Saturday, April 04, 2009

A character reference website

Due to a circumstance referenced in a new footnote I added to the CHEC "Men's Leadership Summit," Part II post, I have been pushed to consider: How can "we"--ordinary, normal, "run-of-the-mill" Christians--discover the truth about the character of those who claim the right to lead us?

So many people make so many astonishing claims concerning their rights and powers and authority over us. Are their claims legitimate? As Cindy Kunsman has noted,
Per Dr. Paul Martin of Wellspring, of the 210 verses that refer to false prophets, priests, elders and Pharisees, here is a summary of their content:
  • 99 verses (47%) concern Behavior
  • 66 verses (31%) concern Fruit
  • 24 verses (12%) concern Motive
  • 21 verses (*ONLY 10%*) concern Doctrine.
So how do we identify the behavior and fruit of those who claim to be leaders? Especially in today's society when very few of us ever get to observe our "leaders" close up?

I got thinking, this morning, of the story of how the credit reporting agencies came into existence.

I was astonished to discover, many years ago, that these agencies are the result, largely, of efforts by the "radical evangelical" Lewis Tappan and his brother Arthur. (The Tappans established, in 1841, what would eventually become what we know today as Dun & Bradstreet.)

PBS reports, "[Lewis] Tappan created a network of correspondents to offer up-to-date and comprehensive credit information about people in their communities." That's a sterile way of putting it.

The Entrepreneur Magazine Encyclopedia of Entrepreneurs gives you a little more nuanced and flavorful version of the truth when it notes (p. 179),
Throughout his life as a merchant, Tappan was constantly confounded with the issue of extending credit to buyers, particularly those from the western furniture. These buyers would present letters of reference from local preachers or judges, and Tappan had to make a decision. He knew that liberal credit policies lost money, while tight credit policies lost business.

Tappan saw opportunity in this dilemma and, in 1841, launched The Mercantile Agency, one of the first credit reporting companies in the country. He developed a network of correspondents from different American cities who, twice yearly, would submit reports about local companies, including "their means, capital and character, the length of their residence in their present location, and their general mode of business as to cash or credit."
Obviously, it is much the same principle applied to individuals that forms the backbone of how the modern consumer credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, work.

All of these agencies offer services that are well and good for commercial enterprises who have to make financial decisions about extending credit. But what I would like is some kind of service for us "regular people" to gain similar reports and similar information concerning those to whom we may be entrusting our very souls: "Is so-and-so a trustworthy individual? Should we trust him (or her)?"

I am astonished at the high sounding words so many of these people use. But then you hear the witnesses against them: one, two, three, four. . . . The testimonies multiply. But/and then, the people against whom these charges are raised threaten lawsuits and claim their reputations are being unfairly tarnished.

Are they?

The injuries and slights most of us "regular people" might experience at the hands of an abusive pastor or church leader are hardly the type for which one is likely to litigate. (On the other hand, even daring to mention such abusive behavior could, very well, create the potential for the abusive "leader" to threaten a lawsuit.)

So the court system is highly inefficient (at least) if not heavily stacked against the "little guy."

Writing exposé articles or books is hugely costly and highly unlikely to become profitable for either the researcher or the person who could benefit from the information. (Nevertheless, every now and then such a book does get published.)

Once in a while, some researchers may take huge risks and seek to expose to public scrutiny the details of what they believe is wrongdoing.

But as long as each person who suffers at the hands of these abusers has to struggle along on his or her own, sensing their protests in the public sphere are likely to grant them no relief from the misery they have experienced at the hands of their abusers yet facing, as they know, the threat of legal retribution for daring to "slander" those who have done them wrong: abusers will be able to continue dancing away from the judgment that they should rightfully suffer.

So what is the answer?

In some ways, it seems to me, the kinds of "customer review" and "rating" systems we find on Amazon,,,, etc., may point the way. Everyone is encouraged to share their experiences.

While no company or product is likely to receive all 5-star ratings, and none are likely to receive all 1- (or 0-)star ratings, you can get a sense about the kinds of companies and products and people you want to deal with.

For example, you read this store review and compare it with this one, and I imagine the reviews will affect where you are likely to shop. And for good reason.

Can we create a similar service for Christian leaders? Or will any and all such services be shot down?
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