Saturday, February 4, 2012

Forgiveness & Signing on the Dotted Line

I love reading other Christian blogs, especially a number over on the Patheos Christian portal. Even when I don't agree with them, I enjoy their "higher than the average blog" approach to writing and topics.

Anyway, one of the topics which came up on Karen Spears Zacharias' blog is on spiritual discipline. She linked to Matthew Paul Turner's blog which details the story of a young man from Mark Driscoll's church Mars Hill who, after cheating on his fiance, found himself being pushed to sign a church discipline contract. The man, Andrew, had been a member of the church's security team and was active in several small groups.

...  shortly after becoming engaged, Andrew made a costly choice, one that involved hanging out alone with a female friend he knew from the community college he attended. Andrew and his college friend messed around. They didn’t have sex. But they got close. But what they did and didn’t do isn’t the issue. He cheated on the woman he was planning to marry. On the following morning, Andrew felt devastated, his brain flashing memories of what he’d done the night before, his heart full of shame, guilt, and hindsight’s remorse.
That evening, Andrew met his fiancee at community group. As soon as she saw his face, she knew something was wrong. After the meeting was finished, they walked outside to his car (he was planning to give her a ride home). A long hard conversation ensued, but at some point in the middle, Andrew confessed...
As so often is the case with church drama like this, the following month was, for Andrew, filled up with meetings. A meeting with his old community group leader (he was forced to join a new community group). A meeting with his new community group leader. A meeting with his fiancée’s step-father. A meeting with his trusted friend who also happened to be the leader of his mens small group. So many meetings. And some of those meetings required second meetings.
Over the course of that month, Andrew also confessed more of his sexual baggage/history.
“I confessed to my mens small group leader–a close friend of mine–that my relationship with my fiancée was physical, too.”
That confession led to more meetings and more than enough long (and sometimes ridiculous) text message conversations with church leadership at Mars Hill.
“On several occasions, I was called a Wolf,” says Andrew, “which at Mars Hill, is like the worst thing you can be called.”...

On the evening of December 18, Andrew met with the pastor and small group leader. It was during this meeting that Andrew first learned that he was being “brought under church discipline.” Despite it feeling like he’d been going through church discipline for a little more than a month, he didn’t say much. He did a lot of listening.

And his ears listened, his eyes began opening, too. For a couple weeks, amid all of the various conversations/meetings/confession sessions, Andrew had noticed what he believed was a strange shift in how people were treating him.

The things he noticed weren’t exactly subtle differences either. There was something about their tones, a certain change from being serious and kind toward him to always coming across intentionally serious and sometimes harsh. He’d also noticed a difference in the words they used, a switch from words and phrases that depicted gentle care and concern to words/phrases that sometimes caused him to feel like a criminal on trial, certainly not a longtime member of a loving, forgiving church environment.

But now. During that meeting. All of the things he noticed. The tones. The words. The differences. They were definitely not his imagination.

Andrew sat in that meeting wondering, questioning whether he could/should trust the two men sitting in front of him. The two men that he was supposed to trust, that he was supposed to deeply respect.
But something made him doubt that.
Something in his spirit told him not to trust them. Something caused him to believe that the men sitting in front of him were far less interested in restoring him than they were in having control, feeling powerful, throwing their spiritual weight around. Beating down a sinner like Andrew.

Andrew was then sent a Church Discipline Contract via email which he was expected to sign. When, after careful thought and prayer, he declined and informed leadership of his decision to leave the church, things grew considerably worse. Sigh.

The Mars Hill leaders claimed they were following Mattthew 18:15-18 in taking such a hard line.

I want to make a few things clear. Despite my recent posts about Driscoll's new marriage advice book, I don't have anything against the guy or his church. I usually post things on this blog based on their popularity at the moment, which is why I've posted on Creflo Dollar, Ray J, Amy Winehouse and naked celebs over the past three years. So please don't think I have it out for him.

But this did get me thinking on the proper role of discipline within the church. Some comments I've read have pretty mich advocated doing away with it altogether. I personally don't think this is a good idea. Not only would we be violating Scripture, but we would be sending the message that purposeful disobedience against God is okay. Which most definitely is NOT.

But what is the proper way to handle this? Do you think Mars Hill's contracts are a good idea? Why or why not? I'd love some feedback.


Red Cardigan said...

Because I'm Catholic, this whole thing is so very odd to me! The Catholic theology of repentance is that sin offends God first and other people second. That's why, if you sin, you go to Confession, admit your sins and your sorrow for them, accept a penance (usually a few "Our Fathers" or other prayers to pray), and...that's it. The priest is under the seal of the Confessional and can never, under pain of very serious sin himself, tell *anyone* what you've said (if he even knows who you are--the option to confess behind a screen is still available in most places).

As to how we are to treat each other, it's simple: we're all sinners, and we're all struggling to live according to Christ's teachings and God's will. We fail. With the help of each other and the sacraments we rise again and recommit ourselves to the task.

What bothers me about this, and other Mars Hill stories I've seen, is that the focus seems to be so heavily on sexual sin--which, while definitely wrong ("grave sin" in Catholic terms), is not the absolute worst thing someone can do. Pride, blasphemy, presumption, and similar things can be worse, in that they can convince someone he doesn't really need God, for instance.

And that letter about this young man posted in a public forum would quite possibly be an example of what the Church calls "detraction," which is the sin of revealing another's faults or sins with no just reason. What just reason could there be for an entire congregation to know that a young member was struggling with sexual sin--and trying very hard, by all accounts, to turn away from it? The mind boggles.

Alisha De Freitas said...

Yes, Erin, this was a first for me, too. A bizarre first.

I'm not from a Reformed background, but I've never heard any of my Reformed friends say anything like this goes on in their churches.

What leaves me stuck... he confessed. He admitted it to his fiance, and to the other leaders and counselors assigned to him. Doesn't that show at least some degree of repentance? And then his attending all of those meetings. And more meetings. Embarassing meetings. THAT didn't show regret? Sorrow? His willingness to gain accountability?

I don't like that so many people were involved. Seems unnecessarily embarassing and controlling. And in the contract, it says he'd have to recount in detail (!) all past sexual sins. WHY?

I kept scratching my head reading it.

And then the public broadcast of his wrongs??? How does that show love? I feel so bad for this guy. So bad I'm going to pray for him. Stuff like this hurts people so deeply, they want to not just leave a particular church, but Christianity as a whole.

What am I missing?

Red Cardigan said...

I don't think you're missing anything. To me, this sounds like a cultish sort of power trip, emotionally abusive, and I'd tell those involved with this church to run fast in the opposite direction...

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