I heard from my good friend Lulu the other day. Well, of course her name isn’t Lulu. I have to change the names of this story to protect the innocent. As for the guilty, I have to change their names too, mostly so I don’t get hatemail. Let me give you a little background info, and then I’ll get back to Lulu.
Several years ago, my husband and I left the small church we were attending because we felt the environment to be toxic and cult-like. We had been asked to invest extraordinary amounts of time and energy into the pastor’s efforts, and when we wanted to step back from so much responsibility because we needed a break, we were told that our fatigue was an indication that we were “out of right relationship” with God. Our efforts to “minister” to others outside of that building were not validated whatsoever. I was told by the pastor that I had not ever truly been “discipled” as far as he could tell and that I was struggling with unresolved bitterness and unforgiveness in my heart. He explained that his wife, who had the gift of “discernment”, confirmed that these sins were hidden in my heart. As long as we were marching to the beat of his drum, the fruits of the Holy Spirit were evident in our lives. Any interruption in our efforts was interpreted by the pastor to be a slipping away from the will of God.
That’s one perspective. Another might be this, and this is pretty blatant:
This pastor seemed pretty cool at first. We started going and got sucked into the Bermuda Triangle of church work. We found our way in, but couldn’t find our way out. But that wasn’t the only issue. It was the fact that most Sundays we walked out the doors after the service shaking our heads and wondering what in the heck the sermon had been about. It was having to watch this guy lord over his wife. It was having to watch his wife disappear into no one--no voice, no opinion, and no identity apart from her husband’s voice. It was having to endure his attempts to control activities that he had no gifting in and not being able to say anything. It was having to deal with the frustrations of his futile attempts to answer the hard questions with formulated, pat answers and not being able to tell him that his answers just weren’t good enough. It was losing one potential leader after another because in that environment, there was only room enough for ONE leader, and that was the pastor. Eventually, people left. And so did we.
I know that when we left, I had such clarity! It’s amazing what getting outside of a situation can do for a person’s perspective. I look back and see how very controlling and cult-like that environment was. And how toxic. You gotta wonder how people even get involved in those crazy places. But you know, it’s not like this guy announced from the pulpit straight away that he had serious control issues, was misguided and manipulative, that he used people and that he blamed them thanklessly when they “abandoned” him. He never once indicated out loud that he would end up hurting people. It hasn’t occurred to him to this day, I would venture to say. He has no idea. So, how could we have known when we first started going and getting involved that it would end the way it did? We couldn’t smell the poison until it got right up on us. And in all honesty, I HAVE seen this pastor operate within the power of his compassion. When this occurs, he is unstoppable. Most effective, in fact. Unfortunately, most of what I observed was that too much of the time, he operated within the power of his position of authority, and frankly, it’s just not his best work.
When we left, he made sure to warn other people about us and, really, about me in particular. “Just be very cautious when it comes to Daisy. She’s a very strong woman.” Strong women, apparently, are a danger to the church. Or maybe just his church.
Lulu is a strong woman. She and her husband Bud left the church too. I do not assume to know why they left or the details of their departure, and I probably wouldn’t write about it if I did. Suffice to say, they started going to church somewhere else. However, one of Lulu’s relatives, LaLa, still goes to this church and is VERY involved! VERY! Did I mention, VERY? LaLa is a wonderful Christian lady. She started a women’s Bible study and invited Lulu to attend, even though Lulu no longer goes to church there. When Control Freak Pastor got wind of this, he told LaLa to inform Lulu that she could not return to the Bible study because she was not in a place to receive anything from that church. There was nothing the church could offer her. Furthermore, there were new members attending the Bible study, and it would not be good to have Lulu there with them. Instead of telling the pastor to get bent, LaLa sent her BLOOD RELATIVE up the river. With all her best wishes and prayers, of course.
I hope this guy doesn’t decide to move to Guyana and pass out poison Kool-aid. OK, I’ll concede that this guy is not really that kooky. But what side of the fence is all this on? Every single solitary person I’ve told this to has let out a mortified gasp. I’ve even told a couple pastors who just want to take the guy out back and pop him one. This situation of unhealth is crystal clear to EVERYBODY who is not in it. Lala doesn’t see it. Many others remain who don’t see it either. And what can we do about that?
Should we say something? Should we make some phone calls? Should we go on an anti-this-particular-pastor campaign? We’ve watched other people do it who are just as misguided as the enemy they believe they want to conquer. I, for one, want NO PART of that! You know what ends up happening? Most people just leave. And I go back and forth on this. I was one of those people who just left. I was one who didn’t say anything--I just disappeared. Even when given an opportunity to say something, I declined, believing that my words would go unheeded. Wasted. This pastor had never heard me before when I tried to explain to him how I felt. Why should I continue trying to make him realize what he never would? I was already detached at that point, and whatever would eventually happen to that church didn’t matter to me anymore. But my silence kept the door open for more people to get hurt the way that I was hurt.
Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” And Dr. King said that, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Had I been appallingly silent? Do we inadvertently participate in harming others by simply walking away? It is, after all, the path of least resistance.
Even now, I am in the middle of a different organization that is divided with bullies and victims and bullies who think they’re victims. Loss has occurred and will continue to occur, and good people have and are leaving. No one is saying why. Hurt continues. Should we all just watch? Believe me, nothing repulses me more than the thought of jumping into the middle of it. And, truthfully, I probably never will. Is that wrong of me? Lulu’s situation has me thinking about it.
It hurts my heart to know that nothing much has changed in all the years it’s been since we, ourselves, moved on from that church. So, when Lulu asked me to post something on my blog about, “...crappy pastors who think they can rule the world,” I thought I’d give it a shot.
The pastor of that church would be hurt if he read this. So would LaLa. So would friends who remain. No one likes to hear that others think they’re in a bad situation. Certain people would not like to hear that I’ve actually prayed that God would “deliver” them out of that toxicity and bring them to a place of clarity and health.
I don’t want to hurt anyone. But in this case, hurting this pastor or hurting LaLa simply involves exposing what occurred. The fact that others outside of that place will KNOW what happened will be, in itself, hurtful to them. It means that they will be looked upon by others with disdain and disappointment, others who CAN see the forest for the trees. In their isolation, it all seems normal. But when somebody slaps it up on the Internet for the world to see, it suddenly seems twisted and wrong. That’s because it is. Now what do the rest of us do about it?