Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Subtle Art of Spiritual Abuse Part XI-In Bed with the Devil

Tom sneaks into the silent bedroom at 10:30. Sandy is sleeping so deeply that she is snoring. Tom slips off his shoes, his clothes, brushes his teeth and slides carefully between the covers.

"Hi sweetie," whispers Sandy in her sleepy voice.

"Oh hi. I tried not to wake you."

"How's the meeting?"

"I'd rather not talk about it tonight."

Then Sandy sat straight up in bed and spoke in a very awake voice, "Please don't tell me you had another fight with the pastor?"

"Gees, Sandy, I want more than anything than to fight with him. I really hate it. However, I just had some questions after our meeting and yeah, I think it did turn into a fight."

She flops back down hard enough to bounce Tom a few inches. They laid in the darkened silence for a while.

"Sandy, I don't know what to say. I respect the man. He has a lot of gifts, but I don't feel comfortable in how he is leading the church. We, the elders, are suppose to be giving oversight, yet Pete shows up with these overpowering agendas at each meeting an no one questions him."

"But you."

"But me, that's right."

"So you are the only one who is trying to throw water on him?"

"It so seems."

"Tom, maybe there is a message in that. If you are the only one who feels hesitant, then maybe you are the one in the wrong. Really, isn't this just about your ego and getting your way? I don't think you ever did like authority."

This time Tom sits up in bed, "Now, what the hell does that suppose to mean?"

"I just know I grew up to respect the church . . . "

Tom cuts her off in not quite a scream, but some emotion in his voice, "Don't bring your folks into this. This isn't about them. I bet I respect the Church more than anyone you know so that is why I feel uncomfortable when new programs our mandated by one man and no one challenges it."

Sandy prided herself in never showing emotion but still you can sense some. "Tom!" Then she quietened herself down and tried to start again, "Tom, just think about it. I really think that Pete has been anointed by God for something special. My dad use to . . . I mean, there is a saying that when God puts his finger on a man, the best thing is to get out of his way."

"It isn't just the issue of getting out of his way, what I mean is just being passive. He wants all the elders to meet for an hour every morning, meet with him each Saturday, lead our cell groups precisely as he dictates, turn in homework to him each week and the list goes on and on."

Sandy pretended to fall back asleep so Tom continues, "And how do you know that God's finger isn't on me?"


"I said, how do you know that I'm not the one whose God's finger is on?"

With a light, but painful (in Tom's eyes) chuckle Sandy mumbled, "Oh please. Sounds like you have a touch of delusions of grandeur."

Tom laid quietly for the rest of the night . . . but he didn't sleep. Not one wink. Sandy though, drifted off into her somnolent world, where the men wore white, rode gilded horses and slayed dragons of worldliness.

That night, and for the subsequent days, Tom entered a phase of self-doubt, severe loneliness and even a more severe depression. With two sons, who he knew looked up him, he didn't want to die, just felt like the world would have been better off if he had never existed. He was quite and closed up the well to his soul.

It was almost a week later that he ran into the Thompsons at Safeway. They had been one of the original members of the cell group that Tom led. After a few funny comments about what was in each other's carts, Bud asked, "So, is there something that we need to be reading in preparation for the cell group? I mean, I've looked at several books on raising teens but I wasn't sure if you had just one book you've picked out or not."

Tom had a sad puppy look on his face. He rubbed his face with his hands trying to create a positive feeling where there was none, "Well, we're not going to be discussing parenting teens this fall. Pastor Pete has a new vision for the direction this church should be going in. You're hear more about it later. But we will be spending time discussing his sermons each week."

Bud had a big frown. "You must be joking. I can't stand his sermons even on Sunday morning anymore. There is no way that I'm going to spend each Thursday rehashing them. Tom, I really disappointed in you for agreeing to this."

"Join the crowd."

"What crowd?"

"The Tom is a jerk crowd . . . oh, never mind. I really did try to argue the point of letting us do what everyone wanted, but the pastor is quite set."

"I'm telling you one thing, if you expect us to dissect Pete's sermons every Thursday night, then we certainly won't be there and I'm quite sure the Pullman's and Ways won't be there either. So it looks like it will just be you, Sandy and if you are lucky, one more couple."

Tom left the store with this strange amalgam of feeling more depressed, more guilt, yet some vindication. Later that night the feelings of vindication had matured enough that he shot off an e-mail to the pastor, which would be the first time they had communicated since their argument. "Pastor, I spoke to the Jan and Bud Thompson at Safeway today. They are quite sure that they are not coming to the cell group anymore, nor the Ways or Pullmans, unless we focus on parenting teens. I was thinking, why don't we do half and half. We would start the evening with your sermon work book and end with a parenting discussion. I think it would be really important to keep the group together. What do you think?"

Tom didn't hear back, not that night, not the next day, nor the next and so on.

There was compete silence until Tom happened to drive by the church on his way home from work a week later. He saw a cluster of cars and didn't think much of it. Then, once he was a mile beyond the church, realized that those cars looked like those of the other elders. He circled around through the Quick Mart parking lot and went back. He pulled over on the shoulder in front of the church as people were coming out. It was the other elders. What were they doing here? Tom searched his mind for some meeting that he had forgotten about, but nothing came up. Then one by one the cars pulled out and drove past him. One by one, like a slow motion movie, he saw the faces of his fellow elders glance at him, then quickly turn their eyes back to the road. Only in the last car did he get a smile. It was Larry pulling out in his little golf cart-sized Smart car.

Tom felt very confused. When he got home, not really wanting to bring up church business again, he asked Sandy, "Was there an elder's meeting at church tonight?"

"Hmm. I'm not sure. I think I heard Pete on the phone talking to someone about a meeting."

"Was I not invited?"

"He never mentioned anything to me about it so I don't know."


Anonymous said...

I think Tom has just been fired. Behind his back.

Not only fired, but made an example of -- declared heretic, apostate, doubleplusunperson, and Satanic.


Headless Unicorn Guy

jmj said...

And I think I see the end of this saga on the horizon, in maybe two more posts.

Anonymous said...

Man, I can barely stand to read this. I have seen this type of thing happen many times over many years. Pastoral arrogance and marginalization of those who are "messin' with what God is blessin'". Packing the elder board with toadies. Using charisma as a club. Spiritual abuse is standard business practice in the church growth movement.

One more Mike

Anonymous said...

And Christians(TM) wonder why nobody wants to join their little club. "Satan Hath Hardened Their Hearts/Sign of End Time Apostasy" and all that. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs, and Won't Be Taken In.

Anonymous said...

A good friend of mine was a board member at a congregation I had formerly attended. At one point, one of the youth pastors had been arrested (and was later convicted) of child molestation. My friend visited him in prison, working with him on restoring his faith and dealing with the issues that had caused his sin.

And then he got called in by the senior pastor, who told him he was to stay away from the fallen brother, as it might cause problems regarding the church's liability in the criminal case. The pastor said that if my friend continued to visit the ex-youth pastor, he would be going against the church (and by "the church," the senior pastor clearly meant "me").

My friend told the senior pastor that if he DIDN'T continue to visit the ex-youth pastor, he would be going against God and the Bible.

The pastor called an "emergency" board meeting (minus my friend), and told them that my friend would no longer be on the board. My friend found out from one of the other board members, I think ... (This was not an isolated case, either -- the wife of the ex-youth pastor found out that she would no longer attending there when another parishioner informed her that the pastor had announced it from the pulpit.)

It's been a decade since. My friend is now assistant pastor of another congregation, which is reportedly thriving. The senior pastor in question is now elsewhere (retired, I think), and before he left another youth minister was arrested (also for molestation), and the head youth pastor absconded with over $100,000 in church funds.

So, yeah.