Principles for Fighting Corruption (December 2019)

“The More We Love, the Harder We Fight”
15 Principles for Fighting Corruption

Lessons from Rachel Denhollander for Sexual Abuse and Corruption
 Applications from Our Experiences Confronting the NCI Fraud

Michèle Lewis O’Donnell, PsyD and Kelly O’Donnell, PsyD
27 November 2019

In reflecting upon some of the recent interviews with Rachel Denhollander (e.g., MinistryWatch, October 2019 and Christianity Today, January 2018) we were struck by how  the core principles that emerged regarding cases of sexual abuse are also applicable for any form of abuse and corruption. These principles are especially relevant to situations of corruption in churches, mission agencies, and other organizations, where whistleblowers and victims are vilified and verifiable accountability via independent reviews is rare.

The 15 principles we summarize below are based primarily on Rachel Denhollander’s October 2019  interview with MinistryWatch (direct quotes are in bold font) and my own experiences confronting corruption. We make applications to a specific case, the international Nordic Capital Investment KB fraud (NCI). This protracted, covered up case of corruption, first publicly confronted in 2007, continues to mar the international church and mission community. Inspite of the successful prosecution of one major person by the Swedish government (2008-2010), there is still so much more to examine, uncover, disclose, and learn. And millions of dollars to return.   

Principle 1: In cases of abuse and corruption “Naming names and calling out specific situations is the only way people will understand what the [abstract] principles look like when they’re put into effect.” (Denhollander)

NCI: The Integrity Petition (Shine the Light-Together) the PETRA People Network weblog, the Loving Truth and Peace weblog (Professional Review), and the Into Integrity weblog (and podcasts) list specific people, leaders,  and organizations, requesting their assistance and disclosures.

Principle 2: Abuse or corruption doesn’t usually come to light without courageous whistleblowers. When the whistleblowers are also victims, fellow Christians must not misconstrue the strong words or emotions of victims, like anger, for unrighteousness, and end up blaming victims.

NCI: It took courageous whistleblowers to confront this fraud in the Christian church and missions world. Many victims were too embarrassed or afraid to come forward. No one who was net positive (benefitted with stolen money from the ponzi fraud) came forward in transparency publicly. My husband and I have experienced wrongful dismissals (2006-current) while trying to shine the light on overlapping areas of organizational dysfunction and financial fraud.

Principle 3: The right motivation, “based on right and true ideas” must underpin the efforts to expose abuse and corruption. The right motivation helps people persevere and be resolute in the face of evil: “the more we love the harder we fight.”

NCI: In our efforts to confront the NCI fraud, “loving truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19) have been guiding concepts, as too our commitment to agape (I Cor. 16:13-14). The historical examples of morally courageous people, who acted with costly integrity—Solzhenitsyn, Havel, von Moltke, Churchill, Bonheoffer, to name a few--have also been inspiring and instructive.

Principle 4: Good investigation, for instance good journalism and independent reviews, can shine light into dark places.

NCI: Rand Guebert’s Professional Review of the NCI fraud, multiple wrongful dismissals, and poor organizational governance, made connections between individuals and organizations in the web of corruption that many people had not detected.

Principle 5: It takes a skilled, well-positioned, and well-supported survivor to be heard in the face of powerful and corrupt people and organizations.

NCI: Because of our strong social support (family, churches, colleagues) and professional skills we have continued to be productive in our work and resolute as psychologist/advocates, although sadly, it has come at a high price as defamatory remarks and rumors have circulated in ministry networks we helped establish.

Principle 6: A sentencing hearing [or other legal proceedings] are only part of what needs to be examined and known. “Someone asked, ‘What’s left to tell after the sentencing hearing?’ And the answer is almost everything.” (Denhollander). The critical story--what is essential to learning and future prevention of abuse or corruption-- is what it took to get to a sentencing, how organizations responded to the situation, as well as what still remains covered-up afterwards. Also, important is standing with survivors, who don’t have a voice or platform, and being certain they are heard.

NCI: we have joined with others to consistently call for people and organizations to become informed, investigate how they have been affected by the NCI fraud, and examine how they have responded over the years to revelations about the fraud (court documents in the public domain). Thus far, most of our requests have been ignored or stone-walled.

Principle 7: Abuse and corruption, especially in the church and mission community, can tragically derail people’s faith. When it doesn’t, survivors are often more committed, despite the devastation they experience at the hands of “Christians”.

NCI: Tragically, some people’s faith has been devastated by the self-protective cover-ups as well as complicit silence of Christian leaders who knew about the NCI fraud or were beneficiaries themselves. This debacle has personally hit us hard on many levels, however, by the grace of God our faith has come through and we have learned much.

Principle 8: There can be a significant difference in the theology of churches that handle abuse and corruption well and churches that don’t. Often concepts regarding unity, loyalty, grace, repentance, accountability, and forgiveness are very different. In contexts where abusers remain in power and cover-ups continue, silence, willful blindness, pseudo–unity, loyalty above accountability, etc., are embraced. “Silence about wrongdoing is not biblical unity.” (Denhollander)

NCI: “The only thing necessary for corruption to flourish is to do nothing about it; or to do some non-efficacious and non-resolute ‘thing’ and then move on, often with our consciences placated and our livelihoods protected.” Kelly and Michèle O’Donnell, Loving Truth and Peace: A Case Study in Family Resilience in Dealing with Mission/Aid Corruption)

Principle 9: When the church community “misuse[s] its theology”, victims are silenced and abusers feel safe. Often this is under the guise of extending “grace” to abusers and those covering up corruption. Grace can be a convenient excuse for not transparently dealing with and thoroughly reviewing a serious matter, minimizing its importance, and deflecting and passing the buck--i.e. being willfully blind. “Abusers…understand that if a church is not a safe place for victims, then it is a safe place for abusers.” (Denhollander)

NCI: We definitely were not safe in the church mission community as we tried to blow the whistle on the NCI fraud--we experienced wrongful dismissals, without due process, and were told we had a “psychological disorder”; our repeated calls to meet face to face with leaders were denied; everything was done by email. Some who promoted and benefitted in a huge way from the fraud were seen as “repentant”, fellow “victims,” and “upright”.

Principle 10: The church and mission community tends to want to “move on” prematurely from abuse and corruption, trying to make “healing” and resolution neat and tidy. This tendency has damaging consequences for people, the opportunities for learning in community, and future prevention.

NCI: While we called for independent reviews, transparency, and education of the public we were accused of being vicious, having a “victim” complex, sowing “disunity in the body of Christ”, being “master manipulators”, being greedy, being traumatized and not willing to forgive and move on…

Principle 11: In cases of abuse and corruption, those involved and affected often continue to refuse outside accountability and responsibility, while denigrating those who speak out. Truth has to be pursued passionately and resolutely to prevent and redress abuse and corruption.

NCI: For over 12 years we and others have continued to call for verifiable disclosures and independent reviews and for the need to tell the whole truth about this multi-million dollar fraud in the church and mission community. There has been little transparent or accountable response from leaders.  The continued silence of those who benefitted from stolen money (net-positive investors in NCI) is deafening and detrimental. 

And the simple step of an ordinary, courageous man is not to take part in the lie, not to support deceit. Let the lie come into the worldeven dominate the world, but not through me.” (Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nobel address, One Word of Truth, 1970)

Principle 12: When there is the willingness to fully, transparently, and independently review what happened, redemption can be seen, which is a powerful testimony to the gospel.

NCI: We continue to pray that the people and organizations affected by and involved in the NCI fraud will step into the light, tell the whole truth, that redemption might be seen. “Love never ceases” (I Corinthians 13:8).

“Fellowship is based on trust, and trust is based on truth.” (John Stott, teaching on the message of Ephesians, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, 1975).

Principle 13: "What happens when [the abuser] is a trusted person at this church? What happens when it’s a trusted person in these other evangelical organizations? The extent that one is willing to speak out against their own community is the bright line test for how much they care and how much they understand. We have failed abhorrently as Christians when it comes to that test." Interview with Rachel Denhollander Christianity Today (22 January 2018, bold font added)

NCI: “When an organization is confronted with unethical behavior, does it have the capacity to care for itself, or do staff abdicate corporate responsibility to a few unaccountable leaders?  One question arises over and over in this review--where is the ethical and accountable corporate governance?” (Rand  Guebert,  Integrated Executive Summary, page 1).

“Showing partiality is never good,
 yet some will do wrong for a mere piece of bread.”--
Proverbs 28:21

Principle 14: "We are very happy to use sexual assault as a convenient whipping block when it’s outside our community…But when it was within our own community, the immediate response was to vilify the victims or to say things that were at times blatantly and demonstratively untrue …There was a complete refusal to engage with the evidence…The only reason I am able to have the support of these leaders now is because I am speaking out against an organization not within their community." Interview with Rachel Denhollander Christianity Today (22 January 2018, bold font added).

NCI: Where are the voices asking the common sense questions, calling for full disclosure in ministries and churches?
There is much to learn from the specific case of NCI if those organizations and churches affected would engage with the evidence, which could help to educate and prevent corruption within the church and mission community globally.

“What a person desires is unfailing love; 

better to be poor than a liar.”--Proverbs 19:22

Principle 15: "Bullies and predators prey on the defenseless. They count on victims being unable to protect themselves. More important, they count on everyone else being too afraid to confront them. I hate injustice, but I hate silence and apathy in the face of injustice even more. Far too often, bullies’ belief that no one will challenge them is both well-founded and devastating for the people they target. But it doesn’t have to be this way." Rachel Denhollander, What Is a Girl Worth? My Story of Breaking the Silence Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics (2019, p. 1, bold font added) 
NCI: We are resolute in our prayers that people in the know about NCI will do the right thing and break their silence.

“Like a muddied spring or a polluted well
are the righteous who give way to the wicked.”--
Proverbs 25:26

In Summary: Action Steps for NCI
“YWAM and other groups are only being challenged now because of the integrity and perseverance of the O’Donnells and those who have stood by them in these last difficult years.  The need for accountability and restitution in varying degrees clearly lies with YWAM, Le Rucher, WEA-MC, MC-E and involved churches [Youth With A Mission, Le Rucher, World Evangelical Alliance-Mission Commission, Member Care Europe...]. In authoritarian settings nearly everyone is too vulnerable to stand up to the power of the leaders—staff have limited rights and limited resources on which to rely.  The time has come for the truth to be known and justice to prevail, without which there can be no proper basis for organizational health and reconciliation.  For everyone involved it is not too late to act with integrity and seek redress, both publicly and privately.”  (Rand  Guebert, conclusion,  Integrated Executive Summary)

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