Gentleness & Believability: Philippians 4

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. What extraordinary advice for those who want to be believed as they report abuse.

I sat in the plush CEO’s office of a Christian mission organization. A friend had known the mission leader since their parents had worked together on the field when they were children. As she and the mission leader worked together as adults, they had been battling for some time and she wanted to have witnesses to her conversation with him about their disagreement.

We were happy to join her though a bit suspicious of her reading of the situation. We knew the president as a charming and responsive leader. We were somewhat new to the organization, and new to abusive leadership, but the President had supported our work and welcomed us into his home on multiple occasions.

The meeting was intense. He calmly disagreed with her analysis of their conflict and periodically suggested, “I didn’t say that Margaret.” At least once he explained, “I wouldn’t have said that.” On the other hand, Margaret was near raving mad and was coming unglued.

We thought her to be unreasonable and likely responsible for their war.

This is not unlike many survivor’s stories of reporting their abuse to church or organizational authorities. The trauma and deep wounds caused by abuse and the great need to be free from it can drive a person, what some would say, almost insane. On the other hand, as the abusive individual shares his “side” of the story, he is calm and reasoning and just as charming as ever. In the process, many do not believe the victim as she shares her story as the abuser reasonably and calmly outright denies any responsibility.

It wasn’t until several years later that we found out the truth. Indeed, the mission leader had been lying to Margaret. He had been creating all sorts of problems for her.


Philippians 4 & Reporting

As I read Philippians 4, I see an aid to the whistleblower that may be helpful for those caught in these situations: Be gentle and be calm. Take a deep breath.

Mighty big words when you have faced abuse at home or in the marketplace. It is most certainly antithetical to what nearly all survivors are experiencing when they report their incredible hurt. And, in fact, the lack of calmness and gentleness is often a sign that abuse has taken place to those who understand abuse and its affects.

Unfortunately, most people do not get abuse. All they see is some crazy person sitting across from them.

To be calm and gentle, move on to what Paul continues to say in verses 8 and following:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

Think about true and honorable things. Whatever is lovely. Only that which is worthy of praise. Read Psalm 27. Remember the Gospel. Jesus came for the oppressed and downtrodden [Isaiah 61]. He seeks out the hurting and troubled. He cares for the weak and mistreated.

Jesus is on your side.

Pray for calmness and gentleness. Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Ask Him to work in you before you step into that office knowing that there is no need to be anxious when you are in the Father’s loving arms.

Recently, I was speaking with a woman who had been abused for many years by her husband. She was wanting her children’s court appointed advocate to understand the impact it had had on her children. She was almost frantic to get the advocate to understand. She was thinking feverishly how to get him to understand. It was in that moment that I realized the need for survivors to come at that task with clarity and calmness…because others just don’t understand and they will be thinking the same things I thought with my friend, Margaret. “She’s unglued!”

The survivor of toxic leadership in home and workplace has every reason to be frantic and confused and frustrated. It is very unfortunate that few people understand that. But gentleness may help make the reporting of it more receivable.

Remember Jesus’ words as he prepared to be taken to the cross:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

John 14:27 (ESV)

Stories of Africa

My family of six arrived in Malawi, Africa in August of 2003 to a wonderfully hospitable group of fellow missionaries. I was not really prepared for what awaited us. Our family  had not done any significant homework on Malawian life but were nonetheless excited to get started with it.

As I read at times, I felt I was reading the travel log of a missionary tourist, the insights of a musical theorist, the confessions of a cultural imperialist, the wisdom of a cross-cultural missiologist, and the reflections of journalist investigating a mystery cult. [Dehnert] presents a childlike wonder as he speaks about strange and stranger things in a strange and beautiful land. It was great how he expressed his fears, weaknesses, and misconceptions as part of the path to a gradual awakening. Dehnert didn’t go to Malawi with an agenda and he loves people; I think that enabled him to learn so much. In the end the book comes across like a fun travel documentary with some sage-like wisdom thrown in.

Rev. Jay Stoms  
Missionary with National Christian Foundation
Stellenbosch, South Africa

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