Last Friday on February 12, Owen Strachan, Baptist theologian, likely in response to the recent confirmations of Ravi Zacharias' abuses of power, tweeted this: “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.’”
This tweet has been liked as least 1.1 thousand times.
I responded to this tweet on social media by stating that this is a dangerous theology. Another commenter asked me “what is dangerous about this? Isn’t it more dangerous to underestimate our own capacity for evil...?"
Good questions! My response will involve a number of posts over the next week.
So, buckle up!
Owen Strachan’s tweet is dangerous theology because:
1: It shifts the focus from the victims to the self and the abuser. It claims empathy is first or only for our self and abuser.
2. It implies the one making the claim – and the abuser they identify with – are victims.
4: It justifies judging others as sinful for not affirming this.
5: It normalizes abuses of power and presents them as ubiquitous and therefore unchangeable.
6: It is not true.
7: One unintended benefit of this theological claim is that it reveals hearts.
Let the unpacking begin!
1. It shifts the focus from the victims to the self and the abuser. It claims empathy is first or only for our self and abuser.
One reason this theology is dangerous is because it states emphatically that the Christian’s first response to learning about an “awful scandal” or in more accurate words, the corruption and abuses of power by an influential Christian leader like Ravi, is to think of themselves, not the abuser’s victims/survivors, and not those betrayed and impacted by the abuser’s deceptions.
Nope. Think of yourself first.
No empathy or concern for the victims, at least not at first. Perhaps Strachan mentions the victim/survivors elsewhere in recent tweets [Hint: Nope. He does not.]
Then after thinking of ourselves, this theological claim promotes we identify with whom, the victim? Again, nope. We are to identify with the abuser. We are to consider in what ways we are like them or capable of being like them.
So, after we pray for God’s mercy, do we then consider the victims?
Victims of abuse are not mentioned. Think I am being too hard on Strachan? Here is another tweet from Owen Strachan on February 12th. I challenge you to look for anything that may infer a victim even exists:
“The exposed evils of others should cause us to:
1. Feel righteous anger
2. Seek real justice for real wrongs
3. Wake up to our own sinful drifting
4. Proclaim salvation by repentance to fellow sinners facing eternal hell
5. Thank God the Father for Christ our wrath-drinker”
So, according to this list, we should “feel righteous anger”. For victims? Not really. I suspect based on past experiences with those that have the same theological bent as Strachan, and the research I have done, that Strachan would argue we should feel righteous anger because God’s laws have been broken. Perhaps, instead, we could feel compassion and grief for the victims?
“Seek justice for real wrongs”? Hmmm. Why not seek justice for victims? And why “for real wrongs”? This implies there are false or fake wrongs. I wonder which wrongs Strachan thinks are not “real” ones. Although I think the #churchtoo movement can suggest the specific wrongs those like Owen suggest are false.
“Wake up to our own sinful drifting.” How about listening to victim/survivors in order to learn how evil doers think and act, to learn how they were impacted by the evil doer’s behaviors, and to learn how we can best support them in their process of healing?
And then after listening and learning, how about we reflect on our own enabling and contributing to the evil doer being able to do evil? Then how about we repent communally?
How about researching and implementing certified specialized training and practices to create safer sacred spaces?
How about we center victims/survivors within our communities and make sure they are heard, supported, protected, and believed? Then abusers will know it is not safe to abuse in such communities.
Or ya' know, we could go Owen’s route and ignore anything that would actually require true knowledge and repentance and that would begin a process of transformation towards safe sacred spaces.
“Proclaim salvation by repentance to fellow sinners facing eternal hell” Wow. Yes, sinners, abusers, criminals need to repent. No believers question this.
But why this concern for the abusers? Shouldn’t our hearts reach out to those impacted by evil before those that do evil? Or in Strachan’s case why is this concern for abusers mentioned without ANY concern communicated for the victim/survivors?
Not surprisingly, abuse has a significant impact on the spiritual life and growth of victim/survivors. Strachan may be surprised to learn how significant the impact is. It impacts one’s ability to trust and understand God. It impacts one’s ability to trust that we can discern reality from gaslighting, truth from falsehood, love from abuse, and abusers from safe people. It can cause those that were once close to God to flee from God or isolate from God.
We need to prioritize supporting victims over preaching to abusers.
Also, when wanting to help abusers, we need to know what they need. And they need much more than “repentance”. They need trained specialists and accountability. When they have committed crimes, they need to be imprisoned.
They need us to know that mercy for abusers looks like limits and consequences.
It does not look like feeling bad for them, or believing their versions of reality, or empathizing with them. Limits and accountability are the only things that will choke off the evil within them.
And finally, “Thank God the Father for Christ our wrath-drinker” This. Wow. Do I even need to explain the terror this can conjure up for a victim/survivor?
And so, Strachan’s tweets and those that agree with them, not only make theological claims that focus first on themselves and those that do evil, but exclusively focus on themselves and those that do evil. There is no mention or consideration for victim/survivors at all.
This ignoring of victim/survivors communicates what the abusers intended and communicated through their words and actions to the victims: that abusers and their allies are more valuable, are worth more, than their victims. Whether or not it is intended, whether the claim is sincere or not, whether the speaker -ahem – or tweeter is well meaning, it devalues victim/survivors.
And when we devalue victim/survivors we are agreeing with their abusers that their abusers are more valuable. Full stop.
In fact, the reticence within Owen’s “but for the grace of God there go I” type tweet screams that abusers and those like them are more valuable than victims. Plus, his choice of ignoring victim/survivors in his list of what we should do “when evil is exposed” tweet, screams that abusers deserve all our focus, attention, and concern. Apparently, victim/survivors deserve none of these.
Three take-aways from this post:
1. Empathy, is for those that have been harmed. Not for those that do the harming.**
2. Shifting the focus off of abusers and onto victim/survivors is a powerful and effective method to create a safer environment. If victim/survivors are believed, allegations reported promptly and investigated by experienced third parties, and victim/survivors stories, experiences, and influence highlighted, it communicates to potential abusers that this is not a safe environment to abuse in.
3. Abusers do not “drift” into abusing. It is never due to a momentary lack of control. They make choices over time to use their power and influence to groom potential victims, groom allies, set up circumstances to abuse, exploit opportunities to abuse, deceive, cover up, slander, shame, and silence.
**I will focus on this in another post. For now, in general, when we communicate empathy or compassion to abusers, it is an obstacle to them seeking to repent and to heal. It is a tool they use to manipulate and continue abusing. Plus, it communicates to victims/survivors that abusers, not victims, will be supported and encouraged.