caring for Others

“We are living in confusing, complicated, lonely, and threatening times. If we are honest, we feel vulnerable. And, in fact, we are vulnerable….”

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6 NASB).What an unusual thing to say. Who would think that a gnawing need for anything would be considered a blessed state?….”

Seeking God’s Research on Our Lives

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, research is a detailed study of a subject, especially in order to discover (new) information or reach a (new) understanding.

The Spiritual Life of the Therapist: We Become What We Habitually Reflect

As image bearers we reflect, assimilate and are shaped by the forces that surround us. Therapists are profoundly impacted by the suffering and evil with which they sit. We become like that which we habitually reflect. This paper explores the potentially negative impact of therapeutic work and the call of the Scriptures in the life of the Christian therapist to reflect the image of Christ in this world and in our work. Five disciplines are considered as aids in shaping the therapist to reflect the image of Christ: worship, truth, study, prayer and obedience. As these disciplines are pursued, the life of Christ becomes the primary shaping force in the life and work of the therapist thereby bringing his redemptive power to bear in the work of therapy …

Read the full article published in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity from this link.

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Translators for God

Several years ago, I was in Brazil speaking at two conferences on sexual abuse. It was one of those experiences that is life altering. I will not look at the world, the church, myself or my faith in quite the same way ever again. I gleaned many things from my time there and was richly blessed by the people of Brazil.

I believe God often uses life experiences as parables for us. He did so when He was here in the flesh and He often continues to teach us in that fashion. He turned my experience with a translator into a parable for me.My first translator was a young Brazilian man. We were different genders, cultures, professions, and life histories. He was my way into the culture and the people. I needed his heart, his mind, and his mouth. He needed mine. I could not reach the people without him. He could not reach the people with what I had to give without me. I came to the people of Brazil through my translator.

Being translated is grueling work—for both parties. I had to present my thoughts in fragments. Lessons were given bit by bit. Periodically we would encounter a word for which there was no Portuguese equivalent. I would then have to find a way to describe and explain so the concept could be grasped. One of those words was “flashback.” No one had heard of such a thing. I struggled to find a way to explain what a flashback was like and finally used a definition one of my clients had come up with years ago. A flashback is like having a nightmare while you are awake. As soon as they heard the description my audience knew what I meant. Many of them had experienced abuse themselves and had lived with flashbacks, not understanding what they were or how to respond to them. I had helped them understand themselves. Or, as a former client used to say, “You have explained me to myself.”

Is all of this not a taste of the incarnation? Christ came in flesh. It was His way into the culture, the people, and our lives. It still is. He needs our hearts, our minds, and our mouths in order to reach the people. We need His in order to teach them truth. John 1 tells us that Jesus came “to explain the Father to us.” He also came to explain us to ourselves. It is through Christ and His Word that we know who we are and why we act the way we do. He has put accurate names to our experience of life and ourselves in this world.

The experience of being translated requires a great deal of trust. The translator must listen accurately and speak truly. He must know two languages. He must know how to communicate both the words and heart of the one he represents. The speaker must relinquish a measure of control, and trust that the translator will take what is presented and accurately deliver it, so the speaker is not misrepresented. The reputation of the speaker is in the hands of the translator.The translator also profoundly impacts the relationship the speaker has with the individuals in the audience.

Is this not something like our lives as Christians? Are we not the representatives, the translators of God in this world? We must listen accurately and speak truly to the world. We must know the language of heaven and the language of men. Our lives and mouths are to communicate the words of God and the heart of God to the world. We represent Him and He has entrusted us with His reputation in this world. Others know Him and experience Him through our lives and our words.

I heard some funny stories about translators who purposely misrepresented speakers who were offensive or did not speak truth. However, it would not be funny for a translator to take the truth from a speaker and falsely represent what was said because he did not like what he heard, or it went against his preferences or biases. Do we not, however, often do that to God? He says things that ruffle feathers and make us squirm. We alter them, soften them or neglect them. We make His thoughts adapt to ours rather than bowing to His words in our own lives and then representing Him accurately.

I was keenly aware that I had put myself in the hands (mouth) of another. I longed for the translator to know me, to understand my topic, and to grasp my love for the people. I wanted my listeners to receive my compassion for those who have been abused. I wanted them to sense my love. I wanted them to hear my strong belief that there is hope for healing in Jesus Christ. I wanted them to hear the truth about abuse and its effects. I wanted them to get an accurate set of facts. Their lives and the lives of many others would be impacted by what the translator gave them. Is this not a glimmer into the heart of our God? He has given us His heart and His words. Does He not long for us as His “translators” to represent His truths and His heart well?

Spend a moment with this image of translator. Consider how you represent His heart.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  John 1:14

Langberg, Diane. In Our Lives First: Meditations for Counselors, Week 4, Day 26

Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

How Should the Church Respond to Abusers?

There has been much discussion about what a church should do when confronted with an abuser in its midst. Such a question cannot begin to be adequately or wisely answered unless we first grasp the truth of what it means to be an abuser of the vulnerable. To see abuse as simply a wrong action that needs to be stopped (though it certainly does) is to minimize and externalize what is a cancer of the soul and does great damage to the abused. We often seem to think that when we understand the outside of things we are fully aware. We are not. Our God looks on the inward condition that gave birth to the outward actions. God does not classify evil by a catalogue of deeds done. He always goes to the internal root of the matter (Genesis 6:5). To abuse a vulnerable child (or adult) is to alter the course of their life. The shape of their life and their sense of self has significantly changed. Those heinous actions are spillage from the heart of the abuser and exposure of the cancer deep within. When the church shows “grace” in response to a few approved words and some tears, we have done added damage to the victim, risked the safety of other sheep and left the abuser with a disease that will rot his/her soul.

Sexual abuse is a cancer; a practiced sin with an underlying, often hidden infrastructure. The abuse is the fruit of that substructure. Roots go down deep into practiced deception which becomes metastasized sin. Abuse is the external exposure of that internal, life strangling system.  A response of mere words and emotions is hardly sufficient. Evidence of change. Such an infrastructure requires a surgical operation over a long time. The church has failed victims horrifically. She has hidden abuse and been complicit in its soul damaging outcomes. She has actually allowed sin God said is worthy of a millstone to continue unchecked in her midst! She has also failed the one who is cancer ridden and walks in darkness.

When churches have asked what I recommend when dealing with someone whose has sexually abused children my response is – do not allow him/her to attend church. There is always pushback. The word grace is tossed about. But you see, someone with such an infrastructure of deceit, feeding off the vulnerable and looking for ways to do it again has been committing spiritual suicide, and because of that deadness, they cannot be trusted. It is foolish to think otherwise. God says we do not even know our own deceitful hearts! Do we really think that if we permit an abuser of children into the sanctuary that we can guarantee the safety of the vulnerable? And do we not understand that even if nothing overt occurs, that deceptive heart and mind is feeding off the little ones sitting in the pews, strengthening his/her own sin patterns while looking good? The images, fantasies and the feeding only continue even while Scripture is read and songs are sung. This is someone with no understanding of the practice required for a godly custody of his/her eyes and thoughts. We have not only failed the vulnerable. We have also failed victims of abuse by another who now feel vigilant and fearful in God’s sanctuary. And we have failed the abuser, for we have left him/her in their prison, practicing that which is strangling their soul. There is no grace in leaving another in the prison of practiced sin, justified by deceptions. We become complicit in their spiritual suicide.

So Diane, what are we to do? Do we leave the abuser in their sin and keep them away from the church? No, to the first question. Yes, to the second. Bring the church to the abuser. I have worked with churches who have done this. A group of committed and mature adults meet once a week with the abuser and listen to the sermon, discuss it, check in, not only about actions and choices but also about thoughts and impulses. They sing and they pray. There are to be no children in the house – ever. The group is to have permission to stay in regular touch with both a therapist for updates and with the parole officer dealing with the case. They read Anna Salter’s book Predators and watch her documentary on sex offenders. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFhKns6iHFzbu5-WRGg0L__H5i4I0wG9A

Know also that this group will need care, respite, encouragement and shepherding as they enter into the sewer of abuse. The work is hard, slow, discouraging and contagious. The church must not abandon them.

This is incarnational work. It is a following of Christ who entered into our lives and our garbage so that we might be one with him in his beauty. Many refused his invitation. They loved their darkness more than his light. So it will be here. For you see, it is only when someone begins to abstain from practiced sin – not just behaviorally, but in thoughts and impulses, that they will come to recognize the strength of the habitual sin, its soul deadening nature and the lure of deception used to ease the pain. Few will do such work, but the gift of an invitation to the Light Himself will have been given.

Some years ago a church made this choice and a small group faithfully met with the abuser for almost two years. They were weary and wondered about stopping. Surely, he would not abuse again. One day he did not show up for the weekly meeting. He had never missed. Maybe he was sick. They called, they went to his place and could not find him. Neither could his PO. Weeks later they learned he had somehow managed to get out of the country and gone to Thailand where he was pursuing little girls. They were heartbroken. They were angry. They felt like they had failed. But no, they had not. First, the vulnerable in their sanctuary found a true refuge because they were protected. Second, they had, like their Lord, called this man out of darkness and into Light.   As many did to Jesus, he rejected their invitation. Now they understood, in a small way, a bit of the grief of our God when any one of us refuses his invitation into truth and light (Genesis 6:6 – God was grieved in his heart). It was a taste of the fellowship of his sufferings and a call to look to themselves lest they also refuse the light.

Our failure to see and do these things is in part an exposure of our very limited grasp of the nature of sin and its tentacles in our own lives. We would not be complicit with abuse wherever we find it if this were not so. Repentance is hard. It means a complete change of our thought processes, our impulses and choices, little by little – over and over yet again. It is not simply stopping a behavior. It is not words and tears. It is a slow undoing of deceptions – deceptions that allow us to feel okay about ourselves. It is however the path that follows Christ, whose central focus and motive was to always please the Father – no matter the cost. He invites us to come.

The Least of These

Given the writings of Paul, it seems clear that the church of Jesus Christ has had divisions, angry dialogue and exclusions since its inception. With global access to information and instant responses, there seems to be a multiplication of judgments, hatred, divisions and demeaning words. To see such things increasing in those who say they love Christ is very sad indeed.

It is a foundational truth in the Word of our God that all human beings since the beginning of time, have been created in the image of God, knit together by the Father’s hands in their mother’s womb. You will never meet an exception to this. Whether they are male or female or of another race, healthy or sick, citizen or immigrant, rich or poor, brilliant or limited – everyone, no matter their birthplace or capacity or unlikeness to you is an image bearer. No matter how we choose to treat another or what language we use to describe them this fact cannot be undone.

            One of the (many) current and volatile dialogues today concerns the immigrants at our borders. It is without question a critical topic. However, some of our dialogue about this topic has frankly, been vile and grieves our God. Although we may not easily find a consensus regarding immigration, we can alter the way we dialogue – a change that might even spill over and bear fruit in other discussions.

            Here are some thoughts:

  1. This is a very complex problem that needs attention both now and long term. It will require bright minds with knowledge, expertise and experience to come up with responses both short term and long term. I am certainly not one of those experts and neither, I suspect, are most of us. We can however, call on the government to find such people and have them think, suggest and inform those who have the power to develop wise policies and procedures both for now and for the future. The old ways are clearly not sufficient. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no wise guidance the people fall, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”
  2. We might consider laying aside our reactivity. For example, expressing concern for immigrants is often construed as wanting open borders with no rules. It is, however, possible to be concerned about humans who are suffering and yet not think that porous borders is a wise solution. That is why wisdom and experience are necessary to think through these matters. How do we have compassion for immigrants and maintain the stability of our country at the same time.   Choosing one without the other is neither wise nor good.
  3. A second reactive response seems to be that concern for the immigrants means you are naïve and ignorant of the fact that there are some bad folks mixed in with those truly suffering. We have predators, abusers and deceivers in our families, churches, schools and institutions. Of course there are some among the vulnerable and desperate ones seeking sanctuary! Such places are where predators often hide. And this fact alone should not lead to neglect of the vulnerable. In fact, it increases the urgency.
  4. While we are not government and not experts, we are the church, the body of our Lord. It is in fact, to be our primary identity. The collective/prophetic voice of the church is needed today on many fronts. And our voice is, above all else, to sound like the voice of Christ – not government, politics, personal preferences or anything else. The detention centers at our borders are full of image bearers – both immigrants and border agents alike.  Both groups are being traumatized. I suspect many of the immigrants were traumatized before they came. Sadly, that trauma continues here. Agents are overwhelmed and without resources. They too are traumatized and either grieving or hardening their hearts so they can endure. On all fronts damage is being done to precious people made in the image of God.
  5. The immigrants lack clean water, food, clothing and a place to lay down and sleep. Those are familiar deprivations. “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was naked and you clothed me…what you have done for the least of these, you have done for me”.  We are the body of our Lord here on earth. We are the present day Word made flesh. He has been exceedingly clear about what that looks like for his people. You and I cannot literally go to the borders and do these things. We can, however, use our collective/prophetic voice to call on government to insure this happens, to ask them to allow groups like World Relief, World Vision and many others who know how to care for the thirsty, the hungry and the naked, to go in and provide services. It will bring relief to the immigrants and also to the agents. 1 Government has a huge job to do. So do we. The voice that you and I are called to  heed; the voice that is to overrule all others such as the voices of tribe, race, nation, politics, or fear, is the voice of our Lord saying this: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy (Proverbs 31: 8, 9). The Lord can also guide the Government into making the immigration process easier so that people who are thinking about moving to the country has a better chance at starting a new life. It has already been made relatively easy by providing people with form i-864 which enables them to have financial stability through someone who is already a resident in the States. This is already a great opportunity for them but we have a long way to go until it can be made easier.
  6. Our voices need to be used respectfully and kindly to one another. Our reactivity and rancor do not sound like our Lord. We also need to raise our collective/prophetic voice in obedience to our God who came, oh so graciously, to the least of these – you and me. Perhaps such unity on our part might bestow on the immigrants – whether they stay or leave – and on the beleaguered border agents, a brief whiff of the fragrance of our God who created and loves them all. That aroma will be the sweet fragrance of Christ inviting them to seek him no matter where they live. We know for sure that that aroma will please our Lord (II Corinthians 2:15).