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…

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Subtle Church Abuse: The Sniper

Tactic #2 mentioned in a previous post called “What Does Subtle Church Abuse Look Like?”

The Sniper:

A church member acting alone and from a concealed location takes a “shot” at a minister in an attempt to scare or demoralize him. The minister never knows where the “shot” originated.


Sniper fire is actually considered a form of psychological warfare in the military arena.

“Due to the surprise nature of sniper fire, high lethality of aimed shots and frustration at the inability to locate and attack snipers, sniper tactics have a significant effect on morale. Extensive use of sniper tactics can be used as a psychological strategy in order to induce constant stress in opposing forces.” (source)

Wondering how a church member can take a “shot” at a minister without him knowing where the “shot” originated? Wondering how in the world there could be a parallel between a military sniper tactic and a church abuse tactic? Wondering how it’s possible for a church member to scare or demoralize a minister while concealing his or her identity?  Does the idea that your fellow church member could use a sniper tactic in church abuse seem ludicrous to you? The fact that most church members have never witnessed the use of this tactic is precisely the reason I consider it “subtle” church abuse.

A few examples I’ve witnessed personally over the years include:

    • A church member secretly wrote a letter to the International Mission Board to bring into question the character of a minister who was in the process of seeking an appointment with the organization. The IMB subsequently contacted the minister and launched an investigation, but would not reveal who had penned the letter outside of the fact that it was a member of FBC. The investigation turned up nothing and the minister was given an appointment to serve. However, during the process of the investigation, the minister and his family were shaken by the assault on his character by the unnamed source.The minister, to this day, has no idea who wrote the letter that resulted in the investigation.
    • A couple of different church members sent unsigned notes to ministers they were trying to force out. One of the notes was also sent to a church member who the writer perceived as a supporter of those ministers.

churc mail 1e

childrenofthedevilmaile

    • While we were members of a church in the Texas Hill Country early in our marriage, our church tried to force a minister out by having a deacon call the church into business meeting at the conclusion of a Sunday evening worship service. The deacons called for a vote hoping the congregation would vote to fire the minister. To their dismay, the minister won the vote. Later that week, the minister went outside to leave for work and discovered someone had demolished his brick mailbox during the night.


I wonder:

Why did the church members in each of these examples choose to attack anonymously? What biblical basis helped them justify their actions? What was the objective of the Sniper in each example? To help or to hurt? To reconcile or cast out? To undergird or undermine? To create peace or create frustration and stress? To affect the morale of the target in a positive or negative way?

Is the tactic somehow acceptable because we use mere words and actions to take a shot at one another in church rather than a gun?

Did they think about the ramifications of their actions on the children of these ministers? On the wives of the ministers? On the health of the ministers?

What if they had been successful in derailing the minister’s calling to the mission field? Would they have been proud of their actions? Would they have rejoiced that they were able to keep a man, who was willing to move his family across the world to a new culture and language just to share the love he and his family have for the Lord, from fulfilling that calling?

Did they know enough of the truth about what was happening in the church to justify saying “God forgive you for all the trouble you’ve caused”? Or were they basing their anger on the allegations they had heard repeated by church leadership…without bothering to go directly to the minister and find out the truth? Did they think that including the (Please) phrase somehow turned their anonymous bully note into an innocent gesture?

Were they really suggesting that the minister was not a child of God, but rather a child of the devil as mentioned in the verse they chose to mark for the minister and his family to read? Did they see the irony in the fact they were sending an anonymous note to a minister and highlighting “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God, nor is anyone who does not love his brother.”? Did they think this form of communicating with the minister was “doing what is right”? Did they think this was a way of “showing love to their brother”…therefore, validating their own status as a child of God while insinuating that he was a child of the devil?

Did they think about how the minister would explain to his children the destruction of their property at the hands of church members…Christians? Did they consider for a moment the disillusionment with “church people” they were perpetuating in the minds of those they were attacking from the shadows?


I can’t think of a more cowardly way to operate than assaulting another believer and his family from a place of anonymity. Where in the Bible are we called to live in the shadows? Shouldn’t we be confident enough in the truthfulness and legitimacy of what we say to proclaim it openly to another person? Should we question our motives when we feel we must operate in secrecy?     

For those who are on the receiving end of this tactic and for those who witness someone take a hit from the tactic, the resulting disillusionment with church is real. After all, who wrote the letters? Who went to the trouble to copy a page from the Bible, mark it up, find a stamp and envelope, track down the minister’s address and mail the note? Who made the conscious decision to grab a bat, drive to the minister’s house in the middle of the night and smash his mailbox? Who took the time to write a letter, find the mailing address for the IMB and mail the letter?

It certainly had to be someone who had at least some knowledge of the inner workings of church business. Sitting in the church worship service feeling particularly vulnerable after an attack of this nature, it’s nearly impossible not to look around the congregation and wonder if the sniper is sitting next to you. Could it be a deacon you’ve trusted? Could it be a Sunday School teacher you’ve respected? Could it be a friend you’ve loved? Anything is possible. Except knowing who to trust.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Subtle Church Abuse: The Ambush

 

The Ambush:

Church members who are unhappy with the performance, personality or mannerisms of a minister begin talking quietly among themselves and gaining supporters who are also unhappy. Rather than approaching the minister with the complaints (which eventually turn into allegations) as is advised in Matthew 18:15-17, the group lies in wait in a state of anonymity until they carry out a surprise attack.

…that’s how I described The Ambush in my last post. I also mentioned the events leading up to The Ambush in a previous post called People Are Concerned.


Here are the questions that plague me about The Ambush:

1. How do we reconcile the words of Matthew 18:15-17 with our actions when we neglect to go to another person, “just the two of you”, with our concerns/complaints? Does the Bible even give us a justification for taking our concerns/complaints to another person? Or are we only to concern ourselves with confronting a brother or sister about an actual sin as the verse references? What distinguishes a sin from an annoyance or difference of opinion? If we presented our concerns “just the two of us”, would the problem end there? Would we be able to reconcile with each other without further action?

What is the responsibility of those in leadership? If approached by a church member with a concern, should those in leadership hear the concern at once or ask the member if he has taken his concern to the person he has a complaint about? What if the member hasn’t spoken to the person he has a problem with? What if he refuses to go “just the two of us” to that person? What if the member with the complaint is a “significant giver” who threatens (either directly or by implication) to withhold his offering if leadership refuses to take action based on his concern?

“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.” Matthew 18:15-17 (MSG)


2. What if the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) at your church states (as mine did):

“Church members may present any grievance of a personnel nature in writing to the Pastor or to members of the Personnel Committee or they may personally present their grievance at a meeting of the committee.”

 

        griev·ance

: a feeling of having been treated unfairly

: a reason for complaining or being unhappy with a situation

: a statement in which you say you are unhappy or not satisfied with something

What happens when your SOP lacks a scriptural foundation and condones members simply presenting their grievances to a committee without first going to the person they have a grievance with? Is a grievance always a sin? Or is a grievance sometimes simply, as the definition states, something you are unhappy about or dissatisfied with? Does the SOP trump scripture? Do we have a responsibility to recognize inconsistencies between our church policies and Biblical principles? Are we somehow excused from the consequences of our actions if we can claim that we were following church policy (even though it violated scripture)?

Some of the grievances against the FBC ministers who were forced to resign that I’ve heard from members over the last 2 years appear to be nothing more than annoyances or differences of opinion:

“He didn’t shake [a deacon’s] hand and scowled at him in the hallway before worship service.”

“He is too happy when he leads music. It’s not believable.”

“He waves (flaps) his arms around too much when he leads music.”

“The college students are leaving because the college minister isn’t doing a good job.”

“A minister should look presentable when he’s on the stage. He needs to iron his pants.”

“He’s not friendly.”

“He’s too sarcastic.”

“He’s abrasive.”

“He’s so  unorganized. It drives me crazy.”

One legitimate-sounding accusation still circulating in town is that of insubordination. The congregation took pause when these accusations were read by a deacon in a business meeting (after 2 of the ministers had “resigned” under pressure). However, the ministers were not given a chance to confront the accusations and the accusations were not proven with evidence of wrongdoing. In fact, when the accused ministers or worried church members questioned the legitimacy of the accusations, those in leadership responded with silence and claims of being bound by their duty to keep facts confidential.

Many times over the last 2 years, I’ve allowed myself to imagine that the legitimate-sounding claims were true…those of insubordination (refusing to cooperate with the pastor’s leadership)…and that they could be proven without a doubt. Then what? Would the secret forced resignations be warranted? Would the church’s refusal to allow the ministers the chance to seek forgiveness and reconciliation be legitimate? Could the church’s treatment of the ministers’ families be considered Biblical? Could the actions by leadership be justified?  I don’t believe so.


In my experience, the ambush looked like this:

Certain members of church leadership and a few church members decided they wanted 3 ministers removed from the church.

The individuals never confronted the ministers with their “grievances”, but carefully crafted a case against them from the shadows using information gained from those who were unhappy.

The ministers were rendered defenseless by the secrecy used by those individuals as they planned and carried out their ambush. The ambush was orchestrated by a small group of influential members, but carried out by an official church committee.

The accusations remain secret or vague…and unchallengeable because of the extraordinary effort by those in leadership to remain silent and present a façade of unity to the community.

I’m left wondering where in the Bible we find Jesus suggesting that we, as Christians in our “churches”, operate secretly as we plan to ambush a fellow Christian?

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What Does Subtle Church Abuse Look Like?

sub·tle :hard to notice or see : not obvious: clever and indirect : not showing your real purpose


For some reason, we’ve fallen into thinking that church (spiritual) abuse is only “real” abuse if it’s life threatening, illegal or overtly immoral (which is different than covertly unbiblical). We sit in our conservative, highly-educated, straight-laced congregation and believe we are far from capable of committing spiritual abuse. We don’t make members sign agreements they are forbidden to break, go threatening members who try to leave, refuse to share the budget with membership, dictate what members wear, marry young girls off to older men or deliberately brainwash members into a position of mental vulnerability. In fact, we are disturbed by churches that do.

However, I believe we are capable and guilty of a church abuse so subtle that many members never even recognize it…leaving the abusers free to use the subtle tactics for years upon years on a stealth mission to wield control. Unfortunately, there are victims, but we either choose not to see them or convince ourselves they somehow deserved the treatment they received. After all, the abusers are often church leaders, respected by the masses. Church leaders as abusers? It’s unthinkable…so we won’t allow ourselves to consider the possibility even when our gut is telling us something is amiss.


Over the last 25 years, I’ve witnessed the subtle tactics of abuse by some in church leadership (against ministers and church members who ask too many questions) so many times that I’m starting to recognize some patterns and signs. In my experiences, they look like this:

1. The Ambush

Church members who are unhappy with the performance, personality or mannerisms of a minister begin talking quietly among themselves and gaining supporters who are also unhappy. Rather than approaching the minister with the complaints (which eventually turn into allegations) as is advised in Matthew 18:15-17, the group lies in wait in a state of anonymity until they carry out a surprise attack.

2. The Sniper

A church member acting alone and from a concealed location takes a “shot” at a minister in an attempt to scare or demoralize him. The minister never knows where the “shot” originated.

3. The Stonewall

Church leadership (and sometimes other members) refuse to discuss church business (especially questionable or hurtful actions they have taken) in order to delay or prevent something from happening while claiming it is their duty to practice confidentiality.

4. The Slow Unravel

After making allegations against a minister and/or members of his family and forcing his resignation, leadership refuses to allow the family a chance to address the allegations or reconcile with the church.  The family feels defenseless, alienated and discarded by the church. Meanwhile the congregation is allowed to form their own conclusions about why the minister left (while leadership is practicing The Stonewall). Rumors about the minister and his family run rampant. Leadership does nothing to stop the untruths which are allowed to damage the minister’s reputation beyond repair. The slow unravel begins and eventually when the pain becomes unbearable for the minister or members of his family, someone “cracks” (ex. an outburst of anger, a slow downward spiral into depression or addiction, a divorce). Then the church leadership and members point to the “unraveled” minister (or family member) and imply that his current state is the reason they had to take action against him in the first place.

5. The Word Craft

Church leadership skillfully crafts the wording of newsletters, business meeting agendas, letters to membership and announcements to knowingly misguide or deceive the congregation.

6. The Elusive Smoking Gun

Church leadership forces a minister to resign in secrecy and threatens to revoke his severance pay or hurt his chances of finding another job if he tells the truth about what is happening to him. When church members start asking questions about the minister’s departure, leadership covers their tracks by insinuating that, while they are sworn to confidentiality and cannot share any information, they take their job seriously and would not have made the decisions they made without the knowledge they have, but can’t share. The membership then settles into the “they must know something we don’t know…and it must be something big (bad) if they made such harsh decisions” stance. The minister must have had an affair…must have molested a child…must have embezzled money…

Interestingly, many times the “smoking gun” doesn’t even exist, but serves leadership well by diverting attention from their own wrongdoing to blaming the victims. And church members are all too willing to believe there is a serious (but confidential) offense, repeat the theory around town and refuse to ask questions to find out the truth.

7. The Guilt Trip

Church leadership plays on the spiritual sensitivities of members who ask questions or voice doubts, accusing them of being divisive, urging them to put aside “things that don’t matter” and “walk in grace alone”…and reminding them that, as sinners,  it is wrong for them to judge others (including their abusers).

8. The Blacklist

Church members who ask questions, raise doubts or threaten to expose deception perpetuated by leadership are gradually excluded from opportunities for their voices to be heard.

9. The No-No

Church leaders shame or coerce members into changing behaviors considered “no-no’s” by leadership. (A no-no is usually an action that dances dangerously close to the line of exposing ongoing deception by leadership).


Any of these subtle tactics ring a bell for you? Have you experienced one that I didn’t mention? I plan to expound on the nine I mentioned in more detail over the coming weeks.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

I Went…again.

Remember this post?

My son and the son of the Music Minister that I mentioned here casually told us last week that they were planning to sing in the church where the Music Minister is now serving…on Father’s Day.

Of course, I went. And I had a different experience than the last time.

I’d never heard the song…

Song For My Family
Words and music by Michael Gungor

This is a song for my family
Outside the walls of Sunday
Morning from some within.
This is a song to confess our sins,
Lay it all out, and try to begin again.
To hope again.
Please forgive our ignorance
In looking down on you
Please forgive our selfishness
For hiding in our pews while the world bleeds
While the world needs us to be what we should be
This is a song for my family who
Just can’t believe in the Jesus that you’ve seen on Sunday morning.
This is a song for the cynical saints.
The burned out and hopeless.
The ones that we’ve cast away.
I feel your pain.
Please forgive the wastefulness of all that we could be
But don’t forget, there’s more than this
Her beauty still exists
His bride is still alive

This is a song for my family inside
The walls of Sunday morning.
Be what you should be.

gc 

I swear we underestimate the wisdom of young people. Who else could God use to pierce this cynical heart of mine?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Why I’m Walking Away

My intention was to simply point out the inconsistencies in the “story” emerging from FBC by chronicling my own experience over the last 2 years. I can’t. Here’s why:

1. Collateral Damage

As I began writing the details of my journey, every time I mentioned a conversation or included a document that pointed out an inconsistency, the faces of the children and spouse of the person involved came to mind.  I can’t bring myself to publish the information on the web because I understand the gravity of collateral damage to families. Through conversations with the wives of several of the men involved, it’s become apparent to me that they know only the version of the last 2 years that their husbands have told them. And some parts are in direct conflict with the conversations I’ve had with these men and the documents that were never released to the congregation.  But, the biggest roadblock for me are the children of some of the people I’d have to mention in my experience. I can’t get past the effect it would have on them if I published my experience. It’s unfortunate that I have to choose between telling the truth of my experience (for the sake of the wounded ministers’ families) and staying silent about important parts of my experience (for the sake of the wounders’ families).

2. Fear of Retribution

During the last 2 years, I’ve spoken personally with several individuals who recounted their own experiences in years past with FBC and the resulting fallout in the life of their families. These accounts are in addition to my own and those of the ministers in the most recent chain of events. They are stories from the early 1980’s, the late 1980’s, the early 2000’s and 2012-present. The  common thread in every one of the accounts: When pressed, some members of FBC leadership (both paid staff and lay positions) will do whatever it takes to save face in the community with little regard for families, Biblical conflict resolution or absolute unaltered truth. (note: Some of the current leadership have been in leadership positions during every instance brought to my attention by the wounded I mentioned above…since the 1980’s. And yet members of FBC will tell you today that “this will never happen again” while leaving these individuals in places of authority.) 

After watching those in leadership over the last 2 years, I fear the result of publishing my experience. Not so much for myself, but for the families of the ministers who have already sustained a damaging blow. I’ve witnessed the willingness of leadership and church members to change the story, embellish the story, slightly alter the story in order to retain a grain of truth to claim, create a story, refuse to hear another side of the story, pretend there is no story. Nothing would surprise me. And I can’t risk further injury to families who are already nursing wounds.

3. And This…

ostriches-head-in-sand

Unfortunately, many in the congregation choose to keep their heads in the sand and claim they can’t do anything about the injustices taking place in their midst because they “still don’t know what happened”. If you are a church member who still doesn’t know what happened, did you ask questions? Or did you choose to remain ignorant to the facts, claiming it wasn’t any of your business?  Did you verify the accounts you heard with both parties…the accused as well as the accusers? Did you accept what you heard as fact because it was spoken from the mouth of a leader you respected? Are you comfortable with the damage to real people caused by the actions of some in your church body? Are you comfortable with the damage to families that was allowed to take place while the majority of your church body sat by and refused to get involved?

I’m walking away from publishing my experience, but I will continue to be transparent in sharing it when asked.


Where do I go from here?

I will focus on the healing of myself and my family. I will try to buck the cynicism in hopes that I can one day shake it loose and step back into a church without it being a traumatic experience.

I will continue to journey alongside the wounded families as they learn to cope with the lack of closure, disinterest by the church in reconciliation and the damaged reputations that were the beautiful gifts presented to them by FBC. (I said I’ll be working on the cynicism thing.)

I will continue to document my journey and the journey of others who are dealing with the aftermath of what I consider spiritual abuse.


Spiritual Abuse:

“Spiritual abuse takes place when leaders to whom people look for guidance and spiritual nurture use their positions of authority to manipulate, control, and dominate.” - Ronald Enroth

“Spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds.” - Ken Blue (Healing Spiritual Abuse)

“Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people more free, misuses that authority, placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly godly purposes which are really their own.” - Jeff VanVonderen (Spiritual Abuse Recovery Resources)


“Ask yourself if you are in a place of worship where there is always a fresh, radical presentation of the freedom and equality of individual followers of Christ. If not, consider leaving, because in the end you will find your Christian community was never really about Christ or His people at all.”

~ Wade Burleson

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tipping Point

Several recent conversations have finally tipped the scale for me. For two years I’ve tiptoed carefully through a mine field of what-ifs. What will happen if I say ______? What will happen if I reveal _____? What will happen if I don’t say _____?

It is slowly killing my spirit. If I had to describe the state of my soul in one word, it would certainly be tortured. I’m not a mean-spirited person. I don’t like disappointing people or making them unhappy. I don’t like for people to be mad at me. I don’t care for conflict, but I’m not afraid of it. I don’t like seeing others hurt.

On the other hand, I’ve heard many inconsistencies in the information being spoken among the congregation and community in regards to the events that have transpired at FBC Bryan over the last 2 years. I have waited, prayed, met with leadership and waited some more…for 2 years. I waited for the church to go through the Intentional Interim Process hoping for the rumors to be addressed with the congregation...separating the facts from the fiction. The process is now complete. And still, I hear rumors coming out of the congregation that I know to be inconsistent with my experience talking with leadership over the course of the 2 years.

I’m afraid I can no longer continue walking the mine field while hoping for the church members/leaders to join the dialogue. They have remained mostly silent and allowed the ongoing suffering of several families for nearly 24 long months. And now they are moving on.

From the very first time I met with members of leadership just days after the first minister (the Minister of Missions & Assimilation) was forced to resign in secrecy in February 2012 until today, I’ve maintained this stance:

I am not here to defend these ministers, but to question the process by which they were accused and forced to resign.

You see, I never felt I had to defend the ministers. I believed that if the church followed Biblical examples of dealing with conflict, the ministers and the church members would have been able to resolve the conflict on their own.

And, so, as you read the posts that will follow in the coming weeks, please know that I’m not claiming, nor have I ever claimed, that the ministers are completely without fault. THEY have never claimed to be without fault. In fact, they have asked repeatedly for the accusations against them to be revealed so they could deal with them openly and honestly with their accusers. They’ve still never, to my knowledge, received a list of the accusations against them or been told who made the accusations that led to their forced resignations.

I was saddened recently when someone said to me:

“You have your story that you believe and I have mine.”

I never wanted to have a “story” that I believed and a “story” that others believed. All I ever wanted was the truth. I wanted the accusers to sit face-to-face with the ministers they were accusing, share the accusations, give the ministers a chance to address the accusations…and eventually for the two parties to reach a resolution.

I wanted church members to hear the inconsistencies in the stories being told and have the courage to ask questions.

However, when the accusers would not reveal their identities…and, instead took their accusations directly to a committee who forced the resignation of the ministers without giving the ministers the chance to address the specific accusations or accusers…and when church leadership knowingly misled the congregation to believe that at least one of the ministers resigned by choice…and when church leadership admitted to me in private that certain rumors circulating through the congregation were false, but did nothing to address them and allowed them to be perpetuated day after day like a slow bleed on the reputations of the ministers…and when church leadership suggested to me that if I, as a church member, told the truth to others about what was actually happening behind the scenes, I would divide the church…

I knew I had to speak up. Even if I wasn’t on a committee. Even if some church members thought the situation was “above my pay grade”. Even if I would be accused of being divisive. Even if it put my reputation at risk in the community. Even if it was uncomfortable. Even if I simply didn’t want to do it.

I will begin documenting my experience in the coming days. It is simply my experience. I couldn’t possibly claim to know the whole truth about what happened at FBC because so much was hidden and kept “confidential”.  But I can’t, in good conscience, move forward while keeping the inconsistencies in “the story” I’m hearing to myself.  Our actions as a church body can cause real, serious, long-lasting damage to whole families…children and youth included. And when we refuse to be completely honest about our situation or deny an opportunity for reconciliation, we prevent healing for the wounded families.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Another Wave

There are days of clarity and hope and there are days like today. Today brought another wave of profound sadness. I think I know the culprit.

It’s graduation time. Two years ago at this time, our first child was graduating from high school and the occasion should have been much more joyful than it turned out to be. We did enjoy the day, but there was a cloud of sorrow and imminent danger that hung low and threatened to steal what joy we were finding in the day. Just a few months earlier our church leadership had forced one of our ministers to resign in a cloud of manipulation and secrecy. And now they had turned their sights on two more ministers. One of them was the Music Minister.The same day our son was graduating, the first child of the Music Minister was graduating from the same high school and his family was in turmoil because they knew their ministry and his job were in jeopardy. Our family was heartbroken as we watched their family try to celebrate the milestone in a way all parents dream of while trying not to allow the swirling rumors and uncertainty of their future steal the happiness of seeing their daughter graduate and begin her life as an adult.

The timing of the actions of church leadership and some members was insensitive at best, but I’d call it more along the lines of cruel. A few days prior to graduation, the minister received a couple of anonymous letters…one suggesting he leave town and another being a Xerox copy of a Bible page with the verse marked that read: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are…”. Just over a week after graduation, their fears became realities as the Music Minister was forced to resign. Their recently graduated daughter was on a church mission trip in Romania. Her parents had to relay the message to her while separated by thousands of miles. The trip was to be a special trip with the Music Minister’s wife going with their daughter, but his wife made the difficult decision to  pull out of the trip at the last minute, fearing her husband might be fired while she was out of the country. The decision to send their daughter on the trip alone during such a turbulent time was a painful one, but their intuition was right. And, as it turned out, they had to deal with the horrific chain of events while their family was separated. My husband was on that trip to Romania with our recently graduated son and witnessed the heartbreak as the teenagers on that trip had to try and make sense of what was happening back home amongst the adults at the church who had sent them on the mission trip.

Now, two years later, that same family has another child graduating…this time from a school that was never really his as he was forced by our actions to move during his senior year. They live in a different town. They are in a new church. They have unhealed wounds. The rumors that were started, perpetuated, and allowed to stand are still circulating in this community without anyone in leadership at the church addressing them publically. The church leadership, according to the interim pastor, has no desire to reconcile with the family. The family has been discarded by this church. So, they will celebrate the graduation of another child this week. If I’m feeling the weight of the memories and sorrow, I wonder how they are feeling.

I’m ashamed again. That I wasn’t more honest with myself about the church I called family for so many years. That I knew the capabilities of those in leadership for many years and sat idle. That I wasn’t able to get anyone to recognize the warning signs that were so obvious as the destruction was slowly unfolding. That I was part of a church that condones a culture of deception and refuses to open their eyes to the proof that the deception even exists.

Happy Graduation.

Note: I’ve never addressed this before, but I want to clarify a couple of things in regards to this blog. 1.) I write these posts as I feel personally moved to write them. 2.) The families of the ministers I mention are not aware of my intent to write a post or the content it contains prior to it being published. Contrary to what some church members might think or say, the ministers and their families do not influence my blog content. Personally witnessing their ongoing struggles is what moves me to write.  3.) If a minister or one of his family members comments on a post, it is unsolicited and can go a long way toward answering the question: “How are they doing?”

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Bad?

If I hear this one more time I think I’ll barf:

“Church is made up of people. People are sinners. You can’t put your trust in people. They will always let you down. It happens in every church. That’s why you should only trust God. He won’t let you down.”

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Do you think you’re telling me something I’ve never thought about? I’m 46 years old. Do you think I’m suddenly going to hear you say those words and say, “OH! You’re right! My bad. I’ve never thought of that before. I feel so much better now that I realize it was MY fault that I was hurt by the corruption and deception in church. I should have never trusted anyone there. If I had only trusted God and no one else, I could have prevented myself this pain. Wow. I’m sorry for trusting people. Please forgive me. Let me jump right back in and give it another go!”

How did we become so comfortable using this rationale as an excuse for our hurtful actions in church? And how did we come to so easily accept it as a way to excuse the blatant wrongs we witness? I can’t even count the number of times over the last 2 years that church members have acknowledged to me the wrongdoings of men in leadership at this church and then followed the acknowledgement with “Well, you know that’s just how he is. He’s never going to change, but how can I judge him when I’m also a sinner?” Hmm. You obviously draw the line somewhere. Where do you draw it and how do you decide? Do you believe in jail for criminals…or do you excuse their behavior because you’re also a sinner? Do you draw the line when YOUR family’s comfort or safety is on the line? Do you suddenly feel it’s your right, or even responsibility, to judge when it becomes personal?

And I wonder…how is the “you shouldn’t put your trust in people” explanation much different than blaming the victim of a sexual assault for bringing the attack on herself by dressing provocatively? We blame the victims of spiritual (or religious) abuse for trusting people when they should know better than to trust people because they are sinners? So what are we saying to young people? To “unchurched” people? To “non-believers”? Are we saying, “You should come be a part of our church, but don’t trust any of us because we will let you down by spreading gossip about you, making accusations about people and perpetuating a culture of deception.” and “If our actions hurt you, we will blame YOU for trusting us in the first place.”?

Why would anyone ever find that appealing? The “world” looks more promising than that nearly every day of the week.

Maybe we should rethink ridiculous explanations for our unGodly behavior.

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Friday, May 9, 2014

I Don’t Know What You Mean

Church people are mostly silent about what has happened in the church over the last two years. But, occasionally a church member will ask me about the ministers who left. They don’t mention that the ministers were fired or forced to resign or pressured to keep quiet. It’s easier on the conscience to simply say they left and then ask one (of the many) questions that ties my stomach in knots.

“How is he doing in his new church? Is his ministry effective?”

What does that mean? What are you asking? Is he standing up each week and leading the music? Yes he is. Does that make him ok and effective? I don’t know. Is he living in another country far from family and surviving? Yes he is. Is he living out his faith day by day as he deals with the struggles? Yes he is. Does that make his ministry effective? I don’t know what you’re asking.

Is he dealing with the fallout from the actions we, as a church, allowed to severely wound his family? Yes he is. Is he trying to pick up the pieces of the mess we made and figure out how to move on without any chance at reconciliation? Yes he is. Is he searching for ways to comfort his family on the roller coaster of emotions that follows a traumatic event long after the ones who inflicted the wounds have moved on with their lives? Yes he is.

Is he smiling in family photos that you see on Facebook? Yes he is. Is he polite when he runs into church people? Yes he is. Does that mean that he’s over it? He’s doing fine? He’s happy? I doubt it.

What are you really asking? And do you want a real answer or the benign one you’re hoping for? If I tell you he’s not ok, will it make one bit of difference to you? Will you call him? Will you check on him?

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

There Are Others

Over the years I’ve heard certain phrases used over and over to cover the actions of people in church leadership in God’s name. Actions that seemed shady at best. Actions that were based loosely on truth and explained in a carefully crafted use of words that made it difficult to discern the whole truth. A partial telling of events. A rewriting of parts of a story to sway the congregation one way or another. And now, I find myself stopping abruptly when these phrases threaten to spill from my own mouth. They are the churchy phrases I was raised on. They are the natural default in my description of what I’m experiencing. But they have been perverted by their misuse to a point that I can’t bring myself to say them. And, when one slips out, I find myself apologizing.

I won’t say that what happened last weekend was “God’s will” or that it was “a God thing” or that “He led me” or that “I sensed His presence” or any other phrase that would imply that I know for sure that God had any part in it…so I’ll just say it happened and you can call it whatever you want.

A blog post came across my RSS feed last weekend. I clicked on it, read the post, clicked on a link in the post that led to another blog which led to another blog which led to another blog…it went on and on for two days. A trove of writers with whole blogs describing their similar experiences in different Baptist churches! I couldn’t believe it. Not that similar situations existed, but that there were people like me that wrestled with it and wrote about it.

And every fear I’ve had concerning writing about the situation in my own town has proven true for those bloggers. They’ve been accused of being divisive. They’ve been shunned in their communities. They’ve been slapped with law suits, questioned by law enforcement and torn apart by church leadership and remaining members. They’ve been accused of being unbiblical for their choice to write about the experiences in a blog.

They’ve written pages on their blogs titled “Why I Write” and “Why I Continue to Write” and “Answers to Frequent Accusations”… all in an attempt to explain their motives behind writing and answer accusations they were never given the chance to answer before their congregations.

I’ve lived in a near constant state of turmoil over the last 2 years because of what I’ve witnessed at the church I’ve been a member of for over 20 years. In the beginning, I followed what I believed to be a Biblical way of approaching the situation. I went to people in leadership who were involved in the decision making process one at a time. I shared with each of them my questions about the process they were using and asked them to help me understand the Biblical basis for the decisions they were making regarding the firing of one of the ministers and the subsequent cover-up . As time went on and other ministers were forced to resign or left on their own because they feared they were next, I continued to talk with those in leadership one on one about the deception taking place and my belief that the congregation needed to know the truth about what was actually happening…instead of the half-truths, concocted stories and misleading information being fed to them week after week. When I mentioned to those in leadership that I was feeling the need to tell people the truth about what was happening myself if they were choosing not to, they asked me how many people I planned to tell and told me I would be divisive to the church if I spoke out. I carried the weight of those words for the next two years fearing I would be the one accused of dividing the church. Fearing I was over reacting. Fearing I would bring harm to my own family or to the families of the ministers who were already in agony. Fearing I would lose relationships with those that I had taught in Sunday School, known as peers, respected as leaders. But, somehow the fear of those things couldn’t compare to the fear that someday, someone would say to me, “You knew the truth and did nothing.” So I prayed constantly, begging God to direct my steps. And I sought His forgiveness and the forgiveness of my family over and over as I made mistakes and allowed my anger over the injustice of what was happening to boil over and contaminate our home life. But, I kept speaking about the need for the truth to be told as the opportunity presented itself and I kept praying for God to release me from the whole nasty mess so I could get on with my life. I never felt the release.

In the end, the people in leadership decided to stay the course and refused to release the whole story to the congregation. Many of the members who knew of the deception and questionable politics used to force out these ministers, left the congregation. The ministers and their families were left to deal with their devastation on their own in new places far from family and friends. They were never given a list of allegations against them. Never given an opportunity to face their accusers. The congregation never had the opportunity to hear from the ministers regarding the chain of events that transpired. Fact was never separated from fiction. The leadership allowed the congregation to reach their own conclusions based on partial, incorrect, even fabricated information. As the months went on, people stopped talking. Slowly the doors of communication closed. We began to hear, “It’s in the past. We need to move on.” or “We can’t change the past.” or “This has taken a toll on all of us, but we need to move forward.” So, when the communication began to break down, I began to write…mostly to survive the depression that was setting in with every passing day while I witnessed many of those I had once respected continue to do nothing to stop the destruction, or worse yet, participate in it.

The last few months, I’ve wrestled with what to do with all of this. Put it in the closet and move on? There’s nothing I can do to change it at this point, I know that. What about the ministers that the church will call to serve there in the future? Are their families at risk of being forced to resign in secrecy? Based on history, I’d say absolutely they are. The events of the last 2 years are only a portion of the questionable practices carried out at this church over the last 25+ years. This wasn’t their first rodeo, as the saying goes. Do the incoming ministers have a right to know the potential this church has for hurting their families and careers? If I take what I know and bury it, how will that affect the future? And if I continue to write about what I know, how will that affect the future? Because I haven’t had a clear answer to these questions, I’ve been hesitant to write about too many details in blog posts. 

Here’s what I took away from the other blogs I stumbled across last weekend:

I’m grateful to know that I’m not alone. That others have witnessed similar faith traumatizing events at the hands of those they trusted and respected. That others have witnessed the same deception in the Baptist denomination and didn’t see it as acceptable. That others have felt the same urge to tell the story despite the great loss that comes with that decision. If they had not risked so much to tell the story, I would not have found a bit more healing by reading their words.

And, so, I must continue to tell the story. And pray that it brings a piece of healing to the families that were hurt and discarded by this church…not just the ministers’ families, either. There was plenty of collateral damage. 

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Monday, April 28, 2014

I Went

I went to a church yesterday. First time in over a year. The pastor said all the right things. The music was good. The people were nice. And I just wanted out of there. I’m broken. I can’t unsee or unhear the things I’ve witnessed.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Seems Absurd

This week I hit another snag. It snuck up on me and I didn’t see it coming. So many steps toward healing lately and so many moments of clarity. And then the smackdown. 

Over the last year the topic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) came up in a couple of my conversations. The conversations were at different times and with different people. The mentions were brief and happened in passing among friends, but both conversations were with professional counselors who suggested to me that some of what I was experiencing might be linked to PTSD. I thought it sounded absurd. In my mind, PTSD affects those who survive natural disasters, traumatic events or abuse. It certainly doesn’t pertain to someone who had a bad experience at church. That sounded laughable to me in comparison to the stories I’ve heard of those who suffer from PTSD.

One day this week, I awoke abruptly from sleep in the very early hours of the morning with the words of an email I had received the day before replaying in my mind. Then the pain in the pit of my stomach began. As I got ready for work, I felt unsettled and nauseous. As the morning progressed, the physical pain intensified and I ended up leaving work early. As the day wore on some of the emotions that I had felt without relief over the last 2 years began creeping into my head. By evening, I left my family and went for a drive alone so I could let the tears flow. I wanted to keep driving forever. To escape. To get away from this place. And I felt the extreme nausea that I’ve come to recognize as a need to purge the ugliness, hurt, deception.

For the first time, I went home, sat down and answered the questions on the checklist for recognizing PTSD. I so desperately want to get away from this pain. I’ve had a taste of healing and I want to continue moving forward. To my surprise, I scored in the “moderate symptoms of PTSD” category. The checklist is based on your feelings during the last month. I realized while answering the questions, that if I had answered the same questions 6 or 8 months ago, I would have landed in the “severe” category.

I can just hear the church members laughing at the absurdity of that last paragraph. And I can hear ministers’ families and other people who have experienced similar circumstances breathing a sigh of relief that they aren’t alone in the devastation they’ve felt and the evasive nature of healing. Healing is hard and slow to come even when you are working on it with every ounce of emotional energy you have.

Most of the symptoms that apply to me fall in the categories of “Re-experiencing Symptoms”:

  • Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
  • Bad dreams

    and “Avoidance Symptoms”:

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past

    If you read back through the posts in this blog over the last year, you’ll see that I’ve mentioned many of these symptoms over time…physical symptoms, bad dreams, depression, avoiding the church building, avoiding going to a new church, worry for the families of the ministers who were fired, worry and guilt over how my reaction was affecting my own family, avoiding social gatherings with friends, numbness to life in general. And you’ll also see that the ‘forced resignation and following cover-up by church leadership’ scenario has happened 3 separate times in the last 25 years in my church experience. I’ve witnessed a lot of families devastated and discarded by those who are revered by the church membership as being the most spiritually sound and mature among us.

    So, this week the trigger came in the form of an email sent to me by a church member stating his commitment to pray for the missionaries in a certain country. The country he mentioned happens to be the same country where one of the ministers this very church fired is now serving. In addition to firing the minister, the church also lied about it to the congregation, threatened to revoke his severance pay if he told the truth about what was happening to him, wrote a secret letter to the International Mission Board to try and sabotage his appointment to serve and then threatened his employment again once he had moved his family to that country to serve.

    Glad you’re committed to praying for him.

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    Sunday, March 30, 2014

    Thanks for the Pain

    Today’s the day. I’ve been waiting and wondering if it would come.

    I can finally say to the local church that introduced me to the pain that threatened to destroy my faith and sent me on a journey through depression and disillusionment…thank you.

    I could have lived the rest of my life lulled into the comfort of complacency. Putting on the happy face, avoiding any conflict, trying to please everyone with my attendance and compliance. Lord knows it was easier in some ways. But I knew I could never find long term peace with what I was witnessing if I remained silent. When the time came to take a stand, there was hell to pay for bucking the system and speaking out about the deception being perpetuated by those in leadership. I wondered at times if it was worth it…especially when it changed nothing.

    Now I know I would do it all again for the lessons I’ve learned and those moments of complete desperation when God somehow made me sure of his presence in my life.

    Ironically, life seems more livable in my new place of existence. I’ve been “unchurched” for one year and I’ve come to appreciate some things that “the world” does better than we did in the church I attended. Mainly, they admit their brokenness. It’s not uncommon for my friends these days to share struggles with addiction, parenting, marriage, pride, greed, hatred, sexuality. It’s not uncommon for them to be blatant in their honesty and admit openly “I’m fucked up”. A few years ago I would have taken pause at the “strong” language. Now I just respect the transparency. And it’s refreshing. It’s what got me through the darkness. Because the truth is that we as church members are in the same condition, but we don’t recognize it or won’t admit it. We somehow think we’re better than the worldliness of those outside the physical church walls. So we congregate behind the walls of our building and plan strategies for “reaching the lost world”. We hold monthly business meetings, plan how we’ll spend our money and create committees to meet and discuss everything from the validity of spending budget money on donuts to the revision of the Standard Operating Procedures to the need for more parking spaces. But we never seem to get around to talking openly about our own struggles. You probably won’t hear anyone admit a struggle with homosexuality or hear a sermon acknowledging those struggles even exist in the church. You won’t be able to tell that there are a dozen other people sitting in the congregation that are struggling with an addiction to alcohol just like you. You won’t ever know that your Sunday School teacher has been unfaithful to his wife. You won’t know that you could find support from a woman in the church that deals with anorexia just like you do. We appear on the whole to be happy and put together. We keep the struggles private and the mistakes quiet. But the façade is a lie. We’ve missed the greatest strategy for “reaching the lost”…which is admitting that we have the same struggles. Sadly, over the last year I’ve found the real world to be more inclusive than the church I knew. Out here it’s not quite as daunting to admit imperfections and struggles. It’s freeing. I can breathe in the real world.

    I’m not sure what the future holds. I know all churches are not the same. I don’t know when or if I’ll ever return to a brick and mortar church. For now, I’ve learned to live in the moment and pray simply for God to keep me honest about who I am. No more pretending. And I ask Him to help me stay open-minded about my future even if the possibilities scare me.  What do I have to lose really? I’m already broken. The most amazing spiritual experiences of my life have happened to me in this messed up state over the last 2 years.

    So, to the church that blessed me with the pain that changed my life, my hope for you is that you someday experience a similar struggle and painful deliverance. Not out of revenge, but out of love. We are still connected as believers. I wish you could see the world from this perspective. Contrary to what I’ve been led to believe over the years, I’m finding that God is alive out here. He has proven his presence to me in my doubting. And I feel stronger, more at peace, more alive than I ever have before. And guess what? I realize now that we don’t have to plan and strategize and execute and vote and report in order to be used by God. It’s liberating. There’s a big world out here full of amazing, passionate and broken people…and we are meant to live in it. God can use us while we are living day by day…doing what we are gifted and passionate about. Just living and being available for the unexpected unplanned moments with no expectations. If we really believe He is in control, why do we work feverishly to control how things play out inside our church? It’s ok to relax a bit.

    I’ll be thinking of you.

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    Saturday, February 22, 2014

    The Beautiful Lie

    “He deceived his fans, yet it’s also fair to say they were willing to be fooled. So many people from cancer survivors to reporters to sponsors to myself loved the beautiful lie more than the ugly truth.”

                                                          -from The Armstrong Lie

    Just finished watching this film. This story resonates with me.

    Tuesday, February 18, 2014

    I Know You Stay True

    I gardened yesterday. It’s where I do my best thinking and where I most keenly feel the presence of my Creator. As I worked, my mind slowly unraveled the events of the last 2 years which came to a stinging end last week…which is another post for another day.

    This journey has been painful and chaotic. Many of the things I believed to be true before it began were yanked from under me as we journeyed. I’ve been honest about my questions and doubt.

    Here’s one thing I know now that I didn’t know 2 years ago:

    We need to relax. God has a hand on those who doubt. He makes His presence known to those that are hurting. We don’t have to be so uptight when we see people who are not attending church and try to convince them with our words, entice them with our programs or guilt-trip them into physically walking their body into a church building. We’d be better off to acknowledge the doubting and be present to witness it, love them while they’re struggling…but remember our place. We are not responsible for making sure every person checks the “present” box on the Sunday School attendance sheet. We aren’t responsible for the choices of others. We can be confident that if we are present (which means we don’t avoid when we feel uncomfortable) for those we love in the darkest hours, God is dealing with their heart. And He’s much better at it than we are, so it’s better to leave that job to Him. I believe He’s not surprised, threatened or put off by our doubting. We’re the ones who have a problem with doubting.

    For me, admitting the doubt gave God an opportunity to rise above the chaos and show me that He stays true. Apparently, Mutemath had already learned this lesson. I’m slow, but I’m learning.


    “I know you stay true when my world is false
    Everything around's breaking down to chaos
    I always see you when my sight is lost
    Everything around's breaking down to chaos

    It's hard to trust anyone again
    After all the letdowns I've been through
    Haunted by what I've been through
    Best to try while I still can breathe
    And I'm screaming out, "give me help somehow"
    And I know, yeah, I know, yeah
    I know you stay true when my world is false
    Everything around's breaking down to chaos
    I always see you when my sight is lost
    Everything around's breaking down to chaos”

                                            -Mutemath

     

    Listen here.

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    Friday, February 7, 2014

    Can’t Go Back

    “Please don't wait for me
    I lost my way again
    I lost my house and my good name
    When I found the road of my king
    When I was young I dreamed
    Of a life that had beauty that had joy
    But now I lost my life
    For the one I dreamt of as a boy

    Please don't wait for me
    I ain't coming back again
    I cannot turn around
    From the place I'm going to where I've been” –Josh Garrels

    Hear it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQKhD5j3mU0

    Saturday, January 25, 2014

    Why I Continue To Write

    I often question why I continue writing about this journey. Occasionally, I take a few weeks to mull it over and decide whether I want to continue. I take a hard look at my motives and reread old posts trying to decide if I accurately and honestly conveyed my thoughts. I try to decide if I said enough or if I said too much. At one point, I even thought I had signed off for good. But, I always seem to find my way back to writing.

    I guess I continue to feel the need to explain myself because some have discouraged me from writing about my experiences or questioned my motives in doing so. I fear at times that my writing about the experiences of the last 2 years will appear to be vengeful…which is definitely not my intent. At other times, I fear that I’m too timid in sharing the rawness of the truth in what has happened…only revealing certain parts of the story for fear of upsetting someone.

    For today, here are the reasons I’m still writing:

    • To survive…emotionally. Face-to-face conversations have been halted by those that I desperately wanted to continue a dialogue with and hoped to reconcile with. Some have said they are moving on with their lives. Some say that conversations can’t fix anything at this point…that we just need to forgive and pray. They say they hope we can still “fellowship”, but say they will not talk about the events of the past 2 years. When the conversations became too difficult, too painful, too challenging…they stopped talking and wanted to go back to exchanging smiles and pretending we are all ok. The words I longed to say now build inside me like steam building in a pressure cooker. I have no way to release them since no one is talking. Yes, I know the Sunday School answer. I should release the words and emotions to God and let Him take it from me. Have more faith. Pray more. Trust Him more. Believe me, I’ve tried. I continue to beg Him to take this from me. The truth is nothing helps like writing it down and getting it out of me. Interestingly, this feeling is the reason I’ve always disagreed with the parenting technique of telling a child, “I’m the parent. I love you, but we’re not going to talk about this anymore. I’ve made my decision and we’re done talking.” The abrupt halt to the discussion and refusal to hear another word builds tension, resentment  and feelings of inferiority. Why does one family member (whether immediate family or church family) get to be the one to make the call and quiet the other? Even as a parent, I feel I have a responsibility to hear my sons out and try to come to a mutual agreement that we can both be at peace with unless they are in immediate danger. I desire a mutual respect in our relationship born out of our genuine love and concern for one another. In a “church family”, it seems especially odd to me that we talk about how it isn’t Biblical to “bail” during conflict, yet we refuse to talk about the conflict and force the hurting members into a world of silence to deal with their pain.
    • The story needs to be told. When we were forced to resign in secrecy 25 years ago, I was afraid to speak because we were intimidated by church leadership into going along with their plan in silence to avoid them hurting our chances of finding another ministry position. Because we remained silent, we had to navigate the process completely alone. It was devastating. History has, in many ways, repeated itself in this same church in the last 2 years as church leadership once again forced ministers to resign and threatened them with losing their severance packages if they revealed to anyone what was actually happening to them. Even now, church leadership continues to intimidate people when they try to speak out about the injustices or press for a chance at reconciliation…threatening job security and “suggesting” they remove comments from social media. When will the cycle stop if everyone continues to be intimidated into remaining silent? How many more unsuspecting ministers will join the staff at this church based on the carefully crafted information presented to them in a deceivingly “normal” looking church profile…only to find themselves trapped in silence as they are forced to resign and uproot their families down the road? I can’t, in good conscience, as one who knows that pain first hand, remain silent any longer.
    • Others who share similar experiences in church ministry need to know they aren’t alone. There is healing in sharing the burden with one another. No one should have to walk this road alone.

    So, for now I’ll continue to write. And for those church folks who question my decision to write about this experience, I say: If we had talked openly and honestly about what has transpired over the last two years…for as long as it took to understand one another…no matter how uncomfortable or hard it became…and searched Scripture together to decide how to proceed in a Biblical manner…then I would have nothing to write about. I would still prefer to stop writing and start talking if anyone is interested.

    NM Pics (164)

    Monday, January 20, 2014

    The Wait Is Over

    The day I feared has arrived. The very outcome that I knew was probable, but prayed it would be different this time, has come to fruition. There will apparently be no more waiting for the church leadership to be transparent about their actions that started back in February 2012. They have waited it out. Continued to release only what they want people to hear. Quieted those that tried to uncover the reality of the unfolding events.

    They will move on now. They will bring a new staff to replace the one that left. They will tell the new staff that some of the previous staff members resigned when, in reality, they were forced into resignation using a process that even they (the church leaders I spoke with) could not defend as being Biblical. They will likely neglect to mention to the new ministers that a couple of previous ministers left…not because they simply decided to serve elsewhere or change career paths…but because they were so saddened by the deception that surrounded the process by which their fellow staff members were forced to resign that they could not, in good conscience, put their own families at risk by staying in such a place.

    The families who were crushed by the actions of this church will now be left to deal with an open-ended journey of grief. They will never have the opportunity to face their accusers nor attempt to reconcile. No one will come to their defense publically to separate the truth from the rumors. There will be no closure.

    How many more times will history repeat itself in this church?

    007e

     

    -

    Sunday, January 12, 2014

    Asking Why

    The tide is turning in my heart. I can feel it. Slowly. But it’s happening. It’s as if a veil is slowly being removed from my eyes and I am seeing the world again. The world that kept bustling while I was unable to see or experience it because I was blinded by the darkness of hurt and sadness. To my surprise, the world looks much bigger with my new eyes. I’m seeing people I never noticed in the past. I have friends in places I’ve never visited. I think I like this new world. Which means I have to admit the thing I never would have had the stomach to say a year ago…maybe, just maybe, the hellish journey was worth it.

    Nearly every day I’ve spent being unchurched (which now totals 10 months of my 46 years), I’ve learned something about myself or my faith. This is the reason I’m having such a hard time conjuring up a desire to return to church even though I know it’s frustrating some of those close to me.


    A friend shared an article this week that pegged me. What a relief to know there is a pastor out there that understands where some of us are in the journey…all because he asked. He actually placed an ad on Craigslist asking for Christians who have walked away from church to meet him for coffee and conversation. He said “boatloads” answered. 

    Here’s what he gathered from those conversations:

    “People will fade out of a church, a club, or a movement. But people don't fade out of their friendships; friends would notice and come after them. Yes, the mass exodus from our churches is continuing and spreading. Those leaving, for the most part, are not mad at God; they're mad at his followers.

    Despite what you will hear from some religious leaders in today's church culture, the average Christ-follower walking out the door is not weak, unwilling to commit, or intrinsically selfish.

    The vast majority of these Christians are leaving for two main reasons: First, and foremost, they are tired of being treated harshly by other Christians. Second, they feel the church has lost relevance to its community and to what they are going through in their everyday lives.

    Often the way we treat each other within our faith communities is still stunningly poor. You don't need an in-depth study to find out why so many are leaving the church. Just have some conversations with the people who have left.

    I spent this last year having hundreds of conversations with great Christians who have walked away from the church. I actually placed an ad on Craigslist to interview some, and boatloads answered. Most were in their late 20s and early 30s. They were more than willing to meet for coffee and share their hearts. I found out some surprising things.

    Most missed attending a local church. They didn't miss it enough to return, but many felt a longing to try it again. Many said they were happier now and felt more authentic about their faith in Christ. One of the most startling things I discovered was they almost all shared their faith way more with their friends since leaving church. When they weren't trying to close the salvation deal, or get their friends out to a church services, their conversations just flowed.”

    From “We Need to Stop Eating Our Own” by Michael Cheshire

     


    I would have answered that ad. I would have given nearly the exact same responses. In reality, my experience has shown me that very few want to know why you left and they certainly don’t “notice and come after you.” In my experience, the vast majority of my “church family” was indifferent. Some were probably relieved to see me go because we had differing opinions on the secrecy surrounding their church politics. A few encouraged me to leave and find another church once they realized that I couldn’t be persuaded to accept the deception surrounding the forced resignations of our ministers and “move on while letting the past be in the past”. A few encouraged me to find another church because they said they couldn’t stand to see me hurting. One deacon consistently kept in contact with my family…asking, listening and encouraging…for all of these 10 months. Just one. Mostly, there’s silence about why we left. Some church members will ask where we are attending church now. I think they will feel better when we are planted somewhere. But they almost never want to discuss the why. It’s just easier for most people to laugh and joke and talk about non-threatening subjects like the weather and sports and kids…pretending that our relationship is just as it has always been.  It’s easier not to ask why, not to pursue, not to engage. After all, if you ask, you might get an answer. And, what will you do with the answer? The discomfort isn’t worth the authentic relationship. Which leads me to wonder… what exactly do we mean when we refer to ourselves as “church families”?

    And it also leads me to wonder something much harder and more painful…how many members of the “church family” left over the years I was there and I didn’t ask why? Did I even notice they were gone? Why was I a member of a church that was so large that I didn’t even know some of the members making it impossible to care about them?

    My new eyes are helping me see some painful inconsistencies in my own walk. I’m not willing to give up seeing church from this perspective just yet. There’s too much to learn. When I return, I want to honor those who have been broken and wounded by “church” by abiding by the lessons God has taught me in the darkest moments. I never want to forget how it felt.

    008e