Thinking Out Loud

June 29, 2018

The Stories are Real When It’s Someone You Know

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:33 am

Three stories.

First, I have been a longtime reader of Julie Anne and Warren and also of Dee and Deb. When I read the stories of spiritual abuse (not to mention mental, physical or sexual abuse) about which they (especially Julie Anne) are continually reporting, it’s easy to minimize the impact of those stories because they happened somewhere else to someone else.

But then this week I saw a “letter of dismissal” that some friends received.

I’m sure there are two sides to every story, but holding the letter in my own hands and reading it twice it occurred to me that (a) these types of stories are quite real, and (b) there are 100 better ways to phrase things than the way it was said in this letter.

The church in question didn’t use the term “letter of dismissal” but it was extremely dismissive. There was nothing redemptive in it at all. No, “We wish you God’s best in the next stage of your journey.”

What my brain was also processing as I read was, “Don’t get too concerned. These things happen all the time. You’re just seeing it close up right now.”

And then, perhaps God himself saying, “How would you like to be in my position? I have to see this sort of thing constantly.”

And last, a sense of, “Don’t be in a hurry to open your mail. You could be next.”

Second, I was throwing out old newspapers and found a story from April of this year in The Toronto Star about a Catholic Church whose current membership is being asked to contribute $500,000 as punitive damages that are part of a $2.6M settlement concerning a priest who abused one particular man when he was a student.

Imagine you’ve just started attending the Congregation of St. Basil and you’re told your church now faces this financial burden. The priest in question is deceased, but the jury felt that the church had participated in covering up the abuse. Perhaps it’s because I’ve driven by this church that it all seems to hit closer to home.

Cover up. That should sound familiar to readers here who follow the broader Evangelical scene. Time after time we’ve seen instances where it’s not the abuse that’s the big factor (as serious as that is) but the subsequent cover-ups that land churches in hot water. Which leads us to our next item.

Finally, Scot McKnight affirms this in a detailed analysis of this Spring’s soap opera involving Willow Creek. He maintains that the go-to response in cases like this is denial.

I have to say in all honesty, that would be me. I didn’t want to believe the charges in the Willow case were true, and I found myself angry with the accusers for instigating the accusations. Then, slowly, day after day after day, I found myself changing my position as more facts in the case came to light. (Truly, I’m still carrying a measure of disbelief.) He calls it “undoing forty years of trust.”

As McKnight points out, in so doing, the church only made it harder on themselves.

So what do these three stories tell us:

  1. There is a lot more going on behind-the-scenes in a local church office than any of us realize, and some of it quite unpleasant, and some of it is badly handled.
  2. Innocent people in church congregations bear the heartache when someone — perhaps someone not even living — has crossed a moral boundary. Covering things up only makes it worse.
  3. People like myself can find themselves in a place of denial when a respected leader has messed up. Such minds aren’t changed overnight; it can be an incremental process undoing preconceptions in the face of evidence.

 

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