Contrasting Cases: Transparency Versus Secrecy

POSITIVE CASE STUDY: Transparency in Informing a Congregation or Non-Profit Staff About Issues of Abuse and Steps to be Taken. I may add more resources and examples later, but as a starter “checklist article,” read: How Can A Church Witness Well in the Aftermath of Sexual Abuse?, by Jim Van Yperen (

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NEGATIVE CASE STUDY: Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and Other Tools that Negate Transparency. One purpose I have in developing these case studies is to help people understand issues from the perspective of survivors, advocates, and activists. In this particular case study, the focus issue is why certain institutional tactics are disconcerting indicators of disinterest in the pain and plight of those victimized–by sexual abusers and, often, by enablers who abuse power and cover for the perpetrator. Transparency versus secrecy is a key dimension in this problem, as we see in these tweets from Lori Anne Thompson. [LINKS: Tweet #1. Radio Interview. Tweet #2.]

From my observations of abuse survivor communities, I’d say it’s almost guaranteed that people who demand secrecy—even if under the guise of calls for civility, confidentiality, Matthew 18 mandates, conciliation, etc.—are going to be viewed with suspicion. Such approaches are nothing new, though they may vary in severity. Manipulators have typically relied on three categories of tactics to pressure abuse survivors into silence and secrecy:

  • Persuasion—relatively gentle attempts to call for reasoned dialog in good faith.
  • Intimidation—more typically direct, often harsh, and frequently relying on inducement of false guilt, shame, and fear.
  • Legal—using non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements (NDAs), “catch and kill” journalism to hide victim narratives, or threats of defamation lawsuits.

While NDAs are rare, attempts to silence and submerge by means of persuasion and intimidation are quite common. Lori Anne Thompson is a multiple-abuse survivor whose writings reflect her processing all three of those modes. You’ll benefit from reading her website articles and Twitter posts.

One of her most recent posts is NDA’s: A Predatory Power Play (January 7, 2020; Lori Anne Thompson). Read it to get a sense of the negative emotional impact that non-disclosure agreements can have on someone who has already survived victimization—only to be traumatized again.

For more background on non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements and their misuses, see Part 6A through 6D in my Cultural Geography series. These four posts look at some of the means Christian individuals and institutions use against those victimized in/by toxic organizations. These methods may achieve the institution’s goal of self-protection. However, they typically leverage flawed theological points to manipulate survivors. Ultimately, giving in to these tools and theologies comes at a cost of legal and ethical consequences for survivors. How can that be righteous or just?

Part 6A. Introduction to legal-system tools and investigation/negotiation/resolution processes that benefit institutions over survivors.

Part 6B. Four legal-system tools (defamation lawsuits, non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements, non-compete clauses, and church membership “covenants” that are legal contracts). Includes brief examples, plus a longer case study from The Village Church and its membership covenant.

Part 6C. Initial exploration into three investigation/negotiation/resolution processes (arbitration, conciliation, and mediation), plus a case study from Willow Creek Community Church leaders hiring Crossroads Resolution Group and the women victims refusing to play by those rules, and why.

Part 6D. Overview of key problems in misuse of these legal tools and resolution processes; some ways their impact has affected (and disaffected) survivor communities; and some resources on pastoral care, survivor recovery, and building better perspective.

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CONSIDER FOR YOURSELF: Three Views from Within the SBC on Truth-Telling and Transparency: Ronnie Floyd, The Baptist Blogger, Russell Meek. There is a huge difference between keeping in confidence that which should legally/morally/ethically remain private, versus hiding in darkness that which should legally/morally/ethically not be protected but instead exposed by bringing it into the light. It seems obvious (at least to abuse survivors, advocates, and activists) that official SBC entities have a bad track record when it comes to transparency. This reality taints the tone of dialog with survivor communities, because destructive past SBC actions lend themselves to present and future suspicion. For instance:

  • Why have documents about Cooperative Program plans been sealed?
  • Why were reports (such as evaluating the IMB on abuse) paid for by Cooperative Program funds not been released?
  • Why should churches that clearly fail in demonstrating good-faith, “friendly cooperation” with SBC principles to Caring Well for abuse survivors NOT be called out or kicked out?
  • Are calls for staying out of social media actually meant to protect in secrecy problems that should be exposed in the light?

In late January 2020, these kinds of intertwined issues of transparency and secrecy, truth-telling and silencing, came up in a series of blog posts and Twitter threads. Consider for yourself how these relate to the SBC’s significantly low level of trustworthiness among abuse survivors overall.

Ronnie Floyd. Guest Opinion Piece: FIRST-PERSON: There has to be a better way (January 21, 2020; Baptist Press). Related initial post on Twitter and expanded thread next day.

The Baptist Blogger. Blog Article: Cut the crybaby crap (January 21, 2020; The Baptist Blogger). Related Twitter thread.

Russell Meek. Website Article: Why Social Media Is a Last Resort for Survivors of Clergy Abuse (January 9, 2020; Sojourners). Related Twitter thread.

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Reference Links

1. Stage 1: Repair – Sustaining Hope and Help.

2. Stage 2: Renovate – Hope is on the Line.

3. Stage 3. Reclaim – Hope in Definite Jeopardy.

4. Stage 4. Raze – When Hope Fades or Fails.

5. Introduction to Contrasting Case Studies in Doing Organizational Repairs Wisely or Poorly.

6. Contrasting Cases: Independent versus Internal Investigation.

7. Contrasting Cases: Genuine Apologies Versus Deflections.

8. Contrasting Cases: Transparency Versus Secrecy.

9. Contrasting Cases: System-Wide Repairs Versus No Substantive Repairs.

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