The deceitful heart

Nicky Lock

I have just spent 4 days with Anglican Professional Standards Directors from around the world examining the issue of church workers’ sexual misconduct: how to protect children and vulnerable adults in the church and how to prevent the possibility of the misconduct in the first place. One chilling statement was made, which has its own points that could be argued in another place, that “we will never stop the real predator that we find in a minority of cases doing what they do: what we have to do is make sure they don’t have access to vulnerable people”.

However, there seems to be a larger body of offences that don’t come from the unchangeable (?) predator, but rather from the vulnerable church worker who has in some way stepped over the line of what is right behaviour, who often seems either to be unaware of what they are doing, or certainly defends their behaviour in some way.

A clergy friend of mine shared how much they valued the professional supervision they received because their supervisor would supportively challenge them.

Referring to Jeremiah 17:9:

"The heart is more deceitful than all else, and beyond cure; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind…,”

He said: “it is a given that we lie to ourselves in order to protect ourselves and/or to avoid facing stuff that is uncomfortable for us. My supervisor guides me through a process of working through the elements of my story that hinder my role as a minister so that I can be free to exercise my responsibilities in a healthy manner”.

In somewhat softer language, we relate to this idea in everyday speech when we talk of our “blind spots” – and I’m not just referring to the one related to driving! Recently my mother-in-law pointed out to me how focused I get when shopping in the supermarket that I can be unaware of others and somewhat inconsiderate – I was completely unaware of this until she highlighted it, but now can be more sensitive and change my behaviour. A trivial example, but we all need people in our lives that have our best interests at heart and help us to see our own blind spots, to get past our “deceitful hearts”. Yes we can prayerfully ask the Lord to show us what we need to learn, to reveal to us our weaknesses, but on other occasions we need those around who can see where we are going astray to be the challengers.

The more powerful the position we occupy in our ministry or work life, the harder it is to find those who are willing to tell us what they notice in a constructive way, that is apart from the serial Monday morning, post sermon, emailers.

Confronting to be exposed and challenged, yes, but rather this than a slide down the slippery slope into some major boundary violation where a vulnerable person gets hurt as a result of our unconscious actions.