A few months ago I told the story on this blog of how the influence of James MacDonald and the Harvest Bible network of churches poisoned my church with a spirit of authoritarianism. Since then new developments have made a follow up post necessary.
After writing that post I had determined I would simply seek another Church. I thought I might still go to the small group Bible study I had been attending, as I had grown quite fond of the people there, got a lot out of it, and by all accounts contributed quite a bit back into it. Beyond that though I thought I would simply move on. But I was challenged by one of the members and someone who was practically family to me to keep going to see if I may have been wrong about things. I accepted if for no other reason than love and respect for the person making that request, and in the weeks that followed actually saw quite a few tremendously positive signs. Despite the problems it seemed God was indeed working in wondrous ways with some of the people there. Call it hopefulness or naivety, but I was actually beginning to think things had turned around, after all it was almost entirely new senior leadership. Perhaps, I thought, the problem had left with the old guard. Then I was given the news that I had been invited to one of the Church Elder meetings.
During that Elder meeting I was challenged with the verse from Matthew 18 about how to approach brother's in Christ with grievances. And I will say publicly right now, that while I did indeed go to the leadership with my concern before resigning my membership and posting about it here, I should have made more of an effort. It was a difficult situation, I tried to do things right, but I could have and should have done them better. I do however have no reason to assume the outcome would have been any different. It simply would have added a few weeks to the process. But that doesn't excuse me of my responsibility. I did not handle this as well as I should have and I am sorry.
That being said, it seemed to me that many of the elders were saying at that meeting that I needed to take down the blog post, recant and repent of ever daring to question the church leadership, or be simply no longer welcome there, despite the fact that I was indeed invited back by a member of good standing. I say "seemed" because there was very little said of much substance, frankly just a lot of beating around the bush. The next night I talked with the one elder I was close friends with and he assured me that despite my getting that impression, they were simply concerned for my spiritual well being and want us to all be in unity and work things out and no one was thinking of banishing me, that would be ridiculous. He was wrong. Just a couple of weekends the one elder called to indeed inform me I was banished until further notice and the matter would be discussed at the next Elder meeting. I had amazingly been thrown out of a church I already quit, after being invited back no less.
This meant I was no longer welcome at the church or the small group. I must admit, the small group part actually hurt a bit. I will miss that, although thankfully I am still friends with the people from it. So I suppose I should give credit where credit is due, they managed to get me back for my critical article. They managed to get, if not a whole pound, at least a few ounces of my flesh. And they managed to cloak it in a veil of religiosity no less. A thin veil, but still. That's kind of impressive actually. Touche.
They banned me from a church. I don't think I've ever heard of that. Because I dared to publicly voice a disagreement with the leadership, I may not come into the church. Despite, and again I think this needs to be remembered so let me whip out the bold font, being invited back by a member in good standing and the wife of an elder. I have never heard of such behavior outside of a Kool Aid drinking cult. I've heard of church discipline, I've heard of taking away someone's membership and treating them as an unbeliever as is lined out in scripture for church members who defiantly persist in sin. But even that doesn't excuse banning someone from a church. I mean, you do let unbelievers in the door after all, you want them to hear the Gospel don't you?
I talked to the leaders, I went to the initial meeting, and spoke on the phone with the one elder a couple of times trying to work this out. Over and over again, I was told this was all motivated by a desire to see me grow spiritually, but the actions did not reflect that. I was willing to listen to them, even acknowledge where I went wrong, as I have earlier in this article. No such meeting half way, agreeing to disagree, or compromise of any kind seemed to be coming from the other end. It seemed as though nothing short of their domination would satisfy them. Again, I say "seemed" because all attempts to get them to pin down what it was they actually wanted proved futile. It ultimately reached a point where I simply had to say this was getting us all nowhere and move on, wishing them the best.
In these last few weeks I spoke to quite a few former members, and it seems this pattern of petty authoritarianism was hardly unique to just the leadership's interaction with me. And here in lies the hardest part of this post. What do I say about these things I was told? What can I say? These are second hand accounts I can't absolutely verify, even if I have no reason to doubt them. Ultimately I've decided I will not share the particulars of these stories, because as I said, I cannot verify these things first hand. What I can say first hand is I am clearly not the only former member who feels the leadership of this church is, to put it mildly, a bit intoxicated with its power.
In my last article I said that this former church of mine was dead. I should clarify that a bit; I in no way am saying that every member of this church is dead, or that God cannot use this church, or its members for his purposes. God can use whatever he pleases after all. And indeed he has used members of this church in spectacular ways and continues to do so. But I believe that to be happening in spite of the leadership there. I was asked to return to see if I was right, and it is with great sorrow I must conclude that if anything I may have underestimated the problem. This church is still possessed by a spirit of authoritarianism. Those in charge there grasp at their power with far too eager and tight a grip, and as life has often taught me, those who desire power the hardest are almost always the most unfit to wield it. And with that said, it is my sincerest prayer that I need never revisit this topic again.