I got to know Billy Joe and his wife, Sharon, on a trip we took together years ago. I admire his integrity, his love of Jesus, and his passion for the Gospel. All of that came together as he spoke to us this morning. He told us of two statements that had made a strong impression on him. One was from the recently elected president of the Southern Baptist Church. In response to a question about the Bible, he answered, “I’m an inerrantist, but I’m not mad about it.” He was talking about our tendency to hold to a view that may be correct, while out attitude is not. I have to confess that this has been me in recent months, from time to time.
The other remark was one that Billy Joe received early in his pastoral career. Asking a mentor if there was one piece of advice he could give for a successful ministry, the mentor, without pause, remarked, “If you don’t get bitter, you’ll have a successful ministry.”
A lot of Christian laypeople out there might find that to be a curious, even cynical remark, but it’s simply wise. Whenever you deal with people there is conflict. When you lead people, that conflict is often pointed at you, even if it is undeserved. That’s life. It becomes a problem when you point it back in a spirit of anger.
I’ve certainly been guilty of this. Readers of this blog may or may not believe me, but there really have been only a couple of times when I’ve been angry as I’ve responded—once was in response to a person’s post regarding a Kirk member (whom I mentioned by name). I am truly sorry for that. Another was in a letter I (very) rapidly posted to The Layman a few months ago. Most of the time I’m bemused, incredulous, or relatively calm as I write.
Over the years I’ve developed a slight thickening of skin that has helped overcome what once would have angered or even defeated me. It’s not 100% effective, but I do better as I get older. A lot of you have requested that I limit comments, because so many of them seem angry and vindictive. They’re just the tip of the iceberg. You haven’t read the ones I have not allowed to be posted. I’ve had to remind myself that the remarks reflect the writer more than me. But this is also true of what I write.
The hard part here is to speak the truth and not be arrogant, angry, or even seem to be so. I’m sure that my success in this is varied. This brings me to the second thing which I read today. A post to my blog said this,
Anonymous said...If you attend the Kirk you know that our worship, conversations, and activities are not centered on the disaffiliation or on the legal process. We have clearly communicated issues to the congregation at special meetings, but I think that a new person coming to the Kirk might not even be aware of the process we are in, unless they read what I blog, or what I put into the church newsletter.
I know of a church that left a denomination in very similar circumstances to yours. There was a lot of energy generated; some good, some bad; that was centered on the conflict. The dirty little secret about standing as a church against a so-called “apostate” denomination is that it gives your congregation a rallying cry and a certain unity. The downside is that as soon as the conflict subsides, all the old issues come up again. In the case of the church I am referencing, many, many members were unable to get past the original “us versus them” posture, even when it was no longer relevant to their situation, so they turned the negative energy inward. The congregation is now a shadow of its former self.
I say all this in order to issue a friendly warning. Tom, it may be time to turn your congregation’s energy in a different direction. A good start would be to steer this blog in a less negative and confrontational direction regarding the pcusa. You are not doing your folks any favors by keeping this fire lit. I feel at times that the only real identity your congregation has is its identity vis a vis the pcusa. This is unhealthy, unmanageable over the long term, and contrary to the spirit of Christ.
Each time this has been raised with you, you have said, in essence, that you will keep this alive until later, when the pcusa releases you or you are accepted by the epc. If I were in a decision-making body in the epc and saw the content of this blog, I would advise against receiving you. What denomination needs another unhealthily disputatious congregation?
Still, I must speak to the congregation about what is going on. Rumors fly, and they multiply like a cancer without the truth to balance. Sometimes the truth is a hard thing to write and read about, because it is dealing with sinful acts and attitudes. I don’t want, though, to add to that.
I am quite aware of the danger of self-consuming anger in a process like the one we are in. My staff and officers can tell you that I have talked about avoiding this, and that it is one of the central focuses of my prayer life. Our congregation is turning toward the missions we already have and also toward the effort to establish new congregations from ours. I honestly believe that there are no “old issues” that will come back to us. We didn’t leave the PCUSA as a tactic to cover other problems; its actions have been the problem for a long time.
That brings me back to my blog. I still feel that it is very important to keep the true nature of what the PCUSA is doing toward dissident churches public. The Book of Order process is one that, at least as practiced today, prohibits the free exchange of opinions, favoring only the denomination over dissident congregations. PCUSA pastors cannot speak out without justifiable fear. I want people to know what is happening, not just to the Kirk, but what will happen to others.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that reacts to criticism and critical judgment as if they are bigotry and intolerance. This thinking plays into the hands of those who twist systems to overcome the Children of Light. Everything we do should be in the light. This is why I write the blog, so that people can know not only what is happening, but what and how I think. Knowing this, they can make a judgment themselves as to the truth of what I say, and the possible impact of the issues I raise.
I’ll try to keep the tone more dispassionate. It’s hard, because I feel at times like it’s my family that is under attack. I am always open to honest criticism, and I realize that many of you who respond don’t really know me and cannot know the full picture of what the Kirk is going through. I’ll strive to be accurate, and I’ll continue to post comments, negative and positive, because I feel it helps the reader get a picture of what it’s really like out there in the mainline denominations.
Keep praying—keep the faith,