"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Glimpses of Grace 7: WOW and the Gestapo

     Last February 5 the woman I called Woman of the Word in my first Glimpse of Grace organized a tea for our Mothers of Pre-Schoolers, as MOPS kicked off its new season. WOW has taught Bible studies to our women for 30 years and hosted many of these teas. It was a warm, welcoming time, with the sound of happy women talking, the clink of Victorian china, the fragrance of cinnamon and vanilla and berries.
     I was one of the hostesses at the tea and I listened as WOW talked with gratitude about the life Jesus Christ had brought her out of. She urged the women, "Don't limit God or His answers to prayer to this present time. Many of His promises may be performed in the future." She mentioned the thousand-year reign of peace Christ will establish when He returns. "Maybe during the Millennium--this is just my thought--we will be able to raise the babies who have been aborted. But that's just my opinion. Don't give up hope or lose faith. 'Think outside the box' about when, where and how He might fulfill His promises and answer our prayers and what that may look like."   
     She handed out booklets by Pastor John MacArthur, "Is it Real? 11 Biblical Tests of Genuine Salvation," a booklet which our church had used previously.
     It was a sweet time.   
     The following Tuesday, February 8th, Woman of the Word received a call from one of the other hostesses, distressed. "A pastor called me. He said one or more of the mothers complained about your beliefs in regard to the end times. He told me I have to read a public apology for your beliefs to the MOPS women at our first meeting. I don't know why he wants me to do this. I had nothing to do with what you shared or the material you handed out. I'm really confused by all this."  
     The first MOPS meeting was Wednesday. WOW went to church hoping to find the woman or women she had offended and try to make amends. Instead she found two pastors/elders blocking the door. One said sternly, "You can't come in! We have to talk!" WOW was taken aback. "In your office?" No, as it turned out, right there in public, "verbally, in an aggressive manner":
      --You made a grieving mother cry.
      --You gave her false hope.
      --The tea was more like a commercial for the women's Bible study.
      --The views on the millennium differ from that of someone there.
      --The tea was too long.
      --You jumped around in your talk.
      --The material you handed out was offensive and does not reflect what our church leadership shares.
    Woman of the Word asked the elders to tell her whom she had offended so that, in accordance with Matthew 18, she could go directly to her and straighten things out. They refused to give her the name(s). 
      Meanwhile inside the fellowship hall the MOPs meeting had begun. The bewildered hostess/mom who had been handed a statement by the elders read it aloud to the equally bewildered women present: "Thank you to all of you who came to the tea on Saturday. . . It was a little bit of a rough beginning; there is much that we, as a group of women at this church [the elders who wrote this are men] need to learn about hosting events like these. . . This event shifted from the original purpose as a morning to bring refreshment. . .
     "The views expressed concerning the millennium do not reflect the leadership of the elders here at Grace nor do the printed materials handed out at the event. . ."
     Never mind that the woman reading the statement had no idea what it was about or why it was necessary, that there had been no confusion, only wonderful, warm fellowship among the women attending the tea, that the statement itself was what caused confusion. Never mind that WOW had made it clear she was only sharing her own opinions. 
     Never mind that the "printed materials," though not reflecting the "leadership of the elders here at Grace" DO in fact reflect our church's Statement of Faith and the Bible. Never mind that the leaders were trumping WOW's "sin" of giving a woman false hope by denying her the legitimate hope that Jesus Christ is coming again to set up His kingdom!
      In the days that followed, WOW attempted again to find out exactly what she had done that was so offensive. She was told to "let it go." She finally agreed. But her husband went to the head elder (whom I will call Hachet Man for now) and said his wife had been confronted and rebuked in public by two pastors. He said he would not let it go. 
     Hatchet Man sent WOW a Grievance Process Form to fill out and return to the Grievance Committee (a committee which was still being formed, since the others in leadership knew nothing about its existence).
     WOW filed the grievance form against Lou, the senior pastor, instead of the two elders sent by him to rebuke her. On April 1, Hatchet Man, apparently angered by this, telephoned WOW, "falsely accusing me, yelling at me and calling me a liar," as she described it. She wrote him a letter dated April 4th. Excerpts: "The lack of sensitivity and convictions towards the Holy Spirit is concerning."  "Your actions and conduct have been unbecoming for an elder as stated in God''s Word." "I am asking you, please remove yourself during my grievance process due to the confusion, the unfair and bias you have demonstrated towards me." 
      The newly-formed Grievance Mediation Committee considered WOW's report and on April 26 Hachet Man sent her a letter which read, at its heart, "We find that your grievance against Lou  _______ has no merit.  In reaching that decision, I removed myself from voting. The vote to deny your grievance was unanimous.
      "As a gesture of reconciliation, should you desire to talk about the GMC's decision and/or related concerns, please contact me and I will arrange for you to speak with two of the committee members.
     "In Christ, (Chair___________"
     WOW accepted the offer to attend a "reconciliation" meeting and was so relieved by the promise of an opportunity to discuss her side of the issue, it didn't occur to her to invite her husband or anyone else to attend with her as a witness. 
     At the meeting on May 26, WOW greeted the three people present--Hatchet Man (the only one on the Grievance Mediation Committee), an associate pastor I will call "Jesus Eyes," and the wife of an elder who was a personal friend of WOW's--and thanked Hatchet Man for calling the meeting in response to the grievance she had filed against the senior pastor, after her many attempts to speak with him and have him make it possible for her to follow the Scriptural pattern of reconciliation in Matthew 18--
     Hatchet Man interrupted her,  pushed across the table a list titled "Biblical offenses: (her name)" and asked her to read it.  The list was a mixture of truths and falsehoods, quoting [Jesus Eyes] as saying she had accused Lou of preaching heresy and that she had stirred up dissension in the church and was "game-playing."
     "As I started to read it I realized what this meeting was all about. I stopped reading and told them 'You're going to can me like you have everybody else!" He then started reading the list for me. I stopped him on the first one and said, 'This is not true....get [Jesus Eyes] in here! He knows this isn't true!'
     "He told me if I did not repent of those offenses and apologize to the elders, I would lose all my leadership positions. Sometime during the meeting I broke down and cried."
     He refused to let her discuss the matter. "He screamed and yelled at me and called me a liar. I told him his behavior was unbecoming an elder." Finally she declared, "Some have felt the Holy Spirit is being hindered here at Grace, and I now know the reason why, the leadership here is not coming under the authority of the Scriptures!" 
     Hatchet Man ended the meeting by revoking all her leadership positions and warning her that severe church discipline awaited her in the near future. WOW attempted to talk to her friend, the wife of an elder. The friend told WOW, "I love you" but added, "I am not allowed to speak with you."
     (To be continued.)

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