A narrative, say in a novel, doesn’t have to be resigned to total factual evidence. It can be fictional.
This said, a narrative would always contain an element of truth to sustain its thrust and hook the reader, just as novels have enough truth in them to make them believable, yet the reader knows that much of it is imaginary and designed for stimulation of the mind rather than producing documented evidence, as in a biographical, scientific or historical account.
In the business world, firms are being encouraged to develop a strategic narrative, which entails the creation of a worldview, goals and modus operandi of the organisation.
The strategic narrative is designed to sustain the vision, mission and corporate drive of the organisation, ensuring that all participants are on the same page, and there is uniformity of purpose.
A strategic narrative will often be arranged by, first, asserting the ultimate aims of the organisation or group, building a framework which leads to the accomplishment of the goals, and defining a set of strategic values by which the goal is attained.
The Chookwatch narrative
An example of the use of a strategic narrative are the Chookwatch sites, which are dedicated to the negative critical analysis of two Pentecostal movements and their leaders.
How does it work in the case of the Chookwatch sites?
Chookwatch sites, in their strategic narrative, begin with a premise that their target group is inherently evil and to be shunned by adherents. There is no question that they see their targets as cults led by gnostic, fascist leaders who teach error to large crowds of unwittingly deceived followers, who are too spiritually dense to percieve the truth.
This, of course, goes against the grain of reality. Their actual target groups and leaders are internationally recognised as bona fide movements and ministries with long-term effective output and influence, making a genuine impact through and for Christ. They preach the gospel, win souls, and make disciples. Their popularity is emphasised by their approachability, relevance to current needs, and welcoming message of hope in Christ.
They are Christ-centred, God-worshipping and Spirit-led. They are recognised amongst their peers as some of the most influential movements on earth today. More importantly, the fruit of these movements and ministries is seen in those who are following Christ as a result of their obedience to the Great Commission.
However, you will never hear of any of these things from the Chookwatch sites. Why is this? Because it doesn’t fit with their strategic narrative. To give any form of recognition to the target group would derail the Chookwatch drive to demonise these groups and their leaders.
So how do they develop their narrative? First they need what they call scandal and doctrinal error. A scandal is normally defined as ‘an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage’. But, for Chookwatch sites, scandal is redefined to leave out the parts about causing general public outrage, and they also redefine morality to suit their narrative.
The good and the bad
In every movement, as it grows, there will be things which go wrong, or people who do the wrong thing. It is inevitable over time. Generally, these things are sorted out through the local body, or, if they are serious, through the courts, and there will be sanctions, apologies, dismissals, and, even, in some cases, charges.
But these are rare and certainly not the sum total of the whole. No doubt they are wrong. Obviously they are bad. People are hurt and disaffected. People are offended and require as much care and consideration as can be given. They need to recover trust if possible.
However, judging an entire body of people by the actions of a few is fraught with moral danger.
If we judged the Lord Jesus and the entire Body of Christ by the deeds of those who abuse others we deliberately create a narrative which lacks credibility, because most people know that the majority of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ consists of people who strive to do the right thing in their own lives and by their neighbours, who follow the commands of love, and who are genuinely well-behaved, godly, law-abiding citizens who show forth the goodness of God.
Sadly, many in the unsaved world do judge God and His people by the actions of those who do the wrong thing. Some use it as an excuse to reject Christ. The actions of the wrongdoers affect our witness, even though they are in the minority. So we are not saying that there are not those who have done the wrong thing, but that we should not reject the whole because of the few.
Those who judge in this way create a narrative which associates all Christians with a small group of people who claim to be Christians yet do not live as Christians and pervert the gospel by their actions. Creating this kind of narrative, though, is just as wrong as the actions of those who cause the problems for the virtuous Christians.
So making a claim that the actions of a discredited leader is reflective of the whole is, in itself, scandalous, if we are going to use the Chookwatch definition. Whilst one or two of the things which have taken place over time are clearly wrong, to be condemned, regrettable, and could have been handled better in retrospect, some of the Chookwatch sites’ purported scandals actually have no basis in truth, or date back so far they are no longer relevant as some of those churches involved no longer exist, and the person responsible is no longer associated with the movement.
But, for them, the strategic narrative must go on. So the Chookwatch sites, rather than seek the good, search out the bad. That is not to say that we should only ever look at the good when we know there is bad. We must not turn a blind eye to sin or wrongdoing. But there must be a congruity to our reporting. There may be some bad in any Christian organisation, but it is generally proportionately far less than the good.
Fair reporting would reflect this, but it would wreck the need for a strategic narrative which demonstrated their fabricated claims of evil intent, actions and motives of the target groups. Therefore, the huge amount of good is disregarded and the miniscule amount of bad emphasised.
How do you sustain a negative strategic narrative when there are many who would oppose that narrative and support the truth that these groups, in fact, are proportionally far more on the good side of the ledger than the bad?
Well, your core group has to be specifically controlled to only include those who are willing to hold to the strategic narrative.
Those who object, or counter, or compromise, the negative strategic narrative must, ultimately, be refused entry into the group. The narrative must be protected at all costs. Dissenters must be shown, by the group, to be wrong, even to the point of ridicule. If they persist in their opposition to the strategic narrative, they must be severely sanctioned, even if they make claims which are correct, or which refute certain aspects of the narrative. They must be separated from the core group and from the negative strategic narrative that is being formulated.
This is because, when a strategic narrative is successfully developed, defended and employed it will create its own worldview, which can then be added to and built upon. The membership which is then formed who are in total agreement with the narrative will begin the second stage of the strategic narrative, which is to rewrite history and form a parallel universe in which the target groups actually fulfil, in the minds of the group, the very things the group set out to prove.
In this parallel universe everything is reconstructed to form new imaginary versions of the target groups which the participants can continue to restate to their hearts’ content. At this point, the actual target groups can be totally ignored, because there is enough momentum to continue with the fiction fuelled by the contrived narrative.
After all, there is no opposition to refute the claims, and those who attempt this will be shut out of the group through intimidation, false claims, moderation and any means which discredit them as Christians and renders the truth mute.
In other words, this form of strategic narrative has the potential to create its own cult.