Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"For the Sake of the Gospel . . . Keep Your Damn Mouth Shut!"

A long, long time ago . . . in a galaxy, well you know the rest. Anyway, I once had a difficult experience with a Christian authority figure. His behavior was dysfunctional, cruel and maybe criminal (don’t read between the lines, it was nothing sexual).I was young, na├»ve and still believed in the evangelical utopian society. But I will never forget the so-called closure on the situation.

The big-wig organizational leader spoke to me on the phone. I was expecting, “How’re you doing? Holding up okay?” But instead, he called to give me a stern . . . but spiritualized, warning, “For the sake of the Kingdom, keep your mouth shut. A few years ago, we had someone else got though something like this with our organization . . . they did a lot of gossiping and it really damaged the Gospel.” Then he hung up.I tried to keep quiet, and did so for about a year, but then my head almost imploded. I had to talk to someone.

I was reminded of this issue when on CNN’s-web page yesterday I saw the story about Ted Haggard. Click on the title for the entire story. It is about a young man, last name Haas, who had a sexual encounter with Ted Haggard a number of years ago. When the scandal with Haggard broke, Hass contacted the church. Of course the news media can be biased and this story is coming from the perspective of the young man, but I will post the part of the story that caught my eye:

After the Haggard scandal in November 2006, Haas said he contacted the church immediately.

The church has said it struck a legal settlement with the man — it has not named Haas — in 2007 that paid him for college tuition and counseling as long as he did not speak publicly about the relationship. Brady Boyd, Haggard's successor as pastor at New Life, called it "compassionate assistance — certainly not hush money."

According to documents Haas provided KRDO, he is to be paid $179,000 through 2009. Haas claimed the church didn't follow through on promises to pay for counseling and medical treatment.

"Their main focus was, you know, cover it up, don't say anything," he said. "You'll regret it if you come forward."

Of course everyone is very familiar with the problems of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The major complain, which I’ve heard on the news, is how the church tried to cover it up . . . moving offending priest to new areas etc.

It seems to me that the church as been too preoccupied with issues of "appearance" or what can be cloaked in spiritual terms as, "The sake of the gospel." We were always taught to never give a "bad wittiness." To talk about any problem, was always considered "gossiping." But my sense is that honesty is a better wittiness than pretending of flawlessness. I've heard of far too many stories where people left Christianity because of having to bury real problems.

So, should the church cover up failures to keep the "Gospel" shinny and attractive? Or should the church show the world that we are made up of real, fallen people with real problems? For example, if I had been an elder at Ted Haggard's church, and a young man came with such a complaint, I would not hesitate to bring it out in public. The Biblical principles, and I still believe there are sometimes such a thing, is to confront sin (in a loving way) rather than pretending it's not there or burying it in shame.

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