Why Unspoken Church Rules Are Like Being Stuck in a Mansion With Nudists

 "Peace if possible, truth at all costs."  Martin Luther

 

Last week, my husband and I took a boat from Key West and did some snorkeling out at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. It was awesome, combining history with outstanding waters. On the way back, we sat with a couple from north Florida who were visiting the area to celebrate the wife’s 50th birthday. She had requested to stay in a historic bed and breakfast on the beach. The husband found a mansion with loads of history and a supposed Jimmy Buffet ambience.
 

Poor guy. He didn’t read the fine print. Upon arriving, he and his wife were handed a key to the mansion and were told that the manager leaves at 7 PM. There were approximately 10 couples in residence. So, off they went to the pool overlooking the ocean. What immediately struck them was that all of the folks were sunning themselves sans clothing!!!

 

Attempting to look inconspicuous (in a sort of reverse Adam and Eve story), they hid in two chairs behind a palm tree. However, this was a friendly group of nudists. One man came over and leaned down to shake their hands. Can you picture it?  As he reached down, his "equipment" was in close proximity to the couples’ faces. They were mortified, especially after the gentleman explained how much they would enjoy shedding their clothes, which they had absolutely no intention of doing.
 

They had prepaid for this “experience” and would lose a great deal of cash if they checked out early, so they decided to stay. While in the mansion, they kept the door to their room locked at all times.  In order to escape during the day, they found other beaches and activities off the grounds, which explains why we met them. When the manager left at 7 PM, the mansion erupted with raucous laughter, footsteps and thuds which occurred at a furious rate. Said couple then barricaded themselves in their room by placing a chair under the doorknob for further security.  They spent their evenings drinking Margaritas to ease their emotional distress.
 

I have to admit, the story was funny, especially the way the husband told it. I mentioned that if it was O.K. with them I might use it on my blog to which he laughed and said, “Go at it!”
 

So what do a bunch of boisterous nudists have to do with evangelicalism? Well, this is TWW, and we can find meaning in just about anything!
 

My able counterpart has been discussing the issues surrounding toxic faith. Both of us have MBAs. In business school, the concept of the “rules of the game” are spelled out. All companies have well-articulated contracts. But there are unwritten rules that may have even more of an impact on the functioning of said company.

 

For example, the boss’ daughter is a dingbat but she is the CFO. It is an unwritten rule that those who function under her command need to spruce up the financial reports and pretend it is her “brilliant” financial acumen that is behind the report.
 

Or, the owner of a small business is an alcoholic. His subordinates are expected to cover for him or they will be fired.
 

Our business professors said it was up to us to discover these unwritten rules of the game and then decide if we wanted to function in such an environment. Yes, these things are unfair and wrong. One might attempt to rectify the problems, but there is always the inherent risk of getting fired. Life is series of tradeoffs, and one does not have to work at a particular company.

 

The following is a true story that I have mentioned before on this blog. Yours truly and her husband, along with another man, were teaching an adult Sunday school class on systematic theology in a conservative Southern Baptist church. Believing vigorously in the concept of “A” and “B” issues, we decided to present two sides of the creation conundrum. We arranged to have folks from each side of the debate (old and young earth creationism) come and present their views to the class. Thankfully, we didn’t add theistic evolution to the mix. We would have been tried and shot at dawn.
 

When the young earth cavalry rode to the rescue, creating a melee because they actually believed we were leading the folks into Biblical heresy. So, we decided to have a tête-à-tête with the lead pastor. You see, there was nothing in the statement of faith of this church on this matter nor is there a side taken by the SBC. Surely, we thought, this is all a big misunderstanding by some of the congregants (along with some of their nonmember troops since this group travels in herds).
 

Well, lo and behold, the pastor told us that young earth creationism is part of the “framework” of the church. When we asked where said “framework” was elucidated, he said that “they” didn’t write it down because they didn’t want to prevent people from coming to the church because of this issue.
 

This “secretive” command was applied in strange ways. They made the children go through a 6-week “creation” course every year. They even had a course for adults. Of course, they only presented material from the rather suspect Answers in Genesis crowd. Kids and adults alike were summarily evicted from the course if they raised legitimate questions about the “scientific” evidence. Unfortunately, those teaching the “official” course were indoctrinated and poorly trained which led them to become uncomfortable if a differing perspective was offered.
 

Now here is the problem. My husband and I would never have joined such a church if we knew this “rule” up front. We believe the earth is very, very old. But perhaps this is what they wanted. They got money and labor out of us for several years until we started raising questions. Then, the cost outweighed the benefit and we, along with some friends, became church pariahs. One can be absolutely sure that if there is one unspoken rule there are many, many others. And so it was with this church.
 

We became like that couple who barricaded themselves in their room in the out-of-control nudist mansion. At least this couple had overlooked some fine print. There was absolutely no fine print, no verbal record, no “new members” warning, etc.,  for us to overlook. We realized that we had been purposely deceived and the unveiled church that we were attending was very different than the church we thought we were attending. It appears that the nudist mansion folks have better morals in this area of honest disclosure (or better attorneys) than those in our former church.

 

Although I was initially angry about this deception, I realized that God meant the experience for a greater cause. These incidents only served to help me to understand another aspect of toxic faith. It also brought me into a deeper understanding of the depths of sin that can be present in those in leadership. I used to think that I was the sinner and that the pastors were the example of righteousness. No more!

 

The saddest part of this saga is that the world is watching us and our hypocrisy shines brighter than our love and good works. On the New Ex Christians.Net site they do an unfortunately darn good job of publishing all of the sexual peccadilloes and embezzlement charges of church leaders that are publicized in the news. What is discouraging is that these stories are numerous, often appearing at a rate of 4-5 times a week. Here is one example.

 

One might say that atheists are no better than Christians in the sin department. That’s true, but they don’t pretend to be. We do. And it is time for a whole lot more humility by those in leadership and a whole lot less of preening authoritarianism.

 

One way to start is to spell out exactly what is being “pushed” as vital in any church. A note to pastors: if you believe it; own it and stop this nonsense of hiding your little rules! If you hide them, methinks you are just a teensy bit embarrassed by them. Or perhaps you are afraid that potential contributors could take their money elsewhere. Are you really willing to sacrifice honesty for numbers and bucks? How terribly mundane!
 

Oh, and if carefully spelled out mandates are just too hard for you, perhaps you can get some attorneys to put it in small print so you can at least pretend you are being honest. Until then, the nudist mansion has a leg up on you.

 

Tune in on Thursday when we look how legalism is related to NASCAR-Vroom, Vroom
 

 

 

 

Comments

Why Unspoken Church Rules Are Like Being Stuck in a Mansion With Nudists — 12 Comments

  1. Dee,

    What a great post and the story of the nudists is hilarious.

    You wrote, “We realized that we had been purposely deceived .” I almost objected within myself, thinking, “It wasn’t on purpose.” But you had written, “When we asked where said ‘framework’ was elucidated, he said that ‘they’ didn’t write it down because they didn’t want to prevent people from coming to the church because of this issue. There it was…the pastor was admitting to purposely lying. How perceptive of you to pick up on that. That’s like asking someone to play a game with you, not telling them all the rules, “On purpose,” and then beating them because they don’t know all the rules.

    As I’ve often said to my friend, even a secular court of law asks a witness, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the WHOLE truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” They ask you that because even they understand that when you tell anything less than the whole truth…you leave something out…it’s a lie, a deception. And the pastor is admitting to you that he purposely did exactly that, which brings me to my next point.

    One of the unspoken rules is, the pastor can lie all he wants, but the elders and deacons will just say, “Well, he’s not perfect, you should forgive him,” and this over an integrity issue. But, when you teach on a B or C issue and get it wrong in their eyes, which is not even a sin, they’re ready to reject you and wish that you were gone. If they think you’re wrong, they should continue in fellowship and lovingly correct through teaching over time. And if you dare to make an issue out of the lie the pastor told, bringing correction, you better just start heading out the door, because that is another unwritten rule; “Don’t correct the pastor.”

    The third unwritten rule is, which is alluded to above, the elders’ job is to protect the other, “shepherds,” NOT the sheep.

  2. this is what scares me about visiting churches – I feared at my current location I was getting a rep as a bit of a church hopper – but it always seems like it takes until you’ve been at a church a year or so for some of those unwritten kinds of things to come up – whether its an official teaching you can’t abide with, issues with the preaching, whatever – wish there was a way to skip the “honeymoon period” and know what was going on – but that’s impossible even in churches who aren’t actively trying to mislead people like this example.

  3. Michael

    I so agree with you.One issue I would like to clarify is the “A” and “B” issues. It bothers me when a pastor makes emphatic statements on issues such as the age of the earth. Frankly, he doesn’t know for sure and to say that there is only one way to read those verses is patently false. I am all for a good debate-something you can see from this blog. But, in the end, we need to live together and stop emphasizing these issues.

    In the end, I am somewhat of a dreamer. I would love to see a church where pastors might take differing stands on baptism, communion, the ago of the earth, eschatology, etc. Then teach us all how to live in union with one another while we have some good natured debates on these issues.

    Instead we are stuck with all of these denominations and whole lot of people with their noses in the air believing that they have the only correct interpretation of “B” issues. The secular world just looks on in astonishment. They see no difference between “A” and “B” issues. So, they reject the entire message outright because they see us in serious disagreement with one another, calling each other names, accusing one another of heresy, etc.

    I am in a church now that comes close to these ideals. Why cant we learn to get along in these “B” issues? I guess most people can’t live with uncertainty or being thought of as wrong. I can.

  4. Too true

    I want to encourage you in your search. Yes, there are churches that hide things. But some do not. I have been in two churches in which mistakes and sins occurred yet they were dealt with in a healthy Biblical manner. They also have their priorities straight, majoring on the majors and minoring on the minors.If these two exist, there must be others.

    For now, I would make up a list of questions and start asking them early on. That might weed out things that are difficult such as views on creation, eschatology etc.

  5. Dee,

    I’m right there with you. I believe we should have healthy and spirited debates, but when we reject each other over these issues, I think it’s sinful. Your situation was obviously a B issue and it sounds like they mishandled, not only the situation, but the relationship, which is the most important thing.

    I know it must have been a very painful time. Thankfully, I’m confident that you leaned heavily upon God’s kindness and favor during that difficult time, and God emerged within you, adding strength and grace to your life and a clearer perspective of what godly relationships should be, and what they should not be. We are all benefiting from that fruit.

    Obviously, Lydia and I had a very spirited debate a few weeks ago, but it would never occur to me to reject her or disfellowship with her. I might have to apologize now and then for being mean, but I would, and continue to fellowship and discuss.

    Unity does not mean conformity, but some immature pastors think it does, because of their insecurity. I understand that a shepherd wants to protect from false doctrine. But one should correct the doctrine, if needed, but not throw people away.

  6. Nice blog entry.

    That is sad if a pastor intentionally hid something because “they didn’t want to prevent people from coming to the church because of this issue.”

    These two types of creationism sound like something pretty esoteric. I am not sure how anyone can take the position that one view is the only possibility.

    I have noticed this with the “kissing dating goodbye” and “courtship” churches. The leaders may claim they are neither and may even say it is OK to date etc. but there is a lot of pressure on people to conform to “kissing dating goodbye” and “courtship.” It wouldn’t surprise me if some groups intentionally don’t admit what they are so as not to scare away some perspective members.

    On the other hand I think some pastors of “courtship” churches really think they aren’t courtship churches even though everything shows they are.

  7. Your topic caused me to remember something from years ago. When I was a little kid, my teenage brother and some other teens from the “Good News Club” were given some backwoods land about an hour out of the burbs, where an old church camp used to be…it only had old wood cabins on the site. They built a summer camp for inner city teens. They did all the work, digging a lake, building a concrete block lodge,etc.

    That camp was busy for many summers busing in innercity kids who had never seen a cow or hiked a path or felt the love of Christ.

    But back in the late 80′s it was sold off to another para church org. (Many churches now build nice resort style camps for themselves to use)

    I wanted to show my husband the camp I had spent many a summer in as a kid, so we took the drive. When we finally found it, I was astonished to find it was a Nudist Colony!

    It is as they say, you cannot go back.

  8. As to the unspoken rules, none of this toxic faith/authoritarianism could flouish if it were not for unspoken rules. The pews would empty if these rules were described.

    “The third unwritten rule is, which is alluded to above, the elders’ job is to protect the other, “shepherds,” NOT the sheep”

    Funny you should say that. I know elders of several megas who would tell you their job is to protect the pastor. They consider him a ‘national treasures’. Many mega’s have rules about the senior staff traveling together.They are not allowed because if an accident occurred it could wipe out the church. That belief shows us clearly who folks are following and what the “church” is really about to them.

  9. “In order to escape during the day, they found other beaches and activities off the grounds, which explains why we met them.”

    Thank you for clearing that up.

    That story reminds me of an episode of “Designing Women” where they were unknowingly hired to redecorate the game room at a nudist colony.

    http://designingwomenonline.com/Episodes/Summaries/054.html

    Did you know there is a nudist church in Virginia? It’s called (I am NOT making this up)… Whitetail Chapel.

    http://www.orthocuban.com/2010/03/virginia-nudist-church-abc-news-report

    These poor news anchors had to report that story:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeLsJ1QNCT8

    (Is there no way to put clickable URLs in comments???)

  10. Pingback: Do nudists or naturists differ in respect to people that seek out sexual perversions? | Mental Health

  11. The above link takes us to a mental health site that evaluates the mental health issues surrounding nudity. I think it is funny that a Christian blog is linked on this site. Next, they will be evaluating our sanity. I can save them time. We are absolutely bonkers!