Sunday, 1 April 2018

Aussie Cricket, Labour anti-Semitism & Chichester Diocese - How the Unacceptable becomes Conceivable

The Australian ball-tampering scandal, the Labour party’s troubles over anti-Semitism and the shameful story of what happened in the diocese of Chichester revealed in the inquiry into child sexual abuse - all of them have something in common - the ease with which organisational culture can slip to a point where the unacceptable becomes conceivable.

The Aussie cricket team has been pushing the boundaries of fairness in what it takes to win for years. Hostile comments before series begin, sledging the opposition during games, aggressive behaviour towards opponents – they have been ‘butting heads’ with opponents for years. Small decisions, pushing the boundaries over time probably made the option of using some sandpaper to rough up the ball to win a small advantage in a series that was going against them seem just one more thing. It was nothing special, something they could get away with like they had got away with so many other questionable practices for years.

The Labour party’s traditional sympathy for the Palestinian cause has allowed the cancer of anti-semitism to grow undetected, moving imperceptibly from a critique of Israeli government policies in particular to a hostility to Jews in general. Again, snide remarks, offensive tweets went unchallenged, all leading to a point where it became acceptable to habitually criticise Jews, defend anyone who did, or make whistle-blowers feel ostracised.

In the diocese of Chichester, the problem began with trusting clergy too much, assuming they could not be at fault, turning a blind eye to rumours of clerical misbehaviour. That then gradually turned into a whole culture of covering up abuse, siding with the perpetrators not the victims, doing anything to preserve the reputation of the church over against the needs of survivors. A culture of secrecy allowed the virus of exploitation to spread, and the victims were those who should have been protected all along.

In all three cases, I’m sure those who took those initial small, seemingly innocuous decisions never felt they were doing anything heinous. It’s only in retrospect that we can see the slow but sure slide to cheating, vilification and abuse.

Those of us who have the responsibility for overseeing organisations of any kind need to watch our organisational culture like a hawk. Taking moral shortcuts, the easy way out, allowing lies or even half-truths to spread – it all leads only in one direction. St Paul once called for “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God’ (2 Cor 6.6-7). All this points out the importance of keeping habitual standards high, holding to honesty, moral vision and courage at all times - before it’s too late.

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