Church leaders, I beseech you to study all sides of the situation carefully and prayerfully before you make a judgment on your church member that may alter his or her view of God or spiritual life forever. You have been placed in such a position to be the agent of change, to bring restoration to the individual.
As someone who has felt the sting of this, I ask you to consider these questions: Are we equally investigating BOTH parties? Are we taking the totality of the word of God into examination on this issue? What is the Holy Spirit telling us to do? Does Satan have a foothold of pride or control in my heart?
While there are no reliable figures, some church followers think the number of congregations using “church discipline” is growing among conservative congregations. As more cases come to light, they raise questions about the biblical basis and legal implications of such practices. Are these church shepherds just doing their best to care for their flocks, or are they crossing a line by shaming and shunning their so-called sinners?
Here’s a sampling from some of the nation's denominations:
1. SOUTHERN BAPTISTS
The Southern Baptist Convention has passed more than 50 resolutions about the “deleterious effects of consuming alcohol,” said Roger S. Oldham, spokesman for the convention’s Executive Committee. The most recent resolution, passed in 2006, urged that “no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages.”
“In instances where a pastor may need treatment for substance abuse, he or his church would seek services in the same way other members of their communities would,” Oldham said.
2. ROMAN CATHOLICS
Mark Driscoll, the larger-than-life megachurch pastor who had been accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego, resigned from his Seattle church Oct. 15, according to a document obtained by Religion News Service.
The divisive Seattle pastor had announced his plan to step aside for at least six weeks in August while his church investigated the charges against him. Driscoll’s resignation came shortly after the church concluded its investigation.
“Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill,” Driscoll wrote in his resignation letter.
Driscoll was not asked to resign, according to a letter from the church’s board of overseers. “Indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter,” the overseers wrote.
The contemporary fast-paced, capitalistic, U.S. free market society has lost the traditional commitments to and comprehension of ‘church.’ Our parents and grandparents understood church as a community to which they belonged. Church was a place where many aspects of social life happened. The pastor was hired by the church people to care for and nurture the community, both individually and collectively. People looked to the pastor for spiritual inspiration, ethical guidance, sound counsel, and pastoral care. The pastor was an extended member of the family and people were happy to make a personal financial contribution to pay the pastor's salary and to keep the church building in repair. Somewhere along the line our society ‘outgrew’ this version of church.
A recent article in The Atlantic titled "Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy" laments the shift away from the traditional model of financing church and clergy as well as the increased costs for training clergy. The average Master of Divinity student (the degree for pastoral training) graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans — sometimes entering into the six-digit category. According to the U.S. department of labor, the median wage for a pastor is $43,800 — not a salary that lends itself to paying off high-end loans.
The third edition of the Shriver Report, a media initiative spearheaded by Maria Shriver to call public attention to women’s evolving role in the home, workplace, and society, was released this month.
With a large body of articles, research, polls, data, and personal stories, the report assesses the unique needs, pressures, and realities women face. Contributors within the faith, health, academic, economic, and political communities are represented, coupled with intentional cultural and social diversity. This gives the Shriver Report a richness of deep and thoughtful voices. The aim is to strike up provocative, meaningful, national conversations on how progressive policies can be better directed to advance gender equality in the United States.
One of the most eye-catching article headlines for me in reading the report was “ Are Women Devalued by Religions?” In the article, sister Joan Chittister remarks on how our assumptions about religion influence our actions, and how the outworking of our actions shapes the norms and policies we guide our lives by. Unfortunately, these assumed beliefs can lead to commonly accepted views that completely distort what God has to say about women.
I had the privilege of teaching a pastoral theology class at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, last week.
I had the entire senior class: 13 young, promising, enthusiastic, veterans of church wars, and yet eager to get started.
Like any speaker with a full deck of PowerPoint slides, I probably said more than was needed. But I wanted to make, reinforce, clarify, and leave no mistake about my main point: Business as usual is off the table.
After nearly 50 years of relentless decline in mainline churches, business as usual is a sinking ship. The way forward lies in fresh ideas, turnaround strategies, entrepreneurial enthusiasm for risk, and learning from failure.
Leaders of Christian Churches Together in the USA, a 10-year-old network aimed at promoting interchurch collaboration, have chosen a Presbyterian ecumenical associate as their new executive director.
The Rev. Carlos Malave, who worked for the Presbyterian Church (USA) for 11 years, said CCT is trying to adapt in the challenging realm of ecumenical relations.
The National Council of Churches and Churches Uniting in Christ, two decades-old groups focused on church unity, have been dealing with financial and leadership woes. While scholars, such as those who gathered in April in Assisi, Italy, have grappled with what they consider an "ecumenical winter," Malave says CCT is successfully using new methods as the church adjusts to post-modernism.
Imagine this scenario occurring in your workplace. It’s your company’s annual corporate retreat, and in a misguided attempt to inject humor into the event, your leaders present a skit in which they all pretend to be disabled in some way.
They hobble around with awkward positions, as if paralyzed or unable to use particular limbs; they exaggerate their speech and behavior to grossly characterize those who have communication difficulties, and all these representations are done in a mocking and demeaning way, to garner a few laughs.
No modern-day corporation would do this. And yet, in the context of Christian organizations and churches, similar situations still occur.
We recently witnessed a sermon video in which the pastor of a large, multi-site church in Minnesota brought an Asian man on stage representing a “samurai” and had him sit before the congregation, stone-faced and silent, while the pastor flailed his arms in a cartoonish imitation of karate moves while yelling random Asian-sounding gibberish, then banged a loud gong in an attempt to rattle the “samurai’s focus.”
Lean and lanky, the 30-something teacher probed the congregation with a practiced eye as he wound down his presentation. Ezekiel, or "Zeke" (pseudonym), teaches at a secondary school in another country. Backed up by a carefully constructed PowerPoint presentation, Ezekiel shared his passion for sensitively pouring truth and grace into the lives of his students, particularly the girls. His blue eyes blazed as he asked if a woman in the Community Christian Church (not its real name) congregation would be willing to come forward and pray for the women of his host country.
No one moved.
An autographed photo of Jimmy Carter sits on our piano. A friend of ours wrote to Carter and told him that he was one of our sons' favorite presidents, and would he please send them a signed photograph. When Keith gave our sons the Carter picture last Christmas, my 8-year-old actually teared up.