Sunday, April 15, 2012

Elders Behaving Badly

The following is taken from a Facebook comment by Kevin Johnson, who blogs at  Kevin responds to two FB commenters who state that speaking publicly of one's spirutual abuse stories amounts to the blemishing of the good name of Christ, soiling the reputation of the church, aiding the enemy, and other such things.

Johnson has a much different view and responds to the commenters in what I think is a reasonable fashion, and calls attention to some things not routinely addressed in the blogoshpere over such matters.  I think his comment is valuable for us to read in the light of the many recent stories of authoritarianism and abuse coming out on the internet.  Kevin graciously allowed me to post his comment here on From the Pew.


It is a mistake of course to pretend that passages like 1 Timothy 5:19 and 1 Corinthians 6 woodenly apply to particular situations involving spiritual abuse when no real justice is available for the offended party via traditional means. Really, though, when does the Law of God ever woodenly apply without recourse to godly wisdom? While I agree that we should not go to secular law courts in general to solve Christian-only issues, there are times when such is required as a result of spiritual and/or physical abuse. In our society, aside from civil charges, criminal charges are brought by the State anyway and not by individuals. In the case of sexual and physical abuse on the part of ministers any such activity should be reported and brought to the authorities because that is generally required by law. So, we can't just quote 1 Cor. 6 and say that's the end of the story.

In America, freedom of religion makes real discipline in any Reformed environment absolutely voluntary and well beyond the sort of environment where all parties are able to receive justice at the hands of an ecclesial court. Denominational loyalties also generally preclude any sort of fair trial for laymen when brought against an elder and therefore one should think long and hard before going down that road. Sometimes the only right recourse is just to let people know what happened.

In the case of elders behaving badly and participating in spiritual and other abuse, the church needs to take care of the real widows and orphans caused by such men in the life of the church and not pretend that double honor is due only where an office exists and no real performer of that office is found except in the manifest ways he can display and model wickedness in the community of the faithful. The most severe punishment in the Scriptures is reserved for those who knew better yet still violated the term and intent of their office.

The warnings in Matthew 23 do not appear to be cushioned with the sort of statements wanting to preserve the good name of Jesus Christ, the reputation of the church, or the right of the local church to handle the problem contra making it so public. Rather, Christ matter-of-factly calls out men by name -- those sitting in the seat of Moses -- in a rather small community of people who undoubtedly knew who he was talking about. Furthermore, Christ makes clear to show the community that the system is broken and only prophetic rebuke and his coming is left to fix it. So, there is no need to think this could even be handled by local church discipline as John 9-10 make quite clear. And, the sort of descriptive terms our Lord used generally outweigh any sort of invective we've seen in the likes of testimony against people like Mark Driscoll in the links above.

The prophets of the Old Testament mirror similar concerns in passages like Ezekiel 34 where the messianic promise of Christ is wrapped up in freeing men and women from oppression at the hands of pastors and ministers behaving badly. In other words, the behavior displayed by those who practice spiritual abuse and ministerial malpractice is directly opposed to the mission and work of the gospel in and among the community of the people of God. Paul, too, has no problem excoriating certain men by name when found to be in opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ even to the point of wishing them emasculated.

In Reformed circles, we are happy to eject men both out of the ministry and the church on what may seem the smallest of theological technicalities (cf. Frame, "Machen's Warrior Children") but we will not take similar action when similar men abuse their ministerial authority and use the leadership they have in ways that are unfaithful to God. This is a huge inconsistency that shows us where our real loyalties lie as Reformed church men and women. Often, we demonstrate that we care for our doctrines and our pet leaders more than we care for our fellow believers. And, that's just idolatry.

The Reformers of course had no problem speaking against ministerial corruption and naming names. Sometimes, they even used anonymous and very drastic means to do so in ways that would make even the strongest among us today wince. For example, I haven't seen anyone draw a cartoon where Mark Driscoll is ushering demons out of his posterior and other sorts of lambasting sixteenth-century divines had for those who supported the papacy. That's hardly an objective and fair rendering of the truth sufficient for us to make a qualified decision on the matter (as if the real reason for making things public is so we have the right to decide)! Somehow the Reformers knew they were telling the truth and had authority to speak prophetically in the community. Christians have not lost that today either in spite of what [commenter #1] or [commenter #2] might argue. For all their interesting methods, the Reformers valued transparency and consistency in calling a spade a spade and that was most certainly true in exposing ministerial corruption. Why we can't do the same is beyond me.

Telling the truth is not a scandal and does not hurt the name of Jesus Christ. If that were true, the Bible would be so much more bland than it is--filled with the details of corruption prophetically confronted even in the highest of sacred places in both the Old and New Testaments. It is only when we attempt to hide the truth that real scandal comes and continues to be enabled. Providing the truth on the Internet does not aid the enemy. The enemy is aided by works of darkness which elders behaving badly do in spades and under cover of their title and work because many congregants don't take their fellow believers seriously over and above their devotion to their pastoral leaders even when presented with irrefutable evidence from a variety of reliable sources or witnesses.

And, to tell people to be quiet when they speak against their leaders when you have no basis to judge the veracity of their comments can be just as damaging to the truth as not. Since you don't know what the truth is, speaking against outspoken voices can work to unduly silence those whom God has moved to make certain things public quite outside normal means. Rather, we should let anyone speak as they feel led and then the church and community can work to take action as required. After all, how many witnesses did Nathan bring to David? Or, Elijah to Jezebel? Yet, would it not be a mistake to have been there and spoken against God's prophets and his word to David or Jezebel? We have to realize that the call to silence a voice is as much a judgment as one that raises a concern in the larger community of the faithful -- and that's the hypocrisy of the position presented to us by [commenter #1] and [commenter #2] even if they haven't personally come to such conclusions.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. - Rom 12:9-16 NASB

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Least of These

We have a blog link chain here.  Alan Knox posts "The more least or the less least?" in response to Dan Allen's "Making the least the least" at his new blog Some Church Stuff.  I read Dan's post before Alan linked to it, and as prompted as I was to write about Dan's post, Alan's kind of put it into action.

I admit, it's not been very often that I've heard the least speak, or play music, or be allowed to contribute in great ways.  When that has occurred, the results have been amazing.  Consequent encouragement to make this the norm, however, has fallen on deaf ears and normalcy returns.  Getting to know the secrets of the least and to be blessed by them have been almost limited to private conversations.

So what's wrong with somebody born and raised in the projects playing "Amazing Grace" on his harmonica to a large church gathering?  Or what's wrong with the "least theologically trained" among us being allowed to speak about what they've read in the bible?  Well, nothing, actually.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Blogger's Bottleneck?

Several months ago I wrote a short post titled, "Blogger's Cramp...and What To Do About It?"  It occurred to me that one reason I may have been having blogger's cramp is due to "blogger's bottleneck."  Blogger's bottleneck would be not being able to write because there is too much to write.  It all gets stopped up at the very point of coming out.  Maybe?

Friday, April 06, 2012

Why People Blog Their Spiritual Abuse Stories

I've noticed an increase in the number of people who have blogged about their experiences with spiritual abuse in the church and problems with authoritarian leadership.  I think I know some reasons why. 

Often, people who blog about such things are criticized for doing so, sometimes harshly.  After all, if you have a problem with somebody, aren't you supposed to go directly to them to deal with it? Well, not exactly, and that's where an explanation can be useful.

You see, there is a big difference between one person sinning against another in ordinary things and people using positions and systems of power (with the supposed backing of God and the threatening of excommunication or hell for dissent) in accomplishing the sin.  In the first case there is a much easier path of recourse; in the latter there may be none at all.  Try confronting a friend who dealt you a minor insult.  The whole thing might be solved and over with in a couple of minutes.  Your friend may not want to insult you because he is your friend, and he will realize his pettiness and the greater value of God and friendship.  Now try confronting a group of church leaders who view the confronting of church leaders as one of the most heinous things one can do.  How far do you think you will go with that one?

With nowhere else to go, and with no real way of getting the problem solved, telling others about the story may be the only way to go.  And this isn't merely the airing of dirty laundry.  This is the exposing of evil deeds that are purposed in the heart of those who commit such things.  Look to the example of Jesus and the bible to see how these types of problems are dealt with.

What did Jesus do with the ruling religious leaders of his day?  Where are the examples of private, personal confrontation?  Rather, Jesus spoke openly and publicly about the evil deeds of the religious leaders.  His concern was for those who might be affected by their teachings and deeds.  Where is the concern for "protecting their good names?"  And what did the Holy Spirit think about all of this?  Well, he decided to inspire four gospel writers and several apostles to write these things in a number of books and a church to collect those into one larger book!  And what did Zondervan think about all of this?  Zondervan, without consulting descendants of these religious leaders to see if exposing these deeds would tarnish family images, decided to print millions of copies of the book!  And what did you and I think about all of this?  We bought the book!

I hope in all the hoopla surrounding the stories that expose such things we remember that the pain and hurt caused by power and systems are a different animal and warrant a different response than that of personal offenses.  More to come.