Tuesday, 13 November 2012

It Starts Here

A little while ago I wrote, in the light of the unfolding Jimmy Savile scandal, about how it is that people can be hurt by other people and that they don't feel able to speak out. 

Recently, someone that I didn't know communicated a claim to me about someone who I did know. I needn't go into details, but the person accused in that situation was someone I have known since a child and have nothing but kind remembrance of. The person making the claim was a stranger to me, and so it was that I did - perhaps instinctively - that thing that so many victims fear that the church would do or has done in the past and brushed aside claims as simply "ridiculous". 

This isn't a post about that situation specifically, but more about how it is that I reached a conclusion instinctively, and that I am far from alone in doing the same in like situations elsewhere. I ponder this a great deal at the moment, and this post is where my thoughts rest currently. 

I think that for Christians at least, the default position is an optimistic one. We are a people who believe in forgiveness, a people who claim a 'good news' that must surely colour our world-view, a people who for the most part are good-hearted people and for Christians, deep down, I wonder if our instinct is to assume the best, particularly of another Christian. Perhaps inevitably, we based our judgments on our own experience and where I have not been hurt by someone, find it nearly impossible to believe that they are capable of hurting others. We focus, by our injunctions and teachings, upon the good in someone - which quite possibly means that that we lose the art of acknowledging their potential darker side. 

I am not sure that there is a sin in any of that. I am not sure that we can change our mindset, and that perhaps  if we did, so much would come unravelled for us. It is perhaps true to say that churches are easier to steal from, that other Christians are easier to be abusive to, and that Christian communities more ready to forgive than to act through the channels of the law. I may be wrong, but I know those who have transgressed in all of those ways and have received a Christian-flavoured leniency that wouldn't reflect the sanctions (and concomitant help, even) of the world beyond the doors. As a people of love, as we claim to be and strive to be daily, I wonder if we have lost the ability to sense, acknowledge, or then believe that someone we see as good can be bad in some way.

I have failed in that recently, though I hope that I have taken a more balanced view now (and for the record, this is not a parish matter where I minister). However, what I have learned is that perhaps I need to take more realistic view of the sins of men and women. I am not perfect though I think I am good. I have messed up many times, and so must others. I think it comes down to how we love properly. Loving through rose-tinted glasses isn't proper love. Loving someone capable of darkness - that is perhaps what Jesus would have us learn to do - to love someone despite their failings, not after disregarding those sins in a fit of ill-conceived grace. Proper love is not instinctively defending offenders in favour of victims because we think we know different. For me, it starts here. It starts now.


  1. Forgive me, I can't speak for all Christians, but surely for a lot!

  2. You certainly speak for me in this, David. I too take an instinctively optimistic view of other people, believing good until I have to acknowledge the bad. I don't think this is wrong, hut as you say it has to be tempered by a willingness not to dismiss others when they see situations and people differently. A very hard lesson to learn.

  3. thank you for this David, I am very much wrestling with this one x.

  4. I think you are right to think well of people in general, but as a natural sceptic have always tempered my own good impressions of people I don't know really well with a hefty dose of doubt.
    Perhaps that is not a truly Christian way to view the world, but it is, and will remain, my way.
    Trying to love the sinner but not the sin is difficult but in most cases (not all) it is just about possible to separate the two.
    Nevertheless, there is a potential darkness in each of us
    and in some it is undoubtedly the predominant factor.
    The sad thing is that we really like and admire someone all through life and are suddenly brought face to face with a facet of their nature we don't recognize, so we refuse to accept it.

  5. I think that you have the right angle on this. I am an optimist where people are concerned and always believe that best of them, and while I am disappointed if they let themselves down in some way - I can't and won't be judgemental about them.

    Perhaps, after 63 years I have seen much of life in the services, where I would say that most, if not all are people who are worthwhile, committed and who in general live lives that could be described as ethical and even to the highest ideals expected of them. This was after 43 years of experience.

    Since I left the Army, I had met so many wonderful civilians, (sorry, Squaddy speak for those who don't wear DPM for a living) who are equally as good, considerate, ethical as anyone I met in the services. So, I feel that my optimistic outlook on human relationships is sound, and while I know that I will occasionally disappointed, this will be perhaps in my own failure of perception in discerning the true nature of those who have disappointed me.

    The situation you face is that someone has made an allegation against some one else, who you know, respect and possibly love. How to deal with it is the issue. Surely, the only way to deal with it is to advise the person making the claim, to go to someone who can help them, whether a Charity or Social Worker or even the authorities is the allegation is of that nature.

    I would feel uncomfortable brushing it under the carpet, my conscience would trouble me forever, if I had simply done nothing or fobbed the person off with excuses.

    Am I a bad person for thinking this way, or is that pastoral care? Because, believe that we all have a duty when these situations arise to act clearly and transparently within the bounds of confidentiality and in accordance with the wishes of those bringing these issues to us.

    Difficult, and certainly deserving of prayer for all involved.

  6. David, in my experience as a teacher (long past now!) I came to realize that one has to look carefully at both sides involved in any allegation of wrong-doing. I fear that in the secular world (and thinking primarily of things involving teenagers, which was where I was working), since the Childrens' Act was brought in, there has been a tendency to believe the one making the allegation at the expense of the other - in other words 'making someone guilty until they're proved innocent', thus turning our previous legal system on its head. I've encountered incidents where eventually the allegations were found to have been made out of sheer malice or a desire to get their own back after some perceived slight (often minor) precipitating outcomes for the innocent party that affected their whole life and future. I agree that things have to be investigated, but this premature presumption of guilt must not be allowed to sway the procedings - and certainly not when the media get hold of something! There are many cases where after the press have had a field day with them, I very much doubt that a fair investigation is ever possible. And I remember Jeremiah (ch 17, I think):'The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it' - or words to that effect (I'm quoting, or misquoting, from memory!) I remain to be convinced that human beings are basically good all through - I only have to look at myself, if I'm honest (and I profess to be a 'committed' Christian) Yes, I know, like you, some wonderful people - many who wouldn't call themselves religious in any way - but 'nobody's perfect', and we are all be conscious of the flaws in our natures, I think.
    Sermon over!

  7. For me, instinct is hugely important, but it's had to be modified by experience a few times - and living through the modification is hard. There is something here about loving our neighbours as ourselves - we do our best to love ourselves with all our imperfections, even those imperfections we want to change, and we are called to do that for others. There is also the old parenting advice - always tell off ofr the bad behaviour, not be being!

    Thanks for a great post about something we all live through.



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