Thursday, 23 April 2015

Quick-Fix 'Repentance'

In his article, "Three signs of repentance every church leader should learn"Dr Phil Monroe addresses the question, "How do you know when an abusive person is adequately repentant, and therefore, capable of providing a safe environment for others to live in?"

"The answer," he says, "is found in the fruit they produce."

I would have thought this was fairly obvious, and yet I was castigated by a 'church leader' for asking to see fruit which lined up with the words he had spoken to me.

Several months after we'd left our church I asked board member D if he'd be prepared to meet with me. I was really hoping that we might be able to restore some measure of relationship between us.

Things were very strained between us as we met, but I really did want to restore relationship with this man and his wife, so I kept persisting - repeating the fact that the behaviour I'd experienced from him was, indeed, abusive. For some time it seemed we would get nowhere with the discussion. So when he suddenly looked at me in horror and said, "I spend half my time counselling people who've been abused by the church. I never thought I'd be the one to abuse", I was astounded, to say the least!

I looked at my husband to make sure he'd heard the same words I had, and sure enough, he was looking as stunned as I felt.

After that meeting, assuming that what had occurred was the starting point of a journey of restoration, I wrote to my brother. As he had told me he based his judgement against me on board member D's words, I wanted to ask him if D's current words made any difference.

Well, that was a mistake! According to D, I'd violated a private and sacred work of reconciliation by sharing what he'd said... or even that we had met at all. On top of that, he now claimed he'd never spoken those words, and he denied any responsibility for other people's actions - even when those actions were taken because of things he'd openly said (and preached) about me.

The icing on the cake was when he claimed that by saying his actions had had some pretty ugly consequences in the church, I was abusing him!

Now, this was my personal experience, but I see the same thing being played out by leaders and their followers all the time. The leader says a 'sorry' of sorts but never actually owns what he's done wrong. He makes no attempt to rectify the situation and there is no change in his attitudes or behaviour. He just keeps rolling on with his 'ministry', acting oh-so-wounded if anyone questions this, and playing the victim of the piece. And his loyal subjects defend him by attacking anyone who voices any concerns about this - condemning the very people who are, more often than not, the real victims.

Just look at the reaction when a petition was started asking that Mark Driscoll not be given any sort of platform at the 2015 Hillsong conference. There have been plenty of calls for grace and mercy and forgiveness from his supporters, but no recognition of the lives he's devastated, and certainly no suggestion that MD should produce fruit in keeping with his 'repentance'. The strong message is that he's said the word "sorry", and now he should just be allowed to get back to what he was doing before. Despite the fact that, by his own admission, there's at least a pile of dead bodies, if not a mountain, under the Mars Hill bus.

Grace and mercy and forgiveness are good and appropriate responses to sin, but they do not negate the need to see the fruit which comes from true repentance, especially where the offender has used his power and authority to abuse a fellow human. If you have been in an abusive relationship of any sort, and your abuser uses the word "sorry", please know that it is entirely reasonable to expect proof of that 'repentance'!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Why You Are The Problem

It was a few days before the meeting at which the board's official 'advice' was to be handed down to me. By this stage, it was pretty obvious what that advice would be. As they'd spent the past 3 weeks being 'unavailable' - far too busy doing 'important things' to talk to me - it didn't take a genius to work out I was being hung out to dry.

I was sitting in the lounge room of elder R because I wanted to talk to him before I got officially shafted by the board. I was hoping (in vain!) that if I shared my concerns about the behaviour of elder J and his wife, and the board members backing him, that he'd realise there was something seriously wrong. I told him that if we'd been in the workplace, instead of a church, I'd have a good case to bring a charge of bullying against elder J.

Without blinking or missing a beat, elder R replied, "And he'd have a good case against you, too."

I was stunned! Elder R had not been privy to J's bullying behaviour towards me because it mostly happened in private encounters. But beyond that, he hadn't even been in the same country for much of that time!

So if he had anything to say about the way people had been treated, it was because he'd listened to, and accepted the accounts of, the one doing the bullying. (In hindsight, I've realised what a political animal elder R is, and how well he plays the game to win. He was never going to back the 'losing' side.)

Months later I phoned R in desperation. My husband and I had hit a crisis point over the elders' latest refusal to deal with things, and I was absolutely frantic. Despite my obvious distress, elder R calmly informed me that he was not in town and couldn't help us. No word of concern for us. No effort to make sure we had someone else to call on. No hint of taking any responsibility for the agony we were in. Apparently, he just didn't give a toss.

Eventually, I swore at him and told him he cared more for 'his' church than he did for the people in it. And with that I served myself up to him on a silver platter. It was exactly what he needed to prove that I was beyond the pale - emotional, irrational, fit only to be ignored. And he's never spoken to me since.

But despite my highly emotional state and my 'bad' language, I spoke the truth that night. By his actions, this man showed more concern over protecting the reputation of his church than he did over the lives being torn apart by it. It seems we were just collateral damage. No biggie.

It is a dangerous reality that christians - leaders especially - like to play God by creating 'church' in their own image. And then they find themselves having to defend that image against all comers - sometimes even to the 'death'. They don't necessarily set out to hurt people. They don't plan from the start to sacrifice others on the altar of their church's 'success'. But it happens nonetheless!

Jesus said he would build his church, but man has usurped that role. (Apparently some men think they can do a better job of it than Jesus.) And just like Victor Frankenstein's attempts to breathe life into a collection of dead body parts, they've created a monster. Ironically, they all too frequently become slaves to it. They must serve it at all costs. And tragically, that cost is too often paid for by others.

Because this monster demands not just obedience, but subservience; unquestioning allegiance; unswerving loyalty; blind faith.

It's an unthinking, unfeeling beast. It knows only one 'right' way, so you'd better have the correct answer every time. Make sure you submit to its every whim. Conformity and uniformity are your only hope.

When someone stands up and asks a question, or expresses a doubt, or suggests a different way, they must be dealt with. God forbid that anyone should stop to listen to these trouble-makers. They might start to see the monster for what it really is! These rebellious, un-submissive backsliders must be silenced.

And the easiest way of doing that is to deflect your own guilt onto them. If they question the wisdom of doing things this way, question their wisdom. If they say they've been bullied, accuse them of bullying. If they react out of their pain, use it as proof of their guilt.

The monster-makers cannot afford for one minute to see what it is they have really created (or how far it is from the picture Jesus painted), and so they must lay blame at the door of anyone who points out the monster's existence. These 'trouble-makers', these 'bitter, unforgiving' people, these 'false prophets and jezebels' are fed to the monster feet first. Judged, denounced, shunned.

But those who've created the monster can't escape it because they dare not acknowledge it exists. To do so would be to shatter the illusion of the greater good and expose the ugliness that lies behind. They'd lose their reputation, their position, their power. And they can't let that happen because they've convinced themselves that they must have those things so they can do great things for their god.

And so they fight to win because they must. They're on a mission from God and they can't imagine why people are so difficult. They are the anointed ones and if only everyone would just submit to their authority their church would be able to do the great things they dream of doing. They can't have these rabble rousers stirring up trouble - they must protect the flock. They're just trying to serve God, but these trouble-makers keep distracting them from their glorious mission. If they can only deal with these agitators, everything will be perfect.

So relax. No need to struggle or be angry. It's nothing personal. You're just being sacrificed for the good of the monster... um, church!

Friday, 17 April 2015

I Have Trust Issues

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me about whether I was thinking about finding another church to attend. I hesitated, talked around the question for a bit, and then I was finally able to admit out loud that I have trust issues when it comes to church leadership.

There was a time when I would automatically trust someone because they said they were a christian. That went doubly so for anyone in leadership in a church. Stupidly, naively, I bought into the idea that christians in general, and christian leaders in particular, could be trusted.

As much as I still sometimes feel angry at myself for that stupidity, the fact is that I did believe it.

And I learned the hard way that it wasn't true.

And in the aftermath of that disillusionment, I have now been able to admit that I have been left with a distrust of church leaders.

Minions Facebook Page
I am willing to trust someone if they prove they are trustworthy. But titles, positions and even what people say are no longer enough. If attitudes and actions don't match up with those things, I'm keeping my distance.

Once bitten, twice shy.

That doesn't mean I'm bitter. And it doesn't mean I'm unforgiving. It doesn't even mean that the wounds I received haven't scarred over. It just means I've learned from what I went through.

I'm still willing to be open. I'm still willing to be loyal. I'm even still willing to be vulnerable.

But I won't trust automatically. And I won't trust blindly.

And I won't go back into a religious system which has proved to be so unsafe. Because it places one man (or woman) in a position of power and authority over their brothers and sisters. And I've never yet met anyone who doesn't eventually let that power go to their heads.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Dangerous 'Christian Leaders'

Until they were 'accidentally' deleted, I had been reading some of the 800 plus comments on a blog post lauding the most recent book of Tony Jones, a 'christian leader' who is surrounded by controversy regarding abuse allegations.

This is a man who left his wife and children to live with another man's wife. This is a man who has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This is a man who is acclaimed as a 'leader' of  the'emergent' church.

A few days prior to this, I was reading about the launch of 'christian leader', Mark Driscoll's new ministry platform.

This is a man who headed up the "most abusive, coercive ministry culture" that one pastor had ever been involved with. This is a man whose own elders called for him to step down. This is a man who openly boasted about throwing people under the bus.

Naked Pastor

And all the while I think about the fact that the elder who bullied and abused his peers in a bid to be top dog in my ex-church has already left to start his own so he can really be in control. This is a man who amply demonstrated he valued position and power more than relationship - and he has started his own church.

And he learned his 'leadership' style from his previous church where the pastor has damaged people for years with his "my way or the highway" approach. This is a man who was willing to see an entire congregation of people to leave the church rather than let them pursue their own vision.

And I think of the man who I turned to for help when I was being bullied and abused by my peer. This is a man who told me that I should submit to the 'godly leadership' of my abuser, and if I couldn't do that I should resign from leadership myself. This is a man who has his own itinerant counselling ministry!

Does anyone else see anything wrong with this picture?

Does anyone else question the fitness of these men to be 'christian leaders'?

Does anyone else wonder how many people have to get hurt before someone calls a stop and faces the reality of how much damage 'christian leaders' are inflicting on people?

Does anyone else care how many have been so badly hurt that they have turned away from their faith - mistakenly believing that the way these 'leaders' act reflects the heart of God.

Does anyone else fear how many more will experience this trauma in the future simply because no-one is willing to listen to those who are crying out, "Stop it, you're hurting me!"

These 'leaders' keep sacrificing people in the name of their gods, and not one seems willing to lay aside their position and their reputation and see how their behaviour might be damaging the people around them.

Wake up guys! You are not safe to be around!

Lay aside your reputations, your politics, your positions of power, and listen to your victims. All those you've damaged; you've ostracised; you've abandoned. All those you've run over with your bus and left bleeding by the side of the road.

Stop and see the damage you've inflicted. And then do something about it.

Not "I'm sorry you are hurt" apologies.

Not "mistakes were made" confessions.

Real, honest, raw repentance is what you need.

For God's sake, find it!