Thinking Out Loud

November 15, 2019

Dammit Isn’t God’s Last Name

On the last Friday night of the month, Youth Pastor Wayne Wyatt would suspend the normal Youth Group format in order to have either a sports night or a music night. For the music nights, he would book a band that was known either locally or regionally, but this week was an exception.

“We don’t really have a name;” the guitar player told him.

Wayne preferred to use bands that had played other area churches so he could contact the youth pastors there and get recommendations, but these guys were friends of Brooke, and her dad was the church board Treasurer, so he figured he was on safe ground.

The kids mixed around the room. There were snacks at the back. Colored lights. It looked like a dance, except nobody was dancing. No one ever did. There were about 60 teens when the night started, but a few songs in there were closer to 80 in attendance.

The guys in the band were well-dressed and polite. They started with a Switchfoot song that Wayne knew, and then a cover of song by Skillet.

For the third song, the guitarist started out with, “We’d like to do one of our original songs for you now. My grandpa had a song he liked that went, ‘He’s more than just a swear word, more than just an I-don’t-care word,’ and I know that for many of us we hear people say God dammit all the time and–“

At this Wayne stopped what he was doing and wondered where they were going with this.

“–or we hear people say ‘Oh my God,’ and we forget to give respect to God’s name. So we’re gonna do a song called ‘Dammit isn’t God’s last name.'”

They cranked up the introduction,

You see in on your screens
and you hear it in the street.
They’re using God’s name
In a way I won’t repeat.

Wayne turned away from the stage. So far, so good. He spoke with a couple of the teens while the verse continued, but then the chorus got his attention.

‘Cause dammit
Dammit isn’t God’s last name.
‘You know dammit
Dammit isn’t God’s last name.

It wasn’t the type of lyric their guest bands would usually perform, but he figured the song was a one-off and he’d try to relax. A group of guys wanted to know the deadline to sign up for Snow Camp and two girls wanted to know if they were doing a car wash in the spring because they had some ideas. But then, moments later, there it was again.

‘Cause dammit
Dammit isn’t God’s last name.
‘You know dammit
Dammit isn’t God’s last name.

Some of the kids were singing along. When the chorus came around for a third time — he wondered if this song might ever end — he looked closely and they seemed to be enjoying saying ‘dammit’ all too much.

But then the band went into a bridge that consisted entirely of

Dammit, Dammit
Dammit, Dammit
Dammit, Dammit
Dammit, Dammit

On the third repeat, with all the kids in the group shouting the word back to the band, he decided enough was enough, and started walking swiftly and intentionally in a direct line to the stage.

But his path was blocked by a girl who seemed to appear out of nowhere.

“Pastor Wayne,” she said, “You have to come quick; Carly’s fallen in the restroom and she’s hurt really bad.”

Injuries are every youth pastor’s worst nightmare, so he changed his path and started walking toward the hallway. As he picked up his pace, several things occurred to him at once. First of all, he knew the kids really well, and he didn’t know anyone named Carly. For that matter, he didn’t know the girl who had summoned him. And how could he just walk into the women’s restroom?

The sound of the band was wafting from the youth multi-purpose room.

‘Cause dammit
Dammit isn’t God’s last name.
‘You know dammit
Dammit isn’t God’s last name.

At least they were back to the verse. Or other chorus. Or whatever it was. His head was spinning. At that moment, Ted and Belinda, the official youth group sponsors appeared in the hallway. He quickly called out to them, “There’s a girl hurt in the restroom.”

They were on it. He could return to his other issue. The band was back to the bridge and the kids were shouting a frenzy.

Dammit, Dammit
Dammit, Dammit
Dammit, Dammit
Dammit, Dammit

In the hallway on his right was the electrical panel. He opened it and identified two breakers. One would cut the power to the stage and the other would cut the power to the wall receptacles, where the band’s mixing board was plugged in and all the colored lights. Some of the group’s electronics would need several seconds to reset. That would give him time to have some words with the band members.

At the same time as that happened, he looked down the hallway and saw Belinda emerging from the women’s restroom. She shrugged her shoulders. There was no one hurt inside.

Wayne switched the breakers and according to plan, the sound went quiet. Unexpectedly, the light in the hallway went out as well. He decided to give this ten seconds, and in that short span of time, while everything around him was physically void of light, the lights went on inside him.

He felt he’d been set up booking the band. He realized the girl who told him to book the group didn’t really like the job he was doing as Youth Pastor. He realized the other girl, who had told him that the fictional Carly needed rescue had been training her eyes on him, waiting for the moment he would try to shut down the performance of ‘Dammit’ so she could distract him.

Eight, nine, ten. Ten seconds. He threw the switches back on.

When he did and the lights in the hallway came back, there was Brooke and standing next to her was her dad, the church Treasurer and head of the hiring committee which had brought him to the church in the first place. Both were scowling.

He looked deep into Brooke’s eyes for something that would answer the question as to why he’d been set up. But instead, the mystery girl emerged and inadvertently brought with her a brief moment of comic relief.

“It’s too late, Pastor Wayne;” she said with a straight face; “Carly’s dead.”

 

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.

 

April 25, 2016

Camp Memories (1)

Through a variety of circumstances, and with only three years experience ever having been a camper in my teens, I found myself on senior staff at a Christian camp for three summers.

The first year of the three the camp was in somewhat of a recovery mode. A previous administration hadn’t worked out and in desperation, the general director turned to an old friend who had spent a career in foreign missions to whip the place into shape. That man in turn rounded up a dozen people from the mission agency who were also catapulted into senior staff roles.

Organization PoliticsAs it turned out, that was oil and water. The senior staff was definitely split along “us” and “them” lines. One of the staff members had a baby girl, and various members of the “them” would take turns bouncing her on their knees. Let’s say the girl’s name was Carly. I did notice that the senior staff seemed divided into Carly-bouncers and non-Carly-bouncers. That was my own appraisal.

Beyond that, I was completely blind to the politics of the organization. Although most of my Christian service orientation at that point was with parachurch organizations, it was around the same time that I was discovering local church politics. But generally speaking, I was completely oblivious to the two factions that persisted at camp. I was there to do a job, and I tried to do most of my socializing with junior staff and if context permitted, even campers.

I also joined a coffee klatch, so to speak, consisting of two or three other senior staff members. The invitation to join had been highly qualified. I was told how Lewis and Tolkien and Kierkegaard would meet regularly for drinks and that the trip to the local village bakery for coffee and butter tarts (and me to pick up the camp mail) would be the equivalent. Really, they wanted to know if I, as one of the catapultees was a “them” or an “us.” And they were being very carefully guarded about what they said to me and I was being extremely vague because I had no idea about the organizational politics. Questions included shots in the dark such as, “Have you noticed anything unusual going on at camp?” (For the record, I was equally clued out about some of the young women on staff and missed a lot of social cues. If you were a female housekeeper or dishwasher that year and you’re somehow reading this, I apologize for not responding.)

However, once they heard my Carly-bouncer analogy, I was accepted as an “us,” even though it took about three weeks to get that far.

Caught in the Middle - DivorceThe mission agency people knew very little about Christian camping or even youth ministry in general, especially in comparison the “us-es” but their third world exposure meant they had good organizational skills, an ability to adapt, and a variety of gifts. Overall, I think the kids who attended that year got their money’s worth from this diversity, even if things at the senior staff level were a constant tug of war. (Important takeaway: Parachuting people from other ministry disciplines into unfamiliar contexts is not always a great idea.) I felt that within their own missions-and-development tribe, there were probably reasons to respect some of these people, not to mention their willingness to take on the camp challenge at the last minute.

What I was not prepared for was the very low view they had of those on the other side of the great divide. I had come to this job because I at a young age, I had youth ministry experience, had already started my own business, and brought an extensive knowledge of music, particularly the modern worship genre that was still in its infancy at that point. One of my other coffee klatch club members had vast experience in Christian camping, the third was studying to be a pastor and the fourth had both camping and pastoral training. Three of the four of us returned the following year when the missions people were swiftly dispatched in a spring cleanup the following spring.

So nothing prepared me for the moment when one of the “thems” came to me one day, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Your problem is, you’re completely shallow.” Wow! There’s an insult. Try it on someone sometime. Or don’t.

Shallowness I look back on it now and imagine Lucy from Peanuts, “You know what’s wrong with you, Charlie Brown? You’re totally shallow. You have no depth.”

I suppose in comparison to the travel and education opportunities she had experienced, I may have seemed like one of the kids on the farm, even if the farm was the urban ministry environment of Canada’s largest city. On that day however, the choice of words was devastating. I think it hit me hardest because it was everything I felt I wasn’t. I was a Renaissance man. I was tech and media savvy. I was well-read. I had a attended churches in a wide swath of denominations. And I did have a little travel under my belt, four countries including 40 of the 50 U.S. states.

Still, I did allow the short exchange to have some redemptive value. I worked hard to not be a one-issue candidate. To not obsess over certain pet subjects or causes. To read outside my comfort zone. To immerse myself in contexts and conversations with persons who are different. To study articles about things that aren’t my usual interests. To try to meet different people and then get inside their heads and understand their histories.

I don’t think I’m a shallow person, but…

…I do ask myself in certain situations if I’m being shallow. Is the conversation or relationship at the point of taking a leap to the next level — sure, use the video game analogy if it helps you — but I am remaining stuck at Level One? Or is the person on the other side of the exchange really hurting and I can’t see the question behind the question? Or am I missing an opportunity to go deeper because I’ve formulated some entirely different other agenda as to where I think the discussion is going? Or do I have a simplistic view of the topic at hand because I’ve never tracked with that discipline or genre? Or are my own topical choices tending toward the superficial?

Being called shallow could have been a scarring experience, but instead, I used it to form a system of checks and balances in my life. Though the rebuke was done entirely to hurt and to wound, I think it shaped me in some positive ways.

 

 

March 10, 2016

Throwback Thursday

Recent comments by Dr. Russell Moore on how he wants to distance himself from the term Evangelical has sparked various discussions including one on this week’s edition of  The Phil Vischer Podcast about the rise of a new category, Progressive Evangelicals. I was reminded of a very lengthy post we did four years ago when a large controversy was happening over a book written by Rachel Held Evans.

We live in a time when battle lines are being drawn between conservative Christians and progressive Christians. I usually find myself standing somewhere in between, trying to build a bridge between both groups; trying to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy while at the same time recognizing that this ain’t 1949 or 1953 or 1961. It’s 2012 already.The world changed in-between; the world changed last year; the world changed last week.

We need to be mindful of the duality as we interact with the broader culture; as we live between two worlds; as we exist as aliens and strangers, having citizenship in another country; but having to live, eat, breathe, work and play in a world that’s not our permanent home. (See graphic below.)

To that end, we need authors and publishers who will translate our message into the vernacular of the day, or even the hour. We need books and book distribution networks that will illustrate Christian worldview in a way that people can understand.

In the end, the books we create should, at times, make us uncomfortable.

Christians Live in Two Worlds


If you’ve ever visited the blog platform Patheos, you’ve also seen that bloggers are divided into two categories, Evangelical and Progressive Christian (as well as Orthodox and Catholic, but strangely, not Mainline Protestant).  I’ve always felt that Patheos was ahead of the curve on this one in terms of making the distinction long before some had consciously considered the differences.


Another throwback: As I write this one of the many, many debates concerning Donald Trump’s aspirations to be U.S. President surrounds the idea of having someone elected to the position who is not a career politician, not a Washington Beltway insider. Some feel this makes Trump uniquely qualified.

Four years ago, we did a tongue-in-cheek post about a guy who is visiting a church and notices a board vacancy in the bulletin. He makes an argument for the refreshing perspective of someone who is not a congregation insider:

Dear Nominating Committee;

Visiting your church for the first time last Sunday, I noticed an announcement in the bulletin concerning the need for board members and elders for the 2012-2013 year. I am herewith offering my services.

While I realize that the fact I don’t actually attend your church may seem like a drawback at first, I believe that it actually lends itself to something that would be of great benefit to you right now: A fresh perspective.

Think about it — I don’t know any one of you by name, don’t know the history of the church and have no idea what previous issues you’ve wrestled with as a congregation. Furthermore, because I won’t be there on Sundays, I won’t have the bias of being directly impacted by anything I decide to vote for or against. I offer you pure objectivity.

Plus, as I will only be one of ten people voting on major issues, there’s no way I can do anything drastic single-handedly. But at the discussion phase of each agenda item, I can offer my wisdom and experience based on a lifetime of church attendance in a variety of denominations.

Churches need to periodically have some new voices at the table. I am sure that when your people see a completely unrecognizable name on the ballot, they will agree that introducing new faces at the leadership level can’t hurt.

I promise never to miss a board or committee meeting, even if I’m not always around for anything else.

I hope you will give this as much prayerful consideration as I have.

Most sincerely,

November 8, 2013

When a Whole Denomination is Put on Hold

Put on Hold

I love reading denominational periodicals, though it has to be said that some are better than others. This week I got my hands on one that I always find interesting, and though I was disappointed to discover I was reading a July edition; I still found myself enjoying many different articles

In this particular one, the question arises at a meeting of the Synod as to the party denominational position on homosexuality, last affirmed in 2002. The conclusion was that, “When delegates voted, the majority agreed to appoint a study committee that will examine how to loving communicate (not re-examine) the [denomination’s] position on homosexuality.”

In other words, they didn’t feel it was necessary to reopen the issue, but felt they instead needed to better communicate the policy and position they already have.

Okay; let’s give that the benefit of the doubt. Here’s the focus of my writing today: The article concluded with a sentence that is probably quite normative in reporting of these types of meetings but which I found rather damning —

The study committee will report to Synod in 2016.

2016? Really? Seriously? In three years? On an issue where the landscape is rapidly changing? When churches are bleeding a generation of members over the handling of this issue?

Sorry, but three months would have been more appropriate.

We touched on something similar here almost exactly a year ago. It was a response to a comment made during the U.S. election coverage: “The Republican Party needs to realize that the country is changing faster than they are.”

When you’re in a sprint to keep up with where the culture is heading, you don’t take a three lap water break, or take three years to produce a study on one of the toughest issues the church has faced in much time. Your study is out of date by the time it’s released.

Oddly enough, the article was titled, “A Generation’s Defining Struggle.” Too bad the people in the story it covered didn’t have the same sense of urgency.

 

December 19, 2011

Casting the Role of Mary in the Christmas Play

Canada’s largest newspaper has an ethics reporter which often overlaps on themes we discuss here. Ken Gallinger’s column appears on Saturday in The Toronto Star, but unfortunately, when I wanted to excerpt from this one, it hadn’t been posted online.  Ken was kind enough to send me a copy, but it flows so well that I really want you to read every word of it in context.

This may hit a few of you where you live. Ever wished you had the wisdom of Solomon? Ever been in a situation in church life that was so politically hot you could hear the paint peeling off the walls? 

Maybe you need a neutral mediator.  An ethicstitian. The weekly column has a Q&A format, so this one begins with a reader question:

Q: I have been seconded to direct my church’s Christmas Pageant. Every year, kids look forward to being old enough to fill the two main parts: Mary and Joseph. This year, we have a new family that just started coming in September. Their daughter is 12, and a star in the community theater group. The minister has “encouraged” me to use their daughter as Mary; he believes this would help the family integrate into the congregation. I don’t think that’s fair to girls who’ve been coming faithfully since they were born. What’s your take?

A:  It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Mothers clambering to sign up their daughters for a make-believe life of perpetual virginity. Ministers hiding Scotch under their pulpits. Pageant directors leaping off ecclesiastical bridges. Kids crying because they are typecast as donkeys.

And speaking of donkeys — your minister’s heart may be in the right place, but he needs to give his head a shake. There are countless appropriate ways to welcome new families into a worshipping community. They can be greeters. They can serve at the Christmas dinner for the poor. They can light candles, read scripture, sing in the choir. Opportunities are endless.

What there aren’t, I suspect, are a lot of perks for kids who regularly attend church (synagogue, mosque, whatever) week after week from the day they are born. While other kids are off playing hockey, swimming, sleeping in, lying on the beach at their cottage, these little troupers come out faithfully to listen to stories — often packaged in the most boring way imaginable — recounted by voluntolds who would rather be almost anywhere else.

Then along comes the Christmas pageant, and there’s magic in the air. Who will get to be Mary this year? And who will be Joseph?  The new kid?  The BRAND NEW kid??? Hee Haw.

I’m not arguing seniority should be the only consideration on occasions such as this. I’d want my virgin and her stunned non-mate to be good “citizens” in the congregation – kids who take part in the work as well as the fun, kids who could be counted on, kids who would put in the effort to carry such major roles. I’d also want them to know the difference between Jesus and Santa – there’s no time to explain that Rudolph wasn’t in the stable with Mary and Joe.

This might not always result in the selection of the very best dramatis personae from a theatrical point of view. It might not satisfy the big givers, whose kid (comes three times a year, between trips to Europe) ends up as a palm tree in the background. It might not call out a Mary who is beatific in appearance or demeanor. What it would do, however, is make clear that faithfulness has at least a few rewards … and if that’s not true at church (synagogue, mosque, whatever), is it true anywhere?

A final note: I have a five-year-old goddaughter who is beautiful, talented and smart.  If anyone needs a rent-a-virgin for their pageant this year, let me know … she’d be terrific. Did I mention how talented she is? Star quality. References available.

~Kenneth Gallinger

So, do you agree? Has this ever happened in your church? Were you ever a shepherd or a palm tree? Have you read or seen the movie of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever with Loretta Swit?  Don’t you think ethicstitian is a really cool word?

June 16, 2011

So Which Church Would You Visit?

On Tuesday I created this hypothetical story and then posed a question…

  1. You are just married, no kids, and have moved to a rather small-ish town with very limited church choices within the type of church you’re familiar with; in fact, there is only real possibility according to the information you were given before you moved.
  2. You make contact with someone to get the address and time only to discover that this particular church has had some kind of split with half the congregation staying and half going to a new location.
  3. The person you’re talking with is very helpful and informative, but doesn’t attend either and really can’t offer you a thing as to why the church split and what the particular issues were.
  4. You have to choose between the two; picking something else or staying home isn’t an option in this particular scenario.

So which one do you choose and why?

There is actually a good reason to choose one over the other.  But it might be a different choice for different people.

Let me begin by saying that I think there are strong compelling arguments for both choices.  Especially when you consider that in information point #1, it says quite clearly, “you have just moved.”  Starting at the beginning, at the church which was recommended to you, makes a lot of sense.  It would also give you context to know the situation the breakaway group is coming from.

Church of Star Trek south of Lynchburg, Viriginia; You never really know what a new church is all about, do you?

You’d also want to consider the possibility that the breakaway group is simply a bunch of malcontents.  The complainers.  The trouble-makers.  The chronically dissatisfied.  I’ll grant you that.

You would also want to consider the possibility that the splinter group is the beginning of a cult fringe; the possibility that they broke away over some obscure point of doctrine or some misinterpretation of a scripture passage.  Here are some comments from Tuesday:

  • My gut reaction is to go with the church that stayed and didn’t move to a new location. My reasoning is that I would be very suspicious of why the other group left, was there no effort made for reconciliation if there were obvious differences between the two camps? However, it really is hard to answer not knowing all the details, maybe they left due to theological differences, if so, can they really be faulted?
  • Being Anglican, the church that moved onward would probably have been the group that was more orthodox. Liberals [or revisionists – for revising what Scripture says to allow non-biblical moral standards of behaviours] would stay. Only those keen for Jesus would move on.
  • i would be inclined to favor the group that “stayed the course.” if there are issues within a fellowship, leaving (especially en masse) is a last resort. if they had stayed and prayed, the lord would have made the necessary changes (in the situation or in their hearts).
  • …The group that stayed could have become liberal in its thinking and social in its outlook – or the same could be said of the group that left, departing from the true basics… (One of a couple of comments that tried to break the rules and suggest going to both; which you probably would eventually, but this was about choosing your first visit in your new hometown.)

The deck seems a bit stacked, doesn’t it?

Having said all that…

…I’d choose the new group.

The reason is simply the argument from church history that so many new movements and so many fresh works of God began in places where a group reached a crossroads and decided it was time for change.  I would want to see if the break-off group fits that paradigm and if indeed a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit is recognizable in their Sunday worship. 

I’ve also found in my own life that sometimes it is interesting to be part of something at its genesis.  Plus… I would always be able to visit the original group afterward without having actually arrived and “left” in that particular sequence.

Furthermore, if the new splinter group is off the rails doctrinally, it would be good to find that out right away; but if they are doing a good thing, it would be good to support them at a time when they need warm bodies.  

So… does that work for you, or are those arguments insufficient?


Remember, people blog because they write well and because they are provocative!  You’re allowed to disagree!

December 8, 2009

When You Didn’t Actually Do Something But You Did

As a young single guy in my early 20s, I envied the marriage that my friend L. and his wife Y. had.   I always felt extremely relaxed in their home, though that might have something to do with L’s regularly serving a shot of cherry brandy the moment anyone arrived.

They had been married just a few years, no kids to that point, and life was pretty good except that L’s job involved working a lot of nights.

So when a job came up in a town about 40 minutes west that would be straight days with health benefits as well, L. jumped at it.   The house was a fixer-upper but L. was a handy guy.   He made several trips to the new town to work on the house and finally moving day arrived.

But Y. didn’t move.   She told L. that she didn’t want to live in that town.   Scheduled to work at the new job, and with the house already in his possession, L. packed up some essentials, figuring this thing would be resolved in a matter of days.

It never was.

L. had a sister named A. who was quite concerned.   She got on the phone to a national Christian talk show where the host minister took questions from viewers live every Friday.   She told the story of L. and Y.

He said that what L. was experiencing was “constructive desertion.”  In other words, really it was her that left him.   But in a purely geographical sense, he left her, and she could always enjoy that margin of denial if anyone ever asked her if she left him.

Are you following this?

(It’s also significant to note here that even though they had been married something in the 4-5 year range, Y.’s parents had kept her bedroom made up exactly as it was the day she got married.   But that’s another issue.)

I’ve always been fascinated by this whole “constructive desertion” concept, even if I now know the legal definition is actually a little bit different.    So let me rephrase that.   I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that Y. could, if she wanted, spin this thing — even though we didn’t use the word ‘spin’ back then in that way — so that it looked like he left her, when in fact, she seized on an opportunity to leave him.

The parallel to church life

This happens all the time in churches.   I remember my father having a conversation with a certain family that was no longer attending a particular church.    He asked right out, “Did you leave or were you made to want to leave?”

A church leader, elder or pastor can always deny he asked an individual or family to leave a particular church, when in fact he (or she) made it impossible to continue in regular attendance.   (Trust me, I know.)

So today, I give you a new term:  Constructive excommunication.   Well, not totally new, it’s used here and here.  The second one is interesting, here’s the paragraph were it occurs:

Swallowing his pride and raised Catholic, [name withheld] then returns for a regular service at St. Joseph’s in spite of what he calls ‘constructive excommunication.’ They’ve thrown him out and made it pretty clear they have but don’t do it officially anymore because of the publicity; interesting insofar as they leverage dominance through conceptual charity and don’t want people who would potentially support [him] to have the finite point to rally on.

Didn’t have time to read the whole story, but the modus operandi is all too familiar.

So… know anybody who’s faced constructive excommunication?

Footnotes:

  1. We’re basically not even in the category of social drinkers, but I do have a fondness for cherry brandy.   However, I think we bought only one bottle once in the past 20 years.   You want to avoid the cheaper brands, though.   My wife prefers the chocolate flavored liqueurs, but again, our financial position for most of our married life, and our profile in the community where we live has prevented us from purchasing much in the way of alcoholic beverages.
  2. When L. returned to the first home to formally move the bulk of their furniture and other items, half of everything was gone.   A. came to survey the scene with a friend who was given to having a ‘word of knowledge’ now and then and the friend noticed the razor-sharp division of things.   She left the “His” towel and took the “Hers.”   If it had been a wedding gift from his side of the family it stayed; if from hers, it was gone.  The friend of A. looked at L. and said, “You may have once stood before a minister in a church, and you may have had sex, but I believe you were never truly married.”    Yikes!
  3. I removed the name from the quotation because, although it’s linked, it seems to be one rather bizarre website.   The whole blog is one massive, endless post — which as of last month, Blogspot won’t allow them to add anything to — about a seemingly unsavory character.    I just don’t want anyone associating this blog with that story, whatever it is.

July 18, 2009

Church Asks Denomination: What Do You Actually ‘Do?’

When Mrs. W. and I got married twenty-plus years ago, we became part of a church in north Toronto which was formed when a breakaway group from the somewhat liberal United Church of Canada decided to embark on something a little more Evangelical, patterned after Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Florida.    For purposes of identification, they chose to join a very small handful of congregations in something called the “Congregational Christian Churches in Canada,” or “4Cs;” a remnant of the original denomination that had merged with three others in the forming of the United Church.    Years later, when issues such as sexual orientation threatened conservatives in the United Church, many other churches also joined the 4Cs, which was then simply a loose association of churches.

To keep the association running, the church my wife and I had history with contributed $1,500 yearly to its maintenance.

In 2006, the 4cs decided it was time to start being less of a fraternal association and more like a denomination.   Instead of churches providing a token fee, they asked churches, including the one in question, to contribute 3.25 percent of their ‘income’ to the organization.    For this church, that would have hiked the contribution from $1,500 to $7,500; and not seeing where the real ‘value for money’ was to be found, they decided to keep remitting the lesser amount.

In 2008, the denomination — still somewhat invisible to the folks in this congregation — decided to increase the ‘royalty’ payable to the denomination to 5.0 percent.   For this church, this would involve $13,500.   When they remitted $1,500; they received a registered letter (no less) demanding the difference.

“Show us what we’re getting out of this;” they asked.    What follows is sad, hilarious and pathetic all at the same time:

“The 4Cs believe that Good Shepherd [Church] is a financial (sic) sound church and should be able to afford the new fees.  When asked what should be cut in order to pay these fees, the 4Cs suggested that we cut our missions budget.   When asked what value the 4Cs provided to [the church], their response was that other 4Cs churches view the membership fee as “giving back” to God’s Kingdom.   When pressed to provide a more tangible example of how the 4Cs is contributing to the Kingdom of God, the answer was that the national pastor assists churches in trouble.   When pressed to further justify why we should cut our giving to our missionaries, who provide tangible insight into how they are contributing to God’s Kingdom, there was no reasonable explanation.”

June 21/09 congregational letter
Good Shepherd Community Church, Toronto

Yes, it’s true.   They actually suggested that this church cut their missions budget by over $13,000 to pay the denominational membership fee.   Arrrrrrrgh!

Americans reading this may not get the issue, but independent churches are somewhat of a rarity up here.   This church will take the next 6-24 months to find another body whose label it can attach to the front of the building.    Perhaps they will chose to go it alone.     The vote not to increase the budget to pay the fee was unanimous.

Groups that bring oversight and accountability to local churches can be a good thing.  They can mobilize national initiatives and missions programs that individual assemblies can’t do on their own.  They can provide arbitration to churches facing issues, and both guidelines and candidates for churches seeking new pastors and associate staff.

Or they can be a big bureaucracy that sucks revenue out of local churches.

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