Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Today

Just over a year since I’ve felt the urge to write a post. And I believe this may be the last. Words feel so meaningless these days…as far as talking about or writing about the experiences of these last few years. Explaining the journey would be impossible unless you were part of it on a daily basis or had a few weeks and a huge desire to sit down and chat. Writing about the experience was therapeutic for a while. Now it feels rather pointless.

It’s been 4 long years. No feel-good happy ending. No mind-blowing examples of “Biblical reconciliation” to speak of. No apologies to the ministers or their families. No public acknowledgement of the deception that took place among the deacons, staff or members. It’s a new era at FBC with a new pastor and staff members. The depth of sickness that sent so many lives reeling off course slowly being buried “in the past”.

All that to say, things have changed for me. Life has changed. I walked through the depths of depression and disbelief and fought my way back to living…all the time holding on to a few words that brought me hope that someday things would make some sort of sense again.

And it’s happening day by day. A new life. New surroundings. New relationships. New ideas. All experienced through new eyes. The eyes of a broken, yet grateful me. I hope I never forget the depth of the pain or take for granted the ways it changed how I see people. We are all broken in some way. Whether we want to admit it or not. We need one another. And those who don’t try to hide their brokenness are often the best at nursing the wounds of others. At least, that’s been my experience.

Yesterday was a big leap toward feeling purpose and joy again. Three young people have awakened the part of myself I feared I’d lost. We’re an unlikely crew. But they have taught me to take chances with my heart again. To be brave. To laugh. To think deeply about life and consider the experiences of others. They didn’t know the burden I was carrying when they knocked on my door nearly a year ago. They rarely ask about my life before they were a part of it. They don’t focus on the past. They live for today and dream of the future. And I’m learning to do the same.



Lyrics by Josh Garrels

Monday, March 2, 2015

Church Abuse Tool: The Nondisclosure Agreement

I read an article on Huffington Post called “Silent Clergy Killers: 'Toxic' Congregations Lead to Widespread Job Loss’ and the following statement struck a chord with me:

“It is difficult to get specific denominational figures, Tanner said. Many churches do not keep records indicating when a pastor was forced out as opposed to leaving voluntarily. And not only is it difficult to get clergy to open up about such painful experiences, many ministers are forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement to receive their severance package.”

Even more unsettling than the blackmail used by church leadership when they offer a severance package in exchange for nondisclosure about their actions is their intentional deception of the church body as a whole about these actions. And equally unsettling to the deception is the refusal of church members to ask questions and hold the clergy killers responsible for their actions. The article also addressed this:

"Everybody knows this is happening, but nobody wants to talk about it," Tanner said in an interview. "The vast majority of denominations across the country are doing absolutely nothing."

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For the people who can’t believe this happens in church, I’d like to share one example (there are more) of how this scenario played out in our church. If we don’t talk about it, it will never change…

In mid-February 2012, the church bulletin and church newsletter included an announcement regarding the resignation of a minister to the church congregation saying that church leadership had received a letter from the minister. To make sure their story was convincing, they reported his comments from the letter in quotation marks. They did not print the letter in its entirety or allow him to read it to the congregation. Instead, they chose to publish only the quotes they wanted the congregation to hear. They quoted him as saying that he wanted to express his deepest appreciation for being allowed to serve at the church. He was also quoted as saying that he was pursuing a career on a different ministry path and was resigning in order to have time to get the necessary education, sell his house and tie up loose ends in preparation for this career path change. They reported that the minister’s resignation would be effective on July 31, 2012 and that he would continue working in the church office until March 4, 2012 to hand off his responsibilities. They mentioned that after March 4, 2012, “[the minister] will be granted sabbatical leave to prepare himself and his family” for his new job. It also asked for the church members to be in prayer for the minister and his wife and 4 children during the “time of transition”.

The congregation at large accepted the statement at face value and congratulated the family on their choice to pursue a new career path.

The statement left some big questions in my mind:

1. Our church bylaws described sabbatical leave this way:

Sabbatical Leave- Upon completion of each seven year period of service to the church, members of the Ministerial Staff are eligible, with full salary, a leave of thirteen (13) weeks.

Since this minister had just taken sabbatical leave during 2009, he was not eligible for the sabbatical leave the church was claiming they were extending to him. He would not be eligible for sabbatical leave again until 2016.

2. If church leadership was telling the truth about their offer of sabbatical pay, why would they offer to pay a minister while he made preparations to pursue another job? What would be their motivation for extending that kind of offer?

3. Why would the minister resign before he had another job when he was the sole source of income for his family which included his wife (who was finishing up her college degree) and 4 small children?

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In reality and unbeknownst to the congregation, the Pastor, the Chairman of the Personnel Committee and an attorney (who happened to be on the Personnel Committee) had called a private meeting with this minister on February 2, 2012 and asked him to sign the following document:

severence agreement 1page1e

severence agreement 2page2

severance agreement 3page3e

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Once I saw this document, several things became evident. Unfortunately, by the time I saw it, this minister and several others had been forced to resign or left the church under fear of their own families being treated in a similar fashion in the future. Regardless of their absence, this document helped clarify the answers to a few of the questions I’d had about the situation…

1. Church leadership was able to directly quote the minister as saying he was leaving to pursue another ministry path (instead of the truth about why he as resigning) as a result of the agreement they bribed him with in order for him to receive severance pay which was crucial to support his family since he didn’t have another job lined up. The agreement above states: “If asked about his departure, [the minister] may say only words to the effect of, “I resigned to pursue other opportunities.””

2. The Pastor and Minister of Education had been untruthful when they stated to me that they intended for the minister and his family to continue attending the church until they left town for their new ministry opportunity. The agreement above states: “[The minister] further agrees that he will never again access Church’s premises, computer systems, or other personal or real property unless he has the express written permission of a member of church management.”

Does that mean the minister was welcome to attend church with his family only after getting express written permission from church management each Sunday he planned to attend his own church until he left for his new career opportunity? After all, the sanctuary happens to be on the “church premises”.

3. Church leadership hoped to carry out their plan for a forced resignation without presenting the minister with a list of allegations against him or a chance for him to address the claims upon which they were basing the forced resignation. They also planned to keep said allegations secret from the congregation, but allow members to speculate on them publically which would further damage the minister’s reputation and divert suspicions about their own actions. They were successful on both accounts. No allegations were mentioned in this document or in the minister’s personnel file. The minister was not given a list of allegations against him. The minister was not given a chance to address the allegations against him. The church congregation was never told the truthful reason for the minister’s resignation. Church leadership never disclosed to the congregation their allegations against the minister. When church members began to speculate on the reasons for the minister’s departure, church leadership never intervened to dispel the rumors even though they knew many of them to be false and realized the irreparable damage being committed to the minister and his family.

I also found it suspicious that the minister was asking for the allegations against him to be made public, but church leadership refused to reveal the allegations to the congregation because they said they were “protecting” the minister and his family. If the minister had done something horrendous, wouldn’t he have wanted to quietly leave without it being made public? If, however, he knew the rumors swirling through the congregation (and consequently, through the community) of his misconduct were false or misleading, wouldn’t he want the allegations to be made public in order to set the record straight and save his reputation?

Church leadership refused to reveal their allegations even at the minister’s request. They remain mute on this point.

4. Church leadership planned to keep their actions secret from the congregation and community while purposefully deceiving them with an account of the situation that was riddled with half-truths and lies. The agreement above states:

“[The minister] agrees that he will not disclose, communicate, disseminate, or publicize or cause or encourage another to disclose, communicate, disseminate, or publicize the existence of this Agreement or any of the terms of this Agreement, directly or indirectly, specifically or generally, to any person, business organization, corporation, association, governmental agency…”

5. Church leadership threatened to stop the minister’s severance pay (falsely reported to the church as sabbatical leave) if he violated the terms of the agreement by telling anyone the TRUTH about was happening to him. The agreement above states: “In the event, [the minister] breaches this Agreement, including, but not limited to, the confidentiality provision of Paragraph 3 below, Church is relieved from making additional monthly payments; provided, however, [the minister] shall continue to be bound by the release and provisions hereof.”

6. The minister had no choice, but to comply with church leadership to keep his situation quiet because he needed the severance pay to provide for his wife and children until he could find another job. Church leadership made it clear that they had no problem with stripping him of his means of supporting his wife and children if he spoke to anyone about the truth of the situation. (see agreement quote in #5)

7. Church leadership lied to the congregation about giving the minister sabbatical pay. The agreement above is titled: “Severance and Release Agreement”. The words “sabbatical pay” do not appear even one time in the document.

8. Church leadership aimed to isolate the minister from communicating with those who would have been able to care for the emotional needs of his family during this time, speak up publically about his situation, ask questions about the Biblical validity of the actions by church leadership, or demand he be presented with a list of allegations worthy of termination. They succeeded in keeping him isolated long enough for the congregation to hear and accept rumors concerning the basis for his departure and then lose interest in the situation…and “move on”. They succeeded in keeping his wife and children isolated from those who could have provided support and comfort during the ordeal.

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Thank you, Huffington Post, for writing about the church culture we’ve witnessed first hand. We continue hoping for the truth about the treatment of several ministers and their families to be spoken and acknowledged by church leadership and congregants at this church. While the church as a whole has moved on and allowed time to dull the gravity of their actions on these families over the last 3 years, the ordeal left lasting effects on the psyche of these ministers, their wives and their children.

Note: The minister mentioned in this post refused to be bullied into signing the agreement (shown above) on February 2, 2012, but did finally sign a similar agreement days later in order to receive his severance pay. While the new agreement was slightly less severe, he was not allowed to discuss the truth of his situation according to the new agreement without risking the loss of his severance pay. Church leadership warned him that anytime he told someone the actual reasons for his resignation they would consider that to be “disparaging the church” which would be a breach of the agreement.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Overcoming Repulsion

It’s Sunday morning once again. And once again I feel a sense of relief when I open my eyes and realize I don’t have to go to church. And once again I feel a pang of guilt when I realize I won’t be going to church today by choice.

Many well meaning people give me advice each week… “You should come back and visit. We have a new preacher!” “Church members are just people and people make mistakes. You can’t let that hold you back.” “Come on back. Eventually the trouble makers will die off. They won’t be around forever.” “You need to get somewhere. Being unchurched isn’t good.” “Most of the people at church don’t even know what happened [making them innocent bystanders]. Come on back.” “You should watch our church on TV! We have a new young pastor. He’s really good.” “You should read [this or that] book.”

I have a hard time explaining to people where I am spiritually.

After my first two experiences with deception by church leadership, I knew what to expect. I knew that cynicism would be the toughest part of the fallout from this latest episode to overcome. At least that’s how it played out for me the last two times. But, I was wrong. This time I moved past cynicism into a place of repulsion. Repulsion at the sight of the church building, the sight of the sanctuary on the TV broadcast, the ‘church talk’ buzzwords, the committees, the prayer request-veiled gossip, the ‘deacon body’, the programs, the ‘stewardship’ of the offerings, the culture and those who buy into it and the hurtful deceptions hidden behind a fa├žade of unity and godliness.

I wish I could find a way to describe this repulsion to people. I’ve thought a lot about it and this is the best I can do for now:

Let’s say you go to your favorite restaurant on Friday and order your favorite salad topped with grilled salmon. Later you come down with a terrible case of food poisoning. You are ill for several days and it takes a trip to the ER for IV fluids to help you regain your strength. The doctor mentions that you probably got the food poisoning from the mishandling/prep of the fish by the restaurant food staff.

As soon as you are over the initial trauma of the food poisoning, do you want to go right back to that restaurant and eat the salmon salad again? Or do the memories of vomiting every hour override your desire to go back and eat the same meal again? Do you think, “Well, chefs are people and people make mistakes. I’m sure the chef usually washes his hands after using the restroom. I can’t let that one mistake keep me from eating there again this week.”? Do you realize logically that the possibility of it happening again is slim, but still can’t seem to overcome the feeling of nausea when thinking about eating the salad again? What if your friends suggest that you celebrate your birthday or anniversary at that restaurant…after all, they’ve never gotten sick after eating there. What if they suggest that you simply order the salmon salad as a take out meal if you’re having a hard time stomaching the thought of eating it inside the restaurant?

Now, think about what would happen if you had eaten the salmon salad 3 different times over the years and had gotten a case of food poisoning each time. How likely would you be to visit the restaurant again? Even if you realized the likelihood of getting sick again was slim. Even if you realized that chefs and food staff are just people who make mistakes occasionally. Even if you realized that the staff had changed since the last time you visited the restaurant. Even if all your friends thought it was ridiculous that you couldn’t get past the memories of being ill as a result of the food poisoning, and urged you just to go on back to the restaurant where everyone else still felt comfortable eating.


Repulsion. Not repulsion toward God. Repulsion toward all things ‘church’. That’s where I am. Repulsion manifested as physical symptoms that can creep up and hijack my body before I even realize what’s happening. Repulsion brought on by triggers that no one else even notices or thinks are relevant. The sight of the church building, the presence of certain people in a room, bits of conversations, photos, memories.  I hope not to stay here forever. But it’s where I am right now and I can’t deny the truth of my situation. I don’t want to go back and get sick again. I don’t want another helping of church for a while…neither dine-in nor carry out. It makes no difference who the chef/pastor or staff happens to be. It doesn’t make me feel any better to know that they make mistakes that make people sick and excuse it because they’re human without acknowledgement or apology.

I wish it were as simple as people make it sound to ‘come on back’. And I wish it were possible for those who desire that for me to understand the depth of the devastation ministers’ families must navigate long after everyone else has moved on and forgotten the parts of the story that were just too uncomfortable to hold on to. For ministers’ families, time inevitably moves on. You learn to function again, you learn a different way to exist and be happy…but, you never get to reclaim that part of your life that was violated and lost. And you must mourn that loss…which takes a while.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Doesn’t Anyone See The Irony?

From the FBC website
monkimage (1)
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See the man leading worship? Yes, that’s the music minister who was forced to resign 2 years ago under a cloud of secrecy and deception…and never presented with a list of allegations against him…and “encouraged” to keep quiet with the threat of losing his severance pay if he told the truth about what was happening to him…and denied the chances at reconciliation he requested…and forced to uproot his family and move to another town…and forced to endure public attacks on his character and that of his family as a result of the untruths and half-truths told to the congregation by deacons…

There he is…right there on the header for the “Our Beliefs” page…worshiping with the congregation he loved and served…completely unaware on that Sunday morning that this very church “family” would, in just a few short months, destroy the family and church life he knew.

Wonder if there is even one member in the 2000+ congregation who has thought about the fact that they have his picture on their website for the world to see…as if nothing happened. Wonder how that would make him feel. Hard to believe that they would want a picture on their website of someone they apparently detested enough to treat the way they treated his family. But, then, there have been a lot of things that were hard to believe over the last 2 years.
 
 


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Tunnel Of Chaos

For two and a half years I’ve been in turmoil. Struggling to understand the chaos around me. Trying to understand the reaction of church members to my requests for honesty and transparency. Trying to understand how I had so grossly misunderstood Scripture over so many years. Questioning myself, my motives, my character. Bashing myself for not being able to see our church situation as the church members I had always respected saw it: as unfortunate, but part of life that had to be accepted. At times I dealt with depression so dark and painful that I begged God for the desire to even live in the world that I no longer understood. A world so chaotic, I was unsure how to even exist in it.

And then a friend urged me to watch this video. She felt it might help me gain some perspective on the last 2 1/2 years. I’m so grateful.

http://www.clearcreekresources.org/video/20140810_Uncommon1.mp4

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Reunion…Of Sorts

I sat across the table from one of my favorite people at lunch today. I was a young youth minister’s wife when this young man was a sophomore in high school and in the youth group at the church where my husband was on staff.  We loved this kid deeply and have told our own sons stories about him over the years. He was in town on business this weekend and I hadn’t seen him in over 15 years. He’s a husband and father now. He’s every bit as wonderful as an adult as I imagined he would be back when he was 15. I was thrilled to take my own son, who happens to be a sophomore, along to meet him.

Sitting in a local restaurant on a Sunday at lunchtime, the joy slowly turned to weirdness for me. I realized that he probably still sees me as the young woman he once knew. He remembers me when I was on the front end of this journey…still hoping, still joyful, still dreaming, still trusting. We had already left this local church under devastating circumstances and gone to our second church (his church) in hopes that we would never experience such heartbreak in ministry again. Just as we formed strong bonds with his youth group, a small group of men secretly plotted to fire the pastor. After another horrendous experience watching a minister and his young family suffer a severe wounding at the hands of deacons and “church people”, we left ministry for good.

As I sat across from this young man at lunch, I struggled with my words when the conversation turned to church. Church has always been his frame of reference for us. I realized that, because he was just 16 when we left his church and because adults don’t talk about the circumstances of church politics with young people, he probably has only a vague understanding of why we left, if any at all. As he attempted to explain to me why he and his wife are not currently attending church, I eased him off the hook…grateful that he was unknowingly easing me off the hook, too.

How do you tell a guy who trusted you when you shared Jesus with him as a teenager that you are now “unchurched”…without it just being weird? How do you agree with him that you also no longer want to be a part of a Baptist church (even though you were in Baptist ministry)…without it being weird?

The sad realization set in. I’m not who I used to be when he knew me best. I wish I were for his sake. But, I’m not. I love him today as much as I loved him then. I hope he could tell.

As usual, the weirdness became palpable as we sat visiting and laughing (while secret thoughts of how disappointed in me he must be swirled through my head)…and then a member of FBC, eating lunch after church, stopped by our table…and I introduced my long ago church past to my recent church past.

Tonight I struggle with the question: “Who am I, really?” I am a believer in God in the deepest part of my soul. I know that. But I was also one of you, church people. I believed the things you said. I bought in to your culture. I spent 45 years serving and “fellowshipping” with you. I married a seminary student and we struggled to pay for a religious education in order to be “in the ministry” at your church. And, then,  I was burned over and over by your secrecy and deceit…and watched others experience the same. Now I feel guilty for leaving? I question who I am? How is any of this possible?

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Remembering

Most days I can stomach our new normal and believe that one day it might not even seem new anymore. But some days, I’m just not so sure. I hear a song that triggers the memories of days past. Days when I…

-trusted without thinking.

-laughed until my sides hurt with the youth group I spent so much time “working” with (although it was never work…just joy).

-lost myself in thoughts of the bright futures of the teenagers I was watching mature day by day.

-was unaware of the cruelty of some of the people around me.

-was comfortable with being comfortable.

-believed.

And I wonder where I’m headed. And how today will look to me a few years down the road.

Today the trigger sounded like this…