On Not Giving Up and On Making Hard Decisions
In Defense of the Elders and Their Actions
1. Some are saying what the elders did at the weekend service was disruptive.
I say, compared to what? How could a decision of this difficulty not be disruptive? If you think the elder board (and the staff) thought this would go over smoothly and wouldn't interrupt some lives, you haven't been paying attention.
I don't see how they could have handled it a better way. Some are complaining the weekend service was the wrong place to make this announcement.
When is? When should they have done it? At one of the midweek services nobody attends? In a newsletter nobody gets?
No, the truth is, the weekend service was the only suitable time because it was the only time and place where everybody could hear the news.
Those of you complaining that worship was interrupted should realize that if anything should interrupt worship it is an announcement of this magnitude. At any rate, the brief worship time led by Lionel Cartright at the 8:30 service was, to my recollection, the most worshipful that auditorium has been in quite a while.
2. Some are saying this decision happened too quickly.
That is just wrong, folks. I know it seems that way to those who had no idea what was going on behind the scenes, but this was the culmination of more than a year's worth of attempts at fixing the problem and of several years, actually, of the leadership and accountability structure being broken. Think about staff other than Dr. Foster for a moment. They have lived through and worked in a lot for longer than 18 months, and certainly longer than a week. This move, while very painful, was a long time coming for them.
3. Some are saying the elders should have brought all the info before the church first.
a) Our church never has worked that way. It's not set up to work that way. Dr. Foster himself did not set it up to work that way.
b) Some folks need to realize that the very reason why the elders withheld information was to prevent disruption, to prevent people knowing unfortunate things about Dr. Foster. They didn't want to have to tell you about his problems and how they affect the church and the staff. Out of respect for him and out of concern for you. Were they naive in assuming our church would understand this concern? I guess so. But it wasn't them trying to "hide" anything. It was them trying not to have to reveal a dear friend's specific sins in such a public way.
4. The way this was handled was wrong.
You're right. It was handled wrongly by Dr. Foster, who, as far as I can tell based on his public statements, is unrepentant.
The elders did the very best they could, with a necessary decision, to act honorably and peacefully.
What should they have done differently? What I saw on Sunday morning were men and women with tears in their eyes and trembling bodies, heartbroken and devastated by the news they had to deliver. They delivered it in as best the way the knew how, telling the congregation what they believed you ought to know while hoping not to have to tell you all the sordid details.
Now that you've demanded the sordid details, and they are providing them for you, please don't complain that they are providing sordid details. As far as I can tell, they are bending over backwards to accomodate the reasonable concerns, and in some cases demands, of the congregation.
5. The decision they made was wrong.
It is your right to think so. But it was not wrong. The events leading to this painful decision did not begin last week or Saturday evening. They began long ago. It is possible, you know, for something to be broken on the inside. It is impossible for people to come to a place designed to impress them for one hour on a weekend and then understand all that goes into it and all that goes on inside the place the other 167 hours in the week. There is more to pastoring than public speaking.
Go to a meeting. See for yourself that this is not about personality differences or wanting to change the church into something "churchy" or not loving Dr. Foster. Love for Dr. Foster permeates the whole story.
6. We can still work this thing out!
I know the image of the elders and the Fosters reconciling on stage is a tempting one. And it would be a beautiful sight, I agree.
This sentiment fails to understand that the elders tried, at every step of the way, for almost two years, to work this thing out. The consistent themes of the chronology presented at the cottage meeting are the persistent grace-giving of the elders and the persistent unrepentance of Dr. Foster. The elders tried desperately to keep Dr. Foster at the church, they tried for so, so long to make it work. They wanted restoration, they wanted healing, they wanted reconciliation just as badly as you do.
But there comes a point where hard decisions must be made. At some point the elders realized that the integrity and concerns of the Church must come before Dr. Foster. They didn't operate that way from the beginning, or this decision would have been made long ago. Honestly, after hearing all that has gone on in this process, a better question to ask is why they took so long.
The answer is that they didn't want to have to make this decision. Discipline is never an easy thing, and these days, obviously, church discipline is rarely even heard of. It is a biblical mandate, but some people would probably think the very notion against the spirit of grace.
But discipline is actually part of the whole counsel of God's grace. When you discipline your children is it because you don't love them? Isn't it because you realize your child's discipline is good for him and good for the family? Isn't it because there is a right and wrong and you want to demonstrate that to your child?
From the beginning to the end, the disruption was caused by Dr. Foster himself. We'd never be in this place if it were not for his actions from the very beginning. The elders made a hard but necessary choice, after more than a year of attempts at restoration and reconciliation failed. And trying to protect his reputation and trying to protect the congregation from knowing of his sins, the elders offered him the option of peaceable separation. Dr. Foster rejected it. The conflict was his decision.
I know it's a hard thing to say, but one who is repentant cannot bring conditions to the table. It's an all or nothing deal. People are acting as if the elders have dropped the ball in this situation when it comes to forgiveness and grace and reconciliation, when the truth is, they've been trying to do that for so long for someone who just decided he wasn't interested. And you can't restore someone who isn't repentant. That's the gospel Dr. Foster himself preaches.
The gospel is not a soft concept. It is scandalous. It deals with sin, which is the worst thing in the world.
We cannot, in this time when people are desperately in need of reconciliation with Jesus Christ, enforce cheap grace. The Bible does not allow it, and sinners like me and you and the elders and Dr. Foster cannot afford it. We cannot afford cheap grace.