Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. -Theodore Roosevelt
Several years ago, my husband and I, along with quite a few others, left a church under less than desirable circumstances. At the time, I made a promise to my family that I would not divulge the specifics of the incident. They were fearful because they knew I was starting a blog with Wanda (whose handle here is Deb) and were concerned for my safety. So, I promised. However, astute readers not only have figured out what happened but also where it happened. I have never confirmed or denied any guesses.
So, today, as I tell part of my story in the form of a personal letter, I will still be somewhat vague about the incidents that caused me to “divorce” my church. Suffice to say, the main perpetrator is still serving a lengthy prison term.
Before I start, I would also like to address my former pastors and elders who are reading this.
As you know, one of the main elders, who was involved in judging the group of us, has admitted to spreading untrue and negative rumors about the state of my, as well as another couple’s, marriage. He is a former counselor, as well as an elder, and therefore has no excuse. He, by this action, has disqualified himself from being an elder yet he is once again serving in the capacity. Sure, he apologized to my husband but not to me or the other couple. But, what happened next shows his profound inability to understand just whose marriage is in trouble.
One of the four individuals, another elder, who “investigated” our concerns on behalf of the church leadership called me bitter, amongst other things. He also alluded to the untruthfulness of the family of one of the boys who was deeply hurt. That perceptive young man told us that “something was not quite right” with this “highly respected” elder after he was “interrogated” by him. Well, darned if he wasn’t right. This elder actually had a really serious problem and has left his leadership role at a major SBC institution, quit the church and is now divorcing his wife. This situation merely serves as an example of your profound blindness to the root of the real problems at your church and it is time for serious self-assessment.
That being said, here is :
A Letter to an Anglican (AMIA) Pastor
Dear Pastor P
When my daughter was at Wheaton College in 2007, she invited me to attend a new sort of Anglican Church. I was totally blown away by the service and came back home determined to see if such a church existed in my area. Lo and behold, it did and you were the new pastor. I desperately wanted to make a switch to your church and spoke with you about it. As you remember, I was a member of a Baptist church and was leading a sizeable Sunday school class (along with my husband and another man) and felt I needed to stay a bit longer with the class. But it was my intent to eventually become a member of your church. My husband agreed with me and we waited for the right time to make the switch.
So your church became my guilty pleasure. Rarely a week would pass without a question from someone in the Sunday school class. ”Are you going to join that church you like so much? Please don’t leave.” So we hung on for awhile.
Not only did I love the service and the people at your church, I grew to love you as well. You were so kind and steady and obviously loved the church. I will never forget the time you gave me one of the communion plates to help pass around during a Maundy Thursday service. You knew of my conflict and were encouraging to me. I introduced a number of friends to your church. With my encouragement, some are members there today,
I knew we would eventually leave my former church. I had many doctrinal differences with them, like the age of the earth, and found AMIA more open to differing perspectives on secondary issues. But, I had to wait until I could leave without feeling like I was deserting a group of people whom I loved.
Little did I know that God had a serious and difficult lesson for me to learn. As you know, a situation that I could never have imagined was presented to me. I can assure you that I didn’t go looking for it and got a sick feeling it would change my life. I wanted to put my hands over my ears and refuse to listen but I couldn’t. It shook me, as well as my husband, to our very core. We tried to deal with it but the church leadership decided that we were the problem.
Pushed to the end of our rope, my husband and I left the church and ran into the arms of your church. We knew of the history of AMIA. It was founded by a group of pastors and parishioners who had to leave an untenable situation within the Episcopal church. They were seeking authentic faith and were abused by a hierarchy, which refused to listen to listen to their concerns.
That is why we came to you. We were hurt, shocked, and barely hanging on. We “knew” your church would understand. You had been in a denomination with pastors who had “gone rogue” and you sought truth by leaving their influence.
We honestly shared our pain with you. You are a pastor, after all, and we believed that our discussions with you would be handled with sensitivity and confidentiality. We were distraught and we know we didn’t say things perfectly. We were shocked at the enormity of the abuse experienced by some kids and what we saw as callousness on the part of a church hierarchy.
We poured out our hurts to you and sought refuge in the church. Within a couple of weeks of attending your church, a second shock occurred. We saw a recently released pedophile, with a 20+ year history of abuse, walking through your church. We had special knowledge of this man’s situation since he had ties to our childrens’ school and our former church. We knew when he was tried and convicted and sent to prison. We knew of the testimony of his own grown children who were estranged from him. Several people who were with us expressed concern. One lady who had been attending your church for over a year told us that she kept an eye on him as he walked freely throughout the church.
So, I emailed you and asked you about this man. You said that his parole officer said he was not dangerous. I then shared a bit of his history with you and said that 20+ years of alleged abuse are not cured by 18 months in the pokey.
Since you knew my story from my previous church, you were surely aware how difficult it was for me to talk about this matter. I even remarked that I couldn’t believe that God would make me deal with such a similar situation almost immediately upon arrival at my new church. You said it would be taken care of. From that moment on, I began to notice a coldness in your attitude towards me. I ignored it, thinking I was still “recuperating.”
We got involved in the church. I attended a Bible study. We even went to the AMIA gathering with the church in Greensboro and were so thrilled to be a part of this movement. But, it was not to be. We noted that you greeted us curtly at the meeting but I tried to brushed it off, assuming you were tired.
So, we applied to be a member of your church and attended the required meetings. Then, we were called to our pastoral interview. What happened next ranks as one of the worst moments in our lives.
After spending about 15 minutes asking us to say what we liked about the church, you suddenly announced that we could not join the church! Why did you spend that 15 minutes talking pleasantries, getting us to tell you why we liked the church before lowering the boom? Were you being cruel or were you simply nervous?
You told us that you had a “45 minute” conversation with our former pastor. You refused to tell us what was said, citing confidentiality, but it was evident that the two of you discussed everything, including what we had told you in confidence. It seems you were led to believe that we were under discipline at our previous church. We were not. What was so despicable about your pronouncement was that we were not given an opportunity to defend ourselves since we had no idea what was said.
You then told us that one of your church leaders and you were going to hold “meetings” with our former pastor and us in order to deal with the problem. Then you might be willing to consider us for membership.
You asked us some questions and we slowly realized that you believed our former pastor and did not believe us. You asked us why we didn’t go to our denominational head for resolution. We realized that you did not understand the independent nature of each church in the SBC and tried to explain that to you but you wouldn’t listen. There were other such allegations but you would not listen to our side. We begged you to think of the boys who had been hurt but you refused to listen to us, preferring to think we were exaggerating. We were not. In fact, if anything, we had only told you part of the gory details.
I started crying, rather loudly if I remember correctly. Did you know that I had never done such a thing like that in my life? You sat there, rather coldly, barely even noting my distress. I remember looking at you and saying, “No matter what happens here, I did the right thing. I defended those who were forgotten and abused.” At that point I ran from the room as my equally shocked husband told you that there would be no further meetings. You said nothing, sitting like a bump on a log.
My husband met with our former pastor and got a few things straight. That pastor then called you and you notified us that we could now join your church. We realized that we could never do such a thing. When we needed you the most, you turned away showing preference to another pastor, believing his account. That trust could not be restored. Our confidence had been betrayed as well.
A very strange incident happened a week or so later, adding insult to injury. A woman from your church asked me to go get coffee with her at Panera. I was curious. I was slowly regaining my equilibrium and hoped to get some encouragement from her. Instead, I got the message. She told me that God was calling me to step down from teaching and I shouldn’t let my pride get in the way! Gee, how comforting and sensitive! I guess you all thought we might actually join your church after all.
I thanked her for the advice and promptly ignored it. You see, this was the final sign that we were not to join your church. Years ago, when I was leaving Dallas, Pete Briscoe of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship came up to me and gave me a hug. He said, “Never, ever let anyone tell you that you can’t teach.” Little did I know at the time that God had a much bigger teaching plan for me.
I hope she told you how positive I was about you. I knew that my former church had bamboozled you and that you would one day learn the truth. She tried to get me to say negative things about you but I saw through the game and would not do so. But, I did remind her about the pedophile. I will never, ever be quiet when I believe that children are at risk. I told her to make sure he was being watched. Oh yeah, I gave her the address of the new blog I was starting and invited her to visit me there.
It is important that you understand this next part. If I had to go through all the pain and embarrassment again, I would do so willingly. You see, I had to experience all of this in order to enter a new ministry that I had yet to flesh out. I would have never believed that pastors would actually pursue their members and try to “discipline” them for doing the right thing. I needed to see how pastors believe other pastors over congregation members. I needed to see how pastors would willingly breach confidentiality to further their agendas or to suck up to friends. Since that time, I have heard testimony after testimony of people who have lived through these trials.
I have experienced, first hand, the pain that is caused by many callous churches in America. However, Wanda (Deb) and I now have a place called TWW that reaches out to our brothers and sisters who have been hurt, so hurt that many of them have turned their backs on formal churches. And when they tell me “You will never believe what happened to me” I can truthfully and compassionately say, “Oh yes I do, I have been there.”
My former church did something bad but God used the pain to cause me to go places beyond my wildest dreams. I have met wonderful people from across the globe and some of them have become my friends. It is difficult to express how much I love the people who I meet here. I can write and teach to my heart’s content and I do so with my dearest friend. How great is that!
Not only are we writing a book with an awesome pastor but we have some surprising things in store for our friends who have been wounded by churches. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to think God would put me in this position.
So, in closing, I want you to remember this. You hurt me but I am glad it happened. You pushed me in a new direction and my thoughts have spread far beyond a Sunday school class in your church. I have forgiven you because I now understand what God needed me to see. I also have a feeling that you have grown to understand that perhaps there were two sides to that pastor’s story.
Let me leave you with this. About a year ago, I was invited to a small party at the home of a couple whose son had been hurt at my previous church. He is doing so well. He is a strong believer and pursues the truth. He was deeply hurt when his church did not believe him and it could have ended badly. But he saw people who did not know him well come to his defense. We believed him over an arrogant group of pastors. Not only that but he realized that all of us were willing to take the hits to our reputations because he, along with others, were worth it!
That night, at the party, he handed me a Diet Coke without me asking him. I asked him how he knew. He said he overheard me say I was looking for a Diet Coke and he wanted to get it for me. And then he handed me a gift. It was a carving of the “angel of courage” and he simply said, “Thank you." That little statue sits beside me whenever I write a post. In fact I am looking at it as I write now. Every time I feel a bit discouraged, prevailed upon, misunderstood and maybe a little afraid, I look at this most precious of gifts and know that I will always, always, always, stand up for those hurt by churches. That statue means more to me than the approval of pastors and even more than your understanding of my pain. This young man felt loved and that is more important to me than a perfect church home and an Anglican pastor who likes me.
Because of you, I can say to others, “I understand, I, too, was once hurt.” Pastor P, you were a part of a grander scheme. The next time someone lands on your doorstep seeking refuge, please be the place of healing that AMIA has been for you. Love them and give them rest. Who knows, you might be surprised what they can do once they have healed. May God bless your church, your ministry, and your family.
In His care
P.S. – Keep an eye on that pedophile.
Lydia's Corner: Isaiah 43:14-45:10 Ephesians 3:1-21 Psalm 68:1-18 Proverbs 24:1-2