An Open Letter To The “Pastors” and “Elders” In Classis NM

Note: I have been advised to tone down the invective a bit as my father still needs to be “approved” for ministry by the men to whom this is addressed. And indeed, based on their actions thus far it isn’t much of a stretch to think they’d use what I write as an excuse to further punish him. Thus I have made a few edits here and there, though I hope the piece is still just as strong. In their writings my father and sister have called these people on the carpet but done so in a fairly restrained manner. Between my youth and my Asperger’s I’m inclined to a higher degree of bluntness; note, though, that I don’t typically write or speak this harshly or with this much invective about people. It’s just that here I am, quite simply, fed up.

Also, I emphasize again, as I said in the second post script, that I was not put up to writing this.

And once more I say that if anyone in Classis NM takes issue with my statements concerning that group’s character as I see it manifested in their actions, then prove me wrong. Reach out to my father in real love and empathy, not just pious platitudes. Actually investigate what happened and what has been done with your approval. Agree to hold people accountable for abusing my father and then actually do the work to see if we’re right in saying he’s been abused. Show that you care about him, about truth, about justice, etc. enough to do a little work. Show me.

***

Dear Overseers of Christ’s Church,

I’ll keep this brief because you all seem to have very short attention spans. Well, maybe you don’t have short attention spans period, but when it comes to matters of truth, justice, and the integrity and purity of Christ’s bride, you sure do. If you take umbrage at my saying that, then fine, prove me wrong. Read carefully the things my father has written, my sister has written, I’ve written, our friend the circuit court judge has written, and demonstrate that you’ve done so by actually responding to the issues and concerns we’ve raised.

I wrote an open letter to A. CRC a few days ago. I ended by reminding them of what God’s Word says about how we’ll all have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of our deeds in the body, the good and the evil (2 Cor 5:10). Well, guess what? The same goes for you.

You have been treating my father like a criminal. You’ve been acting as if he was under discipline. You have refused him audience, refused to answer perfectly legitimate questions he has, gone behind his back, given quarter to gossip about him, lied about him, prevented him from hearing what was said about him at a meeting more than once now and thus depriving him of the chance to answer the allegations, etc. Some of those—e.g., lying—are wrong no matter who is involved. The others are actions predicated on the notion that he has done something worthy of discipline, that he was fired from A. because of something he did.

The problem is that hasn’t been proven. Vague accusations were made—and then blown out of the water by both him and a circuit court judge (42), both of whom provided specific and historic documentation demonstrating the falsehood of the vague and unsubstantiated claims made in the stylistically pathetic Article 17 you approved last December. You were supposed to have read their refutations of it. You also know about the extensive documentation on my sister’s blog—she has spent hours and hours compiling material produced before, during, and after the ordeal of last year. Official correspondences and records, given word-for-word, and dated, etc. are all right there in contrast to the nebulous allegations.

You are accountable for my sister’s blog insofar as you know of it and know that it was made based on the conviction that the story you heard is constituted almost entirely of spin and lies. And you are certainly accountable for my father’s and the judge’s rebuttals to the firing document.

Nothing was proven regarding his conduct at A. Nothing. And not only that, but credible witnesses and members of the church hotly and with great precision contested what was said about him.

You ignored the protests.

You did nothing to investigate what actually happened.

You took for granted that Rev. Mayonnaise (21) was correct in everything he wrote.

You have since been treating my father as though he is a thug in need of discipline (contrary to the CRC Church Order which says that a pastor put out on an Article 17 is in good standing!).

If he is innocent of wrongdoing at A., then everything you have done is unjust and abusive. If there is even a chance that he is innocent, everything you have done is unjust and abusive unless and until he’s actually proven guilty.

You have been duly informed at length from several different parties now that a different version of events from the one presented you exists, and you have expressed no interest in looking into that. Thus, if he is innocent, you are piling up guilt and judgment for yourselves.

What you are doing, Classis NM, is wicked. It is willful neglect of the pursuit of truth and justice with the result that an innocent man of God has lost his house, his job, and quite possibly his career, not to mention his good name among many people.

Why are you doing it? Why do you persist? I can guess—last year you didn’t want to know what happened because you didn’t want to have to correct people—the bullies at A. and perhaps Mayonnaise as well—for their bad behavior. And now there’s that plus the fact that you’re all, and especially the Ogresight Committee (that’s what I call you and I came up with it myself!), invested in actions undertaken based on the narrative you were sold. You can’t allow yourselves to entertain the notion that that narrative was false because at this point you’re so doubled down in your position. You’re proud, too proud to admit that maybe you screwed up royally.

So your comfort and pride matter more than truth and justice, and more than the spiritual, emotional, and financial wellbeing of another pastor who is quite probably innocent of any wrongdoing. Shame on you.

Don’t you have any integrity at all?

Don’t you have any fear of God?

I’m inclined to say: no. All or nearly all of you have neither of those things based on your attitudes and behavior throughout all of this. Why seek out the truth if doing so takes work, right? Especially if the truth uncovered shows that someone needs to be reproved or rebuked. Heck, I think some of you (in particular, the P. CRC elder following this blog) enjoy the power trip.

Well, I hope it fills whatever void you have, BDK. And for the rest of you I hope the preservation of faux peace and good rapport with cool guys like Mayonnaise makes things nice and comfortable.

Because you’ll all stand before the Chief Shepherd one day, and then what will you say for yourselves?

Cordially,

Puritan Girl

P.S. In his communications with some of you my father has mentioned my intention never to enter a Christian Reformed church again. This is true. Your behavior has so thoroughly disgusted me that now the CRC represents nothing but politics, corruption, abuse, and oppression of the helpless (my father is at your mercy) to me. I am never going back.

P.P.S. You’ve probably picked up that I’m angry. Yes, I’m livid. But I assure you, these are my words and my thoughts. My father did not ghost-write for me (another slanderous accusation Mayonnaise made to you all last year, all the more disgusting because he repeatedly ghost-wrote for A.’s Council!). …Well, I guess I can’t take credit for referring to 21 as “Mayonnaise”. Trouble is, I don’t remember who came up with that. My friend from Alabama thinks he was the one who came up with it, but it may have been my friend from Washington or my boyfriend from Texas, too. All three have been apprised of the s**t you people have been pulling for a year now. And all of us have alternated between feeling anger and disgust on the one hand and wanting to laugh at and ridicule you on the other because your laziness and cowardliness make you all embarrassments to yourselves, to Classis NM, to the Christian Reformed Church, and to the Church universal.

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Pumpkins and Purple Hearts: October for the Wounded Minister

About a year ago my father preached his last sermon at A. Christian Reformed Church. The clergy-killing undertaken months before was then nearing its completion as far as the church was concerned (it continues in his treatment by the Classis), with him being “suspended”, then fired, shortly thereafter. I wrote at length in December of last year about what went down; a more thorough record can be found at the blog Veritas Praebita, run by my sister, “ekklescake”.

Right now, I want to address the people of A. Church, particularly the people I considered my/our friends. In fact, I believe I’ll plagiarize my sister’s alias convention—13 on this blog may thus be identified with 13 on hers, as can 19, 28, etc.

**
Dear A.ns,

Most of you haven’t seen me in a year. Not since the Nov. 10 congregational meeting. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve spent most of that time living in a farmhouse with almost all my belongings in storage. It’s only in the last month that my father and I finally moved from F. And I was thrilled to get out.

I started thinking a lot about you all in the last few days. Well, to be fair, our circumstances are such that I’m nearly constantly thinking about you, about Classis NM, about the CRC and why I’ve left it, etc. But recently my thoughts have shifted in emphasis a bit. I’d been angry, thinking about how my father was and is being treated by his peers, men who are supposedly fellow pastors. But now I’ve got a whelming sadness.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Did you know that? I think you did, because in the past at A. you would present my dad with a card and a cake. He preached his last sermon at A. on Oct. 25th (which also happened to be Reformation Sunday). There was no cake or card last year, though. Which is for the best, really, because it would have been the pinnacle of hypocrisy and ironic cruelty for you to make such a show of appreciation and honor while for months (and for some of you years) you’d been listening to and encouraging gossip and criticism about him and about his preaching, ignoring his attempts to talk to you directly, cutting him off with no explanation, etc.

I sent a letter to six of you right about that time. I’d actually written it more than a month before. 16 & 15, 20 & 28, 19 and B—I wrote you three couples because, after a few years of meeting regularly as a small group, you were those I had considered friends, both to me, and to my sister and father. Shortly before that I sent something to 19; you never responded, though you did apparently tell my father that you’d read it and were “concerned”.

I won’t rehash the longer group letter I sent, but here’s some of what I wrote 19 on Oct 29, 2015:

 I have been very distraught over the way I’ve seen him [ST] being treated over the last several months, and hearing that the other night [about what happened at the legendary council meeting] just pushed me over the edge.

I’ve also been feeling isolated for some time and like I can’t talk to many people in the congregation, including people I once considered friends, like you all from the old small group. Without going into any details, or pointing fingers, I’ll just say that things have definitely changed, and I can sense it. And I perceive that there are people talking about my dad rather than to him, people who are upset with him but won’t talk to him about it—and I’m under the impression that among those people are some of the A.ns I liked the most.

I live with my dad. I’m the only one who does. And I can see better than anyone else, perhaps, the toll recent events have taken. I continue to marvel at how he’s been able to go up there and preach Sunday after Sunday. Because at council meeting after council meeting, he’s been told by someone that the majority of the church is “fed up” with him, is “fried”, etc. Complaints and criticisms have filtered down to him through third parties. Yet he continues to proclaim the Word as best he can and as God has called him to, looking out at all those faces and wondering who among them, and how many, are holding something against him. It’s amazing—I myself have a hard time going to church and acting like everything’s normal. (I’ve even entertained the notion of stopping going to services altogether. The one thing that’s stopped me is that I don’t want to leave my dad alone in there.)

I’ve cried so many tears in the last number of weeks. I can’t say for sure exactly what I want from you. Maybe it’s just the knowledge that you said what you did to [ekkles] and that you’re someone who’s still halfway sympathetic, who’s thinking about us, that makes me feel like I can say all this to you. The rest of the small group I feel I can’t talk to.

Does that look familiar, 19? My feeling like I couldn’t talk to the rest of the small group was vindicated by the fact that only one of you, 28, wrote back to my group e-mail, and your response was cold and wholly devoid of even a worldly sort of compassion, let alone the Christian one. I showed it to two other women, my sister being one; she interacted with some of it in her own correspondences with you. Yet you do at least get some points for responding at all, as, again, no one else did, not even 19.

My letter to the whole group covered the same things with the addition of some others; I expressed both my own personal sense of hurt and betrayal as well as my sadness over the way my father was being treated by you. In the year since then, the hurt and sadness haven’t left, but the dominating emotions have been frustration and anger when I think about the whole affair, how it started at A and how it’s continued through Classis NM. Like I said, though, in the last few days the sadness has returned to the surface in greater force.

October. One year since all the s**t really hit the fan. Pastor Appreciation Month. Here we are, my dad and I, relocated at last, having joined a local congregation that is United Reformed rather than Christian Reformed—because I have left the CRC for good. In the process of moving last month I unearthed my old high school catechism class workbooks—the somewhat silly “HC and Me”. In the last few years I’ve grown more and more convinced that the Heidelberg Catechism and other study materials/topics don’t need to be dressed up in some “relevant” coating like that, but that’s beside the point. My father co-taught that class. He continued to teach the youth Sunday school after I’d graduated. As part of the CRC Church Order the pastor is supposed to “catechize the youth”. At some point last year he was pushed out by 13—this action was both against the Church Order and manifestly at odds with 13’s insistence that the pastor needed to be more involved with the life of the church. The Mighty List even said the pastor should “Build a sense of unity and communication with teachers, committee members, and church members”—how the heck does one reconcile a demand like that with the “recommendation” that he stay out of the Sunday school room? Huh. Further evidence that my father couldn’t do anything right because 13 was determined to get rid of him.

Anyway. My father taught that class for years. That was one of his pastoral duties. So was the week-by-week preaching from the pulpit. As a further means of pursuing/encouraging spiritual fruitfulness among members of A., he suggested the formation of the small group. The group met at least semi-regularly for about three years, and you couples who joined it—you were enthusiastic supporters of him and of his preaching. And he preached from your pulpit, as the pastor you and the other A.ns called, for eight years. Eight years of ministry, of faithfully delivering God’s Word to you, preaching what the Spirit led him to, trying to serve you in the way God intended. Years of friendship—of meeting together, talking about things of the faith, talking about things of no consequence and just bonding as friends, and most importantly praying together.

Then it all dried up. As I already wrote to you, 19, things changed. You all started acting differently. A.ns overall started criticizing him—bad attitudes ran amok. He was cut off. Totally isolated with the knowledge that the people he’d thought were his friends were all upset with him and that many of them were talking behind his back. I asked in my letter to the group what changed, what was it that suddenly made him a bad person and justified this new treatment. Based on the fact that no one furnished me an answer to that, I assume it’s because you truly have none. What a contrast to the admonition of Hebrews 13:17!

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (ESV)

Let them do this with joy and not with groaning. What do you think your behavior was more conducive toward? Joy? Or grief? If ever there was a “gimme” question!

Years of labor and love—all for naught, apparently, as you all were so capable of quickly casting him aside, throwing him (and me) under the bus.

Pastor Appreciation Month. My father has joined the legions of faithful pastors who are incredibly unappreciated, victims of abuse and mistreatment by the congregations they served, by the people they befriended and loved. Can you see why I’m sad?

My blog avatar is a photo I took myself. It’s of a section of road in Oxford, England—the exact place where three martyrs of the British Reformation met their deaths. Interestingly enough, the first two, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, were burned on October 16, 1555—another October date. (Thomas Cranmer would follow in March of the next year.)

Why do I bring that up? Not because I equate my father’s abuse at your hands with execution (though I guess one could rightly say that you all, and the entirety of Classis NM at this point, are complicit in the assassination of his character). I bring it up because he has something in common with those men: he preached and spoke as he felt God led him, proclaimed in both public and private—he was more consistent than some among you, cough, 13—what he thought was truthful and necessary, and was made a target of ill treatment because of it.

There is another connection I would like to draw. Here is one more picture I took in Oxford, this one of the Martyrs’ Memorial.
DSCF0156.JPG

The text in the inscription reads:

To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLI.

Like many of God’s faithful servants they faced persecution during their time of ministry but have since been honored by posterity. Grateful and fairly self-conscious inheritor of the Reformed tradition that I am, I couldn’t help but be just a little thrilled to see the memorial and read the inscription.

Yet, in the grand scheme of things, what is a mere stone monument like that? There is a far greater reward promised the ministers of God’s church:

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5:4 (NIV)

My father’s sufferings are of course in no way comparable with the Oxford Martyrs’, or Jan Hus’s, or Patrick Hamilton’s (another whose place of execution I saw), or those of any other person who died for God’s truth. But just because you didn’t kill him you are not thereby exonerated of wrongdoing, A.ns. And I think you know this. This is addressed to you, 15: my father, sister, and former landlady (who was also a member of the erstwhile small group, as you know) all report you acting strangely when they’re around—ducking your head down, turning away (with a pained expression, according to ekkles), being deliberate to avoid eye contact. And 28, ekkles noted that you also exhibited strange behavior the Sunday she visited—stammered when you saw her, misspoke, etc., and those are things you don’t normally do. Tell me, ladies, how should we interpret all that? If I didn’t know better I’d say it looks as though you’re wrestling with guilty consciences.

Some months ago my father was approached by a Christian brother he’d never met and who knew nothing about him. This man said he just had to talk to him, because he’d seen a vision of sorts. That vision was of my father being given a Purple Heart. Again, this man had no clue who my father was or what he’d gone through. So evidently Someone else besides the mere mortals in ST’s camp believes he was severely wounded by you, A. Church. And more importantly, He recognizes His servant’s faithfulness. The Purple Heart vision is a source of encouragement and uplifting mainly because it reinforces what the Scripture plainly teaches in that verse from 1 Peter; the subjective experience is substantiated by Holy Writ. And it is taking into account both, but especially the verse, that keeps me from being wholly consumed by grief as I consider what you’ve done to my father.

I hurt greatly on his behalf, yes, but he will be vindicated in the end and rewarded; this under shepherd who was abused and kicked around by you, the flock under his care, will be gifted by the Chief Shepherd with a taste of His glory for having shared in His sufferings.

These are the things I have to consider one year later. What are you thinking and feeling? Moved on? I want to snidely say that must be nice, but the truth is, I think I would rather be in my position, not having “moved on”, still thinking over the ramifications of what happened, what you did. Facing up to what you’ve helped put us through and squaring it with the permanent truths of Scripture, bringing my needs before God, openly acknowledging how I feel and what I’ve done with those feelings (for better or worse) is how I’ve been and hope to continue growing. Where are you? By all accounts you’re still in denial, still refusing to acknowledge the part you played in a series of very evil actions. I really wonder how your refusal to admit and repent of your sin affects your spiritual life overall. Like I said, I’m glad I’m in my position, not yours.

2 Corinthians 5 says believers will stand before God and give an answer for their deeds in the body, both the good and the bad. You’re the ones who will have to answer for participating in the calculated and cruel abuse, termination, and disenfranchisement of the pastor God put over you and who trusted you as his friends. Not me.

Very Truly Yours,
Puritan Girl (PG)

Lord’s Day 43

I love the Heidelberg Catechism. Even as I’ve left once and for all the denomination I grew up in I maintain a preference for its confessional standards over against the Westminster tradition. Lots of people have Lord’s Day 1 memorized; I myself ended up memorizing Lord’s Days 9 and 10 a couple summers ago as my father was undergoing his third set of cancer treatments. That was a very hard period for me. Little did I know that as that trial passed another, much worse one would arise–and that one has yet to abate.

But today I find myself thinking of Lord’s Day 43. A number of events have brought it to mind. For one, I was falsely accused of something. The person making the accusation was a church officebearer and there was no evidence, no basis on which to make it. Yet he made it, not to me, but to a group of denominational officials, who then passed it on to another such group, who then gave my father the third degree about it. These men are all leaders in a Christian denomination. Unfounded accusations, gossip, and rumor-mongering should be beneath such, no? But apparently not.

So. From the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 43.

112. Q.
What is required
in the ninth commandment?
A.
I must not give false testimony against anyone,
twist no one’s words,
not gossip or slander,
nor condemn or join in condemning anyone
rashly and unheard.
Rather, I must avoid all lying and deceit
as the devil’s own works,
under penalty of God’s heavy wrath.
In court and everywhere else,
I must love the truth,
speak and confess it honestly,
and do what I can
to defend and promote
my neighbour’s honour and reputation.

In the aftermath of my father’s clergy killing (calling it an aftermath seems wrong now, as it’s clear his character is still being assassinated), I am not the only one being gossiped about and accused of things behind my back.  It’s happening again and again to others who have been victimized throughout this ordeal. In fact, I found out secondhand a year ago that I was being negatively talked about, and more recently than that that I was deliberately excluded from helping out in a church function which was also last year. All this has been going on that long.

The Catechism enjoins Christians to love the truth and show love for their neighbor by promoting his good name. It also says rightly that “lying and deceit” are “the devil’s own works”. What that says about the churchy, kind people where I live, I leave to the reader to decide.

Yes, Churchgoers Are Hypocrites

A lot of them, anyway!

A Facebook friend of mine shared this meme a week and a half ago and I felt compelled to point out that it’s a bit idealistic. Edit: The URL no longer works. Here is the text of the quote, attributed to Rich Mullins: “I never understood why going to church made you a hypocrite either, because nobody goes to church because they’re perfect. If you’ve got it all together, you don’t need to go. You can go jogging with all the other perfect people on Sunday morning. Every time you go to church, you’re confessing again to yourself, to your family, to the people you pass on the way there, to the people who will greet you there, that you don’t have it all together. And that you need their support. You need their direction. You need some accountability, you need some help.”

I made not one, not two, not three, but four comments. The text of each of those, slightly edited, follows.

Hopefully that’s true of many churchgoers, but I know plenty who go because it’s what’s expected of them in their community, because it’s a social event, because they’ve always gone and it’s cultural, etc. And when they’re confronted in the preaching about sins they harbor, or are reminded that ongoing confession and repentance is an essential part of growth in the Christian life, they openly chafe and oftentimes resent the preacher. The experience I’ve had in the last year and a half with churchgoers where I live–seeing the way they abuse their pastors and treat other people–has shown me that all too often the criticism responded to in this meme is valid.

Linking here because it’s relevant:veritaspraebita.wordpress.com. A blog my sister compiled (and is still updating) about the clergy-killing our father was subject to. Some “Christians” really are hypocrites, and others–far too many–may be sincere in their faith but they don’t want to pursue the truth in events like this because if they know what happened they might have to do something about it, and that might mean calling out friends and family on wrong, even evil, behavior.

I’ve thought to myself a few times in the last few months that I’m a lot more sympathetic now, both to non-Christians who think Christians are hypocrites and to Christians who are reluctant or even outright refuse to attend church due to really bad experiences they’ve had. All because of what I’ve seen, the way people have treated and turned on my family. (And incidentally, the churchy people in this very homogeneous community have a bad reputation with people in the neighboring areas, and sometimes for good reason. I’m finding that out as I connect with other people around here post-clergy-killing.)

One more post before I stop monopolizing here: How can claiming to be a Christian, a follower of the Man who said the world would know we are His disciples by our love for one another, while treating other Christians like dirt be anything BUT hypocrisy? No, going to church doesn’t make a person a hypocrite, and people of the world shouldn’t make such a judgment about all Christians. But there’s a reason the perception exists.”

My comments received no acknowledgment, whether in the form of agreement expressed in “likes” or disagreement expressed in follow-up comments. Instead I apparently prompted the friend who shared the meme to send me a private message in which he expressed condolences for the misery my family is undergoing but ended by admonishing me to love and forgive. I have a problem with his saying that under the circumstances and in the way he did, but that’s a private matter.

What isn’t private and what really irks me is how no one expressed agreement with my comments on the original meme. Not just because of my experience but also because what I said is so blatantly, obviously true.

Of course if someone used the “churchgoers are hypocrites” line on me I’d correct his thinking with words similar to those of the meme, but I would also readily and unequivocally admit that he’s right to an extent, that way too many churchgoers really are hypocrites.

I’d tell him that the conscientious churchgoers realize they need the fellowship of the saints but that many of them aren’t so conscious of their need. Those are the ones who don’t go for the right reasons and whose attendance and profession of faith often do not match the way they live and treat people.

Back to the Facebook meme. To make that point as I did very clearly and receive no acknowledgment from anyone else, and not only that but to receive a private note that has nothing to do with what I said and therefore also isn’t an acknowledgment, is not only insulting, it also makes me worry about just how self-aware some Christians are. It doesn’t help that the post received 13 likes, and some of them after I made my comments.

Like I said in my last comment, there’s a reason that the perception exists. And ignoring or not thinking about that reason, refusing to acknowledge that maybe the outside world is somewhat justified to look askance at us, isn’t going to do any good. In fact it’ll probably do harm, because if we don’t acknowledge the problem we’ve no motivation to fix it. Which makes me wonder: had some of the people who liked that post been in my previous church, would they have been able to take a stand against my father’s abusers? If they lived here and saw how the church people, elders even, are apathetic if not downright mean to people like the single woman whose house my dad and I are renting—a woman who is being undeniably harassed by a (sociopathic?) neighbor—would they take some kind of action? Or would they look the other way?

Perhaps I’m assuming too much, yes, but I don’t imagine the place I live is really that unique. The “churchgoers are hypocrites” line sure gets repeated enough and in disparate enough places!

The Lies Just Won’t Stop!

The whole church was sent a letter by the “council” (we know for a fact it was written by another pastor who’s been in the VP’s pocket all this time). My dad and I, even though technically still members of the church, were not copied on it. But the judge and his wife showed it to us.

Below is the “letter” I wrote in reaction, which I will not send. As you may deduce, the council’s letter made some misstatements. This is just something I fired off quickly, in the heat of the moment. There’s a lot more that can be said about the factual/historical errors, exaggeration, excuse-making, outright lies, etc. in it.

Members of ________ Church,

I am writing to you out of my own indignation; these are my own words and feelings.

I would like to inform you of a view other than that expressed in the recent letter sent by the council. I will keep this short and only address a few things.

Pertaining to the matter of how urgent this was, and how it was the right decision, the pastor had to go because his “vision for ministry” was not in line with what the council thought the congregation needed: even if that were true, did it necessitate throwing him out so quickly? Could he not have stayed on a few more months, given time to pursue another call? Why does the pastor, with cancer, one leg, no family in the area, have to move in the middle of winter?

That would seem to put the lie to the idea that the council really cares all that much about him and his family, contra what they think the severance package proves. Another item that puts the lie to it is the fact that two of the deacons were in our small group, active for over three years. They, their wives, and one other couple were the closest friends I had in our congregation. Since this has happened, not one of those people, not even the wives, mothers, has stepped forward to offer any word of encouragement, concern, or compassion to us. Even if they think my dad is a bad person not deserving such sentiments, what about me?

Moreover I feel I must address the matter of the council not wanting to do this. My father was informed by two of the elders that the third [the VP] “wants you gone”. That was said to him as far back as summer.

As to the matter of the council having “a unanimous belief that this decision was right”, just last week I heard from one of those two elders that he “threw in with” the rest of the council because he was “just scared I guess”, and he feels terrible about it now. He went against his conscience. And he also said that to the man I believe, with good reason, to be the real author of the council’s letter. He even went so far as to say “I’m sick of [the VP]!” I think I’m justified in saying that whoever wrote that letter is lying.

Now, one more thing. About the “tentative plan” for an open house on the 3rd of January. Whether such a thing happens is more up to my dad and the council than it is to me, but if it were up to me, I’d say “hell no!”

Cordially,

The pastor’s youngest daughter

One Week From Christmas…

And I’ve just been helping my dad pack up some of the things from his study at the church building. Today’s the first day this month that it’s snowed, which brings to mind two things. One, it’s cold, cold enough for snow; and two, it’s finally starting to look just a little like how Christmas in Michigan should look.

So there I was, standing outside in the cold next to the dumpster so my dad could pass me things through the window to throw away. We’d might as well get working on this now, as we’ll have to be out of the church parsonage by the end of January if the council has its way. You see, my father is a minister in a certain denomination, and, as a local Circuit Court Judge and friend of ours put it, “[Elder’s name] and the Cabal have won”—the Vice President of the church council, who for years was actually one of my dad’s closest friends (was that all fake? At this point, I’d have to say, most likely yes) and the abusive members of the congregation have succeeded, aided and abetted by the Classis (the leadership of all the other churches in our denomination located in this area), in not only getting rid of God’s appointed shepherd but also in maligning his character.

The documentation produced to justify his removal is, frankly, libelous. The Circuit Judge, an older and lifelong member of this church, wrote a scathing rebuttal to the primary article and had it submitted to the Classis, but they weren’t interested in the truth and let said article go on the record the way it was written. Compounded with my dad’s age, health issues (cancer), and disability (he lost a leg to cancer a few years ago), the character defamation in the record made basically means: no church is going to call him. His career as a pastor in this denomination is over.

I wish I could convey well just how rapidly all of this happened, and describe how secretive and shady everything has been, the collusion between the VP and the people the denomination appointed to handle a “conflict” that really didn’t exist, how quickly the pastor was thrown out and the total shock it was to many in the congregation (the judge and his wife aren’t the only ones who have left the church over this, and apparently the VP is now blaming the other elders for the pastor’s removal because he wasn’t expecting his decision to be unpopular with some!). But I don’t want to go on too long.

Dad was presented with the termination document on November 5; its original stipulations required us to be out of the parsonage by the end of December. There had to be a special Classis meeting to approve the firing (though they’d no doubt prefer I use a more sanitized term, like “separation”), and no doubt it was the VP and friends who were pushing for it to happen NOW—first on the 18th, then the 23rd, but the Classis couldn’t make either date work, so finally it happened last week on the 8th of December. It was a travesty—the judge compared it to the Star Chamber, and not unfittingly. But one thing that was changed was the move-out date, which was pushed back to January 31st.

I suppose the council and Classis think they’re being really nice and generous. Not just in giving us one more month in the house but also in the other stipulations of the severance package (which I won’t list because that might result in it being canceled). Well, forgive me for not being very grateful.

This whole past year has been hellish for my father, and especially in the last few months. Yet despite the conflict that went on in the council room (and the cold treatment he was beginning to get from others who had been our closest friends and some of the most enthusiastic fans of his preaching—more on that later), the termination was a surprise to him, and it happened so damn fast! As my sister said on her blog, the man had been tormented for months and months and was finally unjustly fired.

It was unjust and evil, as the judge and his wife said. And there’s simply no way a nice little severance package can make it all okay, this abrupt and wicked firing of a minister of the Word of God who has done nothing wrong (even the documents produced could indicate no specific failing, just a lot of vague generalizations about how the whole congregation was suffering, was “spiritually depressed and frustrated” because of his oppressive sermons—cf. that with my earlier observation that a lot of people are upset the council did this, and some of those people have up and left).

My emotions the last month and a half have been quite the roller coaster. At any given moment I can be very angry, very sad, resigned, or maybe happy (if I’m distracted by something). I recently wondered how it was that I wasn’t as bad off as one might think I’d be, when I hadn’t been the best at availing myself of the immediate access I have to the throne of grace. The conclusion I came to was that other people must be praying for me.

But waves of anger at the injustice, the (frankly) demonic evil that occurred, still come over me with some frequency. And that happened today as we were moving things from Dad’s office. Like I said, the snow meant both “cold” and “Christmas”. And there we were. The minister had been fired in early November, with the holidays right around the corner. And he was ordered to vacate the premises the week after Christmas. Why? What was the rush? If he was “certainly accused of no moral failing” as the termination document said, why did he have to be kicked out so quickly? Fired abruptly, and given less than two months to find another place to live and move in there?

Apparently someone somewhere realized how stupid the December 31 date was and pushed it back one month, but is that really so much better? The man is single and has only his 22-year-old, can’t-drive, Aspergers daughter living with him. He lamented yesterday how incredibly hard it was moving boxes of books from his church office to the house with only one leg. We have no immediate family living nearby. I suppose my aunt and uncle probably wouldn’t be opposed to making the hour and a half long drive to help if they have to, but that’s a lot to ask. And in the winter!

It’s all so disgusting! He was “suspended” from pulpit duties a few days after Pastor Appreciation Sunday in October, then the week after that officially fired, just before Thanksgiving and the Christmas season! (Happy holidays, Reverend!) And now we have to move out in the winter. What a great time to be scrambling for a new residence (and job!), packing things up and transporting them, getting around and everything—the cold and the snow just makes it all so wonderful. The use of only one leg makes it even better. A month and a half to find someplace else to be, and that probably only a holding place for the rest of the time we get the severance package and housing allowance; then we’ll have to move again! Two moves for the one-legged, still cancer-ridden (he had an appointment at the U. of M. hospital in Ann Arbor two days ago to have the tumors on his lungs checked on), divorced (my mother ran out on him seven years ago) pastor. And did I mention we have a 20-year-old sick cat that I think will probably die as a result of the stress that will be involved with moving again? He can’t even make the 30 minute drive to the vet clinic anymore without getting so nervous he throws up on the way.

As someone else asked—What was the bloody rush? Why did this have to happen NOW, the pastor be forced out so abruptly, made to move in the middle of winter despite his disability and aloneness? Why couldn’t it have waited—the council could have said, “Your ministry here isn’t as effective anymore, it might be a good idea for you to start looking for another call” then let him go on preaching through spring. Would all the complainers really have left if they’d waited? I’m dubious.

No, the rush was because the VP wanted him out now. For a number of possible reasons—he wanted it to happen while he was still on council so he could be seen as the hero by the complainers is one. Here’s another one. He’s gone out of his way to humiliate and hurt my father throughout the last several months, by undermining him to his face and behind his back, turning our friends and supporters against him, raising his voice and making accusations against him in council meetings that he doesn’t even get a chance to respond to, and just generally being what is commonly called a church bully or “clergy killer” (there are books written about how people like this ruin pastors and destroy churches; see here, here, and here for examples). So I think he wanted us to be in this situation, to have to leave in a rush at this celebratory time of year. It’s cruel, but I don’t think it’s beneath him at this point. There are other reasons too that relate to our (and a lot of people’s, actually) conviction that the VP has a character disorder, but I won’t get into that now.

The VP was probably never my dad’s friend. Not really. He was his, our, friend for as long as it suited his purposes. Then he retired from his position as County Prosecutor. Absent someone to go after, and frustrated that my dad wasn’t doing what he told him to (that is, the pastor was following God’s leading on what and how to preach, and didn’t think it’d be right to let parishioners extort a sermon out of him because it was what they wanted to hear), he decided my dad didn’t suit his purposes anymore. So Pastor T. had to go, and fast.

That explains his behavior; but what about that of the other parishioners who we thought were our friends? He deliberately sowed discord among them, that’s what happened. The handful of couples that comprised our small group for three years, and were basically my only “IRL” friends, lost interest in it due to apathy, seemingly, and that’s when he was able to have his influence in encouraging them to find fault with the minister. All of them turned on my dad to some extent, treating him coldly, even treating me coldly. And now they’re so cold to us that:

–he can be abruptly fired

–I can send them all a letter expressing my confusion and grief about the way they’ve acted toward us and the effect it’s had on him for months

–he can be told that he has to move out over the holidays

–he can have a cancer appointment and at least two of the three couples know about it

…and we don’t hear anything from them except 1) a response to my letter by one of the wives, who was very callous and dismissive of my feelings, accused my dad of various evils and said things that were historically inaccurate to justify her behavior toward him (and I have the e-mail record to prove inaccuracy), and said other things about my brother that showed she has no idea what she’s talking about, and was just really cold, period; and 2) a visit yesterday when two of the husbands, deacons, met with Dad to sign the final version of the termination agreement. There’s been no overture, no expression of sympathy. And even if they really believe my father is the ogre he’s been made out to be (I asked in my letter when their perception of him changed; I guess no one wanted to answer that) who doesn’t deserve to be treated like a person, what about me? What have I done? It seems we’re nonentities to them. The Absalom spirit that has been energizing the VP has indeed stolen many hearts.

I have written much, much more than I thought I would. I just became so indignant thinking about us being thrown out in the cold like this by people we thought were our friends! I had to write something to vent, and I had no idea I’d go on as long as I have.

I suppose I’ll close by giving a summary statement: A little leaven leavens the whole loaf, and the VP really has had a cancerous influence on these people I used to trust. We have been betrayed and turned on, and it hurts like hell. I understand now why a similar event at our last church caused my mother to pressure Dad to resign from the ministry, and why there really are sincere, devout Christians who know they should be in church but are too afraid because of really awful and scarring experiences. So many people here have made a mess, a huge mess. Discord, pain, grief, anger—the church may not even survive it if enough of my dad’s sympathizers leave, and it can’t stand to lose a lot because it’s small already. So much ruin. The demons that dwell in this area must be having a jolly good time at the silencing of God’s Word, the decline of the church, and the persecution of the minister.

But they won’t have a good time with me. Because unlike my mother, I am not going to let this diminish my faith. I will continue to affirm God’s faithfulness and sovereignty. We are His to do with as He will, and His will is always good. And also unlike my mother, I’m not going to take the hurt I’ve been caused by all of this and let it make me bitter. Rather I hope I’m able to forgive and heal somewhat, and that the overall effect this has on my character will be positive.

God has to be training me for something.

I’m making this post mainly as a means to vent some frustration and grief, and I won’t be going into detail regarding the history and problems alluded to. For those who might be interested in such, I will link to articles from another blog, the author of which is a friend of mine and has been documenting events and patterns in the church in question, and the churches in the area, for a while now.

Imagine a church– a small, country church, less than a hundred members, number of regular attenders somewhat smaller yet. The church has had problems and, perhaps, problem people for some time–several years, anyway–that have been tolerated. But over the course of the last year or so things have gotten worse. Congregants have increasingly manifested ignorance of the Word’s teachings, and of what constitutes a good sermon. Criticism of the pastor has begun to run rampant, usually spread behind his back and heard by him only second- or third-hand. Among the complaints are that his sermons lack “joy”, are “doom and gloom”, and are thus to blame for the apparently joyless atmosphere–seemingly these people are unaware of the fact that a) a proper minister of the Word preaches what he feels led by God to preach; b) rather than complaining and telling him he’s a horrible preacher (implicitly, anyway), they should search themselves and see if they are as diligent as they should be in praying that God would lead him as He wants, as he is supposed to lead them; c) that lack of perceived “joy” may have other causes–such as the judgment of God for too-long tolerated wrongdoing and even rebellion; and d) if the possibility raised in c is true, then mere cosmetic changes such as the addition of coffee to the morning worship experience, besides raising questions of what is reverent and what gives proper attention to the difference between the holy and the common, will change nothing.

It’s bad enough that these criticisms are unfounded and undermining of the pastor’s authority and potentially of his confidence as well, and in a sense dehumanizing. What’s worse is that some of them have come from people within the church that until recently might have been called good friends of his. The actions of those individuals are thus both seditious, and worthy of being considered betrayals of the pastor’s friendship and trust.

The pastor, it is true, has been pressured much lately to avoid the subject of repentance, and to preach happy, joyful messages (as the Ekklescake author has elsewhere noted, no one seems to know exactly what that would entail). But seeking God’s guidance through much prayer and, this past week, through fasting as well, felt called to preach on confession from Daniel 9. The message this morning stressed the importance of prayer to the Christian life, and the benefits of fasting as an aid to prayer. Fasting as a voluntary action was stressed, and some specific reasons one might choose to fast were listed. A main point of emphasis was the value of crying out to God in confession, not just for oneself and one’s own sins but also on the behalf of one’s nation, leaders, even church. The pastor noted how Daniel’s hope for relief from God rested not on the people’s righteousness, because they had sinned grievously, but on God’s mercy and reputation.

The pastor ended his sermon by suggesting that any who felt compelled to stay in the sanctuary following the closing hymn and pray should feel free to do so. He doesn’t normally make such a suggestion, but he felt it appropriate today in light of the subject matter of the sermon, and in light of his concern for the church’s current state and direction. One would think that since so many people in the church have detected something is wrong, that there’s no joy, etc., that some would consider the words of the message and the universal call to prayer, and stay behind–but no, out they all filed to the fellowship hall, chattering as they went. None but the pastor and his daughter remained.

Some might say I’m making too big a deal out of this. As one who has seen the declension of the church and the scapegoating and unfair, sometimes cruel treatment of its minister, I can only say that it reinforces the conviction that the congregation doesn’t think deeply of what it has heard, and truly is blind to the need to seek God diligently rather than apply little gimmicks and fixes in order to save the church they can tell is sick.

I suppose there’s cause for hope in that seeds might have been sown that God will grow in time, but I can’t help but think of how discouraging that response must have been to the pastor. Thank the Lord he has support, from his daughters and from those outside the church, because many within it seem to have abandoned him.