I noted in the [rejected] article for The Banner that I found the book Unpacking Forgiveness unexpectedly challenging.
I picked it up, like others whose Amazon reviews I read, expecting to be validated in my definition of forgiveness. I was–but something else also happened. I felt convicted.
This is the message of the book that caught me off-guard: I ought to be seeking out those believers with whom I am now in damaged or severed (non)relationship, offering forgiveness and communicating clearly and graciously my desire to be reconciled to them. As part of the ‘transaction’ I mentioned in the first half of the last post, mirrored on Christ’s intervention and atoning sacrifice on our behalf, I have an obligation to initiate peace-making. Forgiveness from God Himself is not unconditional, but He took the initiative and paid the price. While forgiving brothers and sisters who have offended me, and being reconciled to them, requires repentance, the Bible does not allow me, the injured party, to sit back and wait for them to come to their senses and take the first step. Matthew 5 and 18 tell me to go to my brother.
While reading UF on the London coach, I often had to put the book down and look out the window, to mull over passages I’d just read, pray a little and ask the Spirit to bear witness to what the author was saying, and to give me a clear sense of how to apply his exegesis of these crucial Scriptures on Christian living and ‘conflict resolution’, for lack of a better phrase.
So now what? There are a couple of people who come to mind immediately when I think of those sundered ties that trouble me.
It is a curious situation, not only because of the time that has passed since I last saw and spoke to these people, but also because of the group nature of the offense, and the group-think involved, which in some cases has amounted to a spiritualized brainwashing. How do you approach someone to repair a relationship, when he or she has been inoculated against you?
I suppose nothing is a barrier to the Holy Spirit, but I do want to ‘do my bit’ in the wisest way possible. So here is a draft of a letter I haven’t yet decided to send:
It’s now been more than a year since we were in touch in any form, and more than 18 months since we last saw each other in person, sitting across a table and having what I thought at the time was a heart-to-heart. Even now I think it was, because I believe you were being honest with me, in spite of what happened afterward.
I am writing because what has obviously come between us troubles me. I thought we were friends. I trusted you, and looked up to you. Our relationship is not what it was before the Article 17 ‘happened’ in late 2015. The actions of other people–if I believe that it wasn’t you wanted, which I do–determined that, as with some others at A. Church, we were on opposite sides. There aren’t supposed to be sides in the church.
I suppose I should say that I could be wrong. Maybe I changed, or my perspective was what caused the rupture. Maybe I assumed we couldn’t be friends, or that our relationship was altered when you didn’t see it that way (and I never asked). And it’s true that I didn’t reply to your last email to me. But I did send you a card at the launching of my blog, and even included a reply to that email, without your name, at my blog in Exhibit W. I haven’t heard from you since.
In addition, you didn’t speak to me last September when I visited A. Perhaps you weren’t there–I can’t be sure. But if you were, like several others you avoided me. And again, since September I haven’t heard from you. That’s caused me to conclude that you either don’t care (which I don’t think is the case), or that you know things aren’t the same. They’re awkward and uncomfortable, and of course, I’ve been very upset. Very angry, even. And so I’d understand why anyone in your position would resist contacting me, if it ever occurred to you. Besides opening up myriad cans of worms, what could you do to change anything a year ago, anyway?
But I felt I had to break the ice with you because I’ve been delving into forgiveness–what it is, why it’s important, how to go about it. I want some resolution between you and me. I want to repair whatever’s been damaged, even if we never see each other again. That’s one of very few things over which either of us has any control, one of very few opportunities to model Christ.
Not knowing whether it would be right to call you a friend makes me sad, and is one of several barriers, several instances of ‘unfinished business’ in my walk with the Lord. So I’d like to offer to correspond, clear the air, work towards some meeting of the minds, some reconciliation, if you’re willing. I want to forgive you, and if there’s something for which I should repent and apologise, I both want you to be able to talk to me about it, and ask you to forgive me.
Please let me know if you’re open to corresponding.”
I’m not sure what I hope to accomplish with this. Perhaps it’s just a starting point. But things aren’t right–I feel it, the staleness of left-behind debris in the way of spiritual communion with other Christians, especially those with whom I felt a special bond (though I discovered last year that this perception was not always shared by those others). I’m not sure if that’s the case with ‘Rosa’. Yet I’m also not sure if she’ll think she did anything wrong. Like I said, I believe she was telling me the truth when she said she didn’t think the ‘answer’ (to what?), in October 2015, was to ‘get a new pastor’. But I do think that she was active in the complaints lobby, and looked the other way when the s*@t went down. She came close to making excuses for the ‘villains’, but not quite. I think she was more interested in explaining or justifying her own choice to remain without protesting injustice.
At any rate, I have this first step in slow-moving action plan. I will update this post after finalizing this note.
While a student at UIUC, I went to a talk given by a brilliant, internationally renowned classicist. He had begun his academic career as a mathematician, but decided to dabble in Greek and Latin in his senior year of undergrad. He is now a leading authority on Aristotle. As Greek philosophy is not my forte, being a rather far cry from Latin epic, I am not familiar with any of this scholar’s many publications. But I did go to another talk of his just last week, on whether Aristotle recognized ‘aesthetic emotions.’
I digress. The talk he gave at Illinois in 2010 concerned pre-New Testament, Greek conceptualizations of forgiveness. While secular in its outlook, this presentation inspired a radical shift in my previously waffly thought on forgiveness in Christianity. In the few years prior to 2010, since two Big Events in which I and other loved ones had been hurt by people I trusted, I’d been considering what forgiveness actually was, what Christ and the biblical authors meant when they used the term, and whether it was what some Christians who talked to me about forgiveness—when discussed the Events and their ‘perpetrators’–believed it to be.
My notes from that talk are probably long since lost in subsequent moves, or else tucked away with other seminar handouts which would take me hours to sort through. I will sum up what was to me the most important effect of the man’s thesis: I came away from the seminar with the conviction that forgiveness is somehow a transaction.
Now it is 7 years later, and I have recently begun—and read most of—a book by Chris Brauns called Unpacking Forgiveness. I have discussed the meritorious thesis and arguments of this book with both my father and sister, particularly as it relates to the nightmare detailed in this blog.
Things are not right between me and several people in the visible church. Ditto for my dad and these same several people, and in turn for my sister and those who have mistreated her. What are we Christians–we and those we believe to have offended us, and with whom our spiritual unity in Christ has been disrupted–supposed to do about this?
Within a couple of weeks after I bought and started reading Unpacking Forgiveness, Simon Templar drove to the Michigan lake shore and sought out 21 in his new church (some pastors in Northern Michigan are permitted to leave their calling churches and seek out other pastures without being terminated—shocking, I know). This rendezvous—described in the essay below—occurred on a Sunday in late March.
In early April, I sent the following unsolicited article to the Banner. It was not accepted, and so I include it here, as submitted, for online readers. I toyed with the idea of asking my contact at the Banner whether there were certain criteria for publication which the article did not meet. I decided not to—I very cynically assumed the theme was just not as ‘relevant’ as ‘white privilege’ (there was an article on this dubious concept on the magazine’s website at the time I submitted the article). As much as ‘forgiveness’ might be a buzzword in the church, I doubt my take on it has a hashtag phrase on Twitter.
Those of you familiar with the story on the blog will know who is meant by ‘Nicholas’ and ‘Ralph’. Those of you who are merely interested in reading about the practical fallout of doctrinal disagreements about forgiveness do not need the two men to be identified for the point of the article to be clear.
A Small Matter of Forgiveness: Where Faulty Doctrine has Left Two CRC Pastors.
A year and a half ago, a close relative, a pastor in the CRC, was dismissed from his church via an Article 17a. This is a provision in the church order which allows for a separation of a pastor and his calling church when there are issues such as “irreconcilable differences” and the like (readers unfamiliar with this bit of CRC church order may find information on the denomination’s website). The reasons were, as so sadly frequent in church disasters, petty. This Article 17, pushed by some members of the church’s council, was a tremendous shock to most in the fellowship. It was fast-moving, messy, and caused a lot of damage and heartache, and not only to the pastor’s family.1 But I have written a fairly full account of this elsewhere.
In my experience, Christians don’t handle conflict in a biblical way in general; if those involved in the situation just described had done so, perhaps the Article 17 wouldn’t have happened in the first place. Matthew 18:15-20 is not much discussed in the church as a guiding text for how Christians should approach dealing with offense and attempting to bring about resolution: namely, forgiveness and reconciliation. It is thus not surprising that this significant text was thoroughly ignored as a procedural template in the Article 17 situation at my relative’s church.
At the same time, “forgiveness” is a word that is frequently bandied about both in the church and in the secular culture around us. Since, as I’ve observed, Christians don’t seem to deal with interpersonal problems in a biblical way, perhaps it is worth asking the following question: how do, or rather, how should believers deal with the issues of lingering offense and the need for forgiveness in the aftermath of a conflict? Consideration of this question is the focus of the rest of this article.
I was first wrestling with this issue during the few weeks of controversy that preceded the above-mentioned Article 17, and I have continued to do so in the months that have followed. More recently, conversations with other Christians got me thinking seriously about what forgiveness is– one in particular concerned an incident that happened on a recent Sunday morning. I just couldn’t buy that it is about ‘letting go of anger and bitterness’. This almost-clichéd definition is, in essence, a form of emotional self-preservation that, ontologically, has nothing to do with the person whom you believe has wronged you.
Our forgiveness of one another in the church is supposed to mirror God’s forgiveness of us. And God’s forgiveness both comes at a price, and has practical effects. It doesn’t simply serve to make Him feel better. I have found Chris Brauns’ book Unpacking Forgiveness to be very helpful in exploring the meaning and implications of forgiveness in an honest, challenging way, and with a biblical foundation and focus.2 I do recommend this book for its solid argument that forgiveness doesn’t happen without repentance, while noting that this doesn’t get the wronged person off the hook: he or she is obligated to offer forgiveness freely, and to seek reconciliation with the offender. The relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation is something Brauns also helpfully establishes and defines.
As I noted, the matter of forgiveness is highly relevant to the incident I mentioned above. Please permit me to provide some background information: a Church Visitor assigned to mediate the situation at the church of my relative (we’ll call my relative Nicholas) helped those on the council who were in a hurry to dismiss Nicholas to the point that he actually drafted the Article 17 Request document for them. In this process, “Ralph” did several things which offended Nicholas. While it is a poor excuse, it must be admitted that he did not really know the situation, and thus did not altogether know what he was doing.
On a Sunday in March of this year, Pastor Nicholas went to Pastor Ralph’s church. By this time, Pastor Ralph had taken a call in a church in a different city, over a hundred miles away in a different classis. Pastor Ralph approached and greeted Pastor Nicholas after the service, when the sanctuary was nearly empty. Pastor Nicholas explained why he had come: to ask Pastor Ralph to sit down with him, sometime in the near future, to discuss what had happened, to try to understand each other’s perspective, and, in sum, to right the relationship between two brothers in the Lord. It seems that Pastor Ralph did not think this was important. It is his professed unwillingness to meet that brings me to this conclusion, for his answer was a definite, and definitive, “No.”
That is the concise account. Pastor Nicholas had come to ask for a meeting, not to hash things out then and there. Pastor Ralph, however, may have assumed Nicholas was seeking an apology at that moment, for Ralph asserted that he knew it “wouldn’t do any good” to discuss it, and that he wouldn’t have done anything differently. At any rate, whether that makes sense, he concluded that Nicholas—who had just told him he had been offended by Pastor Ralph’s words and actions as a Church Visitor—must “just forgive” Pastor Ralph without any discussion. Because there wouldn’t be any.
This is sad. I am saddened. We should be saddened, even dismayed, by this.
I myself am familiar with Pastor Ralph’s way of thinking from his writing, that is, from the articles he has written for the very magazine you hold in your hand. He writes with a clear awareness of the current weight granted (legitimate or not) to emotional experience by contemporary society, both within the church and outside it. Pastor Ralph appears to be quite comfortable with the vocabulary and categories from what can best be termed the “therapeutic culture”.3
I believe that the dismissal of a fellow pastor seeking reconciliation, along with some measure of “closure” (a psychological need long recognized for its importance), in the sacred space of a sanctuary, is a testifying moment. I’ll leave the reader to decide what I mean by that.
One says, “We need to make things right between us.”
The other says, “I’ve moved on already. I won’t discuss it with you; you’ll just have to forgive me in prayer without us working on it.”
What is this kind of “forgiveness” Pastor Ralph is talking about? Isn’t it just another way for the person who has moved on—and out—to demand that the other move on as well,4 without even going through the motions described by Jesus himself in the Gospels, which both these pastors were trained at seminary to preach? These two men didn’t even come to the point of asking the question of whether one or both of them had something of which to repent. One summoned the courage to approach the other in his church. He was rejected. And told to just forgive. On his own.5
Is this what forgiveness looks like in Scripture? Is there forgiveness for Christians without some measure of dialogue, some attempt at reconciliation, even if restoration is not complete in this life?
This kind of unilateral forgiveness posited by Pastor Ralph, and by many others—a forgiveness that only affects, and maybe is all about, only one of two or more parties—is not that forgiveness that our God extends to us. This unilateral forgiveness is, and accomplishes, nothing. I refer the reader to Chris Brauns’ book and to other writers more qualified than I for further discussion on this topic.
Here are two questions: if Pastor Ralph does not think he has done anything wrong, why should he expect or suggest that Pastor Nicholas forgive him? And, if forgiveness happens without admission of wrong-doing and without attempts from both sides to repair a relationship, why didn’t Pastor Ralph simply advise the members of Pastor Nicholas’ church who had grievances to just forgive him, rather than deploying an Article 17, and moving to evict Nicholasfrom the church parsonage at Christmastime?
What I’m getting at here are the practical, real-life implications and consequences of this confusion about forgiveness. One pastor wants resolution. The other won’t even talk about it. And yet both would stress the importance of forgiveness. Where does this leave the pastor who desires healing, especially since it goes beyond the personal? His career will forever be affected by the blot on his record; see this publication’s own article on the professional damage done by the Article 17 in “The Scarlet Number”, from February 2012.
A pastor (Ralph) believes that forgiveness is unilateral, and can or even should be enacted by someone else withrespect to, and yet separately from, him, even when Ralph himself doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong (wouldn’t forgiveness then be unnecessary?). But apparently, unilateral forgiveness is only demanded from some people. Others can punish a person with whom they have grievances, using, for instance, an Article 17. No wonder I’m confused! There is at least one flawed understanding in play here.
Christ’s work on the cross to effect forgiveness and reconciliation was the realization of the abstract that is grace.
Grace, that much-beloved doctrine, particularly among Reformed believers! Yet forgiveness in the Bible has a natural and necessary consequence, reconciliation (though what that looks like takes different forms depending on the situation). God doesn’t forgive His people without being reconciled to them. This is at the heart of our faith. Pastor Ralph talks about “forgiveness”, but ignores reconciliation. I would argue that this is addressing only half of the matter, and it is a meagre half, because forgiveness itself can’t be properly defined, and done, without its necessary counterpart. To talk up forgiveness without reconciliation is what we call “paying lip service.”
When a pastor, it seems, can’t make the connection between the two parts of the “story”, how are the sheep, for whom he stands as an example, supposed to see it? And without understanding how it works, how are they supposed to “do” it?
Finally, I will confess one thing: I am one of those millennials the church is desperate to keep. What am I sticking around for? What wondrous love is there to be found in the midst of such confusion about one of the most central tenets—in terms of both faith and practice—in the Christian religion?6 And even if there is disagreement between pastors about what constitutes forgiveness, what is a young person supposed to think when a rift between pastors troubles one, but not the other? When one wants to go through the process of reconciliation, and the other doesn’t have time, and doesn’t even see the need?
I’m grateful that God’s forgiveness is meaningful and effective, and that by His Spirit He enables us to repent, accept His grace and be reconciled to Himself. But the church’s leadership apparently doesn’t agree on what that dynamic should look like within the household of faith. Lack of clarity causes confusion, and disagreements have consequences. The result here, I would argue, is suffering, and perhaps worse, an excuse for callousness.
1Just in the first week after the Article 17 was submitted, 6 people who had been in the church for decades, some for over 60 years, left. So, for as much spiritual and emotional pain as it caused for the pastor, I’m not sure it left the small, rural church in better shape than it was before.
2One of his most striking passages is one in which he discusses the dangers of “cheap grace”, Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds (2008) Crossway, 69ff.
3See recent books by David Wells for discussion of this and its impact on the church and Christian thought, especially God in the Whirlwind: how the Holy-Love of God Reorients our World (2014) Crossway.
4There is an aspect of this that suggests exercise of power rather than humility…
5My point here is that this “forgiveness” seems to be something a person does independently of anyone and anything else.
6It is a central tenet, as well as, I would argue, a unique phenomenon in human religious and cultural history. Christian forgiveness is unlike anything other world religions have to offer.
Somewhere beyond Antares, along the trajectory set by the tail of the Serpent, is a tiny group of stars, as yet unknown and unnamed by most on Earth. The effect of its cluster is blue, glowing and smoky, and its sector can sometimes be glimpsed as such on a clear summer night in the North.
Amongst them was one called Edmund. His light was yellowish, like a clear topaz, but warmer than the Sun, something like saffron. Edmund was hardly young, but he was among the newer stars in the group.
For reasons—still—known only to themselves, the elder stars had of late taken to running their courses in jars. Edmund had looked askance at them for some time, but went about his business of tracing the darkness of the universe. When a council of stars approached him, sometime after Aldebaran’s infamous holiday (after which, as we all know, that brilliant satellite was never the same), he began to understand.
‘We would like to speak with you, Edmund,’ Penda began.
‘Indeed!’ chimed in Offa, ‘Indeed, we want to know why–’
‘Ahem,’ Penda cut off his more abrupt colleague, ‘we would like you to know we have found you a jar. We hope you find it suits you.’ He offered up the object in question. Edmund looked at the jar with a mixed expression.
‘What is it for?’ he asked. Penda looked around at the others, then replied with a smile,
‘Why, it’s for you to be in.’
‘Yes, to be in, like all the rest of us,’ said Offa gruffly, moving the jar closer to Edmund as a sign of its obvious relevance.
‘Like all the rest of us,’ piped up Aeldred.
‘But surely it isn’t necessary?’
‘You see we’re all using them,’ said Raedwal, stepping in as apologist. ‘And we’re finding them very effective.’
Edmund gazed around silently, taking note of the different aspects of the group encased in glass. They’d been fogging up these shells with their own breath, and distorting the glass with their heat.
Edmund decided against pointing these things out. Instead, he asked,
‘Have the Great Shapes—the Pleiades, the Bears, Cassiopeia—have they been known and named by muting their light?’
The question was not granted the consideration he had intended. Almost immediately came a reply.
‘We aren’t interested in what they’ve been doing for their reknown,’ Offa said with a sniff. ‘Our purposes are here and now, and the other bodies may come closer and look harder, with the jars between them and us.’
‘Like a sort of shield,’ said Raedwal.
‘Yes, yes, a sort of shield,’ echoed Aeldred.
‘Yes, yes,’ said they all.
‘Surely you can see how this is helpful,’ Penda said, his tone unconsciously slipping into one of cajoling. Edmund looked at him hard while he thought.
‘But I was—we were—made to be stars,’ said he, ‘and see how the glass casts a shadow on you and makes your fire quiver. I have freedom to shine, to light my course, and burn unfailingly and to effect… And what’s more, we’ve never needed jars to do so before.’ Penda looked at him in dismay.
‘But before is not now,’ said Raedwal. ‘We don’t want to be so stellar now.’
‘I don’t want the jar.’
Offa seemed naturally to float to the front of the group.
‘You’ll take it like the rest of us,’ he said haughtily. ‘Besides you’re the only one without it, and people ask questions. It’s for the best, for everyone’s best.’ With this positive spin, Offa tried to smile.
‘Your insistence doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t seem right, somehow…’
‘Everything comes closer now,’ said Aeldred, proud that he’d taken advantage of the silence to say his piece. ‘Just in the last turn I’ve had a comet, a bit of an old Terran rocket, and even an asteroid pass very close indeed! The comet lingered to talk.’
‘Oh?’ Edmund prompted. Silence. ‘Where is the comet now?’
‘Er, um, well… the point is, she approached, and she didn’t have to squint.’
‘I see. All the same, I’ll pass on the jar. I’d rather anyone who came by know who and what I was, and to look, or not.’
There was a murmuring in the ranks, and a clinking as some of the jars knocked against each other. No one spoke to Edmund. Rather, all the stars in the front turned toward one another, whispering. Every now and again came strange hissing and growling sounds. Finally, Penda came back to Edmund.
‘Please, Edmund, just get in the jar.’
‘I told you why not.’
‘Then, then, I, I–’ But before he could finish, Edmund looked about him and saw that several stars had emerged from their glass shells, and quietly surrounded him. Offa, Aeldred and Raedwal led the charge, and it was only after he was swept up and slid through a circular opening that Edmund realized it had all been moot. The scraping sound above him was a lid being put in place and screwed tight, though it was barely audible above the clamour and mutual congratulation offered by the group that the outlier was finally ‘like them’, and they wouldn’t have to feel so awkward about it all now.
Edmund saw through the already distorting window that surrounded him that Penda, still in his own jar, was looking at him regretfully, but uselessly.
It was after a time of chatter and sighs of relief that the stars, having returned to their own jars, realized that something had happened. A sort of winking out. And when they looked, though there was not much amazement, some were indeed puzzled. Of course, there was found no one to blame, for they had all decided it was for the best.
In their haste and their zeal they’d turned the lid too tight, and put the fire out, extinguishing it like a candle. And Edmund’s light shone no more.
The radiance of essence, the radiance of truth. Labour to quench it, and you may do just that.
Well, we have had a hiatus of over a month—whoops! Today we’re continuing our list of issues, problems, and tendencies in the community which this experience has laid bare. We finish up the series with items 7-9:
Seventh, inconsistent application of biblical language and values: lots of talk about ‘love’ and ‘caring,’ but where is the evidence? James sounds like a sceptic when he asks the hypothetical interlocutor to show him his works, but it’s all because it’s simply too easy for someone to pay lip service to faith and godly living, and there’s no substance to it.
There’s an awful lot of excuses for someone like the Raisin, who’s a bit of a bully, and who is rude and passive-aggressively domineering because–get ready for it– people let her get away with it. And then they get indignant when someone notes that her trip to the woodshed is a bit overdue, and dares to do the unthinkable: tells her she shouldn’t treat people that way. Don’t say that! You just have to ‘love on her’, and everyone else too! I don’t suppose she gets told to ‘love on people.’ Different standards, even when it comes to biblical principles, you see.
It makes sense that people are too frightened or too lazy to scold a middle-aged child who’s been in the church her whole life, since she might throw a tantrum, and leave the church. And the person who confronted her would be to blame, not her immaturity.
But how about this? An apologetic for people in the church who thumb their noses at Divine Law and stab their brethren in the back, from none other than Pastor Wordsmith himself, who asserts that their worldview is at least as Christian as (it’s actually probably more than) that of those who respect the authority of God’s word and believe (they don’t just say it) all people should be treated with courtesy, and that Christians should conduct themselves with honesty. True, it was a very shallow apologetic, because 21 couldn’t explain how two contradictory positions could simultaneously be the same one. Mkay.
So, the above people get a free pass: pleasant, validating excuses ready-made for them. If you’re like Simon Templar, ‘guilty of no wrongdoing’, you get chastised, humiliated, gossiped about, fired, evicted, penalised for asking questions (I thought dissent was the highest form of patriotism, or something?), condescended to by the inexperienced, and treated like scum without ever being given a chance either to hear accusations against you, or to present a defense. People who try to come to your defense then get talked about behind their backs and made to look crazy.
Here’s the basic rule in Classis Northern Michigan: if you’re a jerk (as in, you don’t bear fruit in keeping with repentance) but have money, are a long-standing (maybe Dutch?) fixture in the community, and/or people are either intimidated by you or think they need your ass in the pew to survive, they’ll bend over backwards and compromise on scripture to keep you happy. If you’re the type of believer who thinks people who call themselves Christians should take Jesus seriously, and tells the brethren they shouldn’t be jerks, you should bend over forward, because you’re about to get kicked. You may have figured out that love has nothing to do with it.
Eighth, inconsistent application of protocol. They’re just trying to follow the rules. Well, they certainly want ST to follow them; but as you look at example after example, it becomes clear that it’s a bit of a magisterium thing: ST must follow their interpretation of the rules, or those rules that matter to committees at any given moment. Also, which rules were binding upon the A. church council in the first place?
What permitted them first to make ad hoc, drive-by demands on ST, then to suspend him, then to conduct a series of secret meetings, and then to terminate him? Hrm– and on the other hand, we have looked before at their oaths, which compel them to support a godly pastor. Those apparently don’t apply when 13 is in charge. Of course, certain aspects of the oaths haven’t applied over the years anyway, like holding to the confessions: one ‘elder’ dismissed them out of hand as unnecessary. He was duly reminded that he’d committed to defending them. Apparently he didn’t know this, because he wasn’t paying attention when he took his oath, or he didn’t take it seriously. Either way, not something to applaud in ‘leadership’, perhaps.
Even an official written agreement couldn’t manage to be honoured by them or their clever spokessalesman, er, I mean, ghostwriter. The statement to the congregation sent in mid December 2015 was supposed to be, if not a collaboration between the council and ST, at least agreed to in advance per the terms of the Termination Agreement. As was noted in the relevant post, who knows when ST would have heard about the statement, if not for the heads up from 42 & 43, and the returned copies which had been sent to the wrong addresses?
Sneaky, dishonest, or just couldn’t be bothered to read what they signed? Idiotic. But we found that rules don’t apply to some people in multiple contexts.
Then we moved on (up, haha!) to the level of classis committees, where the self-vaunting coupled with incompetence rose to soaringly stupid levels. And let’s not forget a sort of desperate, unmanly pride. If they had a proper, virtuous sort of pride that accompanies a concern for honour, well, perhaps the whole experience would have been different. At any rate, if they had pride in the duty and solemnity of the task to which they had been appointed, they’d have done a minimum of investigation to get the whole story; they wouldn’t have been comfortable with their own stonewalling, their lame excuses, their waste of time with mini projects outside of their mandate (while they neglected their obligations as laid out explicitly, in print, in the church order), their disorganised state, their inability to explain their own approach to the process, their adolescent refusal to take responsibility, and reasoning with past-contrary-to-facts, like ‘maybe if you’d been more submissive to the “process”, we wouldn’t have run you over with our fat tank.’
Anyway. They couldn’t think outside the box, unlike A. Council and the church visitors. See, when it came time for the classis interim committee to face ST’s request that the OC be dissolved so he could deal with men who could reason responsibly (sorry, I meant be objective), they didn’t know what to do, or even how to stall for time. They ended up punting to the whole of classis at the September 2016 meeting, a body to whom ST had not addressed the matter, and who didn’t have the necessary material before them even to understand what the decision was that had to be made (it was not to appoint a new committee made up of NM delegates), and thus to make the right one. All the classis had was the report written by the Wannabe, K-bar, and Pastor 3-‘s impugning of ST’s honesty (Christian professionalism and grace at its finest!). So I’m sure that helped them make an informed and compassionate decision.
We know what decision they made– ‘well, there’s nothing in the church order that provides for a change of oversight of an A-17’d pastor, and we can’t be bothered making up a new committee, so even though you say this isn’t working (we can’t say because we’re completely in the dark, really), you’ll just have to keep going, ST–church order, you know. Even though they haven’t behaved in a biblical manner to you, well, church order. They’ve lied to our faces about you and have ruined their own credibility in a church government context. Well… Church order.
‘And, well, afterward, since the OC couldn’t finish their job because of the evaluation you wouldn’t give them (oh, we do know you have an answer for that), well, we’ll have to defrock you, because, church order. They have to see the evaluation. Never mind that they shouldn’t even be associated with you anymore on ethical principle. Evaluation, church order, defrock– we can’t *think* of any sane, Spirit-led (Spirit? Who’s that?!) solution!!’
But there was no church order-specified support, no encouragement, no attempt to provide opportunities for ministry (there wasn’t even consultation of the relevant points of the church order in advance of ST’s meeting with the OC. in April 2016–they looked them up on someone’s phone right then and there, to figure out what their commission was). You want a demonstration of real respect for the church order? (Or the Bible, for that matter.) Full counsel-preaching pastors need not apply. Or rather, inconvenient portions of the church order need not be applied. And certainly biblical principles that should inform adherence to the spirit of the law (hrm, like love) need not be applied either.
They don’t know how to do their job, so falling back on the rules (see below) is a means by which to save face. They can’t lead or make qualified decisions; case in point, all of a sudden they’re willing to let ST go without further flogging from the classis. Are we supposed to cheer? It’s all so arbitrary!
When I heard they accepted (or mean to accept) the proposal by K esq., which is substantially the EXACT SAME THING proposed by Simon Templar back in September, it does make you wonder how they aren’t saying to themselves, ‘ST said this five months ago, and it was no good, there was nothing we could do, church order, you know, and who knows if he REALLY talked to those guys at the denomination? But now K esq. says it, and now it has merit. My, that’s strange.’
This lack of awareness brings us to our last revelation:
Ninth, people not only lack conviction and discernment, but also imagination…
I think we’ve already got plenty of examples of people parading their lack of conviction– my email exchange with Pastor 3- near the end of the last post is a good one. They don’t even believe enough in the wrong they do to try to justify it.
As for discernment, of both the natural and spiritual kinds, this also is hard to dig up in this excavation of the tar pits of believers behaving badly. We’ll perhaps look into this issue in a later post.
Let’s talk about imagination for a moment. Imagination perhaps is not easy to define, and in a post-Barney & Friends world, may have a plethora of connotations.
The rich uncle, interviewing a young woman for the post of governess for his niece and nephew in the 1961 film The Innocents (based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw), asks whether she has an imagination. He approves when she replies that she hasn’t much of one–the suggestion is, perhaps, that imagination, or certainly excess of it, can get you into trouble.
But imagination isn’t all about fancy. Our culture and our personal experiences form and inform our imaginary capacity and bent. I’ll pull something from my research as an example. In the myth about Jason and the Argonauts, the king of the Colchians, Aeetes, compels the hero Jason to complete a set of tasks: yoking the fire-breathing bulls made and gifted to Aeetes by the forge-god Hephaestus/Vulcan; defeating a set of earth-both men sprung from the teeth of a giant serpent; and, depending on the version, even killing the dragon guarding the Golden Fleece, which Aeetes has promised to give Jason if he survives, having overcome the monstrous obstacles. The fire-breathing bulls are described in various texts as having bronze hooves, bronze mouths, iron horns, nostrils of adamant. How did ancient readers of Pindar, Apollonius, Ovid and Valerius Flaccus conceive of such creatures?
The material record from antiquity is less extensive for the bulls than for the dragon, and pictures of the bulls in vase paintings do not provide any textural clues which might tell the viewer what they’re made of. But the second-century Roman Medea sarcophagus provides as least one ancient interpretation: they appear thoroughly organic, with hair and profuse folds of skin in their dewlaps. They are also ‘normal-sized.’
Modern renditions also suggest a reading of the bulls as naturalistic (if a bit large) in appearance, with nary a gleam of metal to be found, as in de Troy’s 18th century depiction:
In more recent media, however, a new possibility has been visualised: namely, that Vulcan fashioned a machine reminiscent of technology from a Jules Verne novel. Judging from the evidence we have, pre-20th century recipients of the myth did not seem to imagine the bulls as artificial, or even as sculptures which Vulcan had given life. The much-loved 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts omits the bulls altogether, and it wasn’t until the high-budget TV movie of 2000 that the (one) bull came forth envisioned like a bovine tank, its joints needing some oil. It should be noted that this film was nominated for several awards for sound, and visual effects.
At any rate, what’s the point? Our exposure to certain things and ideas (apologies to Mr Serling!) impacts how and what we are able to conceptualize. Who knows whether H.G. Wells could have dreamed up the time machine without having known the locomotive and the mechanical by-products of the industrial revolution?
Christians are to be as shaped by the Bible as they are by their culture and personal experience, even moreso. What does it mean when Christians can’t recognise and name something for what it is? I dunno, something like, evil? In many cases, it’s not just because they can’t believe it’s true. They can’t wrap their heads around the concept that there are sociopaths and hungry wolves, narcissists and treacherous snakes in the church (of course there are just plain weak and ignorant people in churches too–that’s not whom I’m talking about). They can’t recognise ‘it’ when they see ‘it’, because it hasn’t even occurred to them that ‘it’ exists to even be thought of.
This isn’t limited to human behaviour. It is completely outside of many Christians’ conceptual capability that the Holy Spirit actually does stuff, and on the other side of the spectrum, that demons actually do stuff, and that people and places can be influenced, oppressed, and even occupied as satanic strongholds. How can this be? It all goes back to how people receive and value the Word of God.
We are a religious people. Yes, we have minds, and the Bible itself encourages a healthy incredulity at certain points: test the spirits, James says. But that is not because there isn’t activity on the spiritual plane. It’s because we can be so easily deceived and led astray. That would seem to suggest that we should have a higher awareness of spiritual activity, not less, and be seeking to grow in discernment.
Dr Van Helsing says in Dracula that the strength of the vampire is that people don’t and won’t believe in him. In our case, what this whole blog is about, people couldn’t listen to our story long enough to disbelieve it–they had no frame of reference with which to begin to speak to them. Their Christian education has failed them. It’s been like trying to explain a ship to people who don’t know of the possibility of the existence of the sea, as they haven’t even seen a pond for themselves.
That’s bad enough. What’s worse is that when you try to tell them they don’t understand, they cling to their inadequate view of the universe and get defensive, even angry, that you would shake them up by telling them of the possibility of navigating a body whose miniature analogue they can’t imagine. Of course, they probably also can’t imagine that the land on the other side of the sea is much better than where they are.
‘It’s inconceivable that that little church could be experiencing demonic interference–after all, it’s a good and godly church! How could it be that the oversight committee are rude goofballs? It’s impossible for us to appoint people who can’t do the job perfectly.’ In these cases, evidence doesn’t really matter. People haven’t been exposed to enough ideas and accounts outside of their own experience. They can’t see past their own assumptions, and wouldn’t know how to categorise such truths in their brains. (It’s like the stunned speechlessness that overcame my boss when he was suddenly confronted with the notion that intelligent, educated people who deny Darwinian evolution actually exist, and he’d actually met one.)
I know this sounds over the top; how could people be that naive? How could Christians who believe in an invisible God, divine inspiration of Scripture, miracles, the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, the reality of sin and salvation, and heaven and hell, be spiritual sceptics? You tell me–how else could this have happened?
All I can figure is that some people read the Bible very, very selectively, and don’t stop and think about what these things, if they’re as real as the Bible presumes, would look like. They see spotted hides, soft noses and keratin; they can’t envision a giant metal bovid with clicking gears inside.
In the second half of Exposure pt.1, we looked at three truths about the community that is the epicentre of this blog’s main events that have been exposed by the events. These were:
Lack of Sentimentality.
Group-think and/or Irrationality.
In pt. 2, we’ll explore truths 3-6. Our list of principles, I trust, will follow next week.
Fourth, lack of self-awareness. Some examples of this have been explored before, but we’ll limit ourselves to a few, and they’ll be in the form of quotes or paraphrases of what some of the pastors involved have said.
Church visitor 22: ‘Wow, you’re really concerned about truth!’ 22 to 42: ‘Simon Templar is very enthusiastic about justice; do you think perhaps he could get a career in the legal profession?’ Implication: If you’re into justice, truth, and virtue, clearly the pastorate isn’t the place for you; that’s not really what we’re about around here…
From a pastor on the Oversight Committee, with the power of career life or death: ‘Simon, you’re taking pot-shots at me, and I’m always having to run for cover!’ Implication: wait, what? I’m making you feel like a target? Whaaat?
From a pastor on the CIC: ‘You should have submitted to the process, then maybe we would have done right by you. Maybe.’ Read: well, since we didn’t actually read or interact with any of the documentation,* we can’t really discuss our conduct or whether you deserved any of this, but I know we didn’t like your attitude, which consisted of asking us to explain ourselves, so I can excuse us from any accountability based on that–that you made us uncomfortable and therefore weren’t submitting (to the process). Being ‘cooperative’ here means, ‘don’t say anything, let them fumble about in the darkness and destroy you, because that’s what they’re there to do, apparently–some kind of a job, regardless of whether they do it well.’
[*The documentation addressed to the CIC from mid-September to the time of the pastor’s complaint about the overwhelming amount of written communication consists of:
–1 overview letter sent 15 September 2016, 3 pages, along with a supporting document recounting incidents with the Oversight Committee, 3 1/2 pages.
–1 follow-up letter sent 17 October 2016, 2 pages.
–1 letter as an addendum that of the 17th, sent 31 October, 2 pages.
–1 essay on the Star Chamber, sent 4 November (ST was at that point unaware that the OC had recommended to the CIC that he be defrocked, and that the CIC was meeting that very day to discuss this), 3 pages.
–1 letter sent 7 November, 2 1/2 pages.
Depending on how you want to count them, it’s 5 or 6 documents, up to a total of 16 pages, sent over the course of almost 2 months, roughly 53 days. 16/53=.3018, or, less than 1/3 page per day. Maybe 2 paragraphs or so, required of men who on paper have the obligation to ‘handle’ this rather weighty matter. But they were overwhelmed, dontcha know…
Of course, it’s hard to be overwhelmed by something you haven’t even looked at; back in the autumn, regarding the key initial documents from mid-September, at least 3 of the 5 men admitted to not having read them (I think it’s 3. I suppose the guy who wouldn’t return any phone calls, texts or emails could have read them…we’ll just never know, like whether there was a second gunman on the Grassy Knoll). See truth 6 below. These 16 pages, I might add, are not in small font, nor do they have narrow margins. One wonders how the sermon-writers on the committees who did read all, let alone any, of these 16 pages, and found it particularly arduous, approach a biblical commentary; on the flipside, if the laymen on the committee can’t read, what exactly are they doing on the committees?
My reaction though is that 16 pages over two months seems like a lot to them because they themselves don’t write, so writing substantial (grammatically correct as well as articulate, strikingly so when compared with samples of their writing) amounts of material doesn’t seem to them normal. And of course, if they don’t take this situation all that seriously, writing that amount of material will also be to them very inconvenient. Because not only may they not be writers, but also, they likely are not regular (certainly not close) readers of text that requires significant (and continuous) mental engagement.
Excerpts of these letters may be included as evidence in the future.]
Fifth, inability to hear anything that contradicts preconceived notions about what happened, or who someone is. This is connected to point three in Exposure, pt.1. I don’t feel I’m yet in a position to explore this point at length, though I’m sure it is at the heart of what went on in 2016. People heard the testimony of the church visitors at the Classis Meeting in December 2015, heard Simon Templar and 42 (for instance) maligned and marginalized by others, while the two of them went unheard, and that pre-empted any future objective hearing (see the next ‘truth’). This helped to create a conspiracy–often an unwitting one, the people in it are so clueless.
I’m registered to take a course on the psychological aspects of approaches to evidence in March; I’m hoping this will help me to shed some light on why there’s so much selective listening and deafness going on in classis Northern Michigan. Though I can say that there is some evidence of either closed-mindedness or intellectual laziness, since there has still been ZERO interaction with yours truly about this blog…
Sixth, lack of professionalism.
Where should we begin? This topic definitely spills over into others, like those that will be covered in pt.3. But we’ll take a stab at it from a couple of angles.
First would be operational incoherence that includes pervasive conflicts of interest. We’ll go through just the men on the CIC and leave it at that:
Pastor 1, the clerk of classis: his church is on financial life support from the ‘Classis’ (who or what is that, again?) who ‘approved’ the Article 17 in December 2015, and whose OC has been bungling their end of things for the past year. He is thus bound not only by Classis money, but by Classis favour–he can’t afford to rock the boat.
Pastor 2, regional pastor and chair of the CIC: has to maintain personal ‘relationships’ and thus ‘goodwill’ with every pastor in his care, which is all of classis. While a friend to ST, he also saw 21 on a regular basis throughout 2016 and finds it difficult to see people and their actions for what they really are; is compelled by his position to give everyone, including the wrong people, the doubt ad infinitum, long after they’ve demonstrated they don’t deserve it. It’s easier to tell the one guy under the boot of the Classis monster what he has to do to change and kiss up to them, than to stand up to your pool of peers with whom you’re stuck and tell them they’re all wrong.
Pastor 3, ‘youth’ pastor, member of both the CIC and OC. *cough* NO LIE! Here’s the email exchange between him and me:
9 November 2016:
Dear Pastor 3–,
I am ‘reaching out’, as the buzz-phrase goes, to you from the UK. I read your profile on —- CRC’s website; in addition to being their youth pastor, you’ve also been on my father’s ‘Oversight’ Committee, and the CIC as well.
I’m wondering whether you would be willing to talk to me (via phone or Skype) for a few minutes? If you give me your number, I can make an international call quite easily, or we can exchange Skype handles and make contact that way. There is a five-hour difference between our respective time zones, but if you give me a list of dates and times when you are available, I’m happy to call at your convenience. Please let me know.
Thank you for your offer, but I respectfully decline.
Dear Pastor 3–,
Thank you for your reply. I was asking you for a favour, not offering one, but I suppose that’s moot at this point.
At any rate, perhaps you do not object to writing just a little? I only wanted to ask two questions: first, do you think the way the OC (and CIC) have treated my father sets a good example to the youth of the CRC in general, and to those in —- CRC in particular? Second, if the answer to the first question is yes, how so? I only ask because of what I read on your profile on the church website, and because you are on both committees.
Thanks in advance for your interaction on this. For what it’s worth, I’m probably younger than you (though maybe not by much). Perhaps that means I fall under the spiritual purview of you as a youth minister?
Unfortunately I am also going to decline this second favour you have asked. It seems to me you already have your answers and no matter what I say, you will use my words to support your stance.
I sincerely hope you can find peace with God surrounding the events of your father’s separation from A. CRC, even if you don’t have all the answers.
Dear Pastor 3–,
Since this email is a bit longer, I’ll put the most important part first: Why can’t you just tell me the truth, and be confident in knowing it’s the truth?
You write as if you already know me, or know what I’m all about; based on this conception of who I am and how I think, if I had ‘answers’, do I seem the type to need your words to support my ‘stance’? I do want to know what you, in your position, with your profession of what you think your role in the church is, think of all ‘this’. I don’t like being accused of dishonesty, and find that very offensive and quite surprising, since you don’t know me.
Again, perhaps you think you do, because of my blog or something? Please give me any example from my blog where I have misappropriated someone else’s words to support my arguments. You must have at least one, since you’re being so cavalier with your insinuations. As I haven’t heard the perspective of anyone in this post-2015 string of events, there’s no precedent for asserting that I wouldn’t read what you have to say and interact with it in an honest fashion. Still, I can say that I do appreciate that you’re not treating me like a child, by just blowing me off–you’re blowing me off and telling me what I’ve done wrong (or will do wrong) to earn being ignored.
At any rate, if I were to ‘use [your] words’ to ‘support [my] stance’ in a way that’s irresponsible or dishonest, wouldn’t you be able to counter my misdeeds handily if everything is in writing? Shouldn’t that offer you ample protection? Anyway, pretty much anyone could use that as an excuse to never explain anything–‘Well, you’ll just use what I say to support your own position’ (with the intimation that the use is invalid or underhanded). I don’t think the possibility of someone misusing information negates the obligation of people in power to articulate justification for their actions.
On the other hand, if you can’t express yourself clearly enough not to be misinterpreted or misrepresented, since you evidently are concerned about this, I hardly think that’s my fault. Or, if you don’t have the ‘words’ to explain what you think about this situation, or can’t explain your involvement in it, perhaps that’s good reason not to be involved? This smacks of evasion– people in ‘official’ positions in this situation get to just walk away from the explosion after some promise to ‘pray’ or some vague wish for ‘peace’ and ‘healing’. Gee, I thought Christian leaders actually did something to help people once in a while.
I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know that I never heard anything back. Probably he saw the length of this email and had to take a nap. Also note–I never had any communication with this man before that initial email sent on November 9th. This is the kind of Christian leadership engagement to be worked with and within.
Layman 1: is fellow parishioner/consistory & singing group member as Rogue K on the OC. That’s right, they’re on the council of the church who were approached about the issue of the Ss and did…nothing.
Layman 2: can’t even be polite. Although we’ve got two different stories as to why this is–we’ll come back to this.
So, conflict of interest, here in the selection of personal and the various hats they wear and diverse interests they carry with them into committee meetings or when reading (or not reading) their emails.
Professionalism is also lacking in failure to keep interested parties appraised of goings-on, of meetings, of those meeting’s subject matter, of correspondence between the committees, e.g., the recommendation by the OC to the CIC–when exactly was ST going to find out, if it had been left up to them to follow up? this is a counterpart to the double-whammy of booting ST out of the September 2016 Classis Meeting, without having informed him of what the OC planned to present there, and thereafter failing to give him a copy of document they presented, which was only done after ST asked pastor 1 of the CIC to ask the OC to copy him. Shabby–that kind of thing in the ‘real world’ in which I live and work is completely unacceptable.
Linked to that is failure to reply to communications, even to acknowledge receipt, after a peer or colleague has specifically asked for it, in writing and more than once. Then there’s the crummy email exchange I had with Pastor 3–, which speaks for itself above ^^^. Accusing a person you’ve never met of ulterior motives and underhandedness without even a reason or example is both unprofessional and very bad manners. In the Old West, there’d have been precedent for demanding a person take back such ‘fightin’ words.’ Unfortunately, we’re dealing with Christians who hate being questioned and challenged, and who apparently are never wrong.
Author’s note: embedded links to come, and stay tuned for pt.3!
I stand alone on a barren heath, where the grass grows sideways, bowing to the wind. My head pounds, making it feel somehow distant, separate from the rest of my body. But the air is bracing, and it brings me back to myself.
The sky is half-clear, clouds sweeping or being swept across it like pieces across a chessboard, gracefully and soundlessly. The sky is blue, but not bright, the cloud not too dark, but not too soft. The air is akin to the winter gusts that tear through your coat and scarf , rushing down from the Arctic over the plains, gathering force and cracking bitterness of cold as they go.
It is, however, salty, carrying with it the traces of brine from the west. In that direction, looking down from where I stand, I see a white house.
I can see it, and inside of it, though it be even farther away than it seems. There’s a blue glow within, the sound of voices and the smell of oven-fried steak, coffee and apple pie. It is a scene rebuilt from memory–my memory, behold. I see the chair in which I believe myself to be seated–to have sat? but there is nothing there. Food on the plate disappears, a cup is drained, a card in the deck is lifted and added to the hand at my place. The tiny flecks of vanilla in the ice cream are clearly visible there.
Other faces are there–sort of–and whose? Only two I know for certain, yours, the cook, and yours, the banterer.
Not far off are loose stones for a project, a garden with corn grown tall, wood taking shape on the edge of the glade–all for the children, again, we hear–and a converted barn where the smell of roast turkeys past still lingers. Voices, laughter, and an empty chair.
Am I seeing it with my own eyes? Or rather, is this…from my memory?
Perhaps not. For while I remember, I am not–was not–there.
A dog stops by the chair, and for a moment there is a shape, and it reaches out to stroke her, smiling. But she passes on, and the shape fades.
In and out of the house, I look here, there, see a sign with a name, a very familiar car, and, to my surprise, a large stone box. Ah, not a box, but some kind of pyre, an altar. It’s disused, but impressively made. It has gems set in it, expenses proclaimed, with the names of the artists stamped on the edges and corners. And lots of writing. As the art of Islam takes in and returns the curving script of its book, so this altar is covered in words.
But they are printed a bit too large, I think to myself. Yet they can’t be read–and they mean nothing.
This post is full of links–that is because all the leg-work of exposing these many instances of sin and corruption (and in some cases, just laziness) in the church has been done by other people! Credit given where credit is due, especially to the less well-known writers in the discernment and pursuit -of-justice arenas. (Apologies too for the odd ellipses here and there; I had serious formatting issues in constructing this post.)
Now, then, onto the bumpy dirt road…
The clergy as a class have never been perfect. Naturally, since they’re made up of not-fully-sanctified human beings with a (defeated?) sin nature. But they should at least have been, and be, upright.
If ever there were negative stereotypes about clerics, they have included a propensity toward theft from those in their care and embezzlement from their parishes, tendency towards ‘killjoyness’ or a degree of pharisaism mixed with hypocrisy, and craving for power or recognition. Dante writing about Christian whitewashed sepulchres may as well skip over the usual, plain old vanilla sexual indiscretions of past generations, because if we’ve learned anything from the recent evangelical scandals, it’s that something about contemporary protestant groups’ power structures (for lack of a better term) and priorities have made them as susceptible to (founded) accusations of deviancy, such as child molestation, and of covering up reported cases of it, as the Roman Catholic Church. How can this be? What about the systems in place first makes groups like SGM appealing to predators, and what about them drives the non-deviants to hide the evil and themselves victimise the abused by denying them first help and then justice? (Head to Brent Detwiler’s blog for all you could possibly [not] want to know, and/or Google ‘SGM survivors blogs’.) I don’t have the answer to this question, though the cause is probably related to the structure itself, the group’s theology, their priorities (relationships over morality? or at least over church discipline), and the dangerous presumption that all who name themselves Christians (especially of the group’s stripe) actually are.
The Man pointed out last night that mass media makes us more aware than before of such people and events, and it may be that, statistically speaking, there aren’t actually more sex predators after children and youth than there used to be. It’s just that we hear about them, and a lot more about them. While this is probably true, I can’t help but think that SGM (though I don’t know their fluctuating numbers of members over the years) has more than their share of deviants, and of conscience-challenged people to enable them. At any rate, it’s more the nature of the phenomenon than the bare numbers that concerns us here, though I am curious about the proliferation of this kind of evil in general. These are the last days, so it’s entirely possible that such proliferation is inevitable, both inside the church (and what calls itself the church) and outside of it.
With their years of what has probably become compulsive covering up of such egregious sin, SGM has opened itself up to suspicion and ridicule like this, which hitherto has been much more associated with the hierarchical self- and magisterium-protecting and mutual back-scratching of the RCC. And this ridicule need not be expected only from secularists (who may, if they’re not too influenced by Richard Dawkins, have taken better care of their children and charges), but from the victims and those who have demanded leadership at SGM, erm, change their MO. Perhaps repentance and resignation would be in order for many at the top.
No, SGM and churches and other ministries like them under scrutiny for systematically hidden and/or excused sin, have lain themselves open to the critique, challenge and ridicule of their fellow protestants and evangelicals (assuming men like CJ Mahaney and Grant Layman do have a real Christian commitment). SGM could fittingly be the subject of a cartoon or satire about supposedly spiritual men in positions of social influence and moral authority stealing children…
When I saw the photo of one of the pastors newly dumped, I started to cry. He is entangled in, and has been dismissed due to some kind of sexual sin–it’s not clear if it is assault on minors, and the gist is rather that it is something different. So… Why cry? Well, because these men who have been enabled in all this– even they have been done a disservice by SGM’s hypocrisy. Because they still have souls, and for others to overlook their sin, and therefore encourage it, has served to increase their shame and guilt. They should have been both reported to the authorities and called to repent, which is what will matter in eternity, particularly to the abusers. And in eternity, the sin committed by their enablers will also be a topic of conversation when those men themselves come before the Seat.
We could go on at length about the ‘friendships’ that cause people in the blogosphere to jump publicly to the defense of the accused, and the fact that they’re so careless–not only of their own reputations, but also of the well-being of the victims, especially if what the victims say is true. Todd Pruitt (and others, on Tom Chantry**), Kevin DeYoung (and others, on CJ Mahaney), Chris Rosebrough (on Daniel Emery Price [H/T puritangirl]; at least Rosebrough has posted a statement about why he had to remove all his Tullian Tchividjian-related material; perhaps he can bring himself to follow his own instruction and backpedal [i.e., repent of having gone to the mat for Price and withdraw his threats of lawsuits]), and many others, several of whom have benefitted evangelicalism in different ways, have struck an imbalance when asserting more than simply, ‘The law requires proof of guilt via proper judicial proceedings, and we should assume innocence until proven otherwise; let’s just see what happens at trial.’ That’s all anyone should say. And then pray that the truth comes out. To say anything more after people credibly allege that these ‘leaders’ have lived free under the sun for years after committing acts of various kinds of abuse can be construed by true victims as joining the voices of the excusers and defenders who actively helped to keep things hushed up (like the SGM leadership).
People must recognize that they lose credibility when they get on their computers to say, ‘Don’t judge, don’t gossip, nothing is proven, what would Jesus do?!’, after they have been palling around as ‘friends’ and conference associates with the accused, or recommending their blog articles, for years. Best to say as little as possible–and the same goes for anyone in the blogosphere who does not have first-hand knowledge.
At any rate… How many people really know their ‘friends ‘like they claim they do on the internet, when they either tell other people to be quiet, they are certain these allegations are false and their friend pastor x would never do such a thing, or when they tell people to stop talking about x, he’s repented and so very sorry and broken about all this, and we should be moving on and talking forgiveness now? Notice these aren’t in quotes, and I’m not attributing them to anyone–this is the gist of some of what is being said or has been said (e.g., about Tullian Tchividjian–that was real repentance…) People are so superficial, so in a hurry… as a side-note, one must wonder if there’s a certain level of inevitability about putting one’s foot in one’s mouth when anyone becomes a big shot, even when becoming known for critiqueing the culture that allows for Christian big shots and celebrity in the first place, because over time the standards to which they hold themselves begin to drop, which is manifested in poor arguments, hasty and uninformed judgments, or offering criticism without evidence.
And then of course, there are cases like Mark Driscoll’s (the sobering remarks in this article about the ‘good ol’ boys’ club’ that comprises the ‘Neo-Calvinist’ movement are difficult to read), the discovery of whose plagiarism was such an explosion that the
unchurched heard about it everywhere, I’m sure. But long before that BOOM, the testimony of those who were abused at Mars Hill, and the sober critique of his sub-biblical methods, attitudes, and teaching were readily available, just like all the legal documentation concerning the sexploits of those associated with SGM and the likes of Doug Wilson are freely, readily available. But people choose not to inform themselves (of course, the above-linked article about conferences asserts that there is an awful lot of mammon involved in these ‘networks’), to their own detriment as well as to that of the victims of the ministers and their ministries, and unto the continued ‘free pass’ granted to the reprobates because not enough, or not the right, people are taking a stand. And so Mark Driscoll, without even the lip service of ‘repentance’ given in Tullian’s case, can skitter away from Seattle, and turn up again like a bad penny in Phoenix.
It should be pointed out that the electronic trail of proclaimed support for ne’er-do-wells does tend to disappear (just like some jailed or fallen pastors’ sermons off of church websites) once the ne’er-do-wells are arrested. As a result, we are indebted to watch blogs who provide screenshots of posts, articles, and talks which are no longer available on their home sites (is it to TGC’s credit that this is still available, or is it a sign that they still don’t get it?). Often, unlike in the case of F4F and the Tullian materials mentioned above, these items are deleted without explanation or acknowledgement. It’s as if they were never there. And, those who defend too vociferously without knowing what they’re talking about (while spending an awful lot of time attacking other people for much more egregious things, like being continuationists) may have to resign from ‘talking’ online altogether.
Why this detour from the mini-series at hand? Because I’ve been distracted by others’ writing, and because I find it so strange, all this messy business, with folk looking the other way when ‘pastors’ and ‘church leaders’ do something really heinous, like fondling 14-year-old boys and then forcing those boys to accept their ‘apology’ and ‘forgive’ them and thereby swearing them to silence… And a pastor in Northern Michigan who does nothing but preach the trustworthy word as taught and try to live with integrity is first kicked around by his council and church (including people he thought were his friends), and then by the collared brethren who are supposed to support him. Cancer, physical affliction, is nothing compared to hopes disappointed by fellow Christians, and trust betrayed daily over the course of two years.
And there is none with integrity.
But while the contrast is an irony–other people wreak havoc on young lives and are excused and covered for, while truth-speakers are maligned and abused, the cover-up is in fact a common factor between Simon Templar’s case and that of, say, SGM.
A professed ‘love for the church’, and probably pragmatic self-interest, both in the sense of avoiding, a., a tarnished reputation and b., the cognitive dissonance that comes with seeing that reality and people around you are far other than what you’ve always believed, has led to a sick expenditure of lots of energy to quash the testimony and voice of victims of abuse (spiritual and verbal [slander & libel] in one case, all kinds in the other), and lots of bureaucratic conspiracy among ‘officials’ to just ‘make it (the truth and the consequent obligation to do something about it) all go away.’ But if you’ve read this blog, you know we’ve already tread this ground many times. I rest my case.