Leaders Do Not Have the Right to Pretend it Didn’t Happen
It has been a little over 10 years since I was falsely accused of being a heretic by my former denomination, followed by the apparently more heinous sin of questioning the actions of that same “authority,” that made the accusations against me. There were thirteen individuals from the leadership of the denomination who sat in judgment over the leaders of our little church, and held tribunal over us. It all happened in fashion like that of an inquisition. Our substantial defense papers were never read, and we were commanded to respond only to the questions we were asked. In all this, we showed ourselves to be without heresy – except perhaps in the fact that we questioned their excessive and harmful actions toward us. But, that is the problem with challenging any powerful corporate body or the corporate leadership, isn’t it? Don’t mess with leaders and make them look bad – even if they ARE being bad.
So, I went to Wales from mid-May to late-June this Summer. It turns out that a couple of my accusers have now returned to their homeland, which happens to be Wales. And so, I wrote a letter reaching out to see if they were willing to meet:
I am coming to Wales. In fact, I have been coming to Wales regularly for a few years, developing teams of Christians to work in non-Christian festivals planting micro-churches in those festivals.
We need to meet face to face.
I will be in the UK from May 11 to June 24: At a festival outside Port Talbot in mid May, Hay-on-Wye late May to early June. Caerdydd and Caernarfon in the second and third week of June. Then we finish our time in the UK with an outreach to Stonehenge on the Solstice.
You can easily catch me during my outreach at Hay-on-Wye anytime from May 28th to June 5th. Or shortly thereafter we can meet in some midway point as I travel from Cardiff to Caernarfon.
Let me know what works for you,
I received an email response about a week later. It said:
I thought, this must be some kind of error on the part of someone who does not navigate computers well, so once I was in the UK, I sent another email to receive clarification, and a more complete response finally came to me:
The joys of technology, don’t know how that happened!
This what I had written:
What a surprise!
I would like to restore our friendship if that was possible Phil, but
I really do not want to discuss the past, and It is possible that you may not want to meet within those parameters.
Blessings to you and safe travels.
I considered the first email response weird. The second was weirder. This was a letter from someone who was party to helping ruin my reputation with falsehoods, and thereby causing unimaginable troubles. I was sitting with my friend Mike Stygal in his home in London, when I received the email, and I read it to him. Mike is the President of the Pagan Federation, and one of my favorite people in the world. When I read the email to him, he responded with a combination of mocking laughter and disbelief.
Someone might ask why I would torture myself by making these connections to a painful episode from the past. Well, let me tell you why. It is NOT because I do not forgive the hideous behaviors of those who wronged us, in fact, I do not feel anger toward these particular people. But, I do have expectations about those who call themselves leaders in the Christian community.
Wales is dear to me. I want those who lead the church in Wales to be good people, compassionate people, and not abusive leaders. I had hope that these particular people would be among the better characters of those who accused us, and so, I reached out in that hope. My reaching out was not for my benefit. It would do me nothing to hear, “I’m sorry, we were wrong.” The world found out how wrong they were on the front page of the Wall Street Journal that year. Rather, those words are necessary for their growth. Acknowledgement of our wrongs toward others is a part of our growth as individuals. Our lack thereof, is a lack of repentance, and the stunting of our own growth. For a leader, this is justification of abuse, which one can expect to occur and reoccur.
I may be forgiving, but on the other hand, I have an overly short fuse toward leadership behaving in hypocritical fashion. So, after thinking for a while about the absurd email I responded rather straightforwardly:
Sorry for my late reply. I have been extremely busy in festival outreach at Hay-on-Wye and am headed north to Caernarfon now.
Those parameters are not really an option, are they? The kind of things that occurred are answerable to God, and are best dealt with honestly, openly, and humbly, rather than under some kind of sweep it under the rug approach. I remember (fill in name) talking about bringing up an offense as some evidence of unforgiveness or not moving forward. That was simply for asking to speak with him about his behavior. Those are the words of an abuser and the offender. Scripture is clear about the dynamics and necessity of reconciliation. That is the way of Christ.
Still willing to meet – even on my extremely tight schedule, but I am not willing to play the pretentious games of non-relational Christianity.
May God Grant you Eyes to See, and Ears to Hear,
Can you guess what response I received? Of course you can. That was two months ago and the response I received was two letters shorter than the original, “Hi” – no response, at all.
I tell this story to highlight the fact that although I believe in God’s grace and forgiveness, I do not think that we can expect God to overlook heinous behaviors without an expectation of making things right, when we have abused people. The excessive ramifications of the actions of my former denomination can in no way be fixed, nor can they apologize deeply enough to make things better. But then, I don’t need that, and don’t care about it. I do care that they continue to lead others without acknowledging past errors – severe errors, because that lack of acknowledgment is evidence that they will merely repeat those abuses again. Apparently, that is how they believe leadership should act.
It seems that even my Pagan friend Mike understood this better than the so-called Christian leader.
But, perhaps I am being too hard. What do you think?
11 thoughts on “Leaders Do Not Have the Right to Pretend it Didn’t Happen”
Wow Phil. I agree with you. I didn´t realize your past had been so like that.
It is quite a weird story, and in some ways makes me a poster child of church leadership abuse. But, that is not a bad thing. It is the kind of thing God can use. 🙂
Absolutely!! I know the pain of speaking truth to power as well. Leaders are never kind to those they perceive as threats. But, I do want to offer some advice. In Judaism we are required to forgive those who have hurt us, not so much for their sake as for ours. Carry a grudge grants the offender much more power over your life than they are entitle to. However, as the recent holiday of Tisha B’Av demonstrates, we forgive but we do not forget! So my advice to you is, for your sake, forgive those individuals who have hurt you but continue to hold them (and all leadership) accountable.
Shalom, my Brother.
Hey Charles, Good advice. Of course, this is the picture of the cross as well. Forgiving while being crucified. The above story is actually part of my process of walking through that balance of holding them accountable, even while offering the hand of forgiveness. For me forgiveness is done, for them it is yet unreceived, and the lessons that come with it are unlearned.
I do not in any way feel pained or rejected by this process, rather I feel as though I have approached a scared puppy peeing in the corner of room and snarling in terror, not realizing that I have come to help instead of attack. I would have ignored these people altogether if they had not settled into the territory which feels, o so much, like home to me. In that sense, it is as though they had moved into my small city to start a church trying to pretend nothing had happened in the past.
Interestingly, this is one of two posts over the last year and half I have made that expresses some of the dynamics about my feelings and/or experiences with abusive leadership as it relates directly to my former denomination. I was reluctant in both cases to post the articles, because I felt that they would be perceived as holding a grudge or in some way not being at peace with the past. When I finally decided that the truth of the articles were more valuable than the perceptions of those who would assume I was posting out of my pain instead of out of my experience (and consequently, my authority), I have been surprised in both instances. The traffic shot up like crazy. I am shaking my head about how this simple little story has received an incredible response, and it makes me wonder to what degree this is a Spirit thing. (rub, rub, rub – beards are good for moments like these.)
I remember Phil how horribly hurt you were when the accusations were being brought against you. They wanted you to minster to the good people of Salem and when you did you were accused of heresy. Some of those you trusted turned on you for trivial matters. We will always have your back should anyone ever point a finger at you quesstioning your love and loyalty to our Lord Jesus Christ……. Love Hank and Gloria
Thanks Hank and Gloria, You guys rock. Thank you for being some of the people who walked through these things with us.
I know the type of man you are. And I love you. You have paid a very heavy price for your ministry in Salem. A price made unbearable by the church.
You know my story. I committed adultery. and so I, unlike you, sinned. That church, under the leadership of the over-seeing body (Elim Fellowship) had me leave town immediately, leaving my wife behind to close up the house there. They ex-communicated her, accusing her of being co-conspirator in my affair, accused her of witchcraft quoting I Sam 15:23, “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” because she wanted to attend a woman’s fellowship (which she had started) and they banned her, therefore she was in rebellion. And to cap it off, they burned my desk and teaching tapes, and removed all pictures of me.
Further, when we relocated back to New England, one of the Elders from Elim took it upon himself to contact Elim pastors here to tell them not to associate with me because I was in rebellion.
Did I sin? Absolutely. Their response? As you said, it’s is God’s decision.
To this day I am scant of trust of church people.
I love you brother. I truly feel your pain.
Hey Russ, Thanks so much for this stunningly honest and tragic story. There is no way the church should have behaved in that manner, and to have treated your family as co-conspirators is criminal. This kind of thing should never happen. Peace to you bro.