Are There Really 2 Sides to Every Story?
Updated: Mar 11, 2022
Sheila Wray Gregoire has been killing it this week. Between educating readers about Voddie Baucham’s creepy views of daughters and the evil nature of babies, to sharing Julie Roys’ reporting of John MacArthur’s spiritual abuse of an abused wife, Sheila has amicably responded to many social media comments that support abusers and the Christian leaders that contribute to abuse. Plus, she has responded firmly – and in my opinion – with grace to commenters intent on disruption.
Of course, Sheila's posts have received many affirmative responses. Yet, one idea popped up that is used repetitively to support both alleged and confirmed abusers. This idea is usually stated as "There are two sides to every story". It sounds good. It seems neutral, like a "we should give both sides a fair hearing" kind of thing.
So what's the problem with this idea? Why shouldn't we say this in response to learning of abuse?
1. Most people, particularly Christians, want to believe the best of others and so they automatically disbelieve the victim/survivor. Since the good-hearted cannot imagine doing abusive things, it is difficult for them to imagine another – especially someone they know and/or respect – as having done something reprehensible. So, the first response of most Christians is to put themself in the place of the alleged abuser, not the victim/survivor.* Meaning neutrality is out the window from the very start - whether or not one is self-aware of this.
Now, I have never experienced someone supporting a victim/survivor by stating “there are two sides to every story”. Instead, it is used to push back against a disclosure by a victim/survivor. In other words, it suggests the victim/survivor’s disclosure is not believable and that learning the alleged abuser’s “side” will clear up whatever misunderstanding the victim/survivor has had or reveal whatever lies the victim/survivor has been telling.
Either way, the “two sides” idea begins and ends with the belief that the abuser is innocent.
To add to this, since the “belief” is in the abuser’s innocence this means that the abuser is not only innocent, but also a victim – the real "victim" – of the victim/survivor’s misunderstanding and/or lies. This idea – that the abuser is the real victim - is used by abusers all the time. It is, in fact, a technique abusers employ to gain sympathy and support from others. This technique is called victim-stancing or playing-the-victim and it is common to all abusers.
So, the “two sides” idea is neither a neutral or an objective stance. Instead, it is an idea that inherently assumes the worst of the victim/survivor and the best of the alleged abuser and even the confirmed abuser. Plus, it twists reality so that the vulnerable & abused are believed to be either broken [since they misunderstood whatever happened] or malicious [since they lied about the abuser], and the abuser – the one who is more powerful and dangerous - is seen as innocent and the real victim.
2. When an accused Christian is in a position of authority and/or influence and they have a platform, their side of the story automatically has more weight than the victim/survivor. Plus, their story is often spun from the pulpit and is crafted to deny, minimize, and/or justify their choices and behaviors, while they also subtly slander and shift blame to their victims. If you are not aware of what these abuser techniques look and sound like you may end up believing their spin and - like too many others - responding to an “apology” with a standing ovation.** If you have been influenced by this leader’s teachings, you will likely have been exposed to abusive grooming. This means that the abuser has been relating to their community – to you --- in a way that sets you up to not believe victims/survivors, and to defend and support the abuser.
So, we need to stop using this idea that "every story has two sides" in response to allegations or news of abuse, because at its core it is simultaneously an automatic defense of alleged & confirmed abusers [their side, properly understood, will clear this whole thing up] and an attack on those that disclose abuse [their side is a misunderstanding, obviously made by a broken person, or a lie, made by a malicious person].
Also, we need to stop using this idea that "every story has two sides" because it contributes to creating an unsafe environment and adds more obstacles that hinder victim/survivors from disclosing.
Plus, we need to stop using this idea that "every story has two sides" because it affirms the delusions abusers have that contribute to their justifications for abuse, such as, that they are "the real victims" entitled to empathy, support, and protection, while victim/survivors deserve to be implicitly and/or directly attacked, disbelieved, and slandered.
One last extremely important thing: If you are one of the people that says "Well there are two sides to every story" in response to news of abuse, you are communicating to every victim/survivor that you know*** that you are not a safe person for them to talk with about their abuse.
Let's commit to do better.
*If you are not an abuser, then you may imagine being falsely accused. If you are an abuser, or if you believe you have the potential to be an abuser, then you imagine being exposed as an abuser and the mercy you would want to be given. We saw a frightful example of this last February 12, 2021, when Owen Strachan, likely in response to confirmation of Ravi Zacharias' sexual abuses including rape, tweeted “An unbeliever reads about an awful scandal and thinks, ‘That person is so awful! I hate people like that.’ A Christian reads about an awful scandal and thinks, ‘That could EASILY be me. God be merciful to me.’” If you are interested I have written 2 pieces [One & Two] in response to Strachan's twitter theology.
**Andy Savage's public apology for his sexual abuse of a minor, Jules Woodson, when he was her youth pastor was met with a standing ovation from his congregation. Yes. His "apology" for sexually abusing a teenager, that trusted him, from a family that trusted him, all of whom Savage betrayed, was applauded. This is an obvious example of abusive community grooming. We need to do better. We need to understand how abusers function, so that we can discern any unhealthy, ungodly, dangerous teachings, even those that come from leaders we admire. Link to a video of Savage's apology and Jules Woodson's reaction here.
***Statistics suggest that you know far more victim/survivors [and abusers] than you think you do.