Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Declaration of Spiritual Independence

I renounce the Christian religion.

And now I shall explain what I mean by that statement.

Christianity, or the Christian religion, as it is known by its own broadest consensual theology over history, is a life lived in community for the service of the Christ. That, at least, is the Christian religion in its highest and idealist form. It is not, however, what I have experienced.

I have been abused, exploited, manipulated, and now disposed of by high-ranking leaders of this community, in blatant defiance of Christian teachings, and, in fact, their own interpretations thereof. I have seen my family impoverished to fill the bellies of many a fat cleric, and labored long and hard to serve not the cause of Christ, but the earthly ambitions of these fraudulent priests. I have burned away years of my life that I shall never regain because I mistakenly believed that I was serving a God, when I was actually serving men. And now because I have actually lived according to the principles that these same men taught, they have cast me out of their midst.

These people who are called clergy place themselves between God and men and tell all that they are the intermediaries. They claim that they have authority over other men -- including me -- and I am to do their will if I am to be faithful to God. And the communities that they have built around themselves serve no greater role than to bring profit to themselves and to stifle the voices of individuals who see hypocrisy among these same self-proclaimed holy men. And they have asserted that no true Christianity can be found alone, but only in the judgmental, manipulative presence of others.

I reject the concept of earthly spiritual authority.

I reject the concept of earthly intermediaries between gods and men.

I reject the concept that a spiritual life must be lived in community.

I reject the concept that I exist to serve the needs of other people.

I am a human being. And in that, I am a precious thing. I am beautiful and valuable and important.

I am not disposable or expendable. I am not a sacrifice on anyone's altar or mule for anyone's burdens.

And I refuse to be treated as though I am.

Therefore I leave the destruction of the Christian life. It is not within my power to take back the years that have been burned away in that cult, but it is within my power to ensure that I am not abused by Christianity ever again.

Why Now?
Many years ago, before I met my wife, I was in love with a girl. This girl, whom I shall call pseudonymously "Annie", I met in my senior year of college. She was my first girlfriend, and I fell madly (and by that I mean 'insanely') in love with her.

A man in love for the first time may do many foolish things, and I was no exception. Convinced that she was the one true love of my life, I sacrificed my career and moved across the country to be with her. It was not something that she approved of. In truth, she was not interested in a serious relationship. Still, we stayed together for two years -- two years in which I lived in constant terror that she was going to break up with me -- before she dumped me.

And then I found myself in a strange city, working a low-wage job, having wasted two years of my life and so many opportunities because I loved Annie in a way that was unhealthy and unrealistic.

For at least a year afterwards, I kept on telling myself that I had made the right decision to be with her, in spite of the terrible cost. I rationalized my error in very imaginative ways. I desperately wanted to convince myself that I had not willingly destroyed my own future through my own foolishness.

But eventually, I could no longer deceive myself: I had screwed up terribly by getting involved with this girl, and the entire relationship had been a disaster. What minor benefits I had gained were massively outweighed by the horrible costs.

The Hayek quote in the header of my blog reads "We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish." In short, we cannot learn from our mistakes unless we are willing to admit that we have made them. I was not able to learn from my time with Annie until I was able to get to the mental plane where I accepted that I should never have been with her in the first place.

In a similar vein, I wish to avoid future years of cognitive dissonance justifying the past several years of Christianity in which I vainly search for some reason to justify my past foolishness. I could continue to try to get ordained in other Conferences or denominations, or I could be an active lay member of a church and continue to pour time and money into the black hole that is the Christian life...or I could go ahead and admit the obvious truth that, for me, Christianity has been a disaster.

And I'm ready to stop fooling myself otherwise.

An Olive Branch
I am aware that only some of a great many Christian leaders have abused me, and certainly their numbers do not represent more than the tiniest fraction of Christians worldwide. And I am aware that I have been given great love and compassion by Christian friends in response to the injustices that I have suffered. I do not, therefore, rule out the possibility that the Christian religion may reconcile itself to me.

But the abuse and exploitation is over, now and forever. I will not tolerate it. As the wronged party, I alone determine the terms for reconciliation. The Church must therefore come to me, on my terms, and none other.

I am unwilling to waste my time with fruitless conversations or invitations to various congregations so that I can continue to be exploited by other branch offices of the same operation. Therefore, any person, congregation, or other Christian group that wishes to reconcile Christianity with me must pay me $204,500 (USD 2008), which is my rough estimate of our financial losses alone from the past three and a half years, prior to beginning any negotiations with me about rejoining Christianity.

I would take this gesture as a sign of good faith that the Church does not view me as simply a resource to exploit.

I offer this opportunity because I am a generous person and am quick to forgive the penitent.

Why Not Other Churches?
Like Pete Townshend said, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Most Christians regard other denominations as fellow travellers on the same mission. They are, in essence, branch offices of the same company. And they feature the same problems: earthly spiritual authority, mandatory community, and mandatory exploitation of time and money.

I have no reason to believe that any other denomination is different. "Ah, but you have no reason to think that they are the same." True, but the burden of proof is not me. The burden of proof is on the Church -- on Christianity -- to prove itself worthy of me. Why? Because my life is mine, and mine alone, and I do not give it to any passing stranger. I declare that Christianity must prove itself worthy of me to have me, therefore it is so.

At any rate, how many times must I go through this hell? How many years must I fritter away while one church after another proves itself false? How many Churches must I allow to exploit me? For me, one is one too many, and I'm stopping here. I'm not going any further and exploring other UMC Conferences or denominations or non-denominational churches, and letting one after another abuse and exploit me as I grow only older and poorer.

Writers and commenters have urged me to go to other Conferences and denominations for more "ministry opportunities". So I should go, hat in hand, to beg other panels of prelates across the country for an opportunity, years from now (if I do everything right) to be the pastor of a church?

No. I will not.

I have a family to feed, and my wife and daughter deserve better than to have me force them into poverty so that I can continue to chase rainbows. And I deserve better than a life of fearful slavery before "holy men" who may, at any moment, destroy years of my hard work for their own amusement or convenience.

So In Conclusion
Until such time as Christianity decides that it wants me and is willing to act accordingly, I journey alone.

I do not rule out a relationship with Jesus. I love Jesus, even though so many of his followers -- particularly those who claim to have been left in charge until he returns -- are complete assholes. Jesus is welcome in my home. The Church, however, is not. Not now; not ever again.

On my voter registration card, I am listed as an independent. And I am -- a political independent.

So what I am now, religiously speaking? I am a spiritual independent. I have no affiliation to any organized religion. I call no human being master, mentor, or leader.

I alone determine spiritual truth for myself. I may take the ideas of others, or I may reject them. I may worship the gods of others, or those of my own creation -- or none at all. That will be for me alone to determine.

For I am, and therefore I will it so.

75 comments:

Dan Trabue said...

owww. That sounds so painful. I am sorry.

Many blessings on your journey. I don't have $200k, but if you're ever in Louisville, I will treat you to the beverage of your choice.

Peace.

Michael said...

About the only constructive thing I can say, John, is that your experiences have given me a lot to think about. Just be careful that your anger and bitterness are not doing your talking for you. Demanding $200k up front as a gesture of reconciliation? Hardly a reasonable, rational request considering it ain't gonna happen.

I just hope you find a peaceful place. And if you say you have found peace, I will suggest that your written words betray you.

Good luck, friend. And a prosperous New Year to you and yours.

John said...

Demanding $200k up front as a gesture of reconciliation? Hardly a reasonable, rational request considering it ain't gonna happen.

1. That it isn't going to happen doesn't make it unreasonable.

2. Any UMC Conference, and, in fact, District, is more than capable of doing so. My DS could do so from his own personal resources.

3. The Church didn't think that it was at all unreasonable to demand this amount from me.

Anonymous said...

Obviously the only "God" you are worshipping is the "God of John the Methodist". You better well rethink the sin of blasphemy!

Anonymous said...

John,

I applaud your decision, for you are doing what I wish I could do. I would leave if I felt I could - not just the ministry, but the whole faith. However, I have backed myself into corner career wise and really can only count the years down until I can get out of this gig. I feel terribly sorry for the congregations I am assigned to care for, hoping nobody discovers that I am pretending. Better to get out now than be in my shoes. Best wishes in whatever life my have in store for you and your family.

The Ironic Catholic said...

John,
...you sound like a person ripe to read Kierkegaard.

(Seriously--see Attack on Christendom, Training in Christianity, Fear and Trembling, others. Kierkegaard argued forcefully that Christianity was between the relationship between the individual and God, and was particularly incensed about Christianity becoming Christendom--a creature beholden to the state. It's not too far off what you're saying.)

There's also Bonhoeffer's Christianity without religion (I think I have that right.)

I can't give you 220k, but I can tell you that you have a community of Christians right here that didn't ask of dime of you, cares for you, and is praying for you.

As for getting the 200k back, perhaps a civil suit? I realize that may be a long shot, but still....

Marcel said...

"My DS could do so from his own personal resources."

Well that's a big honkin' problem right there. No clergyman should have that much money.

John said...

The nasty anonymous comments that we've seen in the past few weeks are from Karen Sutherland, the lay leader who hijacked my church through her lies and gossip, and became pastor in my place. I can tell from her IP address, which is 75.89.26.239.

Quite a piece of work, eh?

Anonymous said...

fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you!

RevAnne said...

John, I'm sorry that you've been so hurt by an institution that I love. I've not had the same experience, but I'm deeply sympathetic.
And like Ironic Catholic, I am part of a community that asks nothing of you, but offers prayers and cares for you. Perhaps we're better off calling ourselves Christ-followers than Christians.
If you hit the NC coast anytime, feel free to track me down. Like Dan, I don't have $200K, but I can offer some hospitality.

A united method said...

The pharisees couldn't imagine a person coming to God without their greatest attempts at being "godly" - it went so far they helped crucify the one who tried to sidestep them.

I will say this, Romans 8:28 says all things work together for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. If no man is a mediator between you and God, then the only one to blame is yourself. I say this to both a) help you reconcile with yourself. b) to help you reconcile with those around you.

Even when we are misled, when we seek out God, are we betrayed by those actions? do they separate us from God?

It doesn't just hurt you to feel and experience such things, it hurts me to hear that the Church I serve has come between you and God.

I will not offer any secret agenda, I won't offer any "man, I wish I could leave too" moments. I'm where I need to be, and I hope you find that place too.

As I have said before, may God bless your journey, whether he uses Christians or others. I pray the Holy Spirit finds you.

Dan Trabue said...

Wow. Anonymous is/are classy, we must give her/him/them that.

Craig L. Adams said...

Good grief, John. This is awful. Do what you need to do. May you find peace and direction (and a non-manipulative community of support and care would be nice too — but, whatever).

Divers and Sundry said...

I've been wondering whether you have any recourse, any course of appeal beyond the conference level.... Now, it really feels like you've been hurt beyond the ability to make trying to get back in a worthwhile endeavor.

I've come to think that a person can have a full relationship with God outside the institutional church, which is a good thing, since it sounds like the institutional church has been cruel to you.

I hear there's an informal Methodist presence in Second Life. I wonder how that works.

John said...

D & S wrote:

I've been wondering whether you have any recourse, any course of appeal beyond the conference level....

One thing that I've learned is that the appellate system -- or any other set of rules in the Book of Discipline -- only work if leaders will obey them.

If a Bishop simply refuses to enforce the plain text of the Discipline, and no one above him is willing to hold him accountable, what recourse do I have?

Nothing at all.

Rules are for the little people.

Tom Jackson said...

Amazing.

I'm sorry to hear all of this; it sounds like some of the Lake Butler folks have been getting their religious ethics from the gang over at Clearwater. I hope your life will improve substantially over the next year.

That said, though, I can't say that all of your recent blog posts have helped your cause; if you'd been sent to serve at my church, there are a few items that you would have had to explain rather carefully.

TN Rambler said...

John,
A limitation of this medium is that personal interaction is infrequent. Unlike some of the other bloggers in the Methoblogosphere, I have never met you in person. However, I have stated in the past, both here and at my place, that I would be proud to consider you a friend. My heart aches with all of the crap that you have been through.

I can only pray that the anger and bitterness that you are experiencing will be relieved and that you will find peace. I don't know if that will offer you any comfort, but it is the best that I can do.

John said...

Tom wrote:

That said, though, I can't say that all of your recent blog posts have helped your cause; if you'd been sent to serve at my church, there are a few items that you would have had to explain rather carefully.

True, but I'm no longer trying to impress anybody.

net said...

((John))

I'm so sorry.

jackburden said...

"Many are the plans in a man's heart,
But it is the LORD's purpose that prevails."

Proverbs 19:21.

Worth thinking about.

johnmeunier said...

"The old men have left the city gate,
the young men their music.
The joy of our hearts has ceased;
our dancing has been turned to mourning."

I can offer nothing. Psalms and Lamentations are all I have.

Grace and peace.

Kenny said...

John - I have been reading, and occasionally commenting, here for quite some time, and I have often found that we have been in agreement. Many terrible things are done by religious people and organizations in the name of God/religion, and there is simply no excuse for them. Judgment will begin at the house of God. However, one mustn't respond by saying "I alone determine spiritual truth for myself." At some point, it is true, you have to make your own decisions on what to believe, but there is no truth 'for yourself'. We all have to discover the one truth, and, as in any other field of learning, so in theology, it is necessary to 'stand on the shoulders of giants.' As you (presently) despair of finding a truly loving Christian community, I would just encourage you not to turn your back entirely on historical Christianity, just as you say that you have not turned your back entirely on Jesus. (Or, to use a more specific example, turning your back on the UMC, you needn't turn your back on Wesley, whose writings have very little to do with the present day UMC anyway.)

I'll be praying for you.

rm said...

I love you as a dear friend and I always will. And even if you journey in places I fear to go -- I will go with you.

I pray for you daily.

Great evil has always existed in the church -- alongside great good. It's a sort of ying and yang. I know that one day the good will outweigh the evil and that which is dross will be burned away.

the reverend mommy said...

John,
Your Amazon Honor System button is down -- to quote
"Important message:
Beginning December 11, 2008, Amazon.com will not support payments through the Amazon Honor System. Website owners, for alternative Amazon technologies, please see our Make Money and Amazon Payments Business Solutions pages."

How about a PayPal button?

Anonymous said...

John,

I'm in the same boat. You're right. God bless.

Michael said...

Well, good luck with all that. As one who is still navigating this challenging course, however, I would suggest that the Conference did not "demand" it anymore than you were willing to meet certain criteria, the very same that is required of all. Not fair for you to dump this all on the Conference. I certainly recall your eagerness when you set out on this journey.

I've said enough. Again, good luck with your future.

John said...

Michael-

The Conference had an obligation to act in good faith, as I did.

Ministers do not have the right to act like crooks.

Yes, I blame the Conference. I blame the clique of lay members who tried to throw me out, the District Superintendent who aided them and made them successful, and the Bishop who refused to hold him accountable and act for justice in a congregation which he supervised.

This is not my fault. This is the Conference's fault.

John said...

Thanks, Rev Mom! Fixed now.

doodlebugmom said...

John, I continue to pray for you as you deal with your hurt and anger. I hope you have someone to talk to about this. I am former Stephen Minister, I can in a very small way, relate.

Linda

the reverend mommy said...

Came back to check on comments -- thanks for the PayPal button. Wasn't going to comment about anything except...

Word Verification was Rambo.

Could this be a sign??

John Wilks said...

I know you've been through more than I might imagine, so I've held off posting this. I don't want to be judgemental.

But if your faith in Christianity has been shaken by human activity, then I'm not sure you understand Christianity in the first place.

The whole point is that we're broken and wholly dependant on God acting in and through Christ.

So what else would one expect from the Church?

It is, after all, an organization of self-confessed sinners.

I hope your journey carries you to the place God has for you.

But I also hope you sit and rethink the Gospel and realize that the people you are condeming are just as broeken as you.

No more.

And certainly no less.

John said...

John, If the Church is no better than a random selection of individuals -- if Christians are not distinguishable from non-Christians -- then Christianity is a pointless exercise and I have lost nothing.

These leaders who are called "holy men" and given spiritual authority over me are not just as broken as me. They are much, much worse. I have been very careful to test this hypothesis very carefully. I realize that I have not written much about this process, but to sum up: the leadership of the Florida Annual Conference not only failed to act as Christians in this situtation, but they failed spectacularly. They failed with complete malice aforethought.

They are not like me. I am a better, more moral human being than them. I am not perfect, but I am better.

And that is why I cannot accept that they represent God in any way, shape, or form.

Craig L. Adams said...

John sez: John, If the Church is no better than a random selection of individuals -- if Christians are not distinguishable from non-Christians -- then Christianity is a pointless exercise and I have lost nothing.

I agree. If those in sin-recovery don't show any evidence of such recovery, there's a serious problem with the recovery program.

Also: it seems to me that religious leaders are persons who are often especially blind to their own sinful behaviors — especially as it shows up within the church organization itself.

truevyne said...

Dear John,
I'm also a Jesus fan myself. No way would I want to, or try to explain away your pain. I just want you to know I HEAR you. I SEE you. I'm sorry. You and your family are very precious. It's not too much for you to ask to be treated in such a way.

rm said...

somehow I am reminded of the quote, "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely."

The hierarchy in the UMC is given power; when it is wielded in the manner it is supposed to be -- in humility, reverence and in the manner of Christ, all is well.

When human ego takes over, when ego is not checked (as it should be), then the power corrupts. And since it is over a realm of spiritual salvation and those who give over that power do it with absolute trust, it corrupts and corrupts absolutely.

Therefore, when the church fails, it often is spectacularly and completely; total and utterly. In no other realm can a system so fail.

Keith Taylor said...

If the Church is no better than a random selection of individuals -- if Christians are not distinguishable from non-Christians -- then Christianity is a pointless exercise and I have lost nothing.

DAMN STRAIGHT!!! You couldn't have nailed it any better.

As a Christian, I am so sick and tired of other baby milk formula Christians who use the "we're all fallen sinners" crutch. BS. Yes, that is a fact, but it doesn't make it right. We are held to a higher standard than the world, we are supposed to be filled and indwelt with the Holy Ghost, the full 3rd Person of a perfect and righteous God. Do we slip in our fallen nature? Yes, but if the Church in general and Christians specifically are no different than the Godless, misguided, fallen heathens of the world, what in the hell is it good for?

Legitament Christians who behave in this manner are not spiritually mature, I don't care what church title or degrees they hold.

They are filled with the Spirit of Pride (because they are blinded by their supposed authority), the Spirit of Sloth (because they are lazy and do not study the Holy Scripture, they do not pray and seek Christ, they don't act when action is needed), and the Spirit of Avarice (because they won't let go of the worldly things and titles they love so dearly).

The actions of your DS and Bishop mirror the actions of Pontius Pilate. They had the authority to act, but they did nothing with the God given authority they were given. They accept money and a title from from our church to perform a job, but when they were needed to perform, they washed their hands...and they will be judged for their inaction.

John Wilks said...

John-

I'm not defending those who may have spiritually abused you.

If you feel you must leave the UMC or the mainlines, I understand.

It is your rejection of Christianity itself which I find logically flawed based on the reasons you list.

After all, many Christ followers do show signs of repentance. Many people who read this blog (myself included) are praying for your because we know you feel you've been wronged and we know that Jesus does not will the pain you know feel. We are strangers to you, but because of Christ, we care.

If indeed your charges against your DS and Bishop are true (and I am in no position to judge since I know neither the full facts of the people involved,) that would only prove that wolves often invade the flock dressed as sheep.

That development, though lamentable, tragic, and yes, evil, does not negate the validity of the faith.

The Bible in fact warns us that such would happen.

So again, if you are rejecting Christianity because of this, then I submit you have missed the point.

And maybe this horrible ordeal is your chance to finally "get it."

Again, I'm not trying to be judgmental.

But I feel compelled to defend the faith (not the institution) which once united you and I.

John said...

John-

Here's the thing: I am finite. My resources are limited: time, money, energy, opportunity. So I have to make a decision about how many times I wish to be victimized by a group before I'm willing to not be victimized by it again. I have decided that that number is "one".

What alternative is there? That I continue to go from one Christian organization to another, and get exploited at each turn? Or even half?

That's a risk that I'm not willing to take with my finite time, money, energy, and opportunity. Nor with that of my wife and child, who deserve better, as I write in the post, than a husband and a father that leaves them in poverty in order to chase rainbows.

Christianity can, however, reconcile itself to me simply by fulfilling the terms listed above. I'm not cutting off Christianity permanetly.

John Wilks said...

So take up your cross and follow... unless you get hurt?

Did you sleep through NT520 at Asbury, or did you decide that all the talk about death and suffering for the Gospel if only for poor shmucks in 3rd world countries and not for white middle-class family types?

If you really intend to put your own wants and needs ahead of the Gospel, then you are guilty of the same apostasy which you accuse your bishop and ds. After all, Church corruption is nothing more than someone deciding that the tough passages of the Bible don't apply to them.

So you are becoming what you hate.

Is that really what you want?

Think this through, brother. You know better.

John said...

Did you sleep through NT520 at Asbury, or did you decide that all the talk about death and suffering for the Gospel if only for poor shmucks in 3rd world countries and not for white middle-class family types?

I did read them. Jesus and his apostles spoke at length about how they would endure persecution. But that was from outside the Church, not within.

If you really intend to put your own wants and needs ahead of the Gospel, then you are guilty of the same apostasy which you accuse your bishop and ds. After all, Church corruption is nothing more than someone deciding that the tough passages of the Bible don't apply to them.

The Gospel is not served by me staying in the Church.

Oh, and who wrote the Gospels? The Church did. So how can I still trust them?

So you are becoming what you hate.

Is that really what you want?

Think this through, brother. You know better.


Let the Church act like the Church, and I will be available. I am willing to wait. But the burden of proof is not on me. It is on the Church. Appeal to the Church to act, not me.

It is the Church that is in the wrong, not me. Therefore the Church must reconcile itself to me, not the other way around.

Divers and Sundry said...

"It is the Church that is in the wrong, not me. Therefore the Church must reconcile itself to me, not the other way around."

Isn't "The (capital "C") Church" larger than our institutional churches? I hate to see you write off the Body-of-Christ-in-the-world because of one group of folks. It'd be to me like someone swearing off the possibility of ever getting married to anyone because someone they loved has terribly wronged and betrayed them. Though I understand it, I feel it as a loss.

I think about you and your family a lot as you work through this horrible time.

John said...

Christianity has always defined itself as communitarian; that there is no solitary Christian life.

Isn't "The (capital "C") Church" larger than our institutional churches? I hate to see you write off the Body-of-Christ-in-the-world because of one group of folks. It'd be to me like someone swearing off the possibility of ever getting married to anyone because someone they loved has terribly wronged and betrayed them. Though I understand it, I feel it as a loss.

It is much larger, but it encompasses institutions, such as specific denominations. That's why it should be quite easy for the Church to reconcile itself to me. It only takes the will.

We can't have this game of "we are the Church" when things are good adn "they are the Church" when it's time to take responsibility for wrongdoing. Either the Church is one, or it's not.

Either the Church is responsible for what individual units of itself do, or the Church isn't really one Body of Christ.

I think about you and your family a lot as you work through this horrible time.

Thank you.

Divers and Sundry said...

"That's why it should be quite easy for the Church to reconcile itself to me. It only takes the will."

Yes, but the group that offended you would have to _care_. You're assuming the folks you've been butting up against are part of The Church rather than merely functionaries of a religious institution that claims to be. Not knowing anything about the situation, I'm unwilling to just accept that as a given. Power within the institutional church does not always equal being a part of the Body of Christ.

In your original post you say, "I do not rule out a relationship with Jesus. I love Jesus, even though so many of his followers -- particularly those who claim to have been left in charge until he returns -- are complete assholes. Jesus is welcome in my home."

Maybe you'll see Jesus reflected in some of the people you come across and will experience The Church in that fellowship.

I talked to a friend the other day about "house churches". She recognizes the problems involved in such separated communities, but pain from church politics has driven her out of the institutional church. She's seeking Jesus and The Church's presence outside that.

There's a lot of church-induced pain out there.

John said...

Yes, but the group that offended you would have to _care_. You're assuming the folks you've been butting up against are part of The Church rather than merely functionaries of a religious institution that claims to be. Not knowing anything about the situation, I'm unwilling to just accept that as a given. Power within the institutional church does not always equal being a part of the Body of Christ.

I'm not making that assumption. I shall clarify: I am not insisting on an apology from my DS or Bishop, nor restorative justice from either. Any UMC Conference, District, group, or any church organization of any stripe or creed may take action in the name of the Church to reconcile itself to me.

There's a lot of church-induced pain out there.

There sure is. No one can screw you quite like the Church, because the Church impacts you emotionally and spiritually.

Divers and Sundry said...

"I shall clarify: I am not insisting on an apology from my DS or Bishop, nor restorative justice from either. Any UMC Conference, District, group, or any church organization of any stripe or creed may take action in the name of the Church to reconcile itself to me."

Well, but another representative church group would have to know your injury and your demands to even consider the situation. Have you shared this with any such groups who would be empowered to act "in the name of the Church"? I'm not even sure who that would be. Groups within our UMC denomination don't even claim to be speaking for our own denomination, much less The Church as a whole.

Could your mentor/supervisor/guide-through-the-candidacy-process help you find a forum to deal with these concerns?

John said...

Well, but another representative church group would have to know your injury and your demands to even consider the situation. Have you shared this with any such groups who would be empowered to act "in the name of the Church"?

I'll send my DCOM letter to anyone who asks.

Groups within our UMC denomination don't even claim to be speaking for our own denomination, much less The Church as a whole.

A pity that such groups of Christians are so willing to claim to be the Body of Christ, except when there's a bill to pay.

Could your mentor/supervisor/guide-through-the-candidacy-process help you find a forum to deal with these concerns?

I haven't had one for about two or three years since my last one began suffering dementia.

John B said...

John,

Your original post is one of the most disheartening things I've ever read. I can practically hear Satan laughing with delight. At the same time, I can see the tears in Jesus' eyes over what you've experienced at the hands of his representatives.

Please do not mistake this one particular group of Christ's representatives for Christ himself. Jesus Christ is the very image of God, unfortunately Christians are not the very image of Christ.

When our daughter died 18 years ago this week, it caused a major crisis of faith for me. I really wanted nothing to do with God or Jesus. However, one scripture passage kept me from running away. In the gospel according to John, when everyone else was leaving Jesus because the way was becoming too hard, Jesus asked his discples if they were going to leave him too. Peter replied, "To whom would we go? For you have the words of eternal life and we have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God." John 6:68-69

To who can you go, John?

There are followers of Jesus who care about you, please don't reject us or more importantly reject Jesus because of the actions of a few.

Grace and Peace,
John

John said...

John-

Let the Church act like the Church, and all will be well.

To who can you go, John?

Wrong question. The correct question is "How can we, the Church, bring justice and healing to this situation?"

I am holding the Church accountable for its actions, and I will not let this be turned around so that the burden is on me. It's not, and will never be again. This is not a question of "What can John do?" but "What can the Church do?"

I'm not letting anyone put a burden on my back. Get used to it, folks.

Divers and Sundry said...

"I'll send my DCOM letter to anyone who asks."

A group would have to know to ask, and a group would have to know your side of things and what you want done.

"I am holding the Church accountable for its actions, and I will not let this be turned around so that the burden is on me."

Demanding accountability is a good thing but not a passive endeavor. To effectively hold The Church Universal accountable for the wrong you feel at the hands of these people requires more, I would think, than just waiting for someone to make this right. At this point I couldn't blame you for just not caring, but....

Lacking the mentor I thought was required for this process... is there anyone on your district committee (or an advisor from Asbury, or a colleague in ministry, or _somebody_) who might act as a mediator or advocate to get you into a position to have your demand for accountability heard by someone who could actually take accountability?

I can't do anything but hurt for you, but surely somebody can help you confront the wrong.

DannyG said...

John,

(J) and I spent 10 years in the wilderness, fed up with the organized church, before we felt a call to return. For me it is the community thing. The only way I've gotten thru the last 4 yrs has been being able to call on others in this community to help (J) and I when we've had nowhere else to turn. Whatever you do, though, I will still call you friend.

John said...

D&S wrote:

A group would have to know to ask, and a group would have to know your side of things

I'd be glad to.

and what you want done.

I'd be glad to. $204,500 in basic compensation prior to negotations.

I make this demand because I want to weed out Christian groups that aren't serious about making amends and are either (1) trying to make everything okey-dokey with empty words or (2) trying to recruit me for their group, thereby sucking me back into the same exploitative behaviors. The exploitation ends now.

Demanding accountability is a good thing but not a passive endeavor. To effectively hold The Church Universal accountable for the wrong you feel at the hands of these people requires more, I would think, than just waiting for someone to make this right. At this point I couldn't blame you for just not caring, but....

Well, I haven't been sitting on my butt reading comics during all of this. Although I haven't written about this in detail, I filed formal complaints against the hijacking pastor, the DS (twice) and the Bishop. I also e-mailed the DCOM letter to every church in my Conference. The Church has beens served notice of its wrong doing. If the Church wants to make things right, it is in a position to do so. But I'm not wasting anymore time or energy on it. I have a life to live, and I'm getting on with it.

Lacking the mentor I thought was required for this process... is there anyone on your district committee (or an advisor from Asbury, or a colleague in ministry, or _somebody_) who might act as a mediator or advocate to get you into a position to have your demand for accountability heard by someone who could actually take accountability?

There are pastors that I could call upon to speak up for me. I chose not do ask them. All that would accomplish would be to damage their own futures in the Florida Conference. I will honor the friendship that they have shared with me and not ask them to be publicly aligned with me.

At any rate, they could do nothing. They don't have so much pull as to bring a DS to account.

I tell ya, in DCOM meeting, when I casually mentioned that I had filed a complaint against the Bishop, you could have heard a pin drop. Not even an influential elder in full connection would contemplate filing a complaint against a bishop, let alone a mere candidate. There are real power relationships in the UMC of which that the organization will not tolerate violations.

I can't do anything but hurt for you,

I appreciate that. I really do. I'm angry, but I don't want that to come across as anger toward you. I know that you care.

but surely somebody can help you confront the wrong.

That will be up to Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, the President of the College of Bishops for the Southeastern Jurisdiction. Maybe she'll have the integrity that my own Bishop lacks.

Divers and Sundry said...

"Well, I haven't been sitting on my butt reading comics during all of this. Although I haven't written about this in detail, I filed formal complaints..."

I am glad to hear you've taken official, formal steps in this way. That's what I'd been concerned about -that folks with the ability to do something had not been made aware of the situation. I'm relieved to hear that you've done all you can within the system.

I hate that all this has happened. I heard a sermon talking about why the 18-30 crowd has abandoned churches in droves, and it's all about hypocrisy and abuse of power. Sad. I wish I knew what to do about it.

Greg Hazelrig said...

John, I'm sorry about all that has happened to you. And I'm not one to do a lot of debating...especially when people are in pain. But I would lift two things to you for consideration. One is that in the deepest part of my heart and theology I believe that we were created to be in relationships (with God and with each other), which is part of the reason the Church was formed in Acts. So I believe that a community of believers is important (whether you want to call it a small group, a church or whatever). Going it alone will ulitmately be harmful for we can become our own gods.

Second, I would like to say that many of your friends (myself included if you would allow me to be one) are part of the institution you have not only rejected, but condemned. What does this say about us. I know you are terribly hurt, pained, mad, angry, etc. at those who wronged you (And I don't doubt your story). But if you reject the Church as a whole, does that mean that you reject us who love you?

Know that I care even though I disagree with SOME of what you've pointed out. I hope that over time that you can forgive. Remember, Jesus said that if we don't forgive, our Heavenly Father won't forgive us. I think that this is actually more that if we don't try to forgive...but that's for another time.

Love you brother. And praying for you and also your family.

In the love of Christ,
greg

Anonymous said...

John, I was looking for a blog called "Locusts and Honey" - I've enjoyed lots of interesting and funny comments and tidbits in that space. That was you wasn't it? I am sorry to hear of your troubles with the Methodist church and agree with your rejection of the idea of "spiritual authority" wielded by church officials on the basis of their position. You are quite young, however, so I am sure you will still have many opportunities to contribute, not only to the development of humor and art, but - I hope - also to spiritual life.
God bless.

John said...

Greg wrote:

John, I'm sorry about all that has happened to you. And I'm not one to do a lot of debating...especially when people are in pain. But I would lift two things to you for consideration. One is that in the deepest part of my heart and theology I believe that we were created to be in relationships (with God and with each other), which is part of the reason the Church was formed in Acts. So I believe that a community of believers is important (whether you want to call it a small group, a church or whatever). Going it alone will ulitmately be harmful for we can become our own gods.

It's a risk that I'm willing to take, as it seems less risky than going back into an exploitative group.

Second, I would like to say that many of your friends (myself included if you would allow me to be one) are part of the institution you have not only rejected, but condemned. What does this say about us. I know you are terribly hurt, pained, mad, angry, etc. at those who wronged you (And I don't doubt your story). But if you reject the Church as a whole, does that mean that you reject us who love you?

No, it does not. There are good people among the Mormons, the Jehoavah's Witnesses, and Scientology. But that does not make the escape of members from those groups any less valid.

Know that I care even though I disagree with SOME of what you've pointed out. I hope that over time that you can forgive. Remember, Jesus said that if we don't forgive, our Heavenly Father won't forgive us. I think that this is actually more that if we don't try to forgive...but that's for another time.

I am very capable of forgiving. If the people who hurt me came to me and asked for my forgiveness, I would do so.

But even if I did forgive them, that doesn't mean that I would allow myself to get sucked back into the black hole of Christianity again.

I remember the story of an AME pastor who went to prison for child molestation. When he got out of prison, he came back to annual conference and asked to be assigned to a church. He was told that the church forgave him for his sins, but that didn't mean that they were going to allow themselves to be hurt again.

Neither will I.

At any rate, I see no sign that the Church is interested in reconciliation.

Love you brother. And praying for you and also your family.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

John -

I'm very sorry for your situation. The Parable of the Wheat and Tares seems appropriate. One day, God will sort things out.

Meanwhile, I'm glad for the community of believers where I belong, and who have wrapped their arms of love around my wife, children, and I when we had to quickly leave our missionary assignment. (You featured me, John, in one of your 2005 posts, a "why do you blog" interview). We suffered some "cuts" from that assignment, and were wrongly treated by one of our ecclesiastical superiors. It has taken several years of healing, but we're headed back overseas to serve again. To this day, no one said they were "sorry," and we've found that our future does not depend on such an apology. We will not be held captive by their failure to do what is right, and we will not bury our talents in the ground. We're sure that more bruises await us in the future, but are convinced that the blessings will outweigh the heartaches.

Peace to you, John, and I pray that you, too, will find a place of beginning again.

John B said...

I think you misinterpreted my question, John. "When I asked to whom will you go?" What I was really asking is, "On what will you build your life?" Where is your foundation? From what I'm reading, you seem to be saying, "My life is built on my needs and the needs of the family and that's as far as I'm willing to go."

That you are turning your back on the church is a tragic thing, but if you turn your back on Jesus and other people, that is a horrible way to live. It may prevent pain in the short term, but the life-long results will leave you bitter and lonely. I would hate to see that happen to you, because like Greg H, though we've never met, I consider you someone that I care about.

John said...

Considering the suffering that I've experienced at the hands of the Church, I'll take my chances.

Ate any rate, this isn't necessarily permanent. The Church is welcome to reconcile itself to me at any time.

Scott Endress said...

To thine own self be true. Name who hurt you (it wasn't everyone in whole UMC church, even though it may feel like everyone and God are guilty bystanders). Even hierarchies are peopled with real folks who can be real sick.

I like your spunk, though. Of all those who are hurt by church people, it is often the clergy who can be the most isolated in their recovery.

Those who are wounded will then wound others in the absence of any recovery or healing. And that does require therapy and money.

Divers and Sundry said...

"From what I'm reading, you seem to be saying, "My life is built on my needs and the needs of the family and that's as far as I'm willing to go.""

From what I'm reading it sounds like he's found a safe place within his family. There are times when having a safe place is of primary importance.

"It may prevent pain in the short term, but the life-long results will leave you bitter and lonely."

But this _is_ the short term. Time will tell, and anything can happen during the rest of his life. In the meantime he has a supportive family to help him deal with this disaster. Healing first.

John said...

Scott, what you say about hurting clergy is so true. It is more likely that they will remain silent, especially during the candidacy process, than speak out. And the wounds only grow infected when they are hidden.

That's why I knew that it was important to be bold and open about the injustices perpetrated against me so that I could begin healing effectively.

At the DCOM meeting, I was anything but meek, timid, and pliable. The members were absolutely shocked at the sudden appearance of a backbone in a candidate.

Kim said...

John-

Tom Jackson remarked about members in Lake Butler being from a radical group in Clearwater....Is this why two male members were asked by the Church to leave and give up their board positions? Was this the same DS you mention?

John said...

Hi Kim. This is news to me. No, I think that Tom was suggesting that some of these church leaders behaved in the destructive manner of a cult headquartered in Clearwater, that is, Scientology.

To my knowledge, no member of the church had any connection to Scientology.

May I ask what news story or source you are referring to? I am very interested.

Sue Wilson said...

As a former minister's wife and missionary to Africa in Christianity I can sympathize with you. There are lots of people struggling with their faith and we are not alone. I've written a book about my experiences and am creating a website which offers many powerful tools people can use to become spiritually independent and live happy, peaceful, productive lives. Hope you'll visit my site. www.universalperspective.net
Sue Wilson

John said...

Hi Sue! Thanks for using my suffering as an opportunity to hawk your book!

Will Deuel said...

As you know, I share some of the same pain. And yes, the sudden appearance of a spine in a candidate is a fearful and wonderful thing for the boards to experience.

I think I just grew mine. I will not wait until I am ordained to consider it safe to speak. Prophetic truth is NEVER safe.

I heard one member of my BoOM call compare some others to Pharisees. That's giving them too much credit. Pharisees knew the letter of the law but missed its spirit - these jokers don't even know the letter.

Anonymous said...

hey John. I've been out of the blogging loop for the past 1.5 years. But I resonate with your frustration. I've come to different conclusions about how God is calling me to live out my call, but I pray God's blessings on journey. Whatever you do, don't give up on Jesus. If you ever want to debrief with me, feel free to email - at jasonwoolever at live.com
- Love in Christ,
Jason Woolever, formerly of Post-methodist

carrma25 said...

Does it occur to anyone that the reason why all this happened is because there is no unifying holy spirit in the church, that maybe both church and God are just human creations? Seriously, if God was in charge, why would he risk letting his servants lose their faith and salvation by letting uncaring people act as his earthly representatives? Unless, of course, 1) he doesn't care, or 2) he cares, but can't do anything about it.

John said...

That would be a reasonable explanation.

Divers and Sundry said...

or 3) churches _say_ they are acting as God's representatives but are mistaken and are actually far from the will of God. God may well be active in the world and the churches are missing it, too busy with their own issues to see God's issues.

Truth N Justice said...

Absolutely superb. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

carrma25 said...

Divers and Sundry, the point I was trying to make wasn't that the world is a bad place and that bad stuff happens in it, it's that a "holy" god willingly allows his servants to be hurt and his name desecrated by people representing him. People say no one can know the will of God, but then they go on to say what he says is good and evil... my point is, the Judeo-Christian god can't be so dissimilar from us that if he truly cared he would try to stop this kind of crap from happening over and over again.

BTW, if I sound frustrated, it's because I am. I lost my faith because of shit like this.

Divers and Sundry said...

I'm sorry I didn't express myself well. I think I understand your point. My personal struggle is just not the same as yours. I haven't lost my faith in God, but my faith in the institutional church is in crisis.

I don't get frustrated that "a "holy" god willingly allows his servants to be hurt and his name desecrated by people representing him." I believe that God (as I understand it) allows free will.

My pain and frustration is that people _claiming_ to represent God are actually often only representing their own interests and prejudices. They may even believe they are doing it all truly representing God's will for our world. They may think they know what's best for the institutional church and that it will forward God's purposes. I don't know about all that. Right know what I'm seeing is the pain they've caused.

Stephen Wigmore said...

Dear John,

I'm not sure if you're likely to read this two years later. I found your blog while searching for smbc cartoons.

I just wanted to say that I am appalled at the way you were treated.

I am fortunate enough to belong to a church that has never stolen my time or money, and has always supported and encouraged me, and is generally virtuously broke, though we still get by.

Though you may have still given up on Churches I hope that you have not given up on the Gospel of Christ. Churches and people can be good or bad, but they are not necessary. You can follow Christ alone, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, loving others, and supporting them as you can and helping them to grow spiritually (whether they are christian or not) without a church. Churches are meant to make things easier, but if they were making it harder then it is better to continue alone. God will always see the good you do, without a church, and Jesus forgives your sins without a church. I hope you won't give up on the good news jesus spoke and was, it is the best message the world contains.

Hopefully you can find the strength in your heart to pray for forgiveness from god for those who wronged you. They sound like they need it.

Best Wishes,
Steve

John said...

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful reply, Stephen. I am glad that you have experienced healthy, faithful congregations in your life.

I must, however, respectfully take issue with your assertion that one can be a solitary Christian. I am a student of systematic and historical theology, and I suppose that one might argue for such a proposition, but it would be at odds with the consensual teaching of the Church throughout all of Christian history.

There are no "churches", there is only "the Church" -- hence the term "catholic" in The Apostles' Creed.

And, as a practical matter, how would one have a faith with any content without the Church? After, without the Church, one has no Bible, and without the Bible, one has no substance to one's faith. Who is Jesus? What is salvation? What is righteousness? Without the Bible to answer these questions, Christianity is devoid of any coherence.

Without the Church as a transcendent union guided by the Holy Spirit, the tower of Jenga blocks that is Christian teaching collapses.

The Church claims to be the Body of Christ. This is a great honor, but also a great responsibility. The Church cannot abdicate this responsibility to act according to that title. And as it is empowered by the Holy Spirit to accomplish its mission, it cannot claim inability.

Therefore I hold the Church accountable to its own rhetoric, and reject any excuses for its behavior. The Church can do right by me. It simply chooses not to.