Originally there was some material in Appendix v., namely, letters to and from me and the head of the denomination. Circumstances have changed somewhat in the last few days, and I deemed it wise to deactivate the link to that post. In its place, I offer my correspondence with the all-wise 54. (I know I have been remiss in following up on the series ‘What would YOU do?’, but I have been busy with my August assignment! I shall return to this series ASAP, especially considering the fascinating nature of recent events!)
For those of you unfamiliar with 54 and his role in this sick play, see Exhibit E.
Now, before we begin, and in spite of the fact that I will have to cover some of the same ground in WWYD pt.2, I must say that I have been the subject of some gossip-mongering amongst these ‘good people’ and so-called ‘leadership’. I have been brought up in a meeting between my father and his committee (last Wednesday, 24 August 2016), and at an A. council meeting, this past Tuesday, 30 August. None of these people who say my name in my absence, or grill third parties about my blog, can be bothered to interact with me on anything. Reminds me of this:
That there is what’s known as an invertebrate. It has no spine.
Now. I wrote a critical response (what I term an essay) to the Better Together Project Report put out by the denomination in June, which dealt with the phenomenon of the ever-increasing annual number of Article 17s. At the end of July, I got a very courteous, engaged and well-written letter, interacting with nearly all of my points in a very respectful way, from two representatives of the denomination. Unfortunately, this is rare. I’ve not been treated well or taken seriously by the great majority of the men in this denomination whom I’ve contacted about this situation. Of course, some of the women can be cold and condescending too–so while I allege that many CRC men are sexists, I am an equal-opportunity critic myself!
To date, I have still heard NOTHING from A.’s council.
Around the time I wrote the aforementioned essay, on July 1, 2016, to be precise, I emailed 54 the following, which has been taken from the original Appendix v.:
I have heard nary a peep, though he did accidentally send me an empty reply the morning of July 1st. So I know he got it. This is what he read:
Dear Mr. 54,
I’m writing to you because I was recently made aware of the ‘Better Together Project Report‘ (BTPR) which dealt with the increasing use of the Article 17 in the CRC over the past several years. This was only a few days before it was to be presented at Synod 2016, just a couple of weeks ago. I read it with great interest.
On 15 June, I emailed a 6,000-word critical response to three of the four main contributors to the main report; I also emailed a copy of it to several other CRC personnel. Most troubling to me was the absence of any examination of data in the main report. There is nothing in the report to indicate that the team, in all of its research efforts, had read any documentation pertaining to actual Article 17 cases, or interviewed pastors and/or members of their congregations/councils who had thus “separated.” But I digress.
This is one of many missals I’ve sent over the past number of weeks, and I probably should have contacted you much earlier in all of this. “This” is the situation of A. church in —–, and my dad, Simon Templar.
I’m writing to you in particular because of your position as co-author, as named in the document ‘Report on a Pilot Study on Redesigning Church Visiting for the CRCNA‘, hereafter Pilot Project. The background section of the report (p.32) indicates that the one-year pilot programme was being discussed at least as early as October 2014, when funding was secured for the proposal. This means that some of the issues which are presented in the BTPR as contributing factors to the Article 17 increase were already a known quantity in 2014, and something was thus being done to address perceived flaws in the Church Visiting procedure/practice.
What this means for our situation is that you were well aware, not only of the role of church visitors, and church visiting, and its apparently negative connotations, but also about the concerted efforts of the denomination to improve that aspect of the “system” before you were ever called in as a consultant to A. in March, 2015.
I now paste below the second section of the outline on p.32 of the Pilot Project report:
[This can be found here.]
I want to draw your attention specifically to points 2 & 3. I would like to know how what transpired at A., under the purview first of yourself, and thereafter of the church visitors, was “conducted within a spiritual discernment framework.” If you find it necessary to consult Church Visitors Revv. 21 (of —– CRC) & 22 (of —– CRC) on this, please do so. I have not had very helpful responses from them on this matter, but perhaps they’d be more inclined to interact with you about their involvement.
I’d also like to know how the council was encouraged to “engage in purposeful conversations, focusing on self-assessment, healthy church language and action planning to grow faithful disciples.” Please see Exhibits G, H, I, J, L, M, N, O, P & S of my blog, on the events/communications most relevant to this issue.
While the Pilot Project was admittedly still a ‘work in progress’ at this time, it is clear that as a co-author, you were undoubtedly immersed in the issues pertaining to church visiting, and were certainly aware of the observations, instructions and exhortations included in the Pilot Project report.
Next, I re-read the report you prepared last summer (dated July 21, 2015) which purported to summarize the family visits undertaken by A.’s council at that time. I note here that no denomination-produced and -approved official survey was ever conducted. In any case, I am attaching that report, which includes my notes, in comment form, to this email. My comments and observations therein will help to explain why I believe that what happened at A. is completely antithetical to what is promoted in the BTPR as a whole, and in the Pilot Project report in particular.
I heard from a friend who still attends A. that you were present at the morning service this past Sunday, June 26. I wonder how it is that ever since the you-know-what hit the fan in the autumn of 2015, you have failed to contact my dad even to check in on him. Of course, that is in keeping with the general mode of behavior at A. itself. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say, and of course, a lot of people I thought were my friends, including the virtuous, ready-at-any-moment-with-the-appropriate-platitude 13, will have nothing to do with me. To be specific, Mr. 13 hasn’t responded to any of my letters or emails (I’ve sent 5 or 6) since last September! I’m including a link to the photo of 13 & 14’s wedding gift to me and my husband, taken before I mailed it back to him in November. To post it wasn’t cheap, but I preferred to have it on the other side of the ocean.
I will close with an excerpt from my critical response to the overall report, pertaining to the Pilot Project and how its emphases were or were not apparently deemed relevant to A.’s situation:
‘The advice to Church Visitors (section IV. B. & C., pp.33–5 of the Report)…thus leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. [In my father’s church’s situation t]here was no openness; no transparency; no “process with multiple contacts”; no “self–assessment”; no “feeling safe”; no consistency in expressed expectations, role or authority; no review; no accountability; no “discovery process, led by the Holy Spirit,” in either the dealings between the Team member and the church’s council, or that between the Church Visitors and the council in the following months. There was not even an opportunity for those with a contrary view to speak with the Church Visitors or the Classis in any meaningful way. In the meantime, the congregation was not apprised of what was going on. So much for trust and “relationships.”
In another vein, I will also note that on page 34, “Lectio Divina” is mentioned as a valid practice. I do not believe that this practice is biblical, but that is beside the point. I mention Lectio Divina here because in the Article 17 Report to the Classis which pertained to my father, the Church Visitor(s) cast aspersions on my father’s belief in the continuation of Spiritual gifts. The Church Visitors’ description of my father’s position implied that he holds an extreme viewpoint, maintaining beliefs that are “beyond the bounds of reason.” Actually, his position is the same as the official position of the CRCNA, per Report 34 (1973). All of these things combine to make this particular segment of the overall Report so ironic, it is almost nauseating.’
While it has been eleven months since the attached report was produced, I hope that the passage of nearly a year actually helps to provide some perspective. Again, I would like to know why the advice to church visitors—perhaps also relevant for any consultant to a church, including a coach—was not applicable to A.’s circumstances, especially those that precipitated the Article 17.
Thank you for your time.
Again, as I mentioned in Exhibit E., 54’s report isn’t obviously a public document, so I cannot include the text of it here with my comments. The day may come when I will just post the comments and allow the reader to infer the original text from them. The BTPR pdf can be found here. [12 July 2016]
…A few weeks ago, I followed up with Uncle 54, having also written a short message to his nephew–still an elder at A.–asking him to ask 54 if he planned on replying to me in any way. I sent the email below, copying it to two of the A. elders (including his nephew), to the CVs, to my dad’s ‘Oversight Committee’, and to the Regional Pastor. My intent was both to let all these other people know I was still here, and to pressure Uncle 54 into responding to me:
Dear Mr. 54,
it has now been more than 6 weeks (July 1) since I wrote to you with the email pasted below and the attached document. I know you received these from me on the day I sent them, as you sent an empty reply, which I assume was accidental.
I am a committed believer who was baptized into and made public public profession in the CRC. I reached out to you as a denominational official, and as one who took part in A.’s (pre)Article 17 process, and I was quite frank with you. By biblical standards, I would call your ignoring my correspondence both evasive and rude. By those of the world, I would call it extremely unprofessional, though hardly surprising, given how the majority of men in the CRC whom I’ve contacted choose to operate.
I ask that you please answer this note with an indication of whether you plan to interact with anything I wrote, and if not, why not.
Continually at y’all’s mercy,
PS. I have also attached two photos of myself, so you know I am a real person. I half-considered sending one of my dad and me at my wedding, in A.’s sanctuary, but thought that might be laying it on a little too thick.
PPS. I have copied the Classis Regional Pastor, A.’s 2015 Church Visitors, two of A.’s elders, and my dad’s Oversight Committee on this email.
This past weekend (on 26 August), much to my shock, in popped a reply from 54. The content was not all that shocking. I will write my reply to him first, then paste it here in due course.
Reply Letter Sent to 54 (September 3, 2016).
Dear Mr. 54,
I want you to know at the outset that I plan to publish this letter on my blog.
I am a bit confused. You obviously took the time to write 7 paragraphs to me, and you ask me not to interpret something as you “not taking my comments seriously.” Which comments would those be? Whether Mr. Th– wrote anything to me in response to my essay on the BTPR (Better Together Project Report) is irrelevant, as I was not asking for your input on it.
In my first letter to you, I told you very clearly why I was writing to you, with the reasons following this opening phrase of the fourth paragraph: “I’m writing to you in particular because…”
I sum up the four main reasons here:
1. you as a co-author in the Pilot Report knew there were serious flaws in the Church Visiting system, yet you called CVs into A.’s situation without any warning or acknowledgement to the A. personnel involved that there were problems in the process, which may very well indicate lack of any personal reflection on the issue as well.
2. I wanted to draw your attention to a passage in the section of the Report you are credited with co-authoring, which describes how the process should work; I then asked you how what happened at A. was in line with this description.
3. I asked you to read the vivisection of your report on A.’s congregational visits last summer, which I attached to the email.
4. I asked why you had not been in touch with my dad since his termination, since you must have learned how all this played out. (I guess the remark about how you and a bunch of other people have been praying for him is supposed to answer this question? How comforting.)
I closed with a recapitulation of the most important question: “Again, I would like to know why the advice to church visitors—perhaps also relevant for any consultant to a church, including a coach—was not applicable to A’s circumstances, especially those that precipitated the Article 17.”
Now, at first blush, it appears to me that the content of the email you sent to me, which I received on 27 August, has nothing to do with any of the above issues. I think it should be clear from my original email that I am not after your sympathy, your validation of my remarks in my essay on the BTPR, or even your prayers. I want you to take some responsibility, and if you don’t think you did anything wrong, then walk me through the answers to my questions and demonstrate that what you did, and what the others in Classis N– M– did, was right. You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t just take your word for it—I’d like signs and proofs.
In fact, the closest you get to interacting with my challenges to your participation (and the actions of the Church Visitors) in this mess is in the following passages:
“I also have again reviewed the process used at A. by the council and am satisfied that the intent and result of this work was to help council discover if there were significant issues. When this proved to be true, the recommendations were that prompt, further work be done toward resolution within the framework provided in CRCNA Church Order.”
Well, I’m glad you reviewed yourself–oh, sorry, I mean A.’s “process,” and that you’re satisfied. Would you please explain your thinking? What about my commentary on your report? If nothing else, it proves that the interviewing process was skewed, that the disposition of the report itself was biased, that there was no evidence for any of the assertions therein, that it was often poorly written and lacked clarity, that the questions put to church members were entirely NON-self-reflective, that the answers provided do not indicate a serious Christian worldview on the part of many of the interviewees, and that the report lacks biblical orientation in both its validation of such interviews and its explicit and implicit condemnation and blaming of the pastor without cause.
Obviously there were “significant issues”–the report proves it, but not in the way you think! I redirect you to Exhibit J. for my dad’s discussion of the fact that there was (and still is) a problem or problems—but how does a group go about diagnosing and addressing it? Through some interview process like that described in your report? Because the questions were so thoughtful and geared toward serious spiritual introspection?
I suppose the second sentence, “When this proved to be true…”, is supposed to somehow indirectly answer my question about why you summoned in the church visitors and got that ball rolling when you knew there were problems with the process. But Mr. 54, you were a co-author of the Pilot Project report. You more than anyone else in this situation knew about the flaws, and about the dangers in bringing in people who didn’t know what was going on, and you were also clearly warned that this “process” was being hijacked by a run-amok elder. I think my blog material demonstrates the truth of that warning quite clearly. And those church visitors, the past nature of whose office and process is questioned in an official denominational document, and for whom new instruction is provided in the report with your name on it, were begged by multiple people to slow down and do their homework. What in the 2015 “process” itself encouraged them to do this? Instead, they hit the gas pedal. On the blog you can find the description of the race to December 8, and the letters I wrote to the CVs. I’m sure you are already familiar with what 42 wrote to them.
To compound matters, the people brought in, that is, the CVs, who didn’t know what was going on, were tainted from the start by this very report you wrote, which purported to tell them what the problem was—my dad. This is why you bear a significant amount of responsibility for what happened. But again, if you read the commentary, I think I handily debunk the scapegoating of my dad and prove that the report unwittingly indicates the real issues.
Then you say this:
“Recently I checked with several people who were involved at differing levels, including Rev. Th– who was present at one of the meetings with the A. council and advised the church visitors in this process; spoke with both church visitors involved and some representatives of classis and two of the synodically appointed delegates who were present at the classis meeting dealing with this matter.”
Umm, while I’m glad you “checked” with Rev. Th–, what in the world would he have to say about this “process”, since he sat in on one meeting? I have a great deal of respect for him, since he is the only CRC rep I’ve contacted who has treated me with a modicum of courtesy. But he just wasn’t there. But if you want to correct me on this, please give me date(s) on which he “advised the church visitors”, since in the Request for the Article 17 and in their “Overview” document provided to Classis in December, I’m pretty sure the CVs got the details wrong on the initial meeting at which you and Rev. Th–. were both present.
As for everyone else you mention, well, I see you kept the “checking” pretty insular, so I don’t know why you’d expect to get any other result than this:
“All affirmed the process and decision…”
Well, of course they did. How could they do otherwise since they still don’t know what happened? Did you copy them on my letter and direct them to the blog, and tell them to take time to read, ruminate, and pray, and then get back to you? Or did you just summarize my email and ask them what they thought about it right now? I’m supposed to trust that these were meaningful conversations, and that these people were informed enough about “my side” to adequately weigh up and review their own decision-making? Please. And besides, in my experience, the Christian officials in this process are the least likely people of anyone I know to admit or apologize for anything.
“…while expressing genuine concern and sadness about the pain that this and other similar situations generate.”
It will eventually come out that my dad’s Oversight Committee has been treating him like he’s under discipline (NOT in accordance with the Church Order)—that is, treating him like something they’d scrape off the bottom of their shoe [sic]. If those three men are representative of the aforementioned people “expressing genuine concern and sadness”, I wonder what not expressing genuine concern looks like. Is that what was being emoted at the kangaroo court in December? Concern and sadness? I’d have settled for fairness and a little show of devotion to the truth, but that’s a lot to expect from Christian leadership these days. I guess.
“This does not mean the process was perfect, every process can be improved and there is a need to continue to work at this.”
Ha, well, obviously. Thank you for acknowledging this.
“We also all need to acknowledge that sin invades our lives and activities, so we always give our work to God, asking for his sanctifying grace to do what we cannot or do not. This is true for everyone who is or has been involved n [sic] this difficult matter.”
Funny, 21 said something similar about how “there is sin in every church”. While this is “confessed” on an abstract level, somehow it’s still only Simon Templar who is treated like a pariah (in spite of the fact that the Article 17 states that he has not done anything wrong [whether that sloppy document is internally consistent on this point is another matter—see the blog!]). Classis is perfect, A. is a “good and godly church”. There’s sin in every church, yet no A. member was invited to wonder what he or she could be doing better—any and all problems were chalked up the pastor. No process is perfect, but this one was, since there is no specific admission on the part of anyone of anything specific that was imperfect or could be improved. Mishandling of this by several different people at every level has been clearly established. Yet nowhere, at no time, is anyone willing to make that abstract acknowledgement, of sin or imperfection, personal and concrete, and again, specific. No one has to apologize for anything. Generalized acknowledgement of general imperfection is worthless. And it’s too easy. It’s a way of keeping accountability at arm’s length. It’s just a lot of lip service—and like I wrote to Dr. Y, the CRC is worried because it’s “losing young people.” Gee, I wonder why!
At any rate, you “checked” with all your buddies. This is supposed to pass for accountability and review? You guys just get to talk amongst yourselves and agree you all did a fine job? You’ll understand if that made me laugh. Because, you see, I noticed that you avoided talking to anyone who might have challenged Classis’ “process,” like [names of 6 dissidents, including 42] and a few others whom I could name. Instead, you stayed inside the bubble. Was this deliberate? If not, prove it by talking to some of these people.
In short, you claim to care and to take me/my comments “seriously,” yet you didn’t really read what I sent to you. Why you wrote what you did doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t take me long to read, but it probably took you a bit of time to put it together. Why did you bother? Did you really think I would find this epistle adequate, and just go away? I’m getting tired of all these CRC men insulting my intelligence. It would have been more honest for you to just write and say you weren’t going to write.
you didn’t mention my commentary on your report from last year;
you didn’t mention contacting my dad;
you didn’t mention the radio silence of 13;
you didn’t mention my blog;
and you didn’t answer any of the other major challenges and questions.
Are you now willing to do so? Or is the following declaration supposed to preclude my asking for further communication?: “After seeking the advice of others, including those named above, I am not going to continue to revisit the issues with you.”
There hasn’t been any “revisiting” to “continue”, since you haven’t interacted with anything I said.
I am curious about the “others” (who like so many are probably operating in significant ignorance of the truth) who provided you with “advice” about me, though. I understand A.’s council has been gossiping about me in council meetings, though they don’t see fit to communicate with me on an official basis at all. I am also aware that my dad’s Oversight Committee was grilling him about me and my blog last week. So, is this statement of yours an indication that this is some standard operating procedure—to feel free to talk about me, but when I ask questions, to ignore me and hope I get lost? If you’ve read any of the blog, you know that’s not going to happen.
You close with the following:
“The discovery process has long been finished.”
What was the “discovery process”, exactly? It’s finished, but I wasn’t aware it even started!
“Council adopted recommendations that resulted in initiating a denominationally approved process.”
What were the recommendations? The Mighty List? (See blog Exhibit J.) If that’s an example, that’s evidence of how incompetently and unChristian-ly all of this was handled. And again—the BTPR notes that this “denominationally approved process” is becoming a bit of a monster—you ought to know, your name is on a portion of it! So the fact that it was employed OBVIOUSLY does not automatically mean that it’s right. As I catalogue on my blog, the “adopting of recommendations” (i.e., give him a list of unrelated and arbitrary requirements, change the rules on the guy the night he’s supposed to respond, and if he doesn’t bow to 13, sack him) “that resulted in initiating” the Article 17 took all of 9 days, during which time my dad was left out of any and all conversations, and at least some of A.’s council met with the CVs no less than 3 times. This was corrupt, underhanded, cloak-and-dagger kind of stuff, and so unworthy of the church of Jesus Christ. I’m well aware this last clause is stating the obvious.
It’s also worth camping on the wording of the above sentence for a moment, particularly this: “recommendations that resulted in initiating”. Impersonal constructions like this are reminiscent of 21’s style. Does that mean something? perhaps that you two think alike? Such constructions also seem to be another way of avoiding the attribution of personal responsibility for anything to anyone. At the beginning of the sentence, there is half-credit given to the council for following unnamed parties’ recommendations, but by the end, all sense of agency for the verbs is dropped. It seems to suggest, “No one did this; it just happened/was initiated.” Oh, wait, no, I know! It was an act of God!
As a sidenote, I’ve heard that 21 has left H—– for the lakeshore beauty that is S—. Why was not a request for my dad to seek another call among the “recommendations” given to A.’s council? I’ve got intel from a 2015 A. council member that this was never even mentioned. How was that in any way charitable? I wonder how Church Visitor 21 would apply the Golden Rule, as he evidently got out of his church a much, ahem, nicer way than that which he “recommended” for my dad.
“What happened and will happen is a matter for classis to determine.”
Classis had a chance “to determine” “what happened” in December. Though that wasn’t really their job—that meeting was designed for the usual decision to be made in this kind of situation—to approve or not to approve the Article 17 request, which my dad wasn’t fighting. You mention above having “checked” with the synodical deputies, who were late to the special meeting, due to which the agenda was reversed. They could hardly have been prepared for what happened, since A.’s Article 17 vote was supposed to be before discussion of the closure of At. CRC. The original agenda indicates that this meeting was not about “dealing with this matter” in anything but a superficial way, as it obviously was not expected to take long. The meeting was NOT to investigate what happened. And even that couldn’t have been done in two hours, nor did they attempt it. So what did they do? They locked my dad out of their deliberations and allowed 21 to shoot his mouth off about him with no chance for my dad either to know what was being said about him (he has only recently learned some of what was said—and it wasn’t kind) or to counter the allegations. So as I said above, this was “genuine concern”? Again, I’d have settled for a little fairness.
“It is my understanding that they appointed people to support and encourage your father as well as appointed others for the council and congregation at A.”
It is to laugh! They didn’t “appoint” anybody. They asked for volunteers—and the people who volunteered evidently had no idea—and still don’t—what their mandate and prerogatives are. I’ve mentioned the behaviour of these guys above; indeed, per the church order, their job is to “support and encourage.” Just like the church visitors are exhorted in the report you co-wrote to “conduct” their visiting process “within a spiritual discernment framework.” Instead, the Oversight Committee encourage gossip-mongering—about even my disabled sister, for heaven’s sake! that’s the wonderful churchy community for you—and tell third parties what they’re planning to do about my dad, while refusing to answer perfectly reasonable questions put to them by him, or to hear his concerns. The Classis didn’t learn what happened in December, and didn’t know what the “process” was leading up to the meeting that was arranged solely to approve the separation—they weren’t in a position to approve the “process”, only the request. Now that still so few know the whole story, the Oversight Committee is more interested in contacting people from my dad’s previous calling church, and that in which he did his internship almost 20 years ago. This committee is the latest in this series of bad jokes.
Well, that’s it for me. I’ll reattach your A. 2015 summer report, with my commentary embedded, as you evidently didn’t get it the first time around. I’ll wait to hear from you. Oh, and if you write again, please avoid using the word “pain” or other such terms. I find it is used to minimize my concerns by recasting them as emotional, and therefore subjective and dismissable.