A second dynamic at work in various sorts of institutional cover-ups is that many of them count on co-opting or destroying those who can see or who have experienced what’s happening. Some people enjoy conflict and controversy—maybe especially so in an institution built around a founding story of a “great battle.” Such people, who long to find a grand purpose or meaning in their lives, can then reenact the battles of the past over and over, with an ever-narrowing and ever more ridiculous definition of who gets to be the “liberals” or “the Catholics” or whatever the enemy used to be.
What’s especially sad about this is that usually these people are conscripted to become the very thing they once fought against. If, for instance, an institution was once adrift, moving theologically leftward while those in charge used “double speak” (talking one way in the pulpit and another in the seminar room), we sometimes find that a generation later, the very people who objected to it are doing the same thing. Their about-face is not about whether the Virgin Birth happened or whether faith in Christ is necessary for salvation but about whether blatant racism demands repentance or whether rape and sexual assault—clearly condemned in the inspired and inerrant Word of God—are just part of a “liberal” #MeToo culture to which the church should not listen.
Just as some people in some traditions say, “Pay no attention to our theological heterodoxy, because if you do, the institution will be hurt,” in the fullness of time, people in other traditions can say, “Pay no attention to our set of theological heresies or our crimes or our cover-ups; otherwise, the institution will be hurt.” If we are in an institution where we have been taught literally since birth that our tradition is God’s best and only hope for reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ, that argument often works.