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Archive for September, 2012

I wonder what people in Faith Tabernacle would say now? Now that Jordan’s awaiting trial and Edwin ran off, what do they think of those who left? Do they wonder what happened, how much we knew about the current allegations, or do they still label us as backslid?

After the allegations came out, they destroyed and defaced the sermons they heard and “shouted” over, the ones that they were most excited about and discussed as “anointed”. After the allegations came out, they decried the ones they had praised so readily just weeks earlier.  After the allegations… have they realized that those who left may have recognized and been disgusted with the rampant sin before the allegations made headlines?

Would they still call us backslid because we left?

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When we decide to leave unhealthy churches, we often wonder what possible good could come from it. We may lose friends, diminish contact with family, or become disoriented without all the activities we’re used to.

The first few weeks after I left, I slept. No, not because of depression. Simply because of exhaustion. The long period of emotional strain and the intense schedule I’d kept in my former church had taken their toll. So for a few weeks, I rested.

For a few months after leaving, I didn’t do much socially. It took awhile to adjust to the different culture of “the world” and to find my comfort zone without any external rules and regulations to define it. I also needed the opportunity to grieve. I had lost my closest friends. The situation was difficult to explain to family. No one in or out of the church understood what had happened or why I’d left, so although it was the primary thought on my mind, it wasn’t something that could be expressed well to many people.

Shortly before leaving, I joined a few online support groups for those leaving unhealthy groups. I began working through some of what happened with them, but I didn’t trust them any more than I trusted those in my former church. When one asked for my name and location, my immediate thought was that the site had been set up to “catch” those attempting to leave my group and report them to the pastor so they could be rebuked and brought back.

Over time, life began to balance into a new normal. There were activities and events that could be enjoyed, long walks and bike rides, and new friends. Those didn’t come immediately, but they did come.

Now I know that when I started assimilating into the unhealthy group, I also lost friends and family. My schedule was thrown into chaos then, too. The main differences were that there were others around me who’d dealt with the same thing, and I was sure at the time that what was happening was “for God”, whereas in leaving I wondered if God even existed… and was told He would send me to hell for walking out, no matter how bad it was.

If you leave, as you leave, you may be concerned about what’s next. What’s next? Life. A whole new realm of possibilities… plus, over time, many of the things you’d hoped for within the group but that always seemed just out of reach.

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Love. We were told it was love that prompted the rebukes and public humiliation. It was love that established stringent rules… and consequences including expulsion if we didn’t obey them.  But what is love, really?

Love is patient, love is kind. Love envieth not. It doesn’t boast. It isn’t proud. It’s not rude or self seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. it doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor 13)

The passage was the beginning of the end for me in many ways. What had I seen of this kind of love at Faith Tabernacle, where a pastor yelled from the pulpit about how we’d burn in hell, threw tantrums publicly if anyone seemed to  so much as disagree with him, could drag up any number of real or imagined wrongs and rumors to coincide with someone’s report to him of some mistake we’d made… which also, by the way, was not something done in love. Worse, before I left I’d received several threats from my “church family”. In person, in writing, by phone.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 Jn 4) I was told that because I expressed concern after being threatened that I wasn’t full of love, because if I was, I wouldn’t be concerned about the threats, but would just ignore them. What a twisted concept!

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 Jn 4)  “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:35) The verses took my breath away.

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.”“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely…” (Mk 12)

Not just a commandment, but the second commandment. And according to 1 John 4, the first cannot be had without the second. According to Mark, it’s more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.

Love. The greatest of these.

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To be bitter is to empower those who wronged you and, further, to wrong yourself.

We are told we need to reach the world, to be soul winners for God. Where is our witness? How can we win them if we don’t love them-if we only look for differences rather than commonalities? Especially if we’re mistaken about what they believe and won’t listen when they try to tell us, how can we say we love them? What is so frightening about discovering our similarities? What’s so threatening about reaching out to them, where they are? Why is it easier to tell someone they are wrong than to discover something they are right about? Even in Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill, he found a way, not to say their idols were wrong, but to say there was more for them. He wasn’t afraid to go to their idolatrous place of worship, and he didn’t call it that. Instead, he found an altar “to the unknown god” and began to preach to them about One they had never known. He found common ground. Can’t we do the same?

 
I watched a woman not long after that, interacting with a sales clerk. A woman from my former church, yelling and berating an employee for doing what her boss asked. I was shocked and embarrassed, and hurt for the employee. I stepped up to her after the woman left to offer some encouragement…
 
We all wore buns, long sleeves and long skirts at that church. I still did, even though I’d left. When I stepped up to her, she looked at my “uniform” and stepped back. The fear in her eyes said something I’d never before admitted: she’d been treated this way before, and she expected those who dressed as I did to act unkindly and even rudely. Long sleeves, skirts, and buns didn’t mean “holiness” to her. They weren’t a mark of modesty and dedication to God. Not in her eyes. She’d had too many unholy interactions to think that.
 
After that, I started doing things that would seek common ground. I realized Jesus never put down the scribes and Pharisees for their tassles and phylacteries, but he did dislike their reasons for wearing them sometimes, and he didn’t probably dress the same. Why not? If he had dressed like the Pharisees, how many people would he have reached? How many would he have healed? He dressed like they dressed. He sought common ground.

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Faith Tabernacle is holding an open house on September 29 from 2-4. How open? I’m not sure yet. Would I be welcome? Even if I would be welcome by some, I’m certain I would not be welcome by all. I didn’t leave Faith Tabernacle simply because of Edwin Young. There were some who I came to believe wanted me to leave. I don’t think they’d be happy to see me back there, even for a visit.

I try to imagine an open house at that place… would the “saints” crowd the new pastor and play the day care mentality, vying for his attention while shoving others away? Would they be fawning over him and his wife, repeatedly offering them food and drink and trying to chat while they sat at a table being waited on hand and foot? Or would they be up, mingling, friendly, chatting with all? After all my years there, I can’t imagine that last scenario happening. And if it did, I’d probably think they were simply posturing for public approval. “Shaking hands and kissing babies.”

 

I used to have nightmares about going back. I’d dream that I went and saw my friends, but tried to sneak out before Edwin saw me. In my dreams I’d remember their faces and imagine their responses. Thankfully, I didn’t have those dreams often, but the dreams disturbed me. I’d remind myself that I was no longer there and that I didn’t have to go back, but they’d leave me feeling oddly, simply because they seemed so real but were so far from reality.

Walking into that building would bring back horrible memories for me. But I have considered going, if for no other reason so that I can finally say goodbye. When I left, I did so without telling anyone I was going. Not for my sake, but for theirs. If Edwin had realized any of them knew I was leaving and hadn’t told him, they might have faced severe discipline. I didn’t want that. So I simply left.

I don’t want to see everyone. I’m not sure I want to see any of them. Part of me hopes that everyone I would like to see has left. Part of me hopes… but these hopes are no more real than those dreams.

I remember sitting on the pews those last few services, knowing I was leaving. I remember realizing that I didn’t believe any of it anymore–not the fear preaching or the highly emotional outbursts. It was all scripted, and I knew it. I remember deciding that God wouldn’t promise us heaven while making us go through hell on earth. Hesitantly, hopefully deciding God might have something better in store, not just after we die, but right here on earth.

I remember fulfilling my final promise. I remember choosing the last outfit I would wear, of the special care with dressing that day for my final, silent goodbye to people I’d worked, worshiped and prayed alongside for many years but had never really known and who never really knew me. I remember talking to people, knowing it would be our last discussion, playing it off, acting my part in a role I knew well. I remember walking out of the building for the last time, knowing I would never, ever go back. Not because I didn’t believe what they considered “the doctrine” or “the Truth”, but because I would have to beg Edwin to go back if I ever did want to. He would have it no other way. He controlled who came back, and when. And I wouldn’t grovel. I wouldn’t beg that man to let me go to church. If he really believed what he taught, then he believed that if we left, we were hell-bound. If he really believed it, then he believed if we didn’t go back, we would die lost. If he really believed it, then when he told someone not to come back, he was really saying, “Go to hell.”

And so I’ve wondered about the open house. Not because I would ever go back. No… in reality, probably more because I wouldn’t.

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The Gospel, the good news. Jesus said in Mt 11, “5The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

Three sermons changed my acceptance of Jesus’ death and the fact that we’re sinners being “good news”. Oh, yes, Jesus’ death (and resurrection) ARE good news. But I rejoice not so much in the fact that Jesus died, but that he died that we may live, and that he rose that we might also rise to newness of life.

As for the rest… One was a sermon by LE Westberg, first pastor of Faith Tabernacle, who preached that a woman was in a horrific car accident. He said she had been running across state lines to drink, and that this accident was God’s judgment. (He does not say how he knew either of those things.) And he said he was at the scene. He said that they got her out of the car, and as she lay dying, her body burnt terribly, that she raised her hands to heaven but it was too late for her, that God had rejected her. This was an altar call story, meant to draw people to a place of prayer! Good news?

The other sermon was one by Edwin Young. He would read a verse from Psalms, “I will laugh when their fear cometh…” and would then say that this was our warning and this was the time to make things right, and that if we didn’t, God would someday laugh as we burned in hell. He would then imitate what he thought God would say and how he would laugh at that point, how God would mock those in torment.

Of course, then there were the sermons about how terribly Jesus was beaten and crushed, how God crushed him like a bunch of grapes and such. The communion sermon when the preacher described a crucifixion in vivid detail and at the end tore the bread up while describing the lashing and crushed the cluster of grapes with his bare hand while describing the last agonizing moments on the cross… and then made us drink it.

Good news? I’m not even sure those are news. They are well told stories, but they aren’t good. Worse, though they were meant to get people to an altar and bring them to an emotional response. They don’t tell about God’s love or his care for us. They instill fear, not hope. And in doing so, they misrepresent God himself.

The good news of the gospel isn’t about hell. It’s not about punishment or eternal separation from God. Though they may be very real parts of the gospel,  they are not in and of themselves THE gospel. They are not the good news.  The good news is that God loves us, that Jesus died for us and rose again in three days. That because of him we can also have new life. That he will live in us and help us if we ask. The gospel, “the good news”. God loves.

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A few months before I left Faith Tabernacle, I tried to talk to some of my friends “in the church” about what I was seeing and experiencing. We talked in hushed voices. They agreed with what I said, but they also argued that we couldn’t leave ‘the truth’. One remarked that she might be simple, but she just wanted to make it [to Heaven]. It was the mindset I was supposed to have according to the church, but it wasn’t one I could agree with.

Right before I left Faith Tabernacle, I spoke with someone about what I was considering. He had never been a member. It concerned me that I might say things that would keep him from wanting “the truth”. Still, visiting with him helped me in an extraordinary way, simply because he looked at me when he listened, showed concern for what I was saying, restated what I said to clarify and then empathized even if he didn’t understand. And then he prayed.

In that prayer I heard more empathy, compassion, and concern than I had heard in any prayer in a long time. And I realized that many people I had thought were “super spiritual” didn’t know the first thing about really talking to God. They knew words and voice inflections that stirred the heart, but didn’t have a relationship with God that could touch the soul.

 

Between those times, I e-mailed someone who worked at Wellspring Retreat Center in Ohio. Here is an excerpt: “I never have trusted this man. There was a time when things seemed OK, but I knew I would need to wait things out to see whether he was what he seemed or what I had heard. I’ve waited. The man has a quick temper and has said some very cruel things. He doesn’t apologize, but says that we should forgive and forget. I believe in forgiveness. I don’t believe that God gave us a brain and then expected us to repeatedly forget when we got burned. 🙂

Why don’t I go somewhere else? I agree with the basic teachings of this group. It isn’t a denomination, but a lose affiliation of churches. But if I am here and try to move somewhere else, I will most likely be told not to come, and could even find that the pastor of the church I wanted to move to had called back to my current church and reported that I had contacted him. This is referred to as “ministerial ethics”. Also, if I transfer to a different church but stay in the same city, I will most likely be preached about as “backslidden” and shunned, at least by some.

…if you should have any insight as to the difference between cultish and just plain poor behavior, I would welcome your comments or suggestions.”

Wellspring’s response included these statements:

A pastor who accuses you falsely and berates someone in his church is suspect himself.  Your evaluation of him is correct–“cultish.” ..

“Poor behavior” is never to be demonstrated in any church by leadership.  …”Forgive and forget” only comes after true humiliation and repentance.  What you witnessed was arrogance and pride…
And my thoughts in return included:
Leader worship is prevelant in some circles, and with that comes a sense of duty and obligation, as well as a parent/child relationship in which the pastor should be trusted no matter what and the members should never question. Above that, the lose structural organization precludes pastoral accountability. If a problem arises between a pastor and members, its my experience that the members have little or no voice in the organization or with a church board, even if they are well-known. Above that, many pastors and church workers have little training outside the local church. These combine to provide an atmosphere ripe for abuse should the wrong people take leadership.
Yet I still decided to stay another month or two. And at this point was considering staying longer. Why?
When I leave, I will need to leave the area to ease the situation.
Several people have told me behind closed doors that they are upset with the situation as well. There are enough of us that I believe we could begin to change the atmosphere that allows the poor behavior.
The others here who feel as I do need support. We are pulling together slowly to work from within for the changes that are needed. And other members are beginning to change for the better.
I have two friends that attend there that would be heartbroken if I left…
From the news reports, I’d say whether I stayed or left wouldn’t have made a difference on #2 or #3. “I have two friends…” How telling. Two friends, in a church of 500. I stayed until I couldn’t anymore. My only regret now is that I didn’t leave sooner.

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