"All the best stories are but one story in reality – the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape." AC Benson
Free flying astronaut-NASA
After reading the events surrounding the resignation from Mars Hill by Andrew and Sophia, many readers have raised concerns about the methods used against church members who decide to get the heck out of there. As recent events have unfolded, we have become aware that some churches believe that a member must “get permission” to leave the church. We have read of a variety of tactics including the euphemism “Meet with us so we can send you off joyfully.” There is no joy in the maneuvering that follows this statement.
Members and pastors experience a crisis of cognitive dissonance when some people decide they no longer desire to continue associate with their church. Members and pastors must deal with the fact that some people do not appreciate their "most wonderful church on the planet. " They obviously cannot accept that their church and pastor is less than "almost perfect." When people decide to defect, it casts a cloud on these vaunted opinions. Weak people cannot cope with a naysayer because it calls into question their own assessment skills. So, in order to preserve their fragile psyches, they must blame the deserter. The soon to be former member is then accused of "never having been a Christian," a sinner in need of discipline", a "church hopper", a" backslidden Christian", etc.
So, they make up the euphemism to "meet with us so we an send you out joyfully." When the leave takers say they are still moving on, the "left behind" group must get together to affirm that their church is correct and the people migrating are the problem. As we saw, during the Andrew debacle at Mars Hill, there is one more weapon in the church’s arsenal and that is called the “Full Church Shun.” The full church membership is given a public blow by blow of the supposed “sins” of the prevailed upon member and are told to shun them in public. Listen to the great American theologian, Dwight Schrutte of The Office.
Most everyone fears such public humiliation, especially if it is unwarranted or misrepresented. (Yep, churches and pastors can be wrong, or even worse, deceptive). However, there are some steps savvy deserters can take to avoid this public humiliation employed by desperate churches.
The Membership Covenant
Did you know that most churches consult attorneys to draw up these covenants? Are you aware that they were developed, not for purposes of sweet fellowship, but to protect the church in case an angry church member sues them? Did you know that some angry church members are actually justified? For those of you who have signed such a document (Dee has), were you advised that you were signing a document that had been vetted by lawyers? (Dee was not). An open and honest church should advise unsuspecting potential members of this fact and encourage them to seek similar advice.
How to Resign
Three years ago, I spoke with a nationally well-known attorney who informed me that the only power that churches have is the ability to throw members out of the church. They can do that with very little recrimination. But, they could have some legal trouble announcing a member's supposed "sins" to the full church if said member employs the following procedure. What we are about to discuss has been “run by” legal experts. However, TWW states categorically that this should not be taken to mean it is an official legal position. Please seek advice of an attorney for an authorized opinion.
- Resign your church membership prior to the all-church announcement. Better yet, before harsh discipline is applied.
- Keep your lips sealed.
- Do not tell anyone that you are going to take the following action. You do not want Sally Sycophant (we all know a few of these) to run to the pastors and report this, giving them an opportunity quickly schedule the all church gossip session.
We give special thanks to Arce, who knows a thing or two, for sending this format to TWW
- Send the following letter, return receipt requested (and tracking, in case the Post Office lets them have it without returning the card).
- Put the return receipt number on the heading of the letter (you can get the form with the number at the PO, before typing the letter).
To the pastors and administrators at ____________ church.
This letter is notice that I am not longer a member [attendee] at _______________ church, effective with the date of this letter.
As a non-member, I am no longer subject to any of your discipline as of (date on letter). After (date on letter), any publication, notice, or speaking about me by any church staff or recognized church leader is no longer authorized by me.
Any negative remark or statement about me, any encouragement that people shun me, or any action other than deleting me from your records will be evaluated for possible legal action for libel or other tort claim against the individuals involved and the organization.
If any one asks about me, refer them to me, any other action may result in a tort claim against you.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. You must desist from any act that may harm my reputation or me or come between me and other persons of my acquaintance. Legal action may ensue.
- You must mail the letter on the date on the letter and they will not receive it for a couple of days thereafter.
- Keep a copy, print out the tracking showing when it was delivered, keep the green card or, if it is refused, the returned letter (they are legally responsible for the content if they refuse it).
- Document any response or any failure to comply. If they (leadership or staff) call, listen but do not talk, except to say “I disagree” if they make a false statement about you.
- Document the conversation.
- Go to an attorney if they proceed to trash your reputation or that of your business.
- Do not respond by trashing the organization.
What we can learn from those leaving Mormonism
Similar advice can be found at the Mormon Exiting site here. It seems that the Mormon church also has euphemisms for their version of shunning. It is called “Courts of Love.” (See any similarities to “sending you out with joy?”) Apparently, if a Court of Love excommunicates an exiting Mormon, there is a permanent record of this action within the Mormon Church.
This black mark, against a former member, can result in hiring discrimination, etc., since Mormons can access these records. This could be devastating for anyone trying to work or go to school in a heavily Mormon controlled area. My guess is that similar circumstances could occur with those leaving evangelical churches. Maybe Mormons learned these tactics from evangelicals or was it vice versa? Better yet, is it a tactic used by any group pretending to be Christian?
This blog helps exiting Mormons resign and avoid this “black mark.” Their advice is directly applicable to evangelicals in many respects. Please visit the site to see how their suggested letters of resignation mirror the one that Arce so kindly suggested.
"Having your name removed from the records of the Mormon Church can be a very emotional experience. It can affect your family, your job (if you work for the Mormon Church), your friends or even your spouse (if your spouse is Mormon). If you currently attend Brigham Young University, or another Mormon Church owned University, you could loose your accreditation and be expelled. The Mormon Church does not forgive, and it does not forget. "
"Still, having your name removed from the records of the Mormon Church can be a very positive and liberating experience. It decreases (although in many cases does not eliminate) unwanted contact from the Mormon Church. It stops the Mormon Church from spending countless hours in trying to track you down and reactivate you. Upon resignation, the Mormon Church must immediately suspend all “Church Courts of Love”, and if you are “Excommunicated” after you have officially resigned, you have a legal case that can be pursued in a court of law."
Some other advice learned from Dee's “school of hard knocks.”
If you attend a new church, do not tell the pastor or other members of your experience at the previous church, at least for a long time.
Pastors talk with each other and are prone to believe the story of another pastor over the story of a mere church attendee. (Dee learned this the hard way). This directly violates Jesus’ admonition to not show favoritism but that is a story for another time. Also, be aware that some pastors often repeat those things told to them in confidence.
If a pastor reports your “sins” to a new church after receiving your letter of resignation, seek legal advice.
Consider remaining a non-member in the new church, especially in the short term.
Most churches allow nonmembers to participate in most activities except for voting and church leadership. Also, they will be most happy to accept your donations and your willingness to volunteer in the nursery.
Have you lost the joy in church attendance?
Remember this, no church has any hold over you. You serve Jesus, not some pastor with an overblown ego. If you feel trapped or you have lost the joy of attending such a church, find a new community that stresses grace over legalism or doctrinal “purity.” They are out there.
On Friday-we plan to do a post on spiritual abuse resources and blogs that are reaching out to those hurt by churches .
In the meantime, it seems that Mark Driscoll sent out a tweet that reads “There are no monuments built to critics.” This statement gives us a sad insight into the head of a man who seems to have lost his way. Oh, and he is wrong, to boot.
First, who amongst us is concerned about having a monument built? For most of us, that is the furthest thing from out minds
Secondly, for Christians, we look forward to the day when monuments will be built to honor our great God and King.
Thirdly, there are monuments built for all sorts of things.
We have had a number of our astute readers make these observations.
- Monuments to critics: Martin Luther King, Jr., Martin Luther, William Wilberforce, John Hus, William Tyndale, Samuel Adams
- Monuments to tyrants: Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Saddam Hussein
- Monuments to evil: Baal, Asherah
Finally, we want to call attention to a humorous blog called Confessions of a Funeral Director written by Caleb Wilde It seems like Caleb ran afoul of the folks over at Mars Hill when he published a humorous article entitled Mark Driscoll’s Top Ten Manliest Ways to Die here.
Apparently, Mars Hill felt that people might mistake these “ways to die” as something that Mark Driscoll might say. So they wanted Caleb to make it clear that these were Caleb’s thoughts, not Driscoll’s. I have one thing to say about this. It is pretty sad that Mars Hill needs to be concerned that people could mistake this humorous list as something Driscoll might say. In fact, this list is mild compared to some of the things that Driscoll "might" say. Things have gotten pretty bad over there for the PR department.
Caleb put this warning at the top of the list. "
As per the direct advice of Mars Hill PR, I am to inform you that this post is fictitious and DOES NOT represent the views or opinions of Mark Driscoll. However, the content of this post is Caleb Wilde’s exaggerated interpretation of Mark’s recent arrogant radio interview with the British radio program “Unbelievable”
I leave you with Caleb’s #10
"10.) If you’re ever put in the position of Jesus — to die a substitutionary death for the sake of the few — you shouldn’t be a limp wristed Jesus and just lay down on the cross. Fight those ********! Make your death glorious, manly, and God-like as you kill the Roman soldiers with every ounce of energy you have left. Pick up your cross and use it as a weapon! And die like a real man!"
Finally, what is about the song “You Give Love a Bad Name “ that reminds me of Driscoll? Here is a version that I particularly like.There are these words to consider "Shot through the heart and you're to blame, you give love a bad name. You promised me heaven and put me through hell. I played my part and you played your game, you give love a bad name. " Hmmm…..