Thinking Out Loud

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.
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