Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Coming Clean Part IV: Mercy Amidst Ugliness

“When you pray, I will listen. If you look for Me in earnest, you will find Me when you seek Me.” Jeremiah 29:12-13

I have prayed for some really frivolous things in my lifetime, but at that point, I was desperate, I just needed answers (even if they weren’t the answers I wanted) and some peace. And God mercifully obliged.

Around Thanksgiving, things seemed to be pretty peaceful. I had backed away from several relationships and church activities, figuring I would just do my thing and not get caught up in the BS. I continued to pray for clarity, that I would either be convicted of sinful attitudes in my own heart, or that I would have confirmation that there was indeed something very rotten going on.

My husband called from work one day saying that he had been tapped by the pastor to be on an investigation committee concerning some allegations against the worship leader. The other members of the committee were a current board member and a former board member. My husband had never served on the board. When my husband asked why he had been chosen, he was told, “We don’t really know, your name just came to mind.”

The story is rather long and convoluted but basically, the pastor’s wife decided that the worship leader was stealing money from the church and immediately began to tell members of the youth group and others just that. There was no concrete evidence, just her own suspicions. The pastor and his wife began to harass the music store in question, wanting information. They kept on visiting, calling, sending board members to try to get information. It became very clear that this was a witch hunt, that the worship leader was indeed assumed guilty until proven innocent. Interesting that they could be so sure of his guilt, when they had known him for 17 or 18 years and felt highly enough of him to make him worship leader in the first place. And interesting that this went on behind his back, before they ever approached him about the subject and asked him if he had an explanation for some discrepancies. (1Tim 5:19)

While we were not in attendance at the board meetings when these allegations were first leveled, one of the board members there recognized that the worship leader was being railroaded. When this board member asked for the evidence against the worship leader he was told by the pastor, “You don’t need it- he’s guilty.” This board member went to bat for the worship leader and eventually resigned because he would have no part in convicting an innocent man with no proof. He was later maligned by the pastor at an open membership meeting of the church, described as someone stubborn and unwilling to meet and work with the pastor and the board. These were out and out lies told to the church body, another example of what happens to those who don’t fall into line.

My husband went into the investigation with an open mind- he just wanted to find the truth. He did not go into it with a presumption of guilt or innocence of the worship leader. After the investigation was said and done, there was no proof that completely exonerated the worship leader, but there was also no proof to convict him, either. This was a man of upstanding character who had served the church and the pastor faithfully and loyally for many years. He was not given the benefit of the doubt, he was put through the wringer, his reputation defamed and destroyed and his business damaged. Worst of all, the distrust and false allegations against him deeply, deeply wounded his heart. After the investigation concluded, the pastor continued the rumors that the worship leader was in fact guilty, ignoring the conclusions and recommendations of the investigation committee. Which just goes to show that he never, ever wanted the truth, he just wanted someone to prove his version of the events.

There was a lot more ugliness involved, but in doing this investigation and talking to a lot of people and in dealing with the pastor himself, we found out about much more villainy going on there than we ever suspected, even more than our rather large list of misgivings.
In fact, throughout the investigation, my husband kept saying “I just don’t want to know this.” It was a very difficult and confusing time. But we discovered things we never would have known about, God opened up our eyes and did indeed answer my prayers for confirmation.

Even with all of the information that we now had, deciding to leave was still extremely difficult, and took several more months. The confusion still existed, mostly, I believe, because of the teachings of that pastor that we should never question authority, that those in authority (ie he and his wife) were so spiritually superior to the rest of us that there was no need to question them, and that how much we were willing to “submit” was in complete correlation to our spiritual maturity.

I would like to say that once we left, everything miraculously came into focus and became clear. It didn’t. There was still a lot of doubt, that maybe they were right and that we were the ones who were deceived. Even with all of the proof we have of spiritual abuse going on there, and even as I talk to people who are still there who tell me the kinds of things still going on, there is the occasional bit of doubt. But we have peace with our decision, knowing that we did the right thing to protect our family from this abuse. But I can't help wondering and worrying about those left behind.


Marti G said...

I can understand your confusion, as we battled those same questions ourselves... not wanting to speak out against those in authority, not wanting to uncover anyone or cause any of the youngers to stumble.

We had a lot of obviously wrong shenanigans going on toward the end - long lunches alone with just two people, late night "counseling" between the two, shopping and other public appearances out together on "church business". Several of us suggested - with the best of intentions, wanting to believe the best - that the two leaders might want to avoid the appearance of evil. I was told that if congregants were seeing something wrong in what they were doing, it was because those people needed to deal with their own hearts of accusation and looking for wrongdoing. In fact, all of the things that were raising red flags were probably good to have happen because it would help the people deal with their wrong attitudes toward leadership and trust. Sigh...

What a mess. In hindsight, I can't believe we didn't climb up on the roof and shout from the housetops, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark!!!"

Erin said...

I don't have anything to add except to say thank you for sharing all this personal stuff. It's helpful to me to know that there are other dysfunctional leaderships out there.