‘”When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”‘ –Lev.19:33-4
I mentioned in the previous exhibit that while I never received an official reply to my two letters from the council of 2015, I did get an email from one of their wives. This is my response to her initial email. I do not include any of her text here, as I do not have permission to publish her messages.
Email to 28, wife of a council member, still currently attending A. (and was, I conclude from her emails, in favor of the termination):
29 January 2016
I’m sorry it’s taken me a few days to get back to you; I was quite busy Monday with study, and yesterday I was in London for a course, so I couldn’t sit down to write a reply until this morning. I was only going to devote a couple of hours to this, but I let the afternoon get away from me. I finished this on Wednesday, then ‘sat on it’ for a couple of days to make sure it was what I wanted it to say.
I don’t know where to begin. I suppose I could begin by saying I was a bit surprised to hear from you, since my letter was addressed to the council members, and I know some of the council members keep council business confidential, even from family members. Still, some don’t, and since confidentiality has been breached so often by so many different people, both in A. and in NM Classis over the past few months, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I guess I still would have expected that the addressee would have read it and shared it with a non-addressee before the non-addressee wrote me a reply.
At any rate, that said, I’m going to take your email as an invitation to a dialogue, to which I hope you don’t object. You seem very sure of your stance on the issues, and so shouldn’t mind discussing them with me. You are also misinformed about the chain of events, so I hope you’ll keep an open mind and read an alternate viewpoint. I can provide documentation to back my assertions. Also, since my letter to the council wasn’t kept confidential, unless you tell me otherwise I’ll assume I’m free to share what you wrote to me. Let me know within a day or two if there is anyone to whom you do not want it shown. I’ll include your points in italics [Author’s note: the text from 28 has been redacted for publication, as I have not acquired permission to share what she wrote. 11 April 2016] and then interact with them in plain text below. It is very long, and I know you’re busy, so I’ve underlined key bits.
What is the ‘tone’ of my email? And you will ‘recommend’? I think I was pretty clear in my second letter that anything written ‘on behalf of the council’ should be deliberated over and agreed upon by the whole council. If [your husband] wants to write on his own authority, from his own perspective, that is, of course, up to him.
There are several things in this passage that could be touched on. I’ll mention a few. I don’t believe either of my letters to the council indicate I want to ‘change’ anything, at least, in terms of ‘what’s done’. However, your declaring it to be ‘over’ doesn’t mean ‘it’ is. What is over? My dad’s tenure at A.? Well, that’s obvious. That isn’t why I’m writing. What was said, and what was done or not done, matters—it is not a ‘non-issue’. It does matter if what was set down in the record about a person or event is true or not. I mean, we’re Christians, right? We care about truth, and we should care about things being done in a God-honoring way. Besides, when crimes are committed, we could argue that once they’re ‘done’, it’s over. Why do we try people in courts of law? Because we’re after justice and seeking redress for wrong-doing. I believe that this dismissal of my dad was wrong. Therefore I’m seeking redress, as is well within my rights as a member of the church and as a believer. The council, if they did the right thing, should be prepared to defend their decision (as you’re attempting to do, even though you declare it to be ‘over’ and ‘done’). All I’m asking for is some accountability here.
If this were our hypothetical crime, to insist that everyone just ‘move forward’ is only convenient for the perpetrators. It’s very easy for those who lobbied (yes, lobbied—I have it from an unwitting source who didn’t realize that that was what he/she was admitting to) to get their way—and got it by unlawful, unchristian means–to say we should all just move on. For the person whose character has been impugned, whose home has been snatched out from under him, who’s been betrayed by people he thought were his friends, whose career prospects are in shambles, and who to date has never been given the chance to share his side of the story with his (former) flock—well, it’s a bit difficult for a battered pastor to just move on (it’s a phenomenon—Google it). It is worth noting, also, that that rhetoric is all too familiar—I recall with what fervour 13 droned on at length about ‘journeys’ at the congregational meeting (I was listening over Skype). Hrmm hmm. Yes, that sort of focus only serves the people who by moving forward can avoid self-reflection and investigation into the situation. It does surprise me that it seems you can’t put yourself in my position—this is my family, and as they’ve been preparing to move while processing this trauma, I’ve been 3,500 miles away and powerless to help them.
If it was so clear cut, if it was so right, then it should actually be quick, relatively painless, and straightforward to provide justification, as straightforward, as, say, the Bible when it talks about dealing with issues between Christians. Also, I’m glad you brought up the ‘second guessing’ of decisions by ‘elected A. council members’, the church visitors, and classis. You as a member of that church don’t think it’s important for the council to be accountable for such a costly decision? To hire a pastor takes a congregational vote; apparently to fire him and put the church’s future at risk (I refer you to the ‘strain’ on the budget, as an example, mentioned in the December letter from the council) does not. Also, did someone tell you the firing was at the recommendation of the church visitors? Hrm. Well, it is true that at least one of them ‘supported’ it to the point that he ghost-wrote every single official document on behalf of the council (none of the guys can write a letter?). But, here are some observations on the involvement of the church visitors, some of which can be backed up by documentation (I was corresponding with them via email from back in September), and some were made by others who spoke or worked with one or both of them:
***Their minds were made up before they arrived; 21 had already been talking to 13 about A.’s ‘issues’ before he was called in as a CV. 21 told another local pastor, before all this was even under way, that my dad needed to ‘make changes’. He was not an impartial, objective third party when he was brought in. He was biased on arrival.
***21 broke confidence with multiple persons who corresponded with him on this, in some cases going directly to 13 with intel.
***21 & 22 were simply there to stamp a seal of approval on whatever council wanted to do; one of them told my dad at the outset that it didn’t matter even if the council were apostates—if they wanted to get rid of him, they could. That sounds like pastoral concern for truth and integrity! They had absolutely no interest in the background of what was going on; they wanted to just get their part over with and make everybody happy—make it all just go away. That’s why all this took less than 7 weeks and a total of one meeting with all three parties. (the one council meeting where the CVs just sat in don’t count; may also be worth asking [your husband] if he remembers the meeting where my dad was invited by 12 [invitation approved by 22] earlier that day at a classis meeting, but was thrown out by 13, who insisted he didn’t know about the change of plan and thought the CVs were coming and my dad wasn’t supposed to be there; he said that 21 was supposed to come over and see my dad. My dad left the meeting ‘as requested’: 21 never showed.)
***the CVs were completely incapable of providing explanation to me for their actions, or for the disposition of the council. At first our correspondences were cordial; then one gave up, the other proceeded to lecture, condescend to, and ignore me, and finally to insult me in a communication to the entire classis.
***the CVs did not know what they were doing. Mere days after the suspension move, a group of classis pastors in a meeting observed that CVs have no training in their advisory capacity. Thanks—that would have been helpful to know and deal with before these two church visitors enabled the council to do what they did.
***They were under too much pressure from 13 to do otherwise than what they did.
The classis had a total of fewer than three days (if you don’t include Sunday, since most of them are pastors) to wade through something like 40+ pages of material, from several different sources which were not properly contextualized. The night of the classis meeting (which I also heard over Skype) was honestly a mess; they were completely unprepared. Of course, the CVs’ overview invited readers to question my father’s soundness of mind (because he attends Dunamis conferences, or something, which, even though they are sponsored by the [denomination], are full of freaks, as everyone in classis knows. The arrogance and spiritual bigotry in the document is astounding) was sent at the same time, which of course sent my dad reeling, and left with no time to respond to it. It was absolutely disgusting, and perpetrated by a fellow minister, pandering to people’s feelings. That’s what the document says repeatedly—as often as it includes a direct accusation, it simply says ‘people feel’. What is reality? What does God think? Does it matter? At any rate, classis made it up as they went along, sending people out to fetch folks to give them a chance to make comments ad hoc—all without the main parties involved knowing what to expect. And knowing how the church visitors carried water for the council, I thought it was highly inappropriate that the two of them (21 in particular, the drafter of the council’s letter and the slanderous, innuendo-filled ‘overview’ ) were permitted to ‘testify’ to the classis, explain themselves, with all other A. people locked out—no opportunity to counter or challenge what they were saying, much less explain the perspective of the other side, namely my dad and those who supported him.
The classis ‘agreed to’ and ‘confirmed’ in two hours what it didn’t understand, and ought to have tabled and sent to Synod if they couldn’t deal with it as thoroughly as it merited. They should have begun by taking the CVs to task for being so inappropriate, but it’s easier to just let things go. It’s probably worth pointing out that the lack of respect for privacy in passing around confidential correspondences or sloppily copying non-delegates on sensitive material seems rather endemic among classis folks as well, and damages their credibility. The lack of professionalism is mind-boggling, because it just wouldn’t be tolerated in the real world. A sidenote: I wonder what you make of the fact that 13 didn’t want to be a delegate the night of the classis meeting?
Who told you that? They met with my dad a total of ONCE. I can provide a written breakdown of the dates of all meetings in September and October, who was in attendance, and what the purposes of the ‘meetings’ were. And, ‘after all effective communication had ended’? It wasn’t yet that bad; according to written sources, the reason they were brought in was to help deal with ‘pain’–most people were ignorant of the tension others felt and were trying to address—although certainly the church report published by 54 certainly helped to further the impression there was a crisis, while interviewing council teams, for the most part, found A. members content. That wasn’t my impression, that they were brought in because of the end of ‘effective communication’—certainly not the one the Visitors gave me (though of course I believe one of them knew from the beginning what was going to eventually happen). The horse simply wasn’t dead yet to be beaten.
But anyway, does doing all the writing on behalf of the council, putting in print the accusations against my dad and continuing to push them after they’ve been effectively debunked (or after others BEGGED the CVs to just do their homework, ask people for specific examples), and then partaking in nasty character assassination sound like the work of intermediaries? Again, they came in tainted—knowing whom they were going to support without even taking the time to get at the truth (according to one of my sources, they were ‘under too much pressure’ from one of the elders. I don’t give them that benefit of the doubt, but the argument is an interesting one). I myself asked them again and again to just give me examples, explain what was going on and why it was right in light of scripture, and they couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. 21 wouldn’t even see me at Christmas. Very pastoral.
I refer to my paragraph above where I mentioned their mindset at time of entry: the council can do whatever they want, it doesn’t matter if they’re wrong, apostate, or evil. Heal the rift? They were interested in doing what it took to make the unhappy people happy. My dad would have to sacrifice his conscience or be canned. Also, it takes time, energy, and openness to heal rifts. The council handing down directives, and not even allowing questions from the pastor, does not help with ‘healing’. As I say below, there was not even discussion together about my dad’s response to the council’s list of ‘suggestions’ (or ‘recommendations’, or ‘orders’, or ‘requirements’, depending on whom you ask and what day of the week it is). He and the CVs were sent out of the room and the council decided, apart from them, to teach my dad a lesson. Which he didn’t have time to learn—since firing him immediately was the only way to cover up the fact that the suspension was illegal and unbiblical.
Nope. I’ve read pages and pages of their writing—-they (the CVs) aren’t capable of clearly articulating anything. It’s like a fog made out of print. Even they didn’t know the suspension was coming, and only dropped subtle hints by phone and email the week of 1 November that the termination was on the way. It was too late. As I think about it, actually, the only thing they ever did ‘recommend’ was the writing up of the ‘suggestions’/’expectations’, though even they probably thought it would be more organized and developed than it was.
My line of questioning is directed to the council, because they did the deed, and they should have to explain it. Do you really want an answer to your question? We know what went wrong. And he was trying to tell the council, and the church visitors, what he thought was going on at A., why the church was struggling. No one wanted to hear it—as the overview stated, his talking about the spiritual plane made everyone very ‘uncomfortable’. What, are all the [denominational] people in [region] deists or Epicureans or something? By the way, this exceeding discomfort at my dad discussing Dunamis does not come up in his debriefing emails from the times he shared his heart on these issues. This mischaracterization of those council meetings is just more paint for depicting my dad as a weirdo, and is thoroughly dishonest.
About my dad ‘articulating’ to me what happened—as he was the firee, it’s actually not his responsibility to provide justification for his actions; only in an official appeal would he have to do so. But he doesn’t have to ‘articulate’ anything to me: I was kept appraised of things as events unfolded, and toward the ‘end’, I was calling him every day, talking, praying, crying. So, I do know what was happening, and at least have his side of what ‘went wrong’. Most of what happened is also described in emails, so there is an electronic trail to his version, and a time-line. With such a time-line, it’s easy to go back and see how certain events are connected. It also proved, once again, the church visitors’ involvement laughable—not only can they not get the story straight on when the problems started (at one point we did a warp jump from 2011 to 2008, the year he was installed!), but in their ‘overview’ document describing the events of the autumn, the VAST MAJORITY OF GIVEN DATES ARE WRONG (all but one, I think). And those are the objective details! The church visitors, in an official document, couldn’t even remember on what date they ‘recommended’ (didn’t recommend it, just approved it*). the Article 17, nor on what day it was officially handed to my dad. Color me unimpressed. *By the way, according to the CVs, all decisions were the council’s, and the council’s alone—they don’t cop to any ‘recommendations’ in their correspondences with me. The termination is a bit of a hot potato—everyone insists it was the right and only thing to do, yet no one wants to claim credit for it. Super interesting. According to the CVs, in writing, they were just tehre to make sure people ‘talked to each other’. Ha. Even that they couldn’t do.
…’that nobody communicated with him‘. Could you explain that to me please? I’m not sure what you’re getting at. [author’s note: This still makes me laugh, even moreso since the communication debacle surrounding a church event–a summer 2016 get-together at the parsonage that was so little publicized one of the elders didn’t even know about it, and only 15 people showed up. Problem with the invitation process? 5 August 2016.]I do know that when people are doing things behind your back (including when you’re on vacation in the UK), they’re probably not communicating with you. But for a quick example, I could send you an email about the joke that was the attempt to get the classis meeting scheduled in a hurry the week of Thanksgiving (projected for 24 November). By the 19th, 45 knew it wouldn’t happen before Thanksgiving, had already heard from someone at Prosper—meanwhile 21 was still emailing my dad on the evening of the 20th to plan on it, when he as the main dude involved knew it would have to be postponed! And on the 22nd, the day before th meeting was (no longer) scheduled, a local pastor, a classis delegate, asked his church to pray about the meeting on the 23rd. Why? Does that sound like clear communication to you? The devil is certainly in the details, especially when your career is the hands of such. It’s endemic up there—someone else (still at A.) seemed to back up this observation, saying to my sister, ‘People up here just like to do their own thing’. Are you saying this isn’t the case? I‘ll make one observation I formed for myself while I was at A.—what’s taken as a given in every other church I’ve been in (and work situation, for that matter) is questioned and suspected at A.: namely, the expectation that leadership (both pastor and council) be informed of what’s going on, especially of things that are done with the church’s name attached. It’s both biblical and common sense. I know people have called my dad controlling, but really, I think it’s A. people who are territorial, and obsessed with authority, control, personal influence, permission, etc., over even very petty things. I refer to a point you made to my sister in your letter to her as an example—something about getting my dad’s ‘permission’ to do something. Not on my radar screen—at least, the concept of ‘permission’ isn’t. But it isn’t extreme for a pastor to be appraised of what’s going on in the church he’s pastoring, especially as he’s responsible before God for the people and for what goes on in the church context. Getting ‘permission’ is your anxiety, not my dad’s. Still, I think any normal person would agree that each hand in a church should know what the other(s) is/are doing; hypothetically, if parishioners want to start something, a biggish something, and make an announcement to the church, while the pastor who hasn’t been told about it is left sitting on the platform looking like an idiot, having been taken by surprise, well, I’m not sure that’s a sensible way to operate. And it wouldn’t happen in most churches. It’s a sort of practical way to encourage the unity of the body—not only working together, but keeping everyone informed.
Getting back to the classis meeting, which people were scrambling to get done by Thanksgiving: another question is, why were people in such a hurry? When [former pastor] left [neighboring local church] under an Article 17, everyone had a month from the publishing of the agenda to prepare. My dad was being given a few weeks from the termination date, with no agenda in sight until a few days before the eventual meeting in December.
Since you seem to know more about this than I do, perhaps you could enlighten me on both those points? On performance as a pastor, I’m all ears. On making relationships right, I do know of a couple examples, a couple of people he did try to reach out to—one person seems to have hated him from the beginning, and I know how he wrestled for three years trying to pray his way through the situation, kill the person with kindness, etc.–when he finally addressed the person’s behavior, he still gave that person the benefit of the doubt--‘What did I do to offend you? I ask you to forgive me.’ That may be a direct quote. He also asked that his correspondence to this person remain confidential. You can probably guess that that wasn’t respected. Another person was at odds with my dad over a point of God’s law; he offered to sit down with this person to discuss an email the person had sent. He never got a reply. I can only conclude that this person did not want to walk through God’s word and find out what it really says on the issue. I know other people have complained about the preaching, but I’m not sure how a pastor is supposed to go about dealing with that when the criticism comes to him second hand. But I guess from your comment that there are others? I do hope there are worthwhile examples—people griping about him not coming out to their farms as a matter of course is patently absurd (it’s naturally different if someone is ill or would like the pastor’s counsel on a matter). I’ve been a regular attendee of six churches in my adult life, and never has this been an expectation—not one of my pastors has ever invited himself to my home or to my place of work. To hold failure to do so against a man, without him ever being told it was part of the job, is so unchristian, and it never should have been entertained as a legitimate complaint, by A.’s council or by the church visitors. Other Christians in the world are being tortured and killed for confessing Christ, and American evangelicals whine about others in their church infringing on their prerogatives.
I just have to camp on this one for a minute. First, you’ll forgive me if I can’t just take your word for it here, and below, that my dad is ‘hard to work with’ (this was insinuated in another official document) or has a pride problem. My sister told me about a couple of salient points from your reply letter to her: one term was ‘first-level friendship’. That was apparently your relationship with my dad; and, you haven’t served on council, while a multiplicity of council members, past and present, have attested in speech and in writing to the fact that they find my dad flexible, agreeable, and fairly easy to work with. As far as being proud, and unable to admit to being wrong, last summer, someone involved in the song services wrote my dad what I found to be an unnecessarily accusatory email about a change in a song service line-up. I’m not sure how I would have responded were I in his place. But he wrote an email he asked me to proofread—a very sincere apology, and asked for the offended person’s forgiveness. The person, as far as I know, never acknowledged it. I suppose it could have gotten lost—perhaps like my dad’s reply to your suggestion of a bonfire in an email. My sister said that in her letter you seemed upset that he never wrote back–evidence he didn’t care, or didn’t want to expand the group or some such. My sister checked her archives after she got your letter, and it turns out he did in fact reply, after a couple of notes from 19:
Greetings, one and all! Man, O Man, O Man (reminds me of Mark Champion, former play-by-play radio announcer for the Detroit Lions- when things would be going badly, Mark would say, Man, O Man, O Man! I miss him. That was back during the days of Barry Sanders, Wayne Fontes– late 80’s and 90’s…..) it’s late! LATE Thursday night!
<<<<<Oh My Word!>>>>>>>
I’m thinking I could meet the 4th– a Thursday?
I’ll wait to hear what the others think….
It doesn’t appear as though anyone else followed up after that. So…
But anyway. Multiplying and growing into other small groups was always part of the plan; I was there for the first year, and I’m pretty sure that was discussed at length as a long-term goal when the pilot group started. I’m not sure why you and/others seemed to be under the impression (as my sister got from your letter) that my dad was somehow opposed to it. But what did being in the small group do for those who were in it? It was supposed to help us all grow, both closer to God and to each other, foster oneness in the body, accountability, prayer support, LOVE… None of the original members have reached out in any way to check in on even my sister, while the two of them have been packing up in that lonely house right next to the church, over the holidays while seeing all the comings and goings from which they were wrongfully excluded. Rather, people who never knew us well in any context, small group or otherwise, have taken it upon themselves to risk discomfort and ostracism to look in on them, and even to get my dad’s side of the story. Odd.
At any rate, going back to pride: I’ve been stunned more than once by the lack of open-mindedness (even curiosity) on the part of some at A.. With my dad’s background, coming out of a cult, and then moving from charismatic, Arminian Christianity to the reformed tradition, he’s had experience with discovering he doesn’t have all the answers. I don’t think many folks at A. have had such a faith walk, finding out that there are things they don’t know, things that they don’t understand, even things they’re wrong about, that then compels not only going to a different church, but joining an entirely different denomination with different practices. And the way people reacted to the series on spiritual gifts, or conversations in the small group about exploring that side of the Christian life…it was like, ‘Well, we haven’t needed it before, and besides, it sounds weird.’ My dad’s hope for that series was to help take A. to the next level, getting in step with the Spirit in a way that perhaps people had never been—it would have meant discovering the unique giftings of people in the congregation that had lain dormant, finding God’s calling on their lives. Instead, people closed their minds and chose to get mad and bitter about what they perceived as slights against their service, and even began hearing things in messages that weren’t there.
For some reason, my dad teaches something that’s biblical but unfamiliar, and he makes people uncomfortable; people’s impressions of his sermons don’t square with reality, and you’re still supposed to bow to their whims. In my conversation with 14 in October, I offered counter-examples to her generalization that all my dad preached was depressing—just sin and ‘repentance’ (why repentance is a dirty word at A. I’ll never know—it’s all over the New Testament). I rattled off a number of my dad’s sermons from last year whose very titles had encouragement built in, including the series on Philippians, which was a direct response to people wanting joy (not good enough, of course)–she said she ‘knows what she feels’, and there was no point in ‘debating it’. Is it just part of the atmosphere that people can’t bear to scrutinize their own opinions?
…’every body else was so wrong’… ‘personal and professional improvement’ Again, you seem to know more about this than I do—can I get some examples? The vagueness of generalities makes it very difficult to get a handle on what he should have done. I also want to know whether you believe the men on last year’s council were qualified to ask for such ‘actions or steps’. I’m not saying they aren’t; I just want your thoughts. Do you think council members at A. generally are qualified, in accordance with the qualifications set out in the pastoral epistles?
On stepping down and seeking another call… Well, if a council can fire a man, they can let him know what the situation has come to, and suggest he look for something else, before firing him. That doesn’t take an article, it doesn’t even have to be formal; but it does prevent the element of surprise… From my dad’s end, there simply wasn’t time. My dad had no idea that the night he gave the council his response to the list of recommendations that that suspension was coming down the pike at 100mph. How could he have known that disagreement over whether to change the way he prepares sermons (especially when everyone under the sun admits they’re biblical, and half the people who are asked don’t think they’re depressing or ‘guilt-ridden’) constituted a deal breaker and he should ‘step down’ because of it? The suspension itself was groundless, so how could it be expected?
Maybe it’s also useful to look at this a different way. Is it within the council’s realm of authority to ‘ask’ (read: demand, since he has to do them or get lost) things, without the pastor given the option of discussing it with them, and determining if they’re reasonable or not? It’s just assumed out of the gate, first, that the council has this authority; second, that the members are biblically grounded and qualified to make such demands upon the pastor; third, that they’ve accurately diagnosed the problem; and fourth, that their demands are ‘so right’, so appropriate, though cooked up in a hurry, that there can be no space for compromise, alteration or clarification. Is that the way the church works? What if, objectively speaking, the ‘actions or steps’ were unreasonable, ill-considered or unbiblical? Was it wrong for him to expect that there would be some give and take, rather than ‘all or nothing’, leading to discipline?
That evening (27 October) was full of surprises– the church visitors showed up, which apparently only 13 knew about in advance. My dad certainly didn’t expect the hatchet to come falling so quickly, especially since it was four days after pastor appreciation day, on which he preached a message on being Word-Centered. I don’t think he should have had to anticipate the eagerness of some to put him on the chopping block when he hadn’t even been given sufficient explanation of what he’d been doing wrong. The most outspoken person, the person championing change, could only speak in clichés and generalizations. When pushed for explanation, or asked for an opportunity for dialogue, he would explode and counter with snarky comments and allegations which my dad was never permitted to answer (even in front of the church visitors). I read that list of recommendations as an excuse to do what some people wanted all along—it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d agreed to every iota. Those who didn’t like him any more would have found something else.
Anyway, stepping down, and being given time to take another call, are two different things. But was he supposed to decide to do this during the 70 minutes the council was deliberating over whether to suspend him? Like he was supposed to know that was what was coming? How was he supposed to know it was that serious when the list of ‘recommendations’ itself was put together in such a slapdash way? The council wasn’t serious enough about it to have written it up in advance, typed it, reviewed it, prayed over it, even to have decided what exactly they were saying! My dad had to write it up for himself as they went through in the meeting, including their spontaneous emendations, the night of 6 October, since they only had a handwritten list which they’d brainstormed and come up with during the previous hour! And he was supposed to know that his call at A., indeed his career, was hinging on this? I don’t know if you’ve seen the list, but I showed it to a friend, and she asked if they’d pulled the items out of a hat, since they were completely unrelated to one another and seemed to be selected at random. My sister later observed that nothing on the list was reflected in the Article 17 grounds document, as if they were written under two completely different sets of circumstances.
Well, since the CVs were meeting with the council and not with my dad pretty much every day for four days after the announcement of suspension, apparently helping them put together the Article 17, and since that was handed to him only nine days after the suspension date (they’d decided to sack him before he’d enjoyed his 3-week suspension!), I again don’t know when he was supposed to have asked. Certainly the church visitors weren’t interested in helping him get some time to discuss options. Bam! You’re suspended. Bam! You’re fired. Practically in the space of a week. Yeah, really don’t know when he was supposed to ask for some time to keep working and find another church. More than one person involved has declared that 13 made it quite clear (not with my dad present, of course) that he wanted my dad gone, as early as September. My dad didn’t have a chance. Let’s be honest—there’s nothing heroic about letting a guy go quietly without ruining his career and punishing him for making people ‘depressed and frustrated’. That’s a bit of innuendo, but that hasn’t bothered other people when they’ve been talking or writing about my dad.
So… have you seen my dad’s written response to the recommendations? I think before you say anything about what it consisted of, you should read it. I’m sure I can get his permission to share it with you. Do you know that the rules changed between the night he was given them and the night he was supposed to respond? Apparently in the course of three weeks they became a ‘package deal’ (in spite of the fact, again, that some of them are completely unrelated to one another and they run the gamut of reasonable and biblical, like pastoral care duties, to cruel, like blackballing my sister from committees). Not only had it become a package deal, but apparently it was a non-negotiable one. Contrary to the dishonest assertion (made repeatedly, verbally and in writing by the ‘council’ and their ghost-writer) that my dad blew the list off in its entirety, well, he actually agreed to some of them. Why was his response misrepresented? Nay, lied about? Why doesn’t the council publish the list, and my dad’s response to it? Certainly then everyone would see how unreasonable he was being, and no one would ask any more pesky questions.
Now, I’ll ask you something: what are a pastor’s duties? What was my dad supposed to be doing that he wasn’t?
Let’s level: according to a couple of people in leadership whom I spoke with, the only reason they went along with this charade is this: ‘people will leave if we don’t do something, and we can’t afford to lose any more people’. My read on the conversation: they don’t buy the narrative that my dad is a jerk, and they didn’t validate the blackmailers’ reasons for wanting to leave. I think they know for themselves that he isn’t a jerk, and declared that there was nothing wrong with the preaching, for example. Are you aware of this alternative motivation for the termination? And it turns out it was all for nought—for a church that can’t afford to lose any more people, 10 departures within weeks of the termination announcement is pretty serious. [see **author’s note in Exhibit V. for update/correction on this point; evidently 28 didn’t care to think about who these were, because she didn’t know that it isn’t accurate. 25 April 2016]
The church visitors did NOT meet with my dad after the suspension decision (to which they weren’t party—they also were banished from the room); as I said above, they met with my dad a total of once, back in September. Again, who told you this? How did one informal meeting where they didn’t even discuss the issues in September turn into ‘the CVs met with him several times, including a meeting after the suspension’? Crazy. And again, from what the CVs themselves told me, they didn’t ‘recommend’ the A17, but they certainly greased the wheels with that joke of a document, which more than one person has since been happy to destroy with rationality (and a functional vocabulary).
This is starting to get a bit silly. Weeks upon weeks to do what? ‘Time to seek another call’ means continuing to preach at your current church while you do a search; I don’t think this would have been permitted, and too much damage had been done by the suspension, and the announcement about it. Once you’re fired, you don’t ask to come in on Monday and keep working until you find another job. The termination was even backdated to the night of the suspension, and not the night he was handed the Article 17. That shows pretty serious zeal to get rid of someone—an official changing of the record (when they’re not confused as to which dates things actually happened in the first place). To anyone living in reality, the deed was done! What do you think he was doing during those ‘weeks and weeks’? Sitting at his desk planning his triumph? It was more like putting himself together emotionally every day, wondering what God was doing in all this. ‘Agreed to move on’? Like any of this was his choice? He’d been fired! There was no going back on that. Even if there was a chance that classis wouldn’t approve it, which was slim to none (what he was hoping for was an amendment of the grounds, if you want to know), he wasn’t staying on. What was left for him to do was to prepare for the classis meeting. And, well, first-level friendship, remember? He had no idea what would happen at the meeting, whether they would invite people to speak in an official capacity, invite dialogue, anything. It would have been really hard to predict what the delegates were going to do after being sent all the documentation. So please don’t act like you know he was ‘standing in defiance’ or something ’til the end. There was no way, after the 5th of November, that he was going to be back at A., and he was in no position to ask to stay on while seeking another call. I think you and I both know that the answer would have been ‘no’, even if he had ‘asked’. This had all gotten so personal by this time, there was no room for compassion or grace.
Of course, it really was the council’s job to offer this, since they were the ones who wanted him gone—wrapping up at one church while finding a call at another is the normal way pastors and churches part company. That should have been the step preceding the Article 17, and it was incumbent on the church visitors to advise they do that first—although for the life of me I don’t know why it wouldn’t have occurred to the council even without the CVs’ input, since it would have saved everyone headache, money, and probably the loss of members. It was incumbent on the council because they knew, and my dad didn’t, that it had already come down to the wire—if you read his response to the council’s list, honestly, does it sound like the writing of a man who knows his job is on the line? Telling him it was time to part ways and plan for his departure needn’t have been an official move or document, therefore the church order need not be invoked—some things you just discuss, pray about, then do if it’s clearly the Lord’s leading.
I know all the documents talk about how great and loving, and especially, generous, A. and her council are for paying his severance and all, but with a tortured budget, other classis churches, who had no say in this, are also on the hook to help pay for A.’s council’s decision. To make this hasty move without counting the cost both to A. and to others in classis is on the council’s shoulders. It was not my dad’s responsibility to read the tea leaves and figure out that the sloppy list of recommendations was going to get him fired. He came in good faith to that meeting with his honest response to the list, expecting a dialogue with fellow Christians. What he got was heavy-handed discipline for daring to want a conversation rather than a demand for capitulation to a list on which some items stand in opposition to our profession of love for Christ. The bottom line is, if people weren’t screaming for him to leave, this wouldn’t have been done with zero dialogue, zero transparency, and in so short a space of time. ‘thrown up the white flag and agreed to move on‘?? He was already bound, gagged and on the train—surrendering would have been a bit moot!
I’ll go back to the same drum I’ve been beating for months—can I get some examples? People who ‘need to be right’ fear dialogue, fear interaction, fear questions—there are two people in all of this who have been avoiding challenge like the plague, getting nasty, rude and aggressive when people simply want an explanation. One person has even been corrected by multiple sources (none of them my dad) on an important point, and yet keeps repeating the same lie!! It’s on the record, because he’s insisted on repeating it in writing. The only thing I can point to, as far as my dad ‘having to be right’, since it’s the only example I can get, is the council’s list, and his response to that has been misrepresented. Why should it have to be misrepresented if everything you say is true? And again, I point you to that other incident for which I have a paper trail—an apology and a request for forgiveness, to which there was no answer. And, would you be able to admit you were wrong to get upset about my dad not replying to your email?
This psychoanalytical approach is very interesting, and would yield some noteworthy results if applied to other people in A., or one of the CVs, for that matter. Obviously this is a different narrative from that in the official 17 December letter, and you seem to believe it, and state it as if it were widely recognized as an observable and agreed-upon truth. Has this been a topic of conversation apart from my dad? Would such discussion of his flaws in his absence constitute gossip? Also, if it is a truth universally acknowledged that all the blame is his, and that can be stated so succinctly, i.e., my dad’s pride was the issue, why was that not in the council’s communiqué to the congregation at large? Do you know something they don’t?
From another angle, I don’t know why you think you know my dad better than I do. I have to keep going back to that term ‘first-level friendship’–you don’t know him well enough to consider him worthy of your sympathy, but you do know him well enough to offer this psychological and spiritual evaluation. I know his foibles, his weaknesses, his flaws. I’ve already elaborated on my dad’s faith journey, and how experiences like that necessarily make you aware of what you don’t know, and compel you to keep an open mind, because God, through His word and testimony of the Spirit may have something else to show you about yourself, or what you think you already understand but don’t. It’s actually A. people who fear intellectual challenge and change; if they haven’t heard about something after being in the church 40 years, well, it ain’t worth knowing! My dad isn’t so smart that he puts being right or looking right above the truth. And isn’t that what my letters to the council are all about? I just want the truth, and like I said above, some accountability from people whose religion is centered around a god-man who is Truth Incarnate.
Ouch! This is the first time God has come up. At least He does come up—most of the documentation put out by the ‘council’ in all this could have been produced by people in the world. I guess God does move in evil circumstances, like Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50. Is this an admission that my dad was sacrificed? I’m sure that’s not what you meant, but the irony is tantalizing. So, in the midst of slander; non-specific, example-less, witness-less (Matthew 18) accusations; cold refusal to pleas for dialogue and explanation; back-biting canvassing for support against the pastor; rudeness; unforgiveness; refusal to seek out the truth; the idolatry of human emotion and opinion, placing it above the Word of God; believing and spreading a bad word about a brother rather than protecting his good name (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 112); lying (from the same person have come three different stories on who is to blame or praise for this); and gossip—God is moving to teach my dad something.
But ouch again! Funny how you think my dad doesn’t have any friends– I seem to recall something like that in your letter to my sister. But you know, this is a letter to me, and I thought we were friends. Do I have some pathology, or is there some label you can slap on our relationship, to excuse yourself from any obligation of Christian compassion toward me? What is a healthy relationship in A.? Bending over backwards to make excuses for people living in flagrant sin, giving the church a bad name because people in the community know they’re professing Christians? And then running someone out of town on a rail because he takes God’s word at face value—because he believes that the whole counsel of scripture should be loved, taught and applied? And that a person’s fruit should show his or her commitment to Christ? That’s the root of the issue with those who have been peeved at my dad for a long time—the preaching of the Gospel. The funny thing is, he’s only recently found out from some A. people, after his firing, that over the years he was preaching sermons that were rattling skeletons in closets he didn’t know were there. In simply preaching the Word, he was offending people; what he couldn’t anticipate was that the texts were getting at the heart of some secret sins. It’s been an eye-opening couple of months. And all that after the CVs overview would lead a reader to believe that A. is the celestial city, whose only issue is that she put up with my dad for 8 years.
The common denominator I see in all ‘these broken relationships’ is what I’ve been seeing for some time in A.. Chinks in the spiritual armor of the church and of some of its people have allowed, and even invited, demonic interference. It kicked into high gear autumn of 2014, when people really began to sense the departure of the Holy Spirit. But they couldn’t put their finger on it, and I don’t think they would have wanted the answer anyway if it meant having to make changes. It was easier to scapegoat the (apparently) expendable pastor, because after all, some people had been upset with him already. But certain parts of the narrative have changed so many times in the past year; when you gave your speech at the congregational meeting in 2014, and when I spoke to 14 in February 2015, it was observed that there were a lot of people who weren’t helping bear the burdens of service in the church. 14 told me then (only a year ago!) that A. wasn’t a praying church, and that ‘nobody cared’ what other people were going through. Several people at A. have said recently that there’s an issue with gossip, there and in the wider community—people talk about, rather than to, each other. In December of 2014 14 was inviting a non-churchgoer to A., telling this person he/she would ‘love our pastor’. The same person was told by M&R how much they ‘love my dad’ last spring. Now he’s no good. I’m left wondering how everything now has come to be my dad’s fault, and that he’s the only problem. Seems a bit weird to me, and, dare I say it, self-serving, even proud? Although I should have had an inkling that this is how people think, given that the perspective of the original survey, and then eventual questions put to A. members in interviews, was all thoroughly outward-looking, and invited no reflection on the interviewees’ personal commitment, spiritual growth, prayer, knowledge of God’s word, or responsibilities to the church, and often left more room for critique than encouragement. But no church is perfect, and even with her issues, my dad loved A.. In October, [your husband] gave me a hug and said he loved me. Do you love me?
You put ‘fired’ in quotes, as if that isn’t the case. What is a termination agreement for if nobody was terminated? And again, I think I’ve elaborated sufficiently on the fact that my dad was never offered that as an option, which would have been easier both on him and on the church in the long run, and was therefore perfectly within the purview of the council, who are overseers of the souls of the church, and who are supposed to look out for their best interests. For my dad’s part, there was no time or opportunity for him to counter the suspension or termination, once the article was submitted, and all the evidence would indicate that such a counteroffer would not have been welcome. The church visitors and council, however, were given ample opportunity to walk back their decision after I pleaded with them to slow the process down, because that is how mistakes are made and people are hurt, and after 42 obliterated their ‘grounds’ document for the Article 17.
There was something else you put in quotes not too long ago, when you were lecturing my sister on her ‘disability’ (you put that in quotes? Really?!). I do hope that you already can look back on that as an embarrassment. I was shocked that a Christian woman and mother could produce something like that, what I found to be a strange after-the-fact framing of a relationship so as to excuse wrongdoing and justify coldness. I’d never heard ‘first-level friendship’ before, but you can see I’m making ample use of it now. Again, labelling your past experience in the small group with my dad and sister as such means you don’t owe them anything, yet you still know them well enough to pass judgement on them, including getting over-the-top personal with my sister and her ‘disability’, and comparing her to my brother and his ‘independence’. I’m sorry, 28—you don’t know what you’re talking about; you don’t know my brother, you don’t know how he lives or what these years of living ‘independently’ have done for or to him. Again, I hope that moment of anger in which you wrote that letter has passed, and that you already know in your heart that it was really inappropriate and unworthy of one of Christ’s disciples.
Back to the matter at hand: it may be ‘over’ in the sense that classis approved ‘it’, and so for the time being, 2015’s council has gotten away with a biblically unjustifiable dismissal of a minister of the Word. But the questions are still unanswered, evidence and justification have not been provided, and A. still needs the Lord’s blessing to flourish. How can anyone go forward asking for His blessing or expecting it if he or she is unwilling to consider whether a decision was just or not, and is approved by Him? If it was sinful, it has to made right, doesn’t it? And determining if it was sinful takes prayerful investigation, not a throwing on of the blinders and a chant of ‘let’s move on, enjoy the journey’. Perhaps one of the ways to begin the investigation is to ask why two lifelong-member couples, of which the husbands have served multiples terms on council with my dad, who have an unshakable commitment to God’s word, and indubitable loyalty to the church, have left. That’s just for starters. Another question might be one that I’ve been asking as I look at my wedding photos: why is this church now so divided, and why are so many people who (I insist) were friends, no longer so? And there has to more to it than vague assertions of personality issues. When believers in the Bible are instructed to talk about problems between them (they actually talk about them!), they discuss events, specifics, and they have open dialogue with witnesses. Reconciliation is the aim. Where was that on the night of the suspension? No discussion, no interaction with what my dad said—he didn’t agree with every single trifle, he wanted clarification, he asked questions, so he was booted out of the room, then suspended, then A17’d.
I know I’ve written a lot, but I’m inviting your thoughts. I’m not afraid of interaction on these points, and I hope you’re open to it. One parting point: if it’s important that Christians be able to admit they’re wrong, what does it mean when one asks some questions, wants some investigation, the reply is, ‘We all need to just move on’?
PS—I’m happy to send any written evidence of what I’ve said, so long as it doesn’t put my sources at risk of retaliation; let me know if there is anything you would like.
I did get a reply from 28, which I cannot include here without permission. She said that she read all 14 pages of my above email. I wrote back with the following:
17 February 2016
I apologize for not having replied sooner. I have been very busy with work and with projects, but that’s not really an excuse for having put this off for so long. I do thank you for taking the time to read what I wrote, and for taking additional time to write back.
I don’t know whether you will read anything else I send, as you have said you won’t write anything further. I had written a much longer email, responding to several points you made (esp. about confidentiality [see Appendix ii. on this as well], God’s sovereignty and faithfulness, responsibility, the future, how Christians should handle offense, the nature of a pastor’s call, etc.), but I didn’t want to lay all that on you now if this is our last email, either forever or for a while, so I’ve included only what I thought were the most important things. The longer paragraphs I’ve cut out, but I’ll save them in a draft form if you ever want to see them. I won’t expect a reply (though I may hope for one some day), and thank you for warning me in advance that you won’t be emailing again.
First, most importantly, my dad is not the only one who has been hurt in this. A. has. She got rid of some people to keep some people. That church has lost several good believers because of this (and others who are still there apparently miss my dad’s preaching), and I know that it was a heart-breaking decision for them to leave the church of which they’ve been a part, for some of them their whole lives. It was matter of conscience. They don’t seem to factor into the general discussion much. 28, you are smart. And I do appreciate that you were trying to give me advice. It’s just that I don’t agree with you, for biblical as well as philosophical reasons. I’m challenging you to talk to [names of 8 people who have left A.). Please, don’t do it for me—do it for your own Christian integrity. Don’t ignore their departure. Ask your own questions. Does it matter why they left? I know in the eyes of some, they may just be collateral damage. I’m trying to reconcile what you say about caring about my family with my belief that you would rather this just go away, than to be able to assert with assurance, after looking at all available evidence, whether it was good. We should love the Good, and ‘maybe’ and ‘it’s too late’ just shouldn’t be good enough. The suggestions to ‘look forward’ and ‘think about the possibilities’ indicate you don’t really realize what’s happened, and what a spiritual battle it’s been. It’s easier to say those things when you don’t truly understand how much the future depends both on the past and on the present. But you took the time to write, and I have to give you credit for that, so I have to believe that maybe, deep down, you may actually have some doubts about what’s happened, since you thought the council in some way needed to be defended.
… (excision 1)
Finally, you don’t have to worry about the email you sent to my sister. She did not pass it around. I am the only one who has seen even bits of it. I don’t know how someone with her issues could have processed something like that on her own. Internalizing all of it, and not talking through the hard-hitting parts with someone else, would not, I think, have been healthy.
I should wrap this up–I’ve gone on long enough. I noticed you didn’t ask for any of the documents I have. Is not wanting to breach confidentiality your only reason? You don’t have to take my word for anything, or my resources. Please don’t think I want you just to take my word for anything. You should ask 42, for example, about some of what he wrote; I know he sent a number of documents to parties involved, and likely he would be willing to share or discuss the content. Or just sit down with him and his wife. He/they must have some credibility, his being a judge, a lifelong member of A., both of them co-teachers of the adult Sunday school for ages, and 42 was elder at least twice on council during my dad’s tenure (I’m pretty sure).
You’re a professing Christian, 28–what happened, and whether the truth is being told about what happened, does matter, and we can get pretty close to the full story, if we want to. God is holy, and He is truth. He wants us to use our brains as part of our commitment, and He wants us to think through things, as well as love what’s important to Him. I remember in the past you being so engaged on Sundays, nodding during my dad’s sermons in the mornings, and interacting with him and others on the material on Sunday nights. You have been plugged in, and been enthusiastic about learning. Wouldn’t it bother you and [your husband] to know you’ve been taken advantage of by someone you trusted, and wouldn’t you want a wrong righted if it affected you in such a way, or even drew you in? Doesn’t it bother you that the ‘council’ says the church visitors recommended the action, while the CVs deny it? Doesn’t that mean something? It doesn’t really matter whether things would have been less hurtful to my dad, though I thank you for considering that point–if something was handled wrongly, that’s simply the objective truth. This is a matter of conviction, not just feelings. It is due to the fact that I believe this is a black and white issue that I’m pursuing the truth (one of the tags for my alma mater). Secrecy serves no one who is living coram deo. There isn’t anything wrong with holding people accountable who have to take oaths to hold their office, and who are called ‘overseers’ of their congregations, ‘God’s stewards’ in Titus.
… (excision 2)
PS–I will respect your wishes on confidentiality; please feel free to share this email if it would be useful. I’m always needing my Christian friends’ advice and prayers before I act. And just so you’re aware, I plan to send a few bits of this particular reply to 19; I won’t forward anything you’ve written.
I never got a reply to this email, which didn’t surprise me. I only prayed at the time that something of what I wrote might stick, and that maybe 28 would be curious enough to get the perspective of 42 or others who left. I include below the excerpts I cut from the above email:
Even though you say no one knows what happened, and you aren’t qualified to speak on this, you maintain that they tried to protect my dad and keep him from being smeared. How did all his issues end up being part of the portrait painted, then? If they bent over backwards to prevent it, it could have been prevented. Everything was in the hands of the council–they had all the power, of both presence and publication, enough so that they didn’t even abide by the termination agreement in the December letter to the congregation. That sort of statement was supposed to be worked on and mutually agreed to by both the council and my dad. As far as I know, when it came out, my dad didn’t even get a copy, much less was he consulted on it. How can it be that they tried to protect him? Also, how do you know he gave them a ‘dressing down’, if by your own admission you can’t know what was said, and haven’t read what he wrote? My dad wrote that document to be read—you can obtain it quite easily, if you want to. Of course, discussion of qualifications for council at A. is bound to offend some people there, since many of the men who have sat around that table simply aren’t qualified, just going by the bare-bones lists in the pastoral epistles. Furthermore, your own message to me indicates that there has been plenty of criticism of him circulating outside the council room, which in turn indicates that the people who were so angry at him for so long weren’t taking biblical steps to get things right. It isn’t ‘go to the council’, it’s ‘go to your brother’.
God, in some sense, ‘allows’ everything to happen. Like what’s happening in Syria. Does that mean that we don’t seek justice after the fact? I have already seen the Lord’s provision for my family these past several months, especially in terms of providing friends and encouragement from unexpected quarters, and believe He will continue to provide for and be faithful to them. But when you talk about Him working things out for good for His people, do you mean it to apply to A. as well? Some at A. may or may not be guilty of serious sin–I think for God to work His good among people, if there has been sin, there first has to be confession and repentance. And, how can a person heal and move forward when he or she has been through such a trauma, and no one takes it seriously? I really wonder, as I hear certain things, whether people have spent any time putting themselves in my dad’s shoes. Just pleading for time (as I did when I was home in October), time for seeking the Lord, time for appeal, time for getting at the truth, time to let the rest of the congregation know what was going on and hear his side. No mercy.
As far as information is concerned, I haven’t merely heard things from my dad. When I was home in October, it was to meet with people, and I arranged 6 meetings for the week I was there. I have also been in touch with the church visitors, and contacted numerous other people. Many have been willing to dialogue with me, and others have shared paperwork from the process. Someone who has not yet responded to me, oddly enough, is 13–another person I apparently, wrongly, believed was my friend. I have appealed to him multiple times to just explain what happened, give me his side of the story, anything that would clear the air, and even maybe bring closure. Nothing. Nevertheless, there is an underlying assumption that everything that happens in council meetings is confidential–I’m wondering whether this is universal, and whether it is written somewhere that that is how things are to be treated? I would be interested in knowing whether this is the case. Still, when this sort of thing is happening to a person, who is being progressively alienated from those he trusted (like the small group), he needs a confidante. Also, when a person you trusted is now going out of his way to make you look like you have a pathology, you need to make sure you’re not actually going crazy–you have to talk to somebody who can follow the situation as you describe it. I made sense as a confidante, because I knew the people involved, but since I am 3,500 miles away, I was fairly safe. I’m not in the classis, or a church visitor, and have no influence at A.–the knowledge/information I have gave me no power except to inform my prayers. My dad worked overtime keeping things from my sister, and that was quite a chore, since she knew in the summer something was wrong, but was unable to find out what it was. Obviously no one is threatened by how much I know now, since the council has seen fit to ignore me. And as I pointed out in my longer email, platitudes about moving forward don’t serve the victim (though I know you don’t believe he’s a victim–but how can a police officer know if someone was assaulted unless he investigates?), only the perps, just like in this case, apparently, confidentiality is preserved or touted when it means protecting the ‘council’ (I put that in quotes because I know the whole council was not on board with this). It’s convenient that no one ever can or will know what happened, therefore no ever can or will know whether the course of action was godly or wicked. Not sure what Jesus would have to say about that, and I don’t know why you would accept it–I would have thought that you’d be one who is suspicious of cheap excuses or diversions. Concerning email addresses, houses are also joint addresses; the intended recipient is clear from the name on the envelope. I suppose that point is moot, since now we’ve been corresponding.
At any rate, several points of the Article 17 grounds were shared verbally with the congregation at the congregational meeting, so I suppose that document is not confidential. Whether meetings took place or not is not confidential–either the CVs met with my dad ‘several’ times, or they didn’t, and that sort of general fact is practically public domain. Also, as far as I know, the paperwork reviewed by the classis for the meeting will not be confidential. What puts my dad’s career in jeopardy is the fact that all this has gone on his record, potential churches looking at him as a candidate will see what he’s been accused of, guilty of x,y & z, and if it’s wrong, then yes, something does need to be corrected. I don’t know why the possibility that someone could be lied about just doesn’t seem to bother so many people. Or, perhaps a better way to put it is, I don’t know why investigation to make sure things were done for the right reasons does bother people. In the end, the council’s list of instructions, and my dad’s written response to it, were apparently the trigger for the Article 17. Again, since the congregation was not consulted on his termination, as they were on his hiring, why are these documents not simply made available to everyone? Why should anyone be afraid of a little scrutiny? Freedom of information? And why would the leadership be unprepared for being asked for an explanation of their actions? When the apostle Paul was wronged and slandered, he actually named names–he wanted people to be aware of what happened, he wanted the truth out, even if actual justice would only come on God’s time. I’m not saying my dad is Paul. What I’m saying is that it’s not crazy, obsessive or fanatical to want things out in the open, and Paul is one of our examples of so much in the Christian life. Paul was hurt by Alexander the metalworker, and disappointed by Alexander and Hymenaeus–instead of publishing their names and their wrongdoing for all time in God’s Word, someone might have said he should just move on (something has just occurred to me: why didn’t the people who were apparently so offended by my dad just let it go and move on?). But of course one might say Paul was inspired, he was different from us living today. But there are things that are a matter of written record in this instance–no, we can’t verify what was said, but witnesses are questioned in courts of law without written record or video back-up for their testimonies, and in this case, as I’ve said, there is a LOT of writing. Oh, I forgot–the council’s announcements to the congregation are on record too, since whole services are on DVD, and one of them is blatant misrepresentation of my dad’s written response to their list. Nonetheless, only a few documents need to be consulted to know that this is fishy, and that not all is what it seems or what certain loquacious people have claimed.
You say there is no one to fight, like this was a natural disaster rather than actions taken on the part of grown men—my letters to the council aren’t about fighting, or about finding someone to fight. It’s about accountability, about clear thinking and Christian reasoning. If there isn’t a ‘fight’ to be had, so be it. I just want it demonstrated that there isn’t one. Since I can’t even get anyone to engage, how do I know what the situation is, or whether there is anyone to blame with anything? The claim is that it’s cut and dried–I want it proven that it’s cut and dried–the matter of who brought this about, and what precipitated it.
Concerning ‘possibilities’ for my dad’s future… I suppose once my dad and sister know where they are going to live, whether he’ll be able to take another call, whether his oversight committee will treat him like an adult, all that, then perhaps the Lord’s direction will be easier to seek. For now, all we can do is rest in the everlasting arms, and pray that time and a bit of distance will help to salve the wounds of betrayal (Ps 27 is a beautiful one on the faithfulness of the Lord in contrast to how humans let us down, even family). I know that some people I thought were our friends (who played instruments or danced at my wedding, no less) were part of the group who were threatening to leave if something ‘wasn’t done’ about my dad. I don’t know how a person ‘moves on’ or gets over something like that. Also, I think people involved in this don’t realize how personal a pastor’s call from God is–when you’re certain God wants you to do this, it’s the cornerstone of your walk with Him, all that’s pretty much blown out of the water when your under-shepherds fire you in such a way instead of doing the normal thing, like just saying, ‘we think your time is up’, and then after imperilling your earthly chances of continuing in the pastorate, say you should do something else. It’s just not that simple. This involves a major spiritual paradigm shift, and no one seems to get that. And it simply lacks credibility–if you destroy a man’s means of doing a certain job, you can’t be the one to say he should just do a different job and have it be meaningful. [author’s note: it has come to my attention in the last 48 hours that another women on the ‘sack’ side was expressing similar sentiments: ‘now PT can be closer to healthcare resources, maybe this will give his daughter more opportunities’ (and this is all God’s will & timing). Thank you, women of A., for giving my family these great opportunities, and bless you for giving God the credit. Brilliant. Reminiscent of Crockett’s terminology: they were all reading from the same ‘script’. Unfortunately for them, compassion is shown in one’s actions, not in cheap Hallmark rhetoric. Last night at our church, we were ‘in’ Ezekiel 33, and while we looked at the first half of the chapter, it was verse 31-2 that caught my eye, in the NKJV: ‘31 So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. 32 Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.’ 25 April 2016]
I wrote to 19 with a few excerpts from the above email to 28, the same day. I got a confused and noncommittal reply, in which 19 did not interact with my points or challenges, except to answer a question she thought I asked (which I really didn’t): why do I still attend A.? Part of the answer was, ‘They love my kids.’ My first reaction was, ‘I thought they loved me, and loved my dad and kid sister.’ My sister’s reaction, and another current attendee’s, when I told them this, was, ‘Well, they have to! They don’t have any other kids!’ Well, they have 28’s kids, too, but the parents of the only very young children left in the weeks following the A-17. [see **author’s note in Exhibit V. for the update/correction on this point. 25 April 2016]
Email to 19, former member of small group, still currently attending A., related to council member. I neither finished nor sent it:
Thanks for your reply—I appreciate it, and know it isn’t easy. I know I’m probably burning a bridge by writing once more, but I’m not without hope just yet.
I have to disagree with one of the most basic assumptions in your email: this isn’t a ‘council matter’. The only reason/result I can think of for/from construing it that way is to make them unaccountable to anyone, and perhaps to absolve the congregation of any responsibility to hold their feet to the fire. It’s a church matter; the church elected them, the church judges their behaviour. The church is paying for their decision in several ways, not least of which is financial—this sort of action affects the church so deeply that there is no way it can reasonably be thought of as something to go unscrutinised. We’re to follow the example of the Bereans—test both the teaching and actions of our leaders against God’s Word. That can’t be done if we wash our hands of our responsibility for the church’s condition (whether it’s actually living the Gospel and honouring Christ) once we vote them in, and let them do anything they please with no transparency and no fear of the Lord. The secular government doesn’t work that way (at least on transparency, like the Freedom of Information Act), and the body of Christ sure doesn’t either. There would be no point in being a Protestant if we are absolved of all personal obligation to know and apply our Bibles; church leadership can do no wrong, or at least, can’t be questioned, so why not be under the Pope? Also, God is in control, but isn’t He always? Does that mean we shouldn’t ever get involved when someone else is in danger, or when the name of Christ is being shamed? His sovereignty and providence do not give us licence to ignore His commands throughout the Old and New Testaments to DO good, and that means discovering and fighting evil. I’m tempted here to invoke Edmund Burke on what happens when good people do nothing.
The council can very easily justify its decision by simply publishing the be-all and end-all mother of all lists, and my Dad’s response to it. They’re written down and on the record. That is all I really want. My dad couldn’t even set foot through the door after the suspension (supposedly on account of this list, which was the ‘last straw’, or whatever), having later been gagged by the termination agreement which the council has already broken, let alone was he able to finish the series on Philippians, which was an attempt to meet some folk halfway (which everyone no doubt has already conveniently forgotten about—he didn’t manage to get to the tour-de-force passage on joy). People can (and should) decide for themselves whether the council’s action was godly, loving, necessary and reasonable, and whether the council was honest with them after the fact. I of course would argue it wasn’t—I saw my dad’s response to the list before he gave it to them; and then I heard the way the council described it to the congregation the following Sunday morning. My dad’s response is on paper, and the announcement was recorded—those are knowable FACTS. Yet no one cares about whether story matches reality.
I think everyone with a brain and with some measure of Christian maturity in that church should find it completely inappropriate that the council, whom they elected to represent them and lead them according to God’s Word, fired the pastor who was hired on the basis of a congregational vote, without any documented justification for their decision. It was ‘explained’ through unilateral announcements, and a letter to the congregation in December which my dad wasn’t even apprised of, let alone consulted on, per the termination agreement, and once again, the council just got away with it. Doesn’t just ‘letting this go’ encourage abuse of power and secrecy, and at the same time excuse apathy? It’s also dangerous—like Bereans, we should be seekers, and self-motivated to be informed and committed to the truth. If God cares about justice, and we don’t….well, for those of us waiting on justice, there’s Psalm 10.
My dad loves your kids too, and he loved A., and he was a member there for 7 years. Some people never loved him; some loved him until it wasn’t convenient any more. Don’t know if the Bible defines that as love. One thing is certain—at least three times my dad has mentioned that as one of his greatest anxieties, indeed heartbreaks: he has no idea what [your kids and 28’s kids] must think of him now, after those (mis)representations by the council, his ministry just cut off in the wink of an eye, just after Pastor Appreciation Sunday and before the holidays, with never an opportunity to show his face or give his side. And very few people have asked for it. Perhaps you’re an exception to this, 19, but I’m not convinced many are very sad or hurting at all—it sounds like there is a lot of show of excitement and enthusiasm on Sunday mornings, not a sign of difficult transition. Several people who showed their commitment to the church by only attending a couple of times a month over the past few years are now back regularly, apparently. I hope it is seen as a fair trade. He’s been kicked to the kerb, ostracized, treated like a criminal (by the same people who used to have him over for his birthday, for heaven’s sake), and then forgotten about–‘moved on from’, if you can move on from a person. And I don’t think many people miss him or my sister. Very few have even bothered to call and ask how he is, while I’ve heard some people who have left A. have actually gotten cards. I was married in that church (MY CHURCH!), and no one who’s still there (with the exception of one person whom I never even spoke to before October) could even be bothered to reach out to me after the dumping either. I don’t get it. I guess I was always an outsider and never realized it. I’m not sure what Christian brotherhood and friendship means at A., but I do know that people have short memories, and very little curiosity about what’s done allegedly ‘in their best interest’, which sounds like parents with children, or certain condescending people in the American federal government.