A New Year in the blogosphere, and a potentially positive development in the drudgery is at hand: intervention by some people with meaningful morality.
I plan to compile a list of basic principles which can be gleaned from this whole experience, but I will start from a different vantage point and see where that leads us. Today, we will look at some aspects of this Article 17 and its aftermath that are unique; to be more precise, we will look at realities brought to light–or indeed brought into existence–by the A-17, concerning the people and community involved.
One can ask, and perhaps is compelled by nature to ask, ‘Why did this happen?’ Per this blog, there are multiple causes, factors, perhaps reasons, at the human level. I’d dare to say that most of the causes, factors, and even motives of the major players have been (I hope accurately and responsibly) catalogued herein. To come at it from a Christian perspective and raise the eyes to the level of divine cause, some things we will never be told in this life. But we can speculate within certain parameters, and the Bible gives us a few different reasons for why God engineers or allows things to happen the way they do. Sometimes, all we are told is that the unfolding of events is unto His glory. Sometimes, events reveal something about His character, while by the same token the action of people shows or exposes the hearts of those people in particular, or aspects of human nature in general.
While this topic would certainly coincide with that of a list of basic principles, we’ll proceed as if they’re separate and continue this monologue in paragraph form (the principles, as I imagine them, would be in the form of bullet points).
So, why did this happen?
Let’s take a quick inventory of what happened in another A-17 situation and see how it compares.
For starters, it also was precipitated by a man with a psycho-spiritual problem, a narcissist with a compulsion for gaining influence, impressing people with both his confidence and intelligence, and with a bit of the snake-oil salesman about him. This walking ‘black hole’ (H/T George R.) had engulfed a house church group of which he had before been a part; he/it has since erected and lost multiple small business alleged by some to be ‘shell companies’.
What is interesting is that for our purposes he attached himself to the pastor’s best friend in the congregation–both he and this friend were on the council at the time–and over the months before the A-17, the two met for breakfast EVERY DAY. Most likely, so the black hole could talk (and boy, can he talk!). The former friend, who also worked for the black hole in his business and was persuaded by this association to trade up to a much more expensive car than his family had ever been wont to drive, became the right-hand man in the drama, leading the charge by making phone calls, chairing meetings, running interference and defence for the black hole even after the pastor was gone. I believe it was he who first made the motion that the black hole take over the pulpit after a congregation merger with an Asian group who met in the same church building; their pastor would remain head of their group, while the black hole would pastor the predominantly Anglo congregation. When a suspicious parishioner asked about the black hole’s credentials, the reply, perhaps via a red-faced puppet, was, ‘Are you questioning my integrity?’
The fact that someone was willing to ask a question upon announcement of this hare-brained proposal was perhaps a harbinger of what was to come: in the months that followed the pastor’s departure, the vast majority of the congregation came to see the black hole for what he was–a charlatan. And the numbers ebbed. One year to the week after the pastor preached his last sermon, the church closed. The would-be CRC mediator who had come in to assess the situation was had by the black hole (though he was warned in advance), and the handling by higher-ups was bungled, because people didn’t listen (how rare!). The black hole killed the church in less than a year, while blocking any attempt to get an interim pastor. But there was never any acknowledgment that the pastor had been right (rather, that he had been wronged), and there no doubt was never any discipline for the smooth-talking, power-hungry cheat, who is now plying his wares at a non-denom seeker-friendly church nearby. I hope this new church is ‘reformed’ enough for him; at the time he and his wife joined the church he destroyed, he remarked with great significance, ‘I don’t know if Covenant is reformed enough for us.’
At any rate, it took relatively little time before he was found out. Part of this was likely due to his unethical business practices, which no doubt were difficult to conceal from the church, since by the time the pastor left, a half-dozen of the church’s men were working for him. One of them, one of the younger men in the congregation, was anxious to get out of that ‘snake pit’ in the weeks after the church became vacant, but he couldn’t put in his notice: the black hole had not paid him in two months, and he knew if he announced his intentions to quit, he would likely never see the check he was owed.
So now. It is about 14 months since the A. congregational meeting at which Mr. Wonderful, the Fabulous Lucky #13, announced the ‘release’ of Simon Templar and tried to buck up the congregation (successfully, I might add, as we all know) with a bunch of Journey bluster. ‘I seen him in a smoky room–the smell of wine and cheap perfume!!’ Whoops, wrong Journey.
Initially, 8 people left in the first month, plus the two young children of a young couple. That couple and their children subsequently came back. In the last six months, another couple has left, one that had felt embraced and accepted by A. after some rough experiences in other churches. According to my sources, there have not been any significant visitors in this past year, nor, of course, any sightings of the young people ST supposedly drove off with his fire-and-brimstone sermons, nor of the other couples who, it was claimed by the council, left only because of him during his tenure. This is predominantly a LIE, and was demonstrated so by 42 in his rebuttal of the A-17 submitted to Classis NM in December 2015. Where are all these people now (the ones who left A. between 2008 and the A-17)? One of the women of A. did her own research, and even asked one of the families whether ST was the reason they left. The answer was ‘No.’ The real reason? 13 himself. I’m shocked.
So a few were onto the stink of this situation from the beginning, and several have smelt it since. They may be more departures of long-term members in the coming weeks. But the Deliverer hoped-for (and perhaps promised) by 13 never materialized, or rather, he wasn’t in the right denomination (he’s a Baptist) and he got called by a church in Kalkaska County. A. is, almost needless to say, still vacant.
Now we should talk about what’s been exposed by this series of unfortunate events (Netflix is apparently putting out a Lemony Snicket original, by the way).
First, lack of sentimentality. We all know the culture has taken the value of feelings too far, and uses them to justify all kinds of poor judgment and immoral behaviour. But how does one react to the complete radio silence on the part of ‘Christians’ toward a couple who have not only been members of their congregation for decades, but also taught the adult Sunday School, and wrote a very striking letter about the evil nature of the church’s course? Not only was there no interaction with that material (indicating the couple wasn’t taken too seriously), but no attempt was made to reach out to them (with one exception).
The other older couple who immediately left A. received cards and phone calls, perhaps attempts to woo them back (one of their adult children still attends A.; this may have been added incentive). This couple gave the callers an earful.
But in spite of the tears shed, and love and sympathy expressed for ST, less than a month before by one of the women of the dissolved small group, no one from that pod has reached out to my family in the past year. One woman saw fit rather to deride and lecture me and my sister, but we’ve gone all over that. Those who are gone are also forgotten. Some might wonder what a lack of show of sentiment–e.g., a verbal declaration to someone that you miss him or her, whom you’ve seen regularly for years and years–says about more biblically significant categories like love for the brethren and general compassion. Of course, it may also say something about integrity, the fact that no one was motivated (enough) to talk to 42 & 43 about Kent Crockett’s book, but we’ll talk about integrity later.
Feelings trump everything, and we need to just ‘love on’ (I hate that expression) everyone. Until they disagree with you. Then you kick them to the curb and after 60 years of church membership don’t even give them a phone call. And the faces in services are happy and smiling as if none of this had ever happened.
Second, short memories (see last few sentences of previous section). Recently a contact preached at A., and was told by one of the elders with whom I met in October 2015 that the reasons for the A-17 were that ST was too ‘gloom and doom’ and ‘always had to be right.’ In autumn 2015 he said to my face (and to ST’s) that he didn’t believe either of those things was true, but that he and the council simply ‘had to do something’. Read: it doesn’t matter if it’s true and people are just nit-picky (or even delusional, I might add), they’re threatening to leave! And this man had been arguing with his cousins for years about their invalid points of view. One has to wonder if, in the conversation with our contact, he offered or forgot to offer a disqualifier, that these were the alleged reasons but he didn’t hold to them himself–or if he doesn’t remember that he disagreed unequivocally at the time but has heard all the tripe for so long, with no countering argument, that now he believes it. Sad.
But even at the time, that is, during the course of 2015, people contradicted themselves from one conversation to another, a whole ‘nother level up from asserting things about the pastor, when actions taken by him only weeks before utterly debunk those assertions. The problem is, the person making those assertions has to be willing to consider the reality of the pastor’s behaviour, and then apply that reality to the validity of the assertion. This is a lot to ask of people who live so much in the here and now, and want that which is most immediately convenient and expedient, and requires the least effort.
Third, irrational thinking or Group-think (propelled by the compulsive need to go along and get along). This goes hand-in-hand with point two. And we’ve been over and over this issue on the blog. Because most individuals in this area prioritize getting along over doing the right thing (and particularly over the truth and thinking for themselves), this phenomenon is both widespread and essentially over-powering. Many of the folk in the area are related by blood and by marriage, and they put family and (the veneer of) family peace ahead of all else. And because the churches are peopled by families who make up most of the numbers (and are ethnically homogeneous) they do think alike, share the same values, and have a vested interest in avoiding any rocking of the boat, and in actively discouraging or opposing such by others.
This, combined with the culture of doing what makes you happy, is enough to overrule strong personal antipathies: one couple (the wife in particular) used to make no bones about proclaiming how much they couldn’t stand 13. By the time everything at A. came to a head, they were on his ‘side’. These were also sometime members of the small group. While at the time we were still friends with 13, and knew his family better (and I thus didn’t understand why they didn’t like him), probably the wife’s instincts about 13 were right all along. But she and her husband fell victim to peer pressure, temporal thinking and what they perceived to be a socially desperate situation. And 13 was the hero making promises and apparently the only one ‘courageous’ enough to say what they had all allegedly been thinking. Of course, the word ‘courageous’ requires reiteration that 13’s name never went on anything in all this mess, and neither did his ‘wordsmith’s’ (who nevertheless gave permission to share his name on this blog–which I may yet do!). This wordsmith wouldn’t admit to writing the council’s documents on their behalf when asked point-blank about it. But this too is evidence perhaps of Group-think: because none of the other five men naturally thought of any of the major nay-sayers complaints (mostly articulated and spread like manure by 13), none of them would have been capable of writing either the A-17 Request or the Letter to the Congregation. It takes some mental leg-work to distil and crystallize such significant arguments, and it took someone like 21 to fake his way through legitimate and ‘Christian’ argumentation.
The phenomenon is at its most frightening when you hear relatively intelligent and upright people saying very stupid and unbiblical or even amoral things–like, ‘I don’t care if x is true; y is how I feel.’ It’s a real-world, small-town, monolithic local church version of Animal Farm. If people do not think independently (and especially if their minds aren’t conformed to Scripture and they don’t rely on the Holy Spirit to bear witness to them in moral and intellectual quandaries); if they believe all those who speak powerfully care about their best interests (notice that this trumps what honors God); if the big talkers successfully equate what people want for themselves with the ‘good of the church’, without appeal to what the Bible actually says is the church, and is good; if they can persuade the listeners to follow along, by first saying what they think the listeners want to hear (later this won’t be so necessary, as evidenced by Napoleon’s evolving arguments in the above-mentioned novella—they’ll have the peons trained to listen and obey even if the message becomes a difficult one); and if the now-elites repeat something often enough, they can shape the minds and reality of practically everyone. There is no opposing someone who is effectually impressive to those who are pathetically impressionable.
To be continued…