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.

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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.