Reflections: Chapter 9, “TOV Churches Nurture Truth”
Tov churches nurture truth. On the face of it, one could wonder why this needs to be said. But we all know that some truth is painful to face and that sometimes individuals who may lose status, influence, or even a job resists the disclosure of incriminating facts. Careful, courageous, and diligent investigations are often needed when things get messy. This chapter points out some reasons why church leaders fail to do that hard work, siding instead with those who make mole hills out of mountains and shoot messengers.
I really appreciated the foundational assertion that Jesus is the truth (p.139). Since this is true, the centrality of Jesus in the life of both individual Christians and in His Church cannot be separated from the pursuit of truth. Since the book is concerned with disclosing the painful truths of abuse, we can say that the person of Jesus and our relationship with Him both individually and as a community are the foundational and determinative factors influencing our response to sin disclosure. The authors quote Mike Breaux, a former teaching pastor at Willow Creek, who spoke about motives for hiding the truth (p.143). Breaux suggested that image, brand, and power protection could all be at fault. He’s right. And this is directly connected to Jesus. We protect what matters most to us and so the instinct to protect image, brand, or power betrays that these things are providing our security and significance. They’ve become idols. And that doesn’t happen overnight. Keeping Jesus at the centre of our lives and life together day in and day out is the way of life that protects against the impulse to deny painful truths. Jesus does not need defending against truth. Instead, love for Jesus and love for truth are perfectly consistent. Of course, the same cannot be said for love of image, brand, or power.
The chapter also addresses the problem of scapegoating and gaslighting those who go public. The connection McKnight and Barringer see between public disclosure and the ministry of prophets in Scripture is undoubtedly accurate.
It’s also insightful of them to remind us that public disclosure in this prophetic posture should “never be the first thing someone does” (p.145).
Earlier in the chapter, they point to one leadership response that can push folks in that direction, though. The indiscriminate use of Matthew 18 as a tool to keep all offences private and interpersonal (ignoring power dynamics and reality of abuse itself) has to be tossed out of our leadership toolboxes. Clarity about the special dynamics involved in both employment and pastoral relationships is key when it comes to the practical process of pursuing the truth. No doubt in some cases, leadership teams will need to receive help (possibly from trained professionals) to navigate all this. But it’s clearly wrong to put a burden of personal reconciliation on individuals who have been abused and then to blame them if they have the courage to disclose their experience publicly.
Reflection from Trevor Seath, Director with C2C Collective