By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved
“It can’t be true. I know him and he would never do that.”
This is one of the most common things I hear in nearly every case of alleged clergy sex abuse, as well as in alleged abuse in Christian families. For every person who says these words, they are absolutely sure that this time it is the truth and it is all a big misunderstanding or conspiracy. In every separate incidence, not only are people close to the situation adamant their friend is innocent, they are often extremely angry at those who dare to believe otherwise.
Denial is incredibly powerful. Denial can stand in the face of the most blatant and obvious evidence to the contrary. When there is little or no visible, indisputable evidence, denial stands on even stronger ground. Denial will even find ways to explain away a confession.
I saw this happen in my own family’s abuse situation. Even when my ex-husband admitted in court that he had, in fact, violently abused his children over the course of many years, during which time he had successfully denied my accusations, his family and closest friends still believed my latest accusations were false because he had a perfect public image and denied any wrong-doing. Not one of them registered the slightest alarm or concern to hear him admit the things I had been saying for more than 10 years were true after all. What were the chances that my current accusations were not true when he admitted to the actions I had been trying all those years to tell about? This meant that every time I said “abuse” previously I was telling the truth and he lied. But this time I was lying and he was telling the truth? How likely is that?
But it was as if they did not even hear what he said. No one seemed able to see the obvious, including the judge. A squeaky-clean Christian, super-Boy-Scout leader façade won the day. The judge said, “Boy Scouts don’t lie…I don’t believe he’s the monster you’ve painted him to be.” Boy Scouts don’t lie, so if a bunch of Scout leaders say it ain’t so, it ain’t so. All they could see was the public face, and the public family solidarity. They couldn’t see past this to the fact that abusers always hide behind socially-acceptable fronts and know how to intimidate family into maintaining the picture in public.
How much stronger is this conviction when the accused is a pastor or church leader? It cannot be true; it is impossible. But it is true.
And denial only increases the damage. Denial hinders people from genuine healing. Denial lightly heals the wound, or falsely heals it because people refuse to admit they are wounded or refuse to accept the real nature of the wound.
Denial also inherently lays blame on the victim, increasing the damage to that person, and making the church a toxic environment for victims instead of a healing haven.
Worst of all, it reinforces the problem of abuse in the church because denial enables abuse to continue. Denial doesn’t just affect a single family or church. Since denial is nearly universal, the entire church collectively fails to acknowledge or address abuse in the church. This means the whole church is crippled, abuse in the church is systemically enabled, and the world can look at the church with justifiable blame for being characterized by a tolerance for the most abhorrent behavior.