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'!

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