Monday, January 19, 2009

On the Abnormality of the Church

When my church was hijacked by Karen Sutherland and her clique, I did not immediately wake up to the disaster that was Christianity. It took me many months to process all that had happened to me, and I am still doing so. I did not wake up one morning and realize my grand error. It was a gradual process to "grow wiser", as the Hayek quote in my header advises.

As the cult-like environment of the Church around me receded, I began to see more clearly. I began to realize how abnormal the Church was. That, at least, is the term that my wife and I began to use to describe our experiences in the Church.

This is still a bit hazy, so I have organized this post as a list of thoughts rather than a clearly-composed essay, but here goes:

1. The Church does not sanctify people; it profanes them.
That sentence was hard to write as I struggled to find an antonym for "sanctification", but that is what I saw in the Church.

There's probably some variation, but in the United Methodist Church, in general, there is no sanctification of members. On the contrary: Church is an accountability-free zone for members.

I saw members engage in the most outrageous behavior that would have, had they engaged in it at work, gotten them immediately fired: wild temper tantrums, overt lying, malicious gossip, and flagrant politicking.

But Church is a job that you can't get fired from. Most United Methodist congregations are so desperate for members that they will tolerate any behavior other than serious crimes at Church. Practically speaking, there's no way to be thrown out of Church -- and pastors know that they need every warm body in a pew or on a committee that they can get. A member has to really, really screw up before a pastor decides that it's not worth having him around, and become overtly dangerous before a pastor decides to get rid of him.

And so members often adjust their behavior to fit this environment. If they behaved so destructively at work, they would get fired. If they did so at home, they could lose their families. But at Church, they can relax all of their behavioral inhibitions. They can do as they please because they know that there will be no consequences. In this manner, Church is like a brothel; it is a place where you can do just about anything, so as long as you're willing to pay for it.

[No offense is intended to any prostitutes who may read this blog and be offended by that statement.]

To a much lesser extent, this was my experience with some clergy as well. At the DCOM meeting, members directly refused my attempts at reconciliation and reason. They explicitly denied that they had any obligation to act with justice. A couple even started yelling at me.

Now they would never dream of treating their parishioners this way. After all - those parishioners might leave, and then who would replace them on committee assignments, or worse, the collection plate?

But with a mere candidate -- a person lower than shit on the bottom of a rock -- and behind closed doors, they could do as they wish. They could take out their frustrations with the world on a candidate. After all, what can a candidate do but sit and take the abuse in silence? The conference room thus became an accountability-free zone.

But as I said, I did not see such rampant clergy misbehavior as I did among laity.

In the social environment of the Church, I saw people enabled to sin, rather than encouraged to sanctify. I even began to suspect that some people were attracted to Church membership only because it was a place to be unaccounatble, or a place to gain power over other people.

The Church is supposed to make people better. Instead, I saw it make people worse.

And that's seriously fucked-up.

2. The expectations placed upon candidates are beyond absurd.
So after Karen Sutherland hijacked my church, I faced the DCOM. Upon the advice (read: pressure) of the District Superintendent, they delayed my candidacy a year and instructed me to get counseling. The counselor -- one approved of by the committee -- would write a letter to the DCOM reporting on how well I did in counseling.

So let's sum up: my candidacy would be delayed for a year. During that year, I would be unemployed. Also, the Church told me to get counseling. Which I would have to pay for myself.

Does anyone else see the problem here?

I went through two counselors, the latter of which was fantastic. And both were absolutely shocked when I told them this. They were astonished that I was not only out of a job courtesy of the Church, but that I was expected to pay money for the counseling that they told me to get. And be active in ministry during this time of financial insolvency.

When I saw the shocked expressions of both counselors, I began to realize how absurd was the burden that the Church had placed upon me.

I found work -- eventually. What was so shocking about it was that I was not abused, manipulated, or slandered at the workplace. I was treated with respect and human decency -- in a completely secular workplace with co-workers who had no faith among them beyond a nominal Christianity.

I kept on waiting for the abuse to happen. It never has. Which is not to say that secular workplaces cannot be abusive and destructive -- far from it. But the Church had led me to expect work to be abusive and full of lies and manipulation. I had come to expect such things as normal.

But they were not.

I have learned that I don't have to be abused to have a job, and I sure as hell do not have to be abused by fellow Christians in order to fulfill some mission from God. That was a false idea -- a burden -- that they put upon me. Scriptural passages about persecution by the World on Christians were misinterpreted to excuse the inexcusable behavior of Christian leaders as somehow acceptable, if not praiseworthy, because the Bible spoke of it happening.

And I've shrugged that burden off my shoulders for good.

But back around to the main point of this section: the way that the (United Methodist) Church treats candidates.

For my current job, I was flown out for the interview -- at the expense of the firm -- and interviewed for half a day. They paid for it, and they treated me cordially. It was a challenging interview, but there were no mindgames, as one oft encounters in candidacy interviews.

Two weeks later, I was offered a job. And for a salary that would have probably taken me 20 years as an ordained elder to acquire.

By contrast, the Church: go to seminary for a 96-hour master's degree, write hundreds of pages of candidacy paperwork, go to interviews with committees and power brokers for -- at a bare, theoretical minimum -- 7 years, all of whom will amuse themselves with mind-fucking you.

All at your own expense.

At the end of this process, provided that you do everything right and make no foes whatsoever, you will get a high-stress, high-abuse job that pays $40K a year, and does very little to make the world a better place.

No, thanks.

I know -- it's supposed to be a holy calling. But that was certainly not how my DCOM viewed it. These and my deeply corrupt District Superintendent and blatantly dishonest Bishop were the "holy men" who were supposed to be my leaders.

If there was some sort of holy calling in all of this, I don't see it.

And eventually, I woke up from the delusion that it was.

Shoot, let's say that my DS hadn't been a crook, or the Bishop and DCOM weren't willing to sacrifice me to cover for his screw-ups. The UMC candidacy process still would be a seriously fucked-up institution.

(Yes, I say 'fuck' now when appropriate. If it's a sin, it's an utterly insignificant sin in comparison to what which I have been a victim of.)

Here's what they don't tell you in seminary: there's a reason why the UMC makes the ordination process so arduous -- reams of forms to fill out and essays to write, candidate files "accidentally" lost en route to the Conference, faulty instructions "unintentionally" given to candidates -- for years and years on end.

Here's the reason: the UMC wants candidates to drop out of the system. I mean, with fewer and fewer churches to assign pastors to, the UMC has far more candidates than they have churches. So it creates a system that will induce so much irritation, annoyance, and frustration so that many candidates will drop out and the system won't have to deal with them. The rest will be ordained.

And that, ladies and gents, is abnormal. Deeply and profoundly abnormal. This is a very, very bad way to hire personnel at any company. But this is the way of the (United Methodist) Church.

The only thing more abnormal than the candidacy process is the fools who are willing to go through it. And it is only now, months later, that I have begun to realize how foolish I was to sign up.

3. The Church, if it can, will suck the life out of you.
I've written about this before. But it's been even more my mind this weekend.

I've had a three-day weekend because today is a holiday. And it occurred to me that I couldn't remember the last time that I had a three-day weekend. And barely a regular weekend.

That's because, as a Christian, my spare time was always devoured by the Church. Even long before seminary, my evenings and weekends had some sort of Church activity involved. I never stopped working.

Sometimes it was working for God, like visiting a parishioner in jail. But most of time, it was working for the Church. It was just some tedious task that kept up the institution of the Church for its own sake.

This morning, when many Christians would be in church, I sat in my pajamas with my dog in my lap and watched episodes of The Venture Brothers. I wasn't rushing around a church building doing some task. I wasn't reading some vitally important seminary assigned reading on Orthodox trinitarianism.

I wasn't busy. I had my life back again.

Sure, the Church talks about "Sabbath", but doesn't really mean it. I remember getting brochures in the mail from the Conference advertising "retreats" at various camping facilities. But these were really seminars on spiritual topics lasting all fucking day. If I'm going to retreat or have a sabbath, I want a cabin in the woods with a door mat that says "Go Away" in bold letters. Or I want a quite house and a DVD of Hogan's Heroes.

I sure as hell don't want work disguised as play.

I work a 40 hour/week job, have a baby to take care of, work out everyday and still have a bit of seminary, and I still have more time on my hands than I know what to do with. That excess time is what the Church took from me.

The Church will tell, directly or implicitly, to members that they must work a full-time job, take care of their families, do daily devotions, engage in a Bible study, worship every week, and engage in some significant work (not "ministry", but work) at the Church, and give 10% of their income to the Church, or they're not being faithful to God.

I vividly remember one Church member who often skipped Sunday morning services to go visit a friend who was in prison, Sunday being the only non-family visitation day at the prison. For this, she was deemed an uncommitted Christian.

That's fucked up. That's abnormal.

And that is the Church.

Now I've been beating up on the Church a lot lately, and I wish to express that not everyone in Christendom is evil incarnate. Far from it. Many Christian bloggers in particular have been supportive and kind. Many of them have stridently acted as Jesus Christ would.

I even have friends in the Florida Conference who would have stood up for me, but I kept them away so that they would not suffer retaliation for being a friend of mine.

But that doesn't redeem the Church. And it doesn't make the world of the Church less abnormal, less freakish, and less reasonable than it has been.

The Church is too isolated by its internal logic, too unaccountable for its unreasonableness.

The only thing that I can suggest is to get up and leave. That's what I did.

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that I was developing a set of personal laws. One of them, inspired by some profound statement uttered by my father years ago, is this:

You're always a slave to someone -- but try to have as few masters as possible.

I used to have three masters: my employer, the UMC hierarchy, and the seminary. They were my masters because they had the power to financially destroy me at will.

Now the UMC cannot control me. Seminary is almost over, and even if they found some reason to pick a fight with me (say, at the behest of the Bishop), I doubt that they would want to tangle with me having seen the havoc I have unleashed in the Florida Conference.

Soon, I'll be down to one master. One that demands only my work, not my soul, and pays me well for it.

And that, unlike the Church, is normal.

UPDATE: John Meunier writes about this post:

Every DCOM and candidate for ministry should read it. It should be talked about by men and women in positions of authority.

Thank you, John. I'm flattered. John continues:

John’s description of his experience may be one-sided; it is certainly not charitable to those who he feels have wronged him. His report may even be wrong. But tell me you have not heard candidates and young clergy who say things that hint of some of the things he is raging about here.

And if there are problems in the ordination and clergy accountability systems, can there be any doubt that we have deep problems throughout the church?

Can we ask hard and truthful questions about our own polity? Do we?

Is true discernment going on? Is true accountability in place? Do we speak the truth? Is the structure serving the mission of the church?

Do we talk about these questions enough?


Anonymous said...


As odd as it may sound (maybe not), I am envious of your situation. I am one who lived through the ridiculous process only to get ordained an elder, but have no other employable skills. So now I have learned many of the lessons you have, and cannot fathom how to escape . . . I wish I had never gotten into the "ministry," and now I either have to fake it for the next 30 years until I can retire, or somehow get out with my sanity. Where could I go? The only stuff I know is useless in the real world. I also have a growing family to feed and can't imagine going back to school again. . .

For as painful as your situation has been, you are blessedly released from living in hypocrisy every day of your life. I wish I had your life right now . . .

JustJen said...

I would love to post something here that is witty and explains to you how much I was nodding my head, laughing, and then tearing up while reading your post. I don't share some of those sentiments from the ministry standpoint, but from the pew... and sometimes church is just painful. That's all that can be said. Instead of a blessing, it's a burden. Instead of a joy, it's a sorrow, and on and on.

I know my love for God and wanting to grow must run deeper than I can imagine, because I keep going back ;)

Keith Taylor said...


This is beautiful. Thank you so much for putting it up. Methodist lay persons need to read stuff like this.

You mean to tell me that we only pay a pastor with a master's degree $40,000 a year??? That is it? For all that they are expected to do and deal with?

You cannot live on $40K a year. Do clergy pay income taxes? Even if they didn't, that isn't enough.

Does the UM Church not require itself to pay a living wage?

I am apalled.

Anonymous said...

"The Church" you mean the UMC only? or all Christian churches in general? Might be nice to qualify that. I'm not from the UMC - and have never seen the kind of behavior you cite in my own evangelical circles...although each individual church is different.

Gary said...

You raise a lot of great points here. Though I've never been a pastor, I was a janitor at a congregation. These are people I worship with and yet somehow because I was being paid, I was no longer treated as a brother by several in the church. Fortunately, the pastor knew this and made sure that there was encouragement along the way. In addition, he did hold members of the congregation accountable, and he helped us to hold one another accountable. Your post is a good reminder for all of us.

Marcel said...

Taking Keith's comment above at face value might miss some irony he intends, but here goes. One can indeed live on a good deal less than forty thousand a year - many of us have, do, and will, seeing no other choice. It's increasingly hard to see why I should contribute anything in order to pay someone way more than I make, for what Terry Pratchett called "indoor work with no heavy lifting."

Further, the pastor was called God to his position. His salary shouldn't be a market-based competitive wage - who is the church competing with for his time? Neither is the pastor's salary compensation "For all that they are expected to do and deal with." If, recognizing the difficult and disagreeable nature of marriage, one would offer a young lady "compensation" for the "job," she would be (one hopes, in 2009) outrageously insulted. If she were not, I'd advise the young man to look elsewhere for a wife.

RevAnne said...

John, your experience has clearly been painful and scarring. I'm sorry you've had such a negative experience of both local congregations and congregational structures. My husband had an experience with your conference years ago that is certainly consistent with the demands they've placed on you, and I am glad you've been able to find a life outside the UMC tht is fulfilling for you.
Many of your criticisms of the Church and both laity and clergy are valid--certainly in your experience. But I've never had most of those experiences, and I found myself generally well-supported by the DS when I did experience some of the abusive behavior you have. I am uncomfortable agreeing with you wholeheartedly because I find my church/work to be affirming, supportive, and respectful of both me and my family. On the other hand, from what you've said here in the last month or so, I can say that no one should be treated that way. No one should behave that way, in church or otherwise. It is, in a word we don't use often enough in church, unacceptable. Seriously.
I hope one day you will find a church that is a true community of faith that can support you and value you. In the meantime, I pray you find healing from the deep pain of this trauma you've experienced, and that your relationship with Christ doesn't suffer from your relationships with "Christians".

The Ironic Catholic said...

You know, omitting the whole issue of wrong-doing and hypocrisy (which I know is huge, I'm just focusing on something else), this issue of discerning a call combined with attending seminary and then paying loans with a position in ministry (maybe) is a big deal. I have Lutheran friends who are struggling with the same thing, similar process. And the Catholic Church, for all its troubles, I think handles it better--seminary is paid for by charitable contributions, so if the Church (or you, or both together) discerns you are not called to priesthood, then you are not up %^&$ creek financially. You took a chance going to seminary, the Church takes a chance. BUT that doesn't erase problems with women and men discerning a vocation to religious life (orders, monasteries) who have significant student loans. They need to pay them off before entering (and there are groups that will help with that, but the need exceeds the resources). Part of the religious life is a vow to poverty or simplicity, which helps. But they're also single. People doing lay vocational work are in the worst financial position here, and its hard to know how to fix that.

But I have to say--I have a PhD with the attendant loans and do not earn much more than the $40,000. In fact, I started at 30k. I agree it is somewhat difficult to raise a family on this, but it certainly isn't impossible (well, in some parts of the country. NYC and San Fran, probably really really hard). You do give up things. I've not found that burdensome, myself.

At minimum, it seems to me that Protestant communions could have a discernment process BEFORE entering seminary, if brief, and then heavily subsidize those seriously discerning.

Jeff the Baptist said...

"The Church" you mean the UMC only? or all Christian churches in general? Might be nice to qualify that. I'm not from the UMC - and have never seen the kind of behavior you cite in my own evangelical circles...although each individual church is different.

I have to ditto this. While some of your criticisms are certainly valid for all churches, I've never had any experience with 1 and our candidacy system is completely different with 2.

Your comments about turning the Sabbath into a day of work really are true though. I have learned how to say no to my church and have watched other layman unable to do that get more and more work piled on top of them. I've even politely told Pastoral staff to stop giving work to certain people who were already juggling too many hats.

As for the pastoral staff, my church realizes this and gives them substitute sabbath days off during the week. So they still get their day (or days) of rest, they just aren't on weekends.

Here's the reason: the UMC wants candidates to drop out of the system.

I agree. I don't know that it's only because the UMC is shrinking. I think the guaranteed appointment system has the UMC being as tough on the candidates as they can. Throw them at the meatgrinder churches who eat candidates for breakfast and see if they survive. Better they break early when they can leave or be removed than they break late when they won't or can't.

Jeff the Baptist said...

"But I have to say--I have a PhD with the attendant loans and do not earn much more than the $40,000. In fact, I started at 30k."

When I finished graduate school with a Masters in Engineering, my first job paid $45k. So $40k isn't that bad although I wouldn't want to raise a family (or buy a house) on it.

John said...

Jeff wrote:

I have to ditto this. While some of your criticisms are certainly valid for all churches, I've never had any experience with 1 and our candidacy system is completely different with 2.

Perhaps I didn't put enough qualifiers in it. Yes, I am only speaking from a UMC perspective.

This is habitual because the UMC, doctrinally speaking, addresses at length that it is only one part of the Body of Christ. But official UMC ecclesiology so closely identifies God's activity in the United Methodist Church that doctrine is essentially saying that God, the UMC, and the Church are synonymous.

That is why I've rejected calls to try out other Conferences or denominations. In its doctrinal statements at the front of The Book of Discipline, the UMC so strongly suggests that the candidacy process is one directed by God that it wasn't just the Florida Conference rejecting me; it was God rejecting me.

That's the problem with having too high an ecclesiology.

I agree. I don't know that it's only because the UMC is shrinking. I think the guaranteed appointment system has the UMC being as tough on the candidates as they can. Throw them at the meatgrinder churches who eat candidates for breakfast and see if they survive. Better they break early when they can leave or be removed than they break late when they won't or can't.

Oh, yes, it's very much guaranteed appointment.

But judging from my own Bishop's blatant disregard of the Discipline, I've come to realize that there is no safety in guaranteed appointment. If a Bishop decided to simply not appoint an elder, nor provide him with the Conference-mandated minimum salary, what could stop him? Yes, the Discipline forbids that, but power, not the law, is the only thing that carries the day.

As for the meatgrinder...pastors need to be tough. But does the Running Man approach to ordination produce better pastors?

The metaphor that I would use is something more like a minefield. A class of candidates walks through. Whoever makes it through gets ordained. Sometimes the candidates are stupid. They might forget to submit paperwork, fail to follow proper instructions, or put their full effort into ministry instead of where it belongs -- candidacy. Or they might get arrested for soliciting a prostitute (note: do not do this until you are an elder in full connection).

But I've walked through that minefield with other candidates who were just unlucky enough to come across a crooked DS, a literally insane parishioner, or a sudden financial disaster. I saw them blow up right next to me and I said "That could have been me." And eventually it was.

A candidate can do a lot to get himself through. He can screw up, too. But sometimes he just steps on a mine.

In retrospect, I think that there were only two ways that I could have avoided this disaster. I could have (1) never sought a student appointment, and continued to be an active layperson at Azalea Park UMC while in seminary. But I had no reason to forsee disaster. Or (2) I could have deliberately failed Karen Sutherland's theological test and denied that I believed in modern-day prophecy. But I told the truth, she came into the church, and everything was inevitable from there on out.

I stepped on a mine.

John said...

Keith wrote:

You mean to tell me that we only pay a pastor with a master's degree $40,000 a year??? That is it? For all that they are expected to do and deal with?

You cannot live on $40K a year. Do clergy pay income taxes? Even if they didn't, that isn't enough.

That includes housing. In Florida, it's $33K plus a parsonage or a housing allowance.

Yes, clergy pay taxes, except on the housing allowance. That's considered non-taxable.

John said...

At minimum, it seems to me that Protestant communions could have a discernment process BEFORE entering seminary, if brief, and then heavily subsidize those seriously discerning.

There is, actually. Although I doubt that anyone would support any expansion of any of the three segments of the candidacy process.

Shoot, the only thing that I would advise to add would be a drug test at some point along the way. Don't wanna ordain a crackhead.

John said...


Thank you for your kind and supportive comments these past few weeks!

trekkerjay said...


You mentioned that you were soon to be down to only having one "master"... and I surmise that the "one master" you mean is your job... [perhaps that supposition is incorrect, but you mentioned the Church, the seminary and work as being your three "masters"]... It is my hope that in your leaving the institution of the Church, you are not also leaving Christ as your one true Master... the only one who really counts. You may have your life back, but I pray that in the process, you do not lose your soul.

Please do not forget that it is for Christ, our Master and Lord, that we who are Christ-followers ultimately live, and no matter what we may do, we do it all for Christ. I love you and pray that you will find healing in the deepest places of your soul. May God bless you and guide you for His Purposes... and may you accept and endeavor to follow where God leads.

John said...


I trust Jesus, but I don't trust the Church at all.

And, sadly, the Church has long said that there's no way to Jesus but through the Church; that there is no true Christianity outside of the apostolic community.

So the Church is getting in the way in my mind.

Michael said...

Well, I must say you had me until you referred to candidates as "fools". Good luck in your new life.

Divers and Sundry said...

I continue to think about you, your supportive family and your suffering. I hate the pain you're in.

You wrote:
"(2) I could have deliberately failed Karen Sutherland's theological test and denied that I believed in modern-day prophecy. But I told the truth, she came into the church, and everything was inevitable from there on out."

Fascinating. This sounds so incredibly weird.

John said...

D & S wrote:

Fascinating. This sounds so incredibly weird.

Yeah, well basically, she thought that she had the spiritual gift of prophecy. In retrospect, this could have been a warning sign. But I was not a cessesionist (sp?) so I had no Biblical reason to think that prophecy was not an actual spiritual gift. So after visiting the church, she e-mailed me and wanted to know what my view on the subject was. I told the truth about my perspective on prophecy in response. Perhaps not a good idea.

But I've managed to live according to the truth, as best I saw it. I'd hate to be suffering like the first anonymous commentor who now feels trapped and can't get out. And the last thing that this fellow can afford to do is say "I need help" to his spiritual colleagues or supervisors and admit that he feels spiritually dead.

A few months ago, I remember crazily saying to my counselor that I had no choice but to say whatever it took to get ordained, regardless of how spiritually dead I felt. I said that I had to live a lie about myself so that I could support my family. But eventually I realized how unsustainable this position was over the long run. And I discovered that I had other career options.

Better still, I could overcome my own cognitive dissonance and admit that the whole Christian/ministry adventure was a disaster and that all the efforts that I had thrown down that hole didn't obligate me to continue doing so.

Didn't Beth Moore write about not staying in the pit? Something like that. Anyway, I got out of the pit.

Anonymous -- you're hurting a whole lot. Shoot me an e-mail if you want to talk. If there's anything I can do to help, I will.

Scott Endress said...

By working outside the local church, you see what few life- pastors can imagine. One of the greatest gifts for me was when I found an extension ministry context after 18 years in the local church. It was like starting over!

What I found was that any workplace, whether "church" or not, can be very dysfunctional. The church does not have a monopoly on toxicity! If the work environment is toxic, it may be the impact of sick individuals/leaders and/or a toxic system/hierarchy.

As an aside, have you noticed that our posts used to pop up on the Methoblog, but no longer?

Have a peaceful day, John.

John said...


The Church sure doesn't have a monopoly on toxic work environments.

The difference, I think, is that it's easier for people to look at a toxic secular workplace and say "I don't have to put up with this. I'm leaving!" Whereas a Church worker might say to him/herself "I'm suffering in this toxic place, but it's okay, because I'm doing it for God."

I hadn't noticed that about the Methoblog.

PamBG said...

Yeah, well basically, she thought that she had the spiritual gift of prophecy. In retrospect, this could have been a warning sign.

I don't want to ask more details than you want to reveal but I would have taken this as the possibility of a warning-sign. I say 'possibility' because although I too believe in the spiritual gift of prophecy I'd want to know what the person meant by it.

I'm making some assumptions here (not fishing for information) but not allowing anyone to contradict one's 'prophecies' is one of the primary signs of Spiritual Abuse. Patience, kindness and humility are supposed to be the Spiritual Fruits that we all receive from the Holy Spirit and declaring that 'I cannot be wrong because I have the gift of prophecy' is a serious sign that something is wrong.

I want to say 'Wow, she claimed to be a prophetess and the church sent YOU to a counsellor?' That's ****ed.

By the way, I think our discernment process here in the UK also sometimes errs on the side of giving the impression that the church's boxes coincide with the will of God. But I'm not under the impression that many people believe that God's call cannot be heard outside the church or answered outside the church or that working for the church is the same as working for God. That whole mind set is just wrong.

Jonathan said...

John said, "I trust Jesus, but I don't trust the church at all."

What did you learn about Jesus that you didn't learn from the church?

John said...

Exactly, Jonathan! And that is a big, big problem.

I must reassess everything that the Church taught me.

Divers and Sundry said...

"she thought that she had the spiritual gift of prophecy."

I'd love to know what she thinks the "gift of prophecy" is and what evidence there is to support her claim. I've heard it said that preaching can be a prophetic ministry, and I've heard some folks described as "gifted" preachers, but I've never heard a United Methodist claim to have the "gift of prophecy".

Of course, I don't get out much...

John said...

D & S, in the more Pentacostal-ish wing of the UMC, such as the Aldersgate Movement, it's fairly common. I won't deny the sincerity of most of these believers.

Anyway, none of her prophecies ever came true. Like some prophets, it was just a tool that she used to gain power.

Divers and Sundry said...

"Anyway, none of her prophecies ever came true"

So by "prophecy" she means foretelling the future?

"I won't deny the sincerity of most of these believers."

Being sincere doesn't make them right. ;)

Jonathan said...

Since you intuitively trust Jesus, perhaps there is a sense in which you have to admit that the church is on to something? In other words, if the church introduced you to Jesus, can it really be as bad as you are suggesting? How could an institution as corrupt as you are saying introduce you to someone like Jesus?

Andy B. said...

Hey John - I've been reading your posts and the comments over these weeks, and I haven't added anything until now because I wasn't sure what to say. I still don't, but I wanted to let you know that you have another friend, for what it's worth.

John said...

Good point, Jonathan. In that case, I must withdraw my stated trust in Jesus, as I can have no true idea of who/what he is.

John said...

Thank you, Andy.

Divers and Sundry said...

"Good point, Jonathan. In that case I must withdraw my stated trust in Jesus,"

I don't think Jonathan has a good point at all. You can trust in and maintain a relationship with a person long after you've ceased to trust in and have a relationship with the person who introduced you. Just because you've now rejected the church doesn't mean you have to reject everything you learned about through the church.

PamBG said...

I have to say that I have never in all my life heard the idea that the church always and everywhere infallibly does the will of God. And I grew up in denomination that Methodists would consider extremely authoritarian.

Clergy and lay leaders can commit sins of commission in the name of their own pride, ambition or what have you. Clergy and lay leaders can commit sins of omission by failing to name wrong as wrong and by failing to stand up to bullies.

Of course lay people can bully others. Of course clergy can bully others. Of course congregations can set off down the wrong track. Why on earth did Paul wrote those letters to the Corinthians, for a start?

The idea that 'whatever the church decides is the will of God' is not 'a high theology of church' it's a blind theology of church.

Jonathan said...

I don't think anyone has said that whatever the church does is the will of God. I certainly know that the church is not perfect and in fact it can be quite destructive. My point was simply that the church is not TOTALLY corrupt, otherwise it would not have introduced John to Jesus. And as St. Augustine said, the church may be a whore, but she is still my mother.

John said...

Well, the whore has to get her act together if she wants to be with me.

I'm here! Now what? said...

I went through so much like you. I left the UMC and now am called to hospital chaplaincy.
I loved your coment about the church and Jesus. I love Jesus but the church needs work. Keep writing.

JediPastorKen said...


I'm curious, do you have a file of your writings to go along with the other documents here?

I don't think I've shared that I was deferred twice for probation - first time was no question, my stuff was bad. Second time - still doesn't jive in my mind but I think it was best.

The processes are so inconsistent across the denomination and you've experienced the worst of it - totally subjective.

You've given me a lot of food for thought (a bloody meal for sure - not a zombie joke but I'm now wondering if such analogy isn't worth exploring 8). I can't change what happened to you, but I can certainly work to protect others from having it happen to you. I think all of us who are ordained Elders need to be aware and concerned.

Please know that you're never far from thoughts and prayers.

John said...

Files? You mean like commissioning paperwork? Sure, I still have those lying around on my hard drive. But DCOM loved my theology work and only thought that I needed to drastically update my leadership paperwork because the church imploded after I turned it in, but before I faced them.

No charges were ever filed against me. In fact, no formal complaints were ever submitted against me. The DCOM orally reported to me why they were throwing me out of the ministry, but I doubt that they have the balls to do so in writing. So I'm not sure what files you are talking about.

By the way guys and gals -- Ken, here -- he knows pastoral care. After I got thrown out of the ministry, he wrote me an e-mail that was an utterly flawless example of pastoral care. It should be in seminary textbooks.

JediPastorKen said...


Was thinking about the paper work but also all the blogs and comments, letters, notes, basically anything in writing or from conversations you remember, that record the events that occurred. As has been evident by other comments, what happened to you isn't isolated but I think you may have recorded more than probably anyone else.

There has been so much talk about the need to evaluate our ordination process. Your voice could be heard in a much broader context not only in addressing an injustice but also towards reform. I have some of my own thoughts I'll share with you at another time.

I've just begun reading "Against the Grain," by Roy Teel, Jr. about a critique of the megachurch. As I read, i can't help but reflect on your experiences. Not sure my final thoughts but I don't think I'm wasting my time with it.

And I thank you for your gracious words. You have no idea how much they mean.

John said...

Well, sure, Ken. I haven't assembled everything in a file, but I have e-mails and so forth. Unfortunately I had to delete e-mails from 2007 that could have proven that some of the things the clique said were lies because my Asbury e-mail box was clogged.

But I could certainly wouldn't object to putting together such a file. In fact, if the UMC wanted to hire me on as a consultant on the candidacy process, I'm game. Have mouse, will travel.

John said...

Oh, and as for the UMC re-evaluating itself based upon what I've written, they have all the access they would want. Someone from the Florida Conference building has been pinging my IP tracker every 2 to 3 hours for weeks now. I'm being watched very carefully.

JediPastorKen said...

Uh oh, I better start watching my back now that we're collaborating.

Anonymous said...

It's simply time that the UMC threw out its broken and worn out system for candidacy and let the called in. First, Samuel got called by God not the District Committee. He did not have to jump through hoops, charm a minister, or prove himself. God called, Samuel listened. The UMC should listen too.

Anonymous said...

It's time that the UMC actually obeyed the law of both God and man. Stop the lying by many ministers to drive a person out of the church, require the UMC to obey some law, and stop forcing everyone out of the church unless they are radical people. How about a single sunday where nobody puts anything into the collection plate except for a letter addressed to the bishop with the personal reason why funds are being witheld. Then watch the problem be addressed. Cash seems to be the only "talk" being listened to; use it's verbal powers.

Divers and Sundry said...

"stop forcing everyone out of the church unless they are radical people"

I don't know where you are, Anonymous, but where I am the Methodists look much more conservative than radical.

Jeremy said...

Hi there,

I am 27 years old, have a BA and MA in Religion from theologically conservative schools, an am afraid that I have had experiences, different in nature, but just as damaging as the ones you describe.

My experiences happened in high school and college at a church where my mother was Children's pastor, and that I had attended my entire life. It may be worth noting that the pastor was methodist, even though the church was Evangelical Free Church of America. I spent 9 years not going to church, angry and hostile, even as I went through my formal theological training.

Brother, I know too many people like us. Wounded people who want to do God's will, but can't stand 'God's people.' I am currently trying to find a paying job in the field of theology, finishing my second masters, and examining doctoral programs with the intent of teaching. I actually emailed a church tonight about a college pastor ('intern') position that pays a whopping $200 a month. To create and execute a college and young adult program. In Southern California. It's nuts, but it's all that's out there... and I need the experience on my resume.

I have attempted NOT to do ministry... and I have found each job, law school, and even starting a business lacking in the fulfillment that I seek.

The point, however, is that some of us have been where you are. If you have not read Dark Night of the Soul, please do. It is your road map for your Journey. You will learn far more about yourself, your faith, and your God apart from the church, preconceived notions, etc. Nothing changes your perspective about the church like hearing what non-Christians say about the church, then hearing the local baptist pastor talking about beating people over the head with the Bible, loudly, at Starbucks. Believe me, I spoke up... :)

Stay true to the disciplines (trust me... I didn't... healing takes longer). Keep your faith in God, avoid the church (This is, in my opinion, necessary for healing), and find like minded Christians to fellowship with.

Keep in mind, that God will likely call you back to ministry at some point. This is where I am in my journey, and it is especially frustrating. The church does not understand the need for the separation...

"what have you done ministry-wise for the last 9 years."

"Well, I learned not to hate people like you" is generally considered an innappropriate answer for a job interview. As is, "Well, I learned how not to be an asshole!" or "I learned that I'm a shit head, so that I don't judge other people for being shit heads!"

My heart breaks for you. Hold on, and don't let the darkness consume you.