Recently, on Twitter and Facebook, I linked to a blog post from the former Director of Resurgence, Mike Anderson, on his departure from Mars Hill Church and his association with Mark Driscoll. It was a revealing post. It could be construed as “airing dirty laundry.” On FB I got a good question from Shaun Wissmann on the post. In my own words he asked: when is it appropriate to link these kind of blog posts by people leaving a church in disharmony? Should they at least be required to detail how their post is in compliance with the Matt 18:15-20 process of reconciliation? Aren’t we thwarting the work of reconciliation that God is doing when we broadcast these kind of posts? Indeed, aren’t we fanning the flames of antagonism thereby undermining God’s church? To me these are very good and important questions. To which my response is as follows.
As a Rule
As a rule, I don’t either comment or link to posts/information on church conflicts that come from people outside the actual church conflict. I, as a rule, don’t post or provide commentary on pastors/leaders’ sexual/moral failures. When it comes to moral failures in the church, I think it is up to those who are directly affected, who are part of that community to discern the conflict/seek healing and reconciliation under the auspices of the reign of Christ. This has got to be done locally. No one can discern/unwind the motives, the accusations, the conflicts from a distance. To comment from outside inflames. It leads to ideologizing the issue to seed antagonism against. Trying to discern what is happening from outside the community is speculation that turns the supposed conflict into an ideological tool to bring down a church or raise up another, which in either case is a bad thing.
So I try to stay away from anything that might short circuit the communal process. I have tried to stay away from the inner workings of TGC’s and SGM’s problems. Anabaptist theologian J H Yoder’s problems IMO have sometimes bordered on being ideologized. The inside details are glossed over. His actual sexual issues/abuses, the actual people involved, the stories are glossed over because it is probably the purview of those abused. As a result, Yoder’s sexual scandal is open to being used to breed antagonism beyond the actual local crisis, the people who have been hurt. ( I am in no way saying he is being wrongly accused or has not been responsible for serious abuse). Thankfully I think more and more of the actual stories are being discerned. It is most important that the MennUSA church deal with its history and the ills revealed in these episodes in a way that brings healing to those hurt and the church itself as it moves forward. I think the process is helped by keeping the loop of reconciliation closely tied to the ones actually involved. The victims voices need to be heard first and foremost, and outside voices, advocates for Yoder or the victims, be relegated to a lesser role.
When Cults or Mega Churches (built on hierarchy) foreclose Mutual Submission/Reconciliation
Having said all this, there are times when Matt 18:15-20 is thwarted by either the cultish malformation of a church or it’s mega size, which in itself (via massive hierarchies) thwarts the ways we called to come together in Matt 18:15-20. The process of mutual (and I emphasize “mutual”) submission is not possible due to distanced/protected hierarchies. Christian communities like this, IMO, will inevitably implode of their own self-contradictions, the revealing how their systems/behavior are in blatant contradiction with the gospel. In this case, IMO, Christian communities who do not exercise in some form the processes of Matt 18:15-20 mutual submission will eventually in some way become undone by being exposed. I believe the exposure of “false communities” is therefore part of holding Christian communities accountable for who they are. Such a revealing discredits their witness as false before a watching world.
This, I contend, will always happen eventually. And I don’t believe Christians outside these communities should work to make that happen. (That thwarts the process).
I do believe however that someone, who is part of such an abusive community, who has continually been shut out of Matt 18:15-20 practices, can and should give a loving direct testimony to the inner contradictions of their church for the sake of their own church’s repentance. They should be submitting such a testimony to other church members for correction. They should be voicing it humbly. They should be doing it as an explanation of their own reactions. This kind of testimony happens all the time, positively and negatively by leaders/pastors leaving their former churches. They leave often and they want people to know they leave in good standing or in disagreement. The church community always learn from these episodes. They learn whether reconciliation is necessary. And apart from reconciliation, there can be no furthering of the Kingdom.
Recently, a very large mega church (not Willowcreek) near Life on the Vine (the church where I pastored til last year) went through massive disagreement/conflict over their pastor. Several elders offered public statements as to why they left the church but only after seeking Matt 18 process several times with the pastor/elders. When they were then falsely accused by the church leadership, they responded. I take this as a normal check on large mega churches who block Matt 18 mutual submission and allow dysfunction within the leadership to fester.
Therefore, I feel it appropriate for wounded parties to make public statements. I also view it as appropriate to post these statements when they are made by an insider (I never listen to outsider’s commenting/discerning rightness/wrongness of a community’s leadership/morality etc) and when I feel we all can learn something from the recounting of this person’s process. That is why I posted this post regarding Mars Hill. And I hope to remain consistent with the above rule whenever linking posts to other church/organization conflicts in the future.
What do you think? What am I missing here in my guiding rule on posting about church/organization conflicts?