Friday, November 17, 2006

Kangaroo Court

This is it, the beginning of the story, the story we've kept quiet for over 2 years. However, writing and making public this statement is the final chapter. For all who have wondered, what really happened, this is our explanation. For those who have imagined everything from us being backslidden to having affairs, here is the truth. We have not strayed in our walk with the Lord.

Our lives are an open book. The only secrets we have held are the secrets of the leadership team of ****. The things that have happened over the years behind the scenes leading up to this showdown are not our secrets to tell. We do feel released at this time to tell of the actual event that led to our resignation and departure. There is nothing written here that we wouldn't want read by those involved.

I have learned that there are thousands of Christians who have experienced this sort of meeting. Having been there, I can tell you that it felt like a trap, a lynching. Sadly, one doesn't have to be guilty of anything in order to be subjected to this. The meeting itself implies your guilt with the message that you are deserving of this kind of treatment.

For any who have experienced something similar, I hope that in reading this, you can see that when wrongly motivated and lacking the relational approach for true reconciliation, this kind of meeting is abusive.

Names have been omitted and replaced by the titles "apostle" and "pastor." These titles do not necessarily indicate calling, simply rank and position in this particular situation.

On February 28, 2004, we were brought before apostle and pastor in a disciplinary meeting. The charge brought against us at this meeting was that we were not adequately submitted to pastor. The litany of accusations against us consisted of specific instances recorded where we had disagreed with pastor in elders meetings and in private conversations.

Based on this, we were accused of disloyalty, lack of commitment, and improper motives. While the things we disagreed about were factual, pastor’s implications concerning our motives were false and rooted in personal offense. Apostle and the other elders had been called into this “emergency” and asked to support pastor’s charges. They were quick to come into agreement with pastor concerning our guilt. Prior to this trap to accuse, there was no Matthew 18 attempt to approach us by anyone involved concerning the alleged problems with our hearts.

We were blindsided. The deception and manipulation involved in pulling off this power play destroyed any possibility of putting ourselves in a trusting relationship with pastor or apostle. We were not willing to agree to pastor's false judgment of us. We found that we had no voice with the leadership team with which to defend our hearts or motives.

The predetermined outcome of this meeting was that we were to be put on probation in order to prove our submission to pastor. Because we had been manipulated by lies and false accusations, we did not submit to this false reconciliation process. We did not accept pastor's proposal that we be discipled by him into appropriate submission, therefore we were accused of being unwilling to participate in the process of reform.

Under the circumstances, there was no recourse for us that would have brought justice. Challenging the injustice would have damaged relationships further. Being in a truly lose-lose situation, we chose the least destructive route and simply walked away. We believe we were following the Lord’s direction to leave. We also felt strongly that it was His desire that we neither bring accusation against the leadership nor defend ourselves.

Our friends who were involved in leadership chose to stand behind pastor. They severed relationship with us out of loyalty to him. The congregation had no clue what happened and were left to fill in the blanks based on whatever was implied about us by the leadership. It was evident that our reputation was smeared by the way people have treated us and by the rumors we have heard. We experienced rejection in more ways than we ever could have imagined.

The months after we left were filled with hurt and confusion. Over time, we were able to more clearly understand the circumstances and beliefs that led up to this situation. We have forgiven those involved, and we now see how God has used this situation for our benefit. We are still extremely concerned with the teaching and style of leadership that allows and even encourages this kind of abuse within a church community. We are grateful that we are no longer in a position of teaching and supporting abusive authority.

18 comments:

Robbymac said...

Wow, Grace.

I was going to email you privately and caution you to be careful how you word things, as I've had the not-so-edifying experience of having something I wrote to the elders of a CLB fourteen years ago be twisted and exegeted like Holy Scripture ("you used ______ word which CLEARLY shows..." -- coincidentally always making me appear more "unsubmissive" and "unwilling to be discipled" in their eyes).

But, I see you've already been very careful. Good on ya, mate!

Grace, I can't tell you how excited I am for you and your husband in this season! Yay, God!

Anonymous said...

Wow Grace.

Thanks so much for sharing your story. I am sorry you guys had to endure that, but I'm glad you are able to be a voice of encouragment for people in similar situations.

How do you feel about your healing process at this time? Do you feel like recent events have helped you over "the hump", or did you feel like you had come pretty far before now? I mean, it's always going to be a process, I guess I'm seeking encouragement because I'm coming up on 2 years in March and I'm really longing to see the light of day through my bitterness.

Anyhow, luv ya. Thanks for being a friend.

Lily.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

Grace,

Having been in a similar situation, I wanted to say how impressed I am with the way your communicated this. I probably would have been still somewhat... less diplomatic 2 and a bit years after it happened. Good on ya.

Peace,
Jamie

Pam Hogeweide said...

{hug}

were you and your husband confronting unhealthy things in the leadership to draw such fire? why were you guys targeted?
I am aware of a spiritually abusive leadership team in my city. The people who get kicked out are the ones who confront...then they get asked to leave and then finally shunned...just like you.

{another hug}

I'm so glad you have not let this offense alienate you from God, who is good, are the body of Christ, which is also good. This is a tribute to your integrity and maturity as woman of faith.

wilsonian said...

So sorry that you had to walk through all this... and so grateful you got out when you did.

Anonymous said...

Was this a pastor or Fidel Castro? Geez...talk about taking the submission thing a little too far.

Bill Sergott said...

My wife and I currently pastor a church that is filled with people with stories like yours. It is amazing how the Church can rend and destroy like no other entity. I am just trying to love these broken people, and you being willing to share your heart helps give me even more insight into the people in my community. Thank you!

grace said...

Hey Robby!
I think there is still potential for this to be "exegeted," but I wrote it considering the possibility of it being used in that manner.

I don't believe those involved would agree or admit to what I've said, however I know that we can factually back up the statements I have made.

I don't believe that I will print it for public distribution, but I'm considering printing it and allowing others to read my copy.

Perhaps it's because I'm more comfortable with writing, but it seems so much more difficult to explain this verbally when people ask about it.

In some ways, I almost feel guilty that we are experiencing this resolution because I know that most often, situations like this continue without being exposed.

I agree with your Yay God!

Lily,
The recent events have brought us to a place of resolution that I never thought possible. Standing alone for 2 years was really difficult, and that is the biggest change and relief now.

We had come to a place in our healing that I would describe as acceptance. It was a pretty healthy place and really the most we expected. We were working on the process of healing, forgiving, and moving on, even if things at the former church never changed.

So, I guess what I'm saying, is that we were working on finding our way through the bitterness, regardless of the circumstances at the CLB. But I can't deny that this validation now helps.

Thanks Jamie. I'm glad you see it as diplomatic, since I appreciate your discernment.

wilsonian,
You got that right! I'm so glad we got out too.

renzntzman,
Sadly, the place has become more and more cultish, but fortunately as it does, more people are able to see it.

Bill,
Nice to meet you. Someone willing to listen and believe is important for those who have experienced spiritual abuse. This has taught me much about the systemic issues in the church that allow these widespread incidences.
Blessings to you!

Robbymac said...

Grace,

"In some ways, I almost feel guilty that we are experiencing this resolution because I know that most often, situations like this continue without being exposed."

Don't feel guilty, just grateful! You're absolutely right that most situations never see this kind of resolution (fourteen years later, ours certainly hasn't). But I'm more excited FOR you, than envious of you.

In answering the brilliant Pam (dude, you ROCK), you mentioned:

"He basically told us that from that day, he began taking our attendance and making notes of all our conversations."

This was the same methodology used fourteen years ago on us (plus, a hefty amount of innuendo, fact-twisting, and outright lies) -- there's no reason to do this unless the pastor (and I use that term very loosely) has already decided to get rid of you at all costs, while covering his own posterior with "evidence" against you.

Admittedly, I have strong feelings on this, rooted in my own exprience(s), and increased by the many hurting people I've met who have endured similar things, but at the point where he/she begins keeping lists to use against you, they have ceased to be a pastor (imo).

(ASIDE: The "word verification" that Blogger is offering for this comment, believe it or not, is WHOA...)

Bruce said...

I'm beginnng to wonder about the mental stability of the pastor - everything you wrote suggests paranoia with a bit of schizophrenia thrown in for good measure. I'm thankful God is doing a work in your lives, and pray that CLB wakes up before it's too late for them.

B~

Pam Hogeweide said...

The other reason is that in the leadership, there was a history of unhealthy relationships and sweeping things under the rug. Supposedly the "apostle" was going to guide us into healthier relationships with one another.

Aren't you glad now that you are out of that unhealthy, toxic environment, even if it was a bumpy, hurtful departure?

Can I push this a bit further and observe that if you had been treated this way in a place of employment it would be considered illegal and public exposure would be appropriate as well as legal grievances filed.

The church is not the corporate world. When spiritual leaders demonstrate a consistent pattern of abuse ought we not to warn people..or do we let them figure it out on their own? The spiritually abusive leadership I am aware of in my city causes me distress as I've heard so many stories. I don't go there, but the people who are leaving mostly do so quietly. The vast majority of the body is unaware of the drama and trauma going on behind the scenes. Does it matter? Should the average church-goer who doesn't involve themselves in ministry or church affairs beyond the Sunday morning service be alerted that their pastor is wrecking lives under the guise of "church discipline?"

I'm interested in other people's thoughts on this. At times I feel gossipy when I meet yet another family who no longer go to this particular church, and when I indicate I know "the problem" they sigh with relief and out pours their story. I don't even go to their church. I know others who still attend. I've wrestled with how to deal with this, and for now, I've decided to not rock people's boats. If someone is content and doesn't know about their pastor's abusive antics, ok then, ignorance is bliss. I do discourage people I know to not go there when it is a place of worship under consideration. 'I can't recommend this church, and I don't want to go in why..."

Is discretion wise, or should spiritual abuse be called what it is? "I can't recommend this church because I am aware of a pattern of spiritual abuse within the leadership."

Or,"We left such-and-such church because the pastor became manipulative and controlling about our lives and we consider it spiritually abusive..."

Are we allowing abuse to perpetuate when we are quiet and discreet, or are we simply letting other people figure it out on their own?

grace said...

Robby,
WHOA seems appropriate.:)

Doesn't it just astound you that this can happen so frequently in churches without the worldly political nature of the process ever being questioned as unloving and anti-Christ/kingdom.

This is what drives my desire to see the systemic power issues of our structures addressed. This shouldn't happen so frequently and be accepted in our relationships and communities.

Bruce,
Fear of exposure is behind much of what motivates this pastor. He is extremely passive-aggressive, and only a select few experience the "privelege" of seeing the behind-the-scenes aggression. I'm curious how the story will continue over the next months and years.

Pam,
I was hoping you would comment further on my reply to you. What seems so clear now, was really confusing in the midst of it. I do remember several times looking at my husband and asking each other, "We're volunteers here, right?"

Great questions, wish I knew the answers. :)

Last weekend, a friend recommended that in most circumstances, we should simply point to the truth, rather than pointing out the false.

Another friend recommended to just open up the conversation with questions and listen - i.e. How do you feel about that? Do you agree with that teaching? What are your beliefs about authority, submission, apostles, etc....?

I guess I feel a certain amount of freedom to discuss MY situation. I'm still not sure how much of the background "dirt" I should get into, like attendance taking, etc. Although I'm not sure I feel obligated to guard that behavior as a secret either.

It seems like we should have the freedom to point out teachings and beliefs that are contrary to our understanding of scripture without being guilty of being gossipy. The problem then is what is to be said about the church leaders who are responsible for promoting the teachings that we believe are false.

I suppose I'll have to listen to the Holy Spirit. :)

Lorna said...

praying. This can't be easy even now.

grace said...

Lorna,
I've been praying for your situation also.

radicalreversal said...

Grace,

Excellent series of articles on the subject of spiritual abuse. I have heard some horrifc and tragic stories of spiritual abuse that just break my heart. Your series is excellent and I will ask my friend to add links to your articles over at batteredsheep.com

Blessings,

Paul
--

http://radicalreversal.org/weblog

Anonymous said...

Hi Grace,
I found your blog today and have read the entire spiritual abuse series. What a wonderful job you did!

I was not only in an abusive church situation (x 3), I was married to the spiritually abusive pastor for over 20 years. How I wish I had some words of wisdom like yours in the early days of healing. I've been divorced for 6 years now and am so thankful for God's provision and care for me as my healing has come.

Your words have blessed me today! It reminds me of the verse that says, "He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." That's what you have done!

Blessings on you and yours!

Sharon said...

Your story is almost exactly like mine. I didn't mention in my last post... I, too, was told they were putting me on 3 months probation.

The same committee that conspired with the pastor to put me on probation had never met with me in 7 years!(or, any of the staff, for that matter.) Yes,this was the 1st (and last) meeting ever. I wonder why they cited me for not following the Book of Discipline, when this was the committee that in the church Book of Discipline is charged with supporting and nurturing the staff and they'd never met with me until this reckless day.

They charged me with insubordination and read aloud 3 pages of reprimand that included 3 months probation. I attempted to tell them what had happened and had been happening for quite some time. They told me whatever pastor had done was of no significance and that "we love our pastor".

I was in that room with my accusers by myself (with the pastor sitting there) unable to talk for crying and a flood of tears streaming down my face. There was not one resemblance of Christ's love in that room. I had to step out to pull myself together. Not one person offered any word of encouragement. I didnt know what to do-- I didn't want to lose my job but my head was reeling...

I scribbled a signature on the paper(now I wish I hadn't). They didn't care about what the pastor had done. Through tears, I handed them a 6 page letter (that I had written) explaining my version of what had taken place. I wish now that I had read it aloud to them. They gave me an opportunity to go before the entire committee (since this was only a portion of the committee members) but I chose not to because I felt they had already leveled the judgement against me. Even when I had begun to speak about what had taken place, the chairman said aloud, it doesn't matter what he did. Why then would it matter.

Sometimes I wish I had gone before the full committee...why didn't I? Maybe I was somehow brain-washed into thinking I had to protect him too! Maybe I was frightened. I don't know. Only God knows! It sounds crazy but you begin to question everything.

We left the church our friends our ministries and all of our connections. This had been our life for 14 years. Everything we did revolved around the church.


Tomorrow will be exactly 4 months to the day that we left. The feelings are too hard to describe and I wonder when the pain will and the hurt will stop.

I heard later that there were 2 people on the committee (and I and I my husband had known all 15 of them--for years!) that attempted to question the pastor and they were abruptly told that "we're not discussing that!" Later one tried to cite that the committee had not followed the Book of Discipline in the way they had handled the situation. They told him-- it was closed to discussion.

I never knew that this was going on in churches all over the world.

It's so sad. And it's so wrong. I know eventually this will make us stronger but right now it hurts terribly.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this EXACT same thing just happened to me and my husband!! I was the Music Director... since the beginning of the church... we helped start the church. We are still in a state of shock, but there was a small group, including the pastor, who wanted us out of there because we knew too much... we knew how things were supposed to go and they wanted to do their own thing... with the financial affairs especially... which we questioned. We were told that either we remove ourselves from the membership of the church or be brought before the church and voted out. I resigned and we requested our membership be removed. There is so much hate and hostility towards us from people we considered our friends. Most of my choir members were poisoned by rumors and false accusations towards us, and were called and told to drop out of the choir and not support me. It's been a nightmare. Thanks for letting me know we're not alone. I know the Lord has another plan and probably wanted us out of that abusive situation.