Two days ago, the daughter of one of the pastors I’ve written about contacted me, and told me my description of her father—while true—devastated her. She told me I was bitter, used her baby sister reading these words as a guilt trip, and told me I knew nothing. Perhaps, but the time I wrote about was a time she was carried around in diapers. While her story is different than mine because of her experience, my experience of him has been a common place thing across the board from churches of various denominations—his example is a drop in a deep chasm.
She then went after a friend who published my story on his website—and gave me a chance to tell my story on his podcast—and threatened a lawsuit. My friend had his lawyers looking into the matter, and I sat back waiting for her to make good on her threat. If she thinks my story aired dirty laundry, I can only imagine what would happen if lawyers got involved—that invasive microscope into character goes both ways. And while I’ve done terrible things in my past and owned them, I have a list of names of people who have been affected by her father who would be more than happy to give their testimony and validate my story.
I’ve been writing and telling my story for a few years naming names and churches, and I looked up libel and defamation laws just in case something like this happened. The only way she could make a case is if I knowingly put up something false about her father’s character. And I have a screen shot of her message telling me my story about her father isn’t “new news.” What I’ve written is how I viewed the people in those painful moments. While others could come forward and contradict my point of view with their experiences, I am not putting anything out there that is false—I’m being honest. But my telling of the story is not motivated with any kind of vendetta, but to shed light on churches in America and how these churches refuse to take responsibility for their actions, leaders, and people.
The threat of lawsuit—weak as it was—was the last straw with my connection to Christianity. Instead of addressing my issue and reading my story, another Christian used ad hominem attacks and hid behind lawyers to threaten a friend’s livelihood. I get we are broken, I get we are imperfect, and I get we all do terrible things to each other when we’re hurt, but what I don’t get is people like this are not held accountable. Teachings of grace and brokenness without taking responsibility is a breeding ground for sociopathic monsters, and regardless of your views of Jesus, this is the culture of the church.
My problem with her father, I will call B—or any Christian/Christian leader who wounded me—isn’t their inconsistency. We all do it. Inconsistency is part of being human because we need to know our failings so we can own them, learn from them, and put in the effort to grow from them. B and all these other Christians/ Christian leaders in my life get a free pass to do whatever they want to do without facing any consequences for their actions. I specify Christianity in this post because it’s not only my context, but the religion where I have seen a long string of abuses permitted with the added insult of blaming the wounded for the audacity to bleed. The issue goes beyond personal because my story is one of a myriad of stories the Christian religion dismisses and will continue to dismiss rather than take responsibility. The Christian religion has done a fine job creating apostates and atheists. The religion is like early Taylor Swift songs about failed relationships. She sings about all these guys who use her and discard her but she is too blind to see she is the common denominator—maybe it isn’t the people she chooses but her consistent bad choices she didn’t own when she wrote the songs. Maybe it’s a bad analogy, but I trust you get the comparison.
Whether I am accused of bitterness or told that it’s God’s grace on these people and God will take care of the issue there is an issue of accountability—or the lack thereof. When people such as myself are told to sit down and be quiet or dismissed as bitter there is a deflection from the issue. The pattern I’ve noticed in my own experience is these Christian people in leadership—or their supporters—do not deny what has happened. Though, I think they know their actions aren’t right and deviate from the example of Jesus. The issue isn’t about being Jesus or following the example of people in scripture by applying the teachings in a modern context. The issue is about money and the things money can buy—and that is found in any church on any point on the economic spectrum—if a person earns a paycheck from a church position, no matter how meager, the motivation will be about paying rent or the mortgage that month.
HCF where I went to when B was one of the pastors is a money church. There is also College Park on Indy’s North side where Mike Pence attended before he moved to D.C., The Dwelling Place where many affluent people from College Park attended for the trendy association, East 91st St. Christian Church, Eastern Star Baptist Church, etc. The list goes on, and though they are different in liturgy, doctrine, and theology they are the same when it comes to money.
I know I can be an ass in my presentations, and I know when I become passionate about the truth and looking for answers I can come off as insulting. But my presentation and passion are not the issue. What I seek and what I question challenges the control these church leaders have over people, and, let’s face it, the people I have come across in my church experience never had an original thought or cracked open a bible for themselves. These people are easy to manipulate, and they also have a considerable amount of wealth. I’ve seen the multimillion dollar buildings at these churches, I’ve seen the pastors’ multimillion dollar homes, the cars they drive, and the things their kids have. If they worked at a corporate job that is one thing, but their sole position is a pastor, and in those churches the pastor’s income is from the tithe. Anything that threatens these pastors’ wallet and lifestyle must be removed—even if it’s a person asking volatile questions—even if a leader’s behavior willingly disobeys God. These pastors’ god is their wallet, and they pay occasional lip service to Jesus so they won’t go to Hell—as if Jesus is blind to their behavior.
Using guilt and ad hominem attacks on me or anyone else who voices their contention does not change the fact these leaders and people in their respective churches did terrible things and will not be held accountable. The fact of the matter is the same bible B’s daughter—and people like her—use against me for airing things swept under the rug is the same book that also has a thing or two to say about the behavior of leaders in the church such as her father:
The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way—for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil.
Deacons likewise must be serious, not double tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be tested ; then if they prove themselves blameless , let them serve as deacons. (1 Timothy 3:1-10, NRSV)
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. (James 3:1-5, NRSV)
The pastors, elders, and deacons in my life have failed across the board with impunity and without care to whomever they damage. Then the church exacerbates the problem by ignoring the criteria they use in their ordination ceremonies. Adding to that the church does nothing to hold their people accountable as stated in 1 Corinthians:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons—not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13, NRSV)
Obviously, if this passage were applied in a pass/fail approach none of us would be in any church. What I think is happening can be found in the words of Jesus when he taught people on how to handle folk who are out of line when they meet together: You go one on one, take a couple people when that person doesn’t listen, take them before the church if they refuse to listen, and if the person is still stubborn put them out of the church until they learn how to live in the community (Matthew 18-15-17, NRSV). People like B were exonerated rather than held accountable, and his continuing position as pastor permitted him to continue in his slander and alienation of people in HCF. But it’s not just B is it? No. He is one of many pastors in one of many churches I’ve been to who openly violates the bible from which he preaches when it suits his agenda.
I no longer have an issue with him personally—it’s been almost twenty years. My issue is with the culture in the American church that permits people like him who are unfit for any kind of leadership in the church but holds the position because it’s financially expedient. The American church cares more about its money and material comfort than justice, and if you want to find God and justice in its walls you had better bring God and justice with you when you go to church.