Tag Archives: scandal

Vomiting in Church

Being that I misread the RCL Lectionary for this Sunday and pondered about Ephesians 5:10-15 instead of 5:15-20… I got hyperfocused on Ephesians 5:11-12 as while 12 passes the common sense test, it seems totally out of whack with the rest of the chapter.

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.

Now, taken literally, verse 12 easily leads one to think we ought not to talk very explicitly about the evil perpetrated by some. From a common sense point of view, we’ve all said, egads, I didn’t need to see this, or I didn’t need to hear this, or from a biological point of view, I really didn’t need to smell this. One of the things I see cycling through the news cycle is the horrors of sexual abuse and the church… and some are saying illuminating evil is just too hard, its too scandalous, they don’t want to hear it… so just say evil was done in the church and let it lie at that. I even heard someone quoting James 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.

I think such folks are totally missing the point. When evil is left in partial darkness or so sugarcoated to limit its impact, it will often continue, perhaps not in the same form, but when not fully illuminated, festering is a possibility.

I think there are some parallels with folks experiences during WWII. I remember a WWII vet telling me about stacking up dead bodies like cordwood. He told of his experiences with tears in his eyes. Another WWII vet friend got shot down over Germany and said he saw so much horror, it took years before he could leave the bottle alone. These men experienced the horrors of evil up front and personal and carried it the rest of their lives. They would not try to sugar coat it or limit the lights illumination, as it was more important to them that such horrors not happen again.

Granted no one wants to see sensitive folks vomiting in church, or having nightmares, so there needs to be some level of language discretion, but it should never go so far as to leave things in secret, or through vagueness reduce the impact of such when it comes to prevention.

Related to this is that not everyone is going to have a voice, some folks will be unable to speak and thats ok, as even a little light from others can go a very long way. Consider a handful of victims at Willow Creek which has now grown multifold due to the light they shone. Consider the findings of ~20 person grand jury in PA, whose actions have lit up the phones with even more victims calling in. Contrast this with the scandals of fifteen years ago, or the hidden nature of evil within small independent churches…. when illumination is covered over by well meaning folks so as to protect the church from scandal and/or folks constitutions.

I think Eph 5:12 is probably telling us how bad the evils were, ie that they are so evil, it is disgraceful to speak of them… and despite this, it is even more critical that they be fully illuminated and therefore exposed.

Thinking about Willow Creek

Its really disheartening to learn of what happened at Willow Creek. One would think that a church culture which has an egalitarian approach to the scriptures would not run into trouble as much as a highly partriarchal/complementarian one. Sadly Willow Creek crashed and burned. And granted, any given individual, pastor, lay person, Christian, or not can have moral failings… but what is so surprising, is that Willow Creek followed the all too typical #churchfail model, and started judging the situation favorably to their leader and mission prior to a serious investigation.

As Scott Mcknight writes:
” “My guess is that three things will happen soon.” First, Hybels and Willow would deny the accusations. Second, more stories would likely to come to the surface. Third, Hybels and Willow would admit improprieties and Willow would have a huge challenge on how to support as well as either defend or discipline their incomparable founder and pastor.

I also said my biggest fear was that Willow’s leadership and Hybels would handle it in the worst possible way and make life difficult for Willow Creek Community Church, for the women, and for all of us.”

Granted, no one wants to believe that a beloved and respected leader just shy of retirement has had moral failings. Likewise, no church wants to compromise its mission, and thus when situations come about where one must protect the victim or protect the mission, far too often the victim is the one that suffers.

I’ve seen that mission first mentality play out in a whole ton of ways over the years… with many a church, or group of church people working as hard as possible to keep things in the shadows, such that the light could not directly illuminate #churchfail. The problem of course is that activities to eliminate or redirect the light, often bring additional pain onto the victims, to say nothing of said activities tendency to spiral out of control, thus making a damaging situation even worse.

The mission first model isn’t just a protect the institutions bank account or protect the leaders jobs thing either. When #churchfail occurs, it often times throws a major wrench into the lifes of those initially seeking or those young in their faith. It can also send any number of folks from the young to the old into the realms of spiritual crisis… which is a very sad deal. Otoh, light has a tendency to eventually shine into pretty much all dark corners… which I’ll argue can present an even greater spiritual risk to folks, then to let light shine where it may and roll with the punches, even if it means a given church or ministry may fall into the no longer a viable concern category.

The reason? Ministries and churches have finite lifespans, it could be a change in leadership, demographics, natural disaster, or plain and simple human nature, that the grass is always greener elsewhere. Bottom line, just because a ministry or church ceases to function, doesn’t mean the Gospel goes by the wayside. Jesus will always be there, and the church / ministry gap will be filled with new wine, for which it too will present a finite lifespan and the circle of ministry continues.

I saw this first hand as a young guy, a 300 kid youth ministry I worked with was destroyed… and folks scattered. It was a pretty painful experience, I remember thinking, how could God let this happen, when I should have been thinking, what safeguards were missed, what did the elders and church leadership miss that could have prevented this. What about all the kids new in their faith, or who were seekers, who just walked away? And yet, in decades of hindsight, the elders made the right, albeit painful call at the time. It would have been way too easy to slide things under the carpet to go for success and growth, rather than pretty much killing it.