Boris and the betrayal of trust: what can Christian leaders learn?

10 December 2021  |  News
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson (image: Shutterstock)

Trust. It’s what reputations are built on.

As Boris Johnson is discovering, when you are seen as untrustworthy, your credibility and authority melt away. How can you expect people to listen to you when they simply don’t believe you?

It’s a painful lesson, and one that many Christian leaders have also learned when they or their team have been caught in a scandal – and worse, when they’ve tried to cover it up.

When it comes to our reputation as people of God, the stakes are very high. Every time a news story comes out about a Christian who has betrayed the trust of their congregation or community, it doesn’t just risk people losing their faith in them, but also in the Gospel they preach.

That’s why how Christians communicate in a crisis is so vitally important, and there is much we can learn from the No 10 Christmas party debacle.

Check your culture

First of all, what culture are we building in our churches and organisations?

The damning leaked No 10 mock press conference video showed staff sniggering as they tried to figure out how they could spin the situation. This didn’t just strip all credibility from Boris’s public denials, but it also belied a nasty culture of dishonesty and arrogance among the people who are meant to put the public first.

If our organisational cultures are not built on the Biblical foundations of integrity and love for others, it will inevitably show in our actions. We can be sure our sin will find us out.

How we respond if a shameful secret is brought into the open can either damage our Christian witness further or turn the situation around. Denying it or trying to cover it up may seem like the right thing to do, to protect our team or even the reputation of the Gospel. But don’t be tempted.

Be honest

Stick to your Christian principles: tell the truth. Of course, it’s important to know what the truth is first – don’t immediately jump to conclusions. Investigate, find out the facts, and be honest about them.

Which brings us to another way Christian leaders should respond in a public crisis: act quickly and follow through.

If Boris had taken the Christmas party rumours more seriously when the story first broke in the media, ordered an independent investigation immediately and acted on the findings, the video might not have been leaked – or its sting would have been lessened. He’s ordered an investigation now, but the stable door of his reputation has already been smashed off its hinges and his credibility has well and truly bolted.

If, like Boris, we only seem to do the right thing when forced, our integrity will be found wanting. So we should apologise for any wrongdoing immediately, and continue to act when the heat dies down, sharing the findings of any investigation and showing what we are doing to put things right – whether that’s compensating those who have been hurt, or putting safeguards in place to make sure it never happens again.

Actions speak loudest

1 John 3:18 says, “Let’s not merely say that we love each other, let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God.”

That’s the nub of it all; as Christian leaders, we are called to act in love. So in the middle of a public crisis, when we feel under attack, we can ask God to give us the courage to prioritise love and compassion in our response.

This should all come naturally to us, because it just so happens that the core principles of good crisis PR are the same as some of the core principles of our faith: integrity, love, truth. By following those principles, we can both start to rebuild our reputations and be confident when we stand before God.

Jersey Road PR offers crisis communications support for Christian organisations and we are launching an e-learning course in crisis communications for churches in the new year.

Written by Charis Gibson, Director of Communications, Jersey Road PR.

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