by the Ven Peter Leonard, Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight and Chair of One Body One Faith
“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
I have been reflecting a lot on trust recently after being let down by someone rather badly. It hurts doesn’t it? It is not just the immediate betrayal which stings but the ongoing ripples and impact of what has been done to you.
The fact that you don’t feel you can believe or trust this person again.
The issue of trust was a big one in the recent General Election and despite the very clear result I don’t think that the issue has been addressed at all – by any of the political parties. Neither has anyone addressed why it has been lost within Parliament and between the people and Parliament. A large majority win by one party may cover it up but it doesn’t deal with it and so it rumbles on just not as loudly as it did before the General Election, but it is still clearly there.
As the recent revelations about sexual abuse in the Church and the Peter Ball case in particular remind us the Church is place where trust should exist in abundance but sadly many victims of abuse have found it to be lacking and indeed to be a place where no one can be trusted to keep them safe.
Many LGBT+ people have lost trust in the Church having heard time and time again how sorry the Church is for the way they have been treated and yet then to be treated exactly the same again. Too many times they have been greeted by a smile and a warm welcome to a Church ‘which welcomes all’ only to be stung by finding themselves at worst the victims of damaging conversion therapy thinly disguised as ‘prayer ministry’ or at best tolerated but not being allowed to have any significant role in the Church community.
When my appointment as Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight was announced a number of people who were unhappy about it sought to see what they could find out about me and use against me, others took pictures of my partner and I on the day of our Civil Partnership and used them in a negative way. It has made me jumpy and I am now much more conscious of anything I write or say or do or indeed anything I post on social media. That might not be a bad thing and I am sure there is plenty I could have expressed in a better way or not at all over the years but the negative effect of this is that when someone contacts me or sends me a friend request I am no longer happy to accept it but always assume the worst. What do they want? What are they trying to find out about me? I do not like the fact that my lack of trust has made me a suspicious person.
So how do you restore trust?
How do you once again achieve some sort of equilibrium in any institution, organisation or indeed between individuals when trust has been damaged or lost entirely. I wish I had the answer! It does strike me however that restoring trust requires the same steps as establishing it in the first place.
Relationship. This is fundamental to trust. You have to know someone to trust them. There are of course some obvious exceptions. People tend to trust police officers or nurses or vicars (although this may well no longer be true) but this is because there is some innate relationship with the role formed over many years and indeed generations. When trust is gone so is the relationship and we saw that only too clearly towards the end of the last Parliament. Attention must be given to how those relationships can be restored. Shouting across a chamber, sending angry emails or ignoring someone will never do that. Only dialogue and understanding and hard work will do it.
Risk. To know if you can trust someone you have to trust them. At some point there is the leap of faith that you have to take.
Evidence. For trust to build that risk has to result in hard evidence that the person of organisation or institution can indeed be trusted.
The one area which is perhaps different when rebuilding lost trust to establishing it in the first place is a genuine and authentic sense of remorse that an action has led to anyone being hurt or to trust being destroyed. Remorse which isn’t a series of ‘hand-wringing’ statements but a genuine wish it had not happened and a clear attempt to ensure it doesn’t happen again. So far I have not seen that from the person who let me down, from anyone in politics or indeed from the Church.
So why do I still vote and engage in politics as an interested citizen? Why do I still not only worship within the Church of England but indeed work within it as an ordained minister?
Because my faith has led me to a God who can be trusted. That doesn’t mean I always get what I want and it certainly doesn’t mean that life is all rainbows and butterflies. But having started with a somewhat negative quote perhaps I could finish with a more positive one:
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
― Corrie ten Boom
I don’t know what the future of the UK is outside of the EU. I don’t know whether we will remain as the United Kingdom or break down into a series of smaller independent states. I don’t know whether my relationship with the person I alluded to earlier will be restored or not and I certainly don’t know if as a partnered gay man I will ever be truly accepted and affirmed by the Church.
But I hope and that hope is based on my experience of a God who I firmly believe can be trusted.