It is common to hear people complain that they cannot trust such and such a person, particularly politicians.
This is a blanket statement, showing how little thought they have given to the subject.
People say that they cannot trust the Prime Minister and little wonder that people say that they cannot trust Christians when they read about scandals among Roman Catholic officials worldwide and Church of England bishops.
Exposed: The Church’s Darkest Secret was broadcast by BBC2 on 13 Jan 2020. It exposed not simply the cover-up of Church of England bishop Peter Ball’s sexual abuse but that on the very day the police began to investigate, the Establishment stepped in at great speed. The programme said:
David Greenwood, the solicitor for the abuse survivors: “It is extraordinary that on the very first day of police involvement, the Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, the head of the Anglican Church, rings the head of the Met[ropolitan] Police who in turn rings the head of Gloucestershire Police to find out something about the investigation. This can only be the Establishment working out, firstly, what’s happening, what could happen and working out ways to stifle it.”BBC 2: Exposed: The Church’s Darkest Secret
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) investigated the extent to which institutions in England and Wales “failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse”. Its evidence exposed the inadequacies of Anglican authories, the involvement of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Prince Charles the Prince of Wales, as well as others. In a separate investigation the Rotherham police chief admitted that the police ignored the abuse of children. The MP for Rotherham suggests that the police are still covering up the identification of a police officer. The public are asking, Who can we trust?
Trusting who and what?
I have explained here that trust needs an object. One trusts a person or an opinion to be true. However, one may believe one opinion and not another opinion from the same person. The statement “I don’t trust him” is rather meaningless, other than demonstrating the prejudice and thoughtlessness of the speaker. The response should be: “Trust him for what? For everything?”
Do Christians trust each other?
It is a common procedure in public situations to “declare an interest” and either to remove oneself from proceedings, or not to speak or not to vote.
This is standard practice, but not in the Presbyterian church. It may surprise the public as well as Christians to discover that this does not happen in many church courts.
Presbyterianism may not have archbishops nor Roman Catholic cardinals, but the prejudicial heart of man ensures that there are selfmade bishops in Presbyterianism also.
Such people like to control proceedings and in order to do so they will influence debate and decisions in which they clearly have an interest. In almost fifty years of observing Presbyterian practice I know of only two persons voluntarily absenting themselves from proceedings because of personal interest.
In the year 2000, the churches in Scotland were advised by Government to review their judicial proceedings. I was part of a delegation of Scottish church leaders at a seminar in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. I prepared a report on these matters for my own branch of the Presbyterian church in Scotland. The report was received, published and noted for action. Shortly after this I had no further involvement in following through these recommendations, but I expected some wise man to act upon it. It appears to me that the report was shelved.
Failure to reform
Lest one should think that the church has little to learn from ‘the world’, the truth is very much more serious than this. Rather, it demonstrates that the church has lower standards than the world, that it cannot see this, that it cannot see the reproach that this brings upon the Cause of Christ and that it is so set in its ways that it cannot reform.
Not only is this shocking in itself, but it goes further than this. If such controllers of church courts cannot trust their brethren to act and judge correctly, but that they must insist upon their prejudicial contribution, then why should they expect anyone else to trust such a court that they themselves cannot trust?
Further, if they are assembled in the name of Christ, the Head of the Church, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then why can such controllers not trust the Holy Spirit to guide their brethren according to Christian principle? The sad answer is that they cannot – any more than the Archbishop of Canterbury could trust the Gloucestershire police to agree with the church’s view of a bishop’s behaviour, or at least his own view as told to the IICSA that he “couldn’t believe that a Bishop in the church of God could do such evil things.” Such controllers cannot leave others to do their job properly, but they must interfere and prejudice proceedings. Peter Ball’s behaviour was bad enough, but as the first of the two-part BBC documentary concluded: “The Peter Ball case is the tip of an iceberg” and the Rev. Graham Sawyer, an abuse survivor commented: “The enormous Church Establishment cover-up is an even bigger story than bishop Peter Ball.” Part Two of the BBC documentary detailed the uncovering of a conspiracy at the top of the Church of England to protect him.
Institutional cover-up and the Caiaphas Principle
One may think that it cannot get worse than this – but one can add at least one more solemn aspect to it. It is evident that the issue is institutional cover-up – protecting the institution by sacrificing the individual. It was on this principle that the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified! One would have thought that the Christian church might have learned from this.
“Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council, and said, What are we doing? because this man is doing many miracles. If we leave Him to carry on like this, everyone will believe in Him and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said to them, You know nothing at all nor consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation does not perish.” I call this ‘the Caiaphas Principle’.John 11:47-50: the Caiaphas Principle
Jewish officialdom and Roman authority combined to sacrifice Jesus Christ to protect their respective institutions.
The Caiaphas Principle is when an organisation closes ranks to protect its own reputation and sacrifices an individual in the process. It happens all the time. Every whistleblower knows about it. Whether it is the Government, the police, the NHS, the church, a corporation, a local club, or whatever. It is an unprincipled principle of behaviour. Rather than protecting the institution, its end result is to expose the spirit of the leaders and to ruin the reputation of the organisation far more seriously and permanently than the person they sacrifice.
It is common to hear that people are disciplined for bringing their profession, political party, or whatever into disrepute. This is usually assumed, based upon bad media coverage, but when the processes of governance are examined one may discover that these processes are more likely to bring reputational damage than any single individual does. Social media and 24-hour instant news-coverage has eroded ‘innocent until proved guilty’ in favour of mob-lynching, encouraged by the Continental aka EU-model of ‘detention until proved innocent’ – witness the detention of Julian Assange as an example. Not many people know that the EU eroded habeus corpus.
Christianity is suffering from the reputational damage caused by its institutions more than by any individual. Individuals may be treated as scapegoats to save the institution, which is an apt term because it is at the centre of Christian theology in which Jesus Christ was made a scapegoat.
Trust has gone from much of public life and it is no wonder that people will not trust Christians in such circumstances. Even Christian charity is mis-interpreted as a mere proselytising tool. Then the public generalise it, that they cannot trust Christians for anything.
Trust is central to the Gospel of Christ, which calls upon people to trust Christ, His character, teaching and Gospel. It is little wonder that modern evangelism must admit that the Church may let you down, and to contrast this with the important fact that the Lord Jesus Christ will not fail them. In my experience, people are open to this distinction.
Jesus challenged ecclesiastical authorities. The apostle Paul questioned the Corinthian church about those who were judging its affairs 1Cor 6:4 and this should raise questions in the minds of intelligent Christians as to what cases were being handled by the church in apostolic times.
Paul questioned the spirituality of the leadership in the Galatian church Gal 1:6, Gal 4:11 and Gal 6:1 and the Saviour did the same in addressing the Seven Churches of Asia. Most churches simply assume that its leadership are unchallengable.
There are significant lessons from this, applicable to both church and state, to employment law and social relations. However, I will leave this to another blogpost as it is a large subject.
28 Apr 2017: the Law against Natural Justice.
3 Sep 2017: Too good to be true.
17 Jan 2018: Trust in public life.
12 Feb 2020: the Caiaphas principle is practised in UK universities making students sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) to protect the university’s reputation but who protects the students?