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.

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    • 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 fa├žade 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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