Tuesday, June 15, 2010

For the Sake of the Gospel--Keep Your Damn Mouth Shut!

Yesterday I read through a four page psychiatric report of one of my favorite patients, whom I will call Paul. I think I’ve been drawn to Paul for several reasons. For one, he is about my age. He is also the graduate of the Christian seminary, which I respect most. He had been a pastor for about twenty years, the last decade of which was spent as an associate pastor in one his denominations largest churches.

I had also known that Paul suffered some type of emotional trauma as a result of his tenure under the senior pastor at his last church and that pastor is well respected throughout their denomination. However, until I read his report, I did not realize the hellish details of his experience. In summary, this senior pastor was very abusive to Paul in every way but physical. Paul is now sure, and the psychiatrist agrees, that his ex-boss suffers from both a narcissistic personality disorder and a borderline one . . . in case you are not familiar with the terms, neither are pretty.

Towards the end of his ordeal, Paul went to the denominational authorities. It quickly became very messy as Paul’s boss was well known, the author of many books and tracts and extremely manipulative and confident. He seemed to have the face of a dove but the heart of a jackal, a jackal with rabies. By the time the ordeal was over, Paul suffered a total psychological collapse and has been in such a state for the past five years, unable to work or hardly to function. Paul’s abusive boss . . . well, he was promoted to regional director.

But, reading the report, one of the last straws that led to Paul’s emotional demise was the secrecy in which the “trial” was held. The denomination did not want anyone to know of this problem. Paul felt that most of the congregation would have supported him if they had known, but, everything was done behind closed doors.

It reminds me of my own experience as a missionary. It was very similar to Paul’s (and the real reason I connect with him), however, I admit that my own messed up thinking had a part in my own personal demise.

However, I will never forget our re-entry into American culture. I had notified our mission board that I was resigning and that it was over some serious issues of spiritual abuse by our boss. The response to my provocative letter was complete silence. Not even a thread of curiosity. We sat in silence for months. After being with the organization for 15 years, it was we suddenly died and no one really gave a damn. This was one of my greatest disillusionment. We had been taught that our organization was almost perfect. Not that I expected them to be totally on my side, but at least I thought they would be interested in hearing about it.

Finally I called them (six months later). I will never forget that conversation. I spoke to the director of missions. He was a man that I had had a lot of contract with before going to the mission field, like he was a dear uncle or something.

So I called and asked, “John, are you interested in why we came home and resigned?”

John: “Hmmm . . . not really. I guess you just weren’t missionary material.”

Me: “John, there were some really bad things that happened. Doesn’t anyone want to hear our story?”

John: “I think you should just keep your mouth shut. For the sake of the Gospel of Christ, keep you big mouth shut!” Then he hung up.

I returned to my serious thoughts of suicide. Christianity had only been a myth . . . just a mirage in the urban desert.

Then I was thinking about the ordeal in the Catholic Church and the abuse of children. I think the culture has now changed. But, just a couple of decades ago, the paramount issue wasn’t the emotional state of these precious little children, nor justice, but appearance. They felt they must keep the church looking clean at all cost.

Something is very wrong with this picture. I’m not a big fan of the WWJD brand. However, I think if Jesus was here he would relate to this situation entirely different. Like with the woman at the well, He couldn’t care less about appearance, but about the honest place of human hearts. I could see Him sitting in a church congregational meeting and saying things so offensive (because they were deeply honest) that they would ask Him to leave.

I’m thinking about coming back and telling a couple of other stories but I will see. But to me, the "Gospel" isn't about giving an image to the world that we have all our crap together and we never have "issues." To me the Gospel is that Jesus has taken all our guilt and bestowed His righteousness on us. But, maybe I'm wrong.


shallowfrozenwater said...

that's an effective pic anyway.

can't wait

MJ said...

Denise was watching me post that picture last night. She thought it was disgusting and got up and walked away. I didn't mean for it to be disgusting but provocative.

Anonymous said...

I used to be in Mormonism....I left evangelical Christianity, but in part I began to realize all the similarities between evangelicalism and Mormonism. Both can be spiritual abusive...

Sounds like "Paul's" story and yours is similar.

Esther said...

I just left a midweek service at my church tonight and just had a heart to heart with my friend about why it's such a lie that to be christians we have to look perfect.

I put that pressure on myself by comparing myself to other sisters who seem so strong in their faith and seem to lead such sinless lives where they are always trusting God. But honestly so much of that pressure comes from my own insecurities and through that conversation I had one of those AHA moments where I was like "okay so I'm kind of a mess who still gets stressed out and overwhelmed and don't trust God nearly as much as I should but amen for Jesus for interceding on my behalf"

So to make a long story short, I'm a part of a pretty evangelical church, but so much of that pressure to be perfect and look perfect comes from myself. Stories of spiritual abuse are really depressing to me though. It's such an easy way to lose faith -- I don't know how I would hold up either.

MJ said...

The comparison thing is common for all of us, Esther. I think the big problem of pretending, is that some of us start to believe the lie, when it is about others. We start to think that others have their act together much better than ourselves and therefore we are uniquely messed up.

I really think that godliness is a myth. There are some people who are very skilled in presenting themselves in that light. I came to this conclusion when several of the most godly people whom I've ever known, did some of the most horrible things imaginable.

The best example I can think of is a guy whom I deeply envied when I first became a Christian. He could sing, be extremely funny, constantly "Christ-centered" etc. He was the Campus Crusade leader and the youth program director at my girlfriend's church.

Later it came out he was leading a double life. He was arrested for dealing in child porn.

My point is, I don't think it is worth the emotional drain to think anyone is better than yourself. We are all, equally, covered by the same blood of Christ and no one needs it more nor less.

I really like what Philip Yancy said in his book, "What's So Amazing About Grace." To us on earth we see this great levels of terrain, between the deep valleys an the tall mountains. But when you take the earth as a whole, looking at it from space, it is actually smoother than a cue ball. So the difference between the most hideous person and the most saintly is insignificant.