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.”


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.


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?


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.