“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.” Proverbs 17:15
It happens all the time. A victim of abuse finds the courage to step out of the shadows of her shame and fear to reveal the truth about what has happened to her. The trauma she has endured may be a result of molestation or rape, physical abuse, and/or verbal or emotional abuse. She wants to believe that, once she shares her terrible secret, the people to whom she reaches out will hear her, validate her and comfort her. But as horrible and shocking as it may seem, she may not receive what she needs. For reasons that defy logic, many may rise to defend her perpetrator, and she may instead find herself shamed and shunned and even persecuted. Such is the absurdity of the See-No-Evil Disconnect.
Since beginning this ministry seven years ago, I have been shocked by what I now view as a virtually universal response to abuse of every kind: the overt neglect or even persecution of victims in a deliberate defense of the status quo.
Closing their eyes and ears to the messy details and graphic testimonies of victims, the See-No-Evil crowd endeavors to shut away the painful truth so that they can continue on their way safe in their preferred version of reality. This blanket denial erects an impenetrable wall that protects its adherents from any disturbing emotions and damning ripple effects while releasing them from a responsibility to get involved should allegations be found credible. See-No-Evil devotees seek to claim a higher ground, boasting a sacred allegiance to a person or a purpose that they believe merits absolute safeguarding, an unjustifiable presumption of innocence and the benefit of secrecy.
The See-No-Evil Disconnect operates something like this:
A young girl returns home disheveled and trembling and immediately seeks out her mother, longing for her comforting embrace and assurance. As she weeps in her mother’s arms, the traumatized child explains to her mother that, on her way home from school, several young men dragged her into the bushes and raped her. The terrified girl’s mother calmly brushes her daughter’s tangled hair from her face and tells the poor thing that she is filthy. The mother calmly explains to her child told that she needs to go take a bath, then dispose of all the clothing she is wearing, and never speak of the shameful event again.
A preteen boy decides to confide in his Sunday school teacher that one of the male chaperones at the church’s summer camp did some inappropriate things to him when they were out hiking together in the forest. Rather than comfort the young man, the teacher scolds the boy for making up stories and trying to make a wonderful leader look bad. She assures the boy that such a committed Christian man would never do such a thing and sends the bewildered boy out with an admonition not to start such nasty rumors or gossip about others in the church. The boy has been taught that he is obligated to suffer in silence.
A pastor is arrested for seducing and molesting several female employees and young girls in his church. The church leadership and membership immediately spring to the man’s defense, asserting that the allegations are slanderous lies, nothing more than a coordinated strategy to attack an effective Christian leader and hinder the Lord’s work. These enthusiasts contend that such delicate matters should not be publicized but handled in-house and out of the public eye to protect the name of Jesus, and the reputation of the church, the pastor and his family.*
It might be less troubling if such See-No-Evil accounts were the exception, but I do not get the impression that they are. For family members willing to diminish their own child’s trauma, it may be the potential of public shame or troubling legal entanglements that incite concealment. Perhaps it is deemed more convenient to simply pretend the horror never happened and preserve the family reputation. Ultimately, in every case, creating a mirage of wholeness is deemed of greater importance than addressing the victim’s trauma, identifying the perpetrator and pursuing justice.
The Power of Presentation
The See-No-Evil Disconnect immediately moves to redirect attention from the alleged offender to the victim as the real source of the problem. It requires the fabrication of a relatively insignificant version of events, works to destroy the victim’s credibility and finally, the strategy focuses on convincing others that the offender’s superior reputation, status and/or contributions to the larger community make the victim’s testimony virtually unworthy of serious consideration.
This coordinated presentation is designed to create confusion and minimize the seriousness of the offense, inferring any or all of the following:
Denial: “It didn’t happen;”
Diminishment: “It wasn’t that big of a deal;”
Higher Priorities: “There are more important issues at stake;” and/or
Secrecy: “The problem should be handled outside of the public eye” or “It would be better for everyone if you just forgive and forget.”
The Power of Popularity
People may be more inclined to convey sympathy toward an innocent has been harmed by some mystery offender. But when it is discovered that a well-respected individual or community leader is at the center of the improprieties, abuses or criminal acts, the alleged offender’s loyalists will quickly move into offense mode regardless of the evidence, demonizing the victim rather than considering the possibility that the individual they have trusted and supported might be guilty – even a predator. The offender’s potential guilt may call into question the loyalists’ own lack of discernment or integrity, particularly if they are financially or morally invested in the reputation of the accused or reap some benefit from the organization he represents.
So the See-No-Evils choose instead to claim what they assert is a higher road and flatly refuse to acknowledge any merit associated with the allegations or exhibit any regard for the victim’s suffering. The loyalists’ devotion blinds them and binds them to an indisputable presumption of his innocence, evidence notwithstanding.
The Power of Pressure
Perhaps the most harmful aspect of the See-No-Evil Disconnect is that it requires that collective pressure be put upon victims, to shame them into silence using every strong-arm tactic available, including harassment, hostility, blame and even a brazen determination to cover up or minimize the truth. These cruel tactics are designed to compel the suffering whistle-blower to concede under duress that:
- the incident never occurred;
- it was a minor offense;
- it was a one-time incident;
- she was simply seeking attention at an innocent person’s expense;
- her testimony should not be trusted, or the event was imagined (the victim is lying);
- she is evil for tarnishing the image of someone of greater relative value in the community;
- she was a willing participant or provoked the offense;
- she should keep the experience a secret;
- she should forgive the offender and forget about what happened;
- she should protect the offender – and his reputation – from any negative consequences;
- her selfish actions will negatively impact the reputation of the institution to which the offender is connected (the church, ministry, school, university, etc.).
- the alleged offender is morally incapable of such an offense;
- the offender’s family members could be negatively affected.
- the effects of the accusation on the offender’s life is a higher priority than the effects of the offender’s behavior on the victim’s life.
Even presented with evidence of multiple victims, the See-No-Evil crowd may vehemently protest the pursuit of justice and respond with an image-preserving vengeance. They insist that the physical and/or emotional trauma the victim suffered is wholly immaterial, exaggerated, troublesome and unworthy of consideration when contrasted with the offender’s otherwise excellent reputation as well as his favorable contributions to his family, others and/or society at-large. It is bad enough that the agenda requires that victims be bullied into silence, but just as terrifying is the reality that, if the See-No-Evil strategy succeeds, the offender may be left in a position where he can potentially claim additional victims. Faced with these circumstances, will future victims have the courage to come forward?
It is horrifying to imagine that people all around us will coldly turn a blind eye to the trauma of sexual abuse, physical abuse and other cruelties and criminal acts simply because the nature of the offense or an unquestioning loyalty to the individual named as the offender conflicts with what they want to believe is true. They willingly and purposefully sacrifice the truth for a lie, defending the wicked at the expense of the innocent and elevating the image of an individual or institution above the needs of the suffering.
We have all witnessed the heart-wrenching effects of the See-No-Evil disconnect in real life, having heard, read and viewed the stories of victims who have been harassed, shamed and silenced while their perpetrators have been defended in light of their “good works.” I cannot help but wonder at the lack of empathy toward those who have been wounded by wicked people, many who stand in the public square unashamed – and even praised.
Yet we can also see this dynamic in Scripture. Among other accounts, the gospel writers clearly describe instances where powerful people set out to demonize Jesus, who had shone a bright light on the corruption and self-serving culture that was so deeply entrenched among the religious elite. The legalists and their allegiants rose to retaliate against the One who had exposed their offenses. In order to maintain and uphold the status quo, they were intent not only on destroying Jesus’ reputation, but the man Himself.
“…the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile and to question [Jesus] closely on many subjects, plotting against Him to catch Him in something He might say.” Luke 11:53-54
“And they began to accuse [Jesus] saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.” Luke 23:2
“Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” Matthew 26:59-61
Ultimately, “… the chief priests and elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.” Matthew 25:20
Yes, to protect their own interests, the Pharisees incited a throng of comfort-seeking people to cry out for the release of a known criminal and the death of an innocent man. Preferring a comfortable half-truth to the fullness of truth taught by a wandering Nazarene, the See-No-Evil loyalists committed themselves to discrediting and destroying God’s beloved son in order to protect the status quo.
So it is today, for many of us have been subject to the conform-or-be-crushed pressures of pastors and Christian leaders who refuse to see the horror of abuse in our midst. The See-No-Evils continue to instruct victims who dare to come forward that denial, diminishment, the preservation of perception and secrecy are preferred responses to their trauma. Adherents continue to shame and shun the hurting while simultaneously protecting abusers from any sufficient consequences for their destructive, willful sin.
As the body of Christ, we must awaken to the reality that the mere perception of goodness does not make it so. The truth is that sometimes really bad things happen to people we love and sometimes people we love do really bad things. If God sees the evil, (and He does) should we not be willing to see it also?
Responding in a godly manner to such uncomfortable truths requires a willingness to see the measure of wickedness committed against innocent people and the depth of trauma inflicted. The tender heart will offer compassion and care to the hurting while agreeing that a righteous judgment must be invoked upon the wolves who shamelessly parade about in sheep’s clothing.
While I pray that the See-No-Evil Disconnect is revealed for the hollow belief system it reflects, it grieves me to know that many, particularly those in the church, will continue to shield their eyes from the terrible effects of every form of abuse, preferring to abandon victims and diminish the effects of wickedness in order to preserve the status quo.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” Proverbs 31:8-9 (NLT)
*These are fictional accounts consistent with those shared by victims of physical and/or sexual abuse.
(Author’s notes: There are occasions when innocents are wrongly accused of abuse-related crimes. Of course, the accused must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The same should also be said of victims.
Although abuse and sexual offenses are primarily perpetrated by men, abusers and sex offenders may be of either gender.)
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