This is going to be one of the harshest posts I’ve ever written. It is going to sound unforgiving to some, and vindictive to others. Yet, there are probably many of you for whom these words will be water in the desert, and a glimmer of hope in the midst of a long season of loss.
Yesterday, my friend Jim Henderson pointed to a website called “Repentant Pastor.” He mentioned me specifically on Facebook, and asked if I could believe this “torrent of people singing” about the years of abuse at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I am calling this church and this website out specifically, because it is no use hiding what has become national news, and is an ongoing struggle for the integrity of Evangelical Christianity.
My response was that I would be “pissed right now” if I were one of the seriously abused. And this is why:
If I had lost a job, a reputation, perhaps a home, and maybe even a marriage to the stress of the things this church is responsible for, and by means of the self-indulgent, self-serving, self-aggrandizing elements of the leadership, these primarily generic apologies are seven years of days too late and millions of dollars short.
I have stood in the shoes of the abused. I have lost nearly everything I held dear because of a lying, self-serving leader who was after notoriety and money he sought to steal from me. I could have made it out of the struggle fully intact if perhaps one denominational leader had done his job, or stood up for what was right, but people who I had known for 20 years were faithless cowards, and I and the church I pastor were steamrolled by the institution of a denomination.
Recently, those same cowardly leaders, who refused to do their jobs have spoken to friends of mine behind the scenes, and intimated that they “did not have all the information back when this happened to Phil.” And you know what? It was their job to know, or find out. These same men have not yet spoken to me. You know what this tells me? It tells me they are still playing the same games. It tells me they are still the same cowards who refused to do the right and difficult thing seven years ago.
The leaders of the Foursquare denomination are still hiding under the false and cowardly premise of submission to authority. They want little people to submit to their errors and abuses, and say nothing, under some kind of man-made rule of Godly authority. That is my definition of heresy.
So, when the leaders who were part of the broken system like Mars Hill Church start to speak out, they had better be ready to wear the clothing of Lent.
There are times when only the sackcloth fits.
Those who have been abused have been wearing it like faithful Job for long enough. Those who were the abusers, whether they directly were involved, or were simply silent in the midst of the atrocities have more to do than make apologies. It is time for them to wear the sackcloth of repentance. They can never repay what they have been party to stealing. They can never disabuse those who have lost their reputations. They may never be able to restore faith to those who have walked away from God.
Today, I remember some of those who simply refused to speak up for me. They are just as culpable in my eyes as the direct abusers. They remain cowards in my eyes. I also remember those who did speak up for me. Two friends lost their jobs, because they spoke up. I remember those who came alongside to support me, and they are my heroes and heroines.
I will judge this moment of “repentance” as I watch it unfold. Not in the sense of determining who goes to Hell and who goes to Heaven, but in the sense of “judg[ing] righteous judgment.” I will look for the “fruit of repentance” as John the Baptist called it. There are times when ‘I’m sorry’ is not enough. Things had better change, and the seriously abused had better be sought out as though they were owed your life. This is not the time to try to restore the abused. These are times when the abusers had better start realizing that they are the ones who need the restoration, and the only way to find it is through those they have abused.
This is not to say that the first postings of repentance are not a positive movement toward restoration, but too often this is as far as we go in pursuing restorative justice, and do not be fooled, this is about restoring justice.
It is evident that this has been a system of cowardice from the beginning. From such an aggressively macho church as Mars Hill Church, you may find those words counter-intuitive, but that will be my next post.
So, if those of you who have started the path of repentance read this, thank you for a first step, but the first step is not the hardest. Christians have become notorious for pretending repentance, and not showing the fruits of it. I am watching you, and so is a wounded world – and a wounded God.