Abuse/Abused, Excuse/Excused -- Kingdom Stuff
By way of a brief personal story I want to share how a few of the comments in support of Dr. Foster last night sounded to my ears. I know we kept being urged to put ourselves in Dr. Foster's shoes, but I wonder why none of them recommended putting ourselves in the shoes of Randy Thompson or Jan Swope or Bill West or other staff members repeatedly hurt by Dr. Foster's words and actions.
When I was starting out in ministry, I worked for a fairly large church in Houston. I was part of the student ministry. Without going into details, I underwent at that time, in the beginning and formative years of my ministerial calling, what I consider emotional and spiritual abuse from one, and occasionally two, pastors. This abuse was not manifested always verbally or in anger, but the condescension, belittling, self-worth draining, humiliation, dismissive, and argumentativeness might as well have been. One lunch meeting in particular I consider verbally abusive. I was a kid, really, looking for mentors in the ministry, not to mention just looking to my pastors to be pastors.
The resulting hurt almost made me leave ministry and almost made me abandon my faith.
What was more hurtful, however, was in the few times I risked my heart to share what I was going through, only to have the person I was talking to act like it was no big deal. "That's just how bosses are." "You misunderstood, he's just like that." "That's just so-and-so being so-and-so." "Yeah, so-and-so doesn't have very good interpersonal skills."
"No," I'd try to insist. "My experience with these guys is sinful."
More excuses. More dismissal. More spin.
No one -- besides my wife, that is -- took my hurt seriously. Nobody affirmed it. Nobody even suggested it was okay to feel the way I did. Instead I was told it was okay for these men to behave this way.
Do you know what that does to a victim? Do you know what that says to him or her?
I have never been in a situation of physical or sexual abuse, but I have heard from victims of such abuse that one of the most hurtful things they undergo is the excuses made by the abuser and his supporters. In fact, one of the worst things you can do, in seeking to "heal" the situation, is to coddle an abuser and treat his or her feelings with tender loving care. You, in essence, "echo" the abuse by affirming the central status of the abuser.
In our church, the elders believed they had a duty at a final, last-straw moment to put the healing and restoration of the church body and its shepherds in place of priority, putting Dr. Foster's feelings second. They did not do that from day one, and they did not always do that. But in the end, they had to. They had to.
Because one of the beautiful ramifications of the Gospel revolution is that the meek will be blessed, the grievers will be comforted, the thirsters for righteousness will be satisfied, the persecuted receive the power of the kingdom. In Christ's kingdom, it is the merciful who receive mercy (Mt. 5:7), not the merciless.
When I think back to the image of those courageous men standing before us last night, still trembling with emotion and wiping away tears, handling beligerent questions and accusations with calm and candor, I think, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God."