Twitter, Martin Luther, and Oz

martin-luther-nails-thesis-1

by Ross Decker Sr

So, there we sat. Liz and I were waiting in the church library for the meeting to begin. I had some sense of what to expect. I’d been in church meetings before. I’d been to Oz and had seen behind the curtain. It would be a slam dunk set up. The pastor would come in, accompanied by two or three others who totally and unflinchingly agreed with him. They’d put together their talking points. They had played out the meeting among themselves, came to their conclusion and now, all that was left was to fill us in. After, an imitation discussion, of course.

We were called in to discuss some horrible crime related to our Twitter pages. The pastor didn’t want to tell us why he wanted to meet with us, surprise being an advantage to him. Nor did he want to invite the person who’d brought the questionable tweets to his attention. But, we would have no meeting without those two concessions, I assured him. Reluctantly, he gave in. Pastoral sit downs are so stacked against the congregant that, like Gil Garcetti moving the OJ Simpson trial to downtown Los Angeles, he was sure he’d crush us.

I assumed that he had issues with our Twitter accounts because I followed LaylaLoves on twitter and she followed me. We occasionally talked about our dogs, hers being Mojo and mine being Spanky. She is an entertainment and sports reporter. Very knowledgeable and very attractive.

But it wasn’t Layla. It was David Platt. I wasn’t the problem at all this time. It was Liz. She was posting quotes from Platt’s book, “Radical”, a book which looked at the American Evangelical church in a new way. At that meeting was a kid on the worship team. Wanting to be noticed, told the pastor’s wife that Liz was posting “dark tweets about the church.” she, ran to tattle to her husband. Not until the meeting began did the pastor learn that the tweets and re-tweets were points made by Platt, probably because he couldn’t conceive of someone learning something from a source beyond his pulpit.

What did our pastor find objectionable about Platt? Nothing, it turns out. He agreed with every Platt quote once he learned that they were from a respected, hip Christian leader. He did say that Platt was wrong to make those observations public and Liz was wrong to Tweet them. The assistant pastor earned his paycheck, saying, “You don’t know who might read it and say ‘Ross and Liz think the church is bad so maybe it is'”.

Then it got awkward. I enjoy awkward. This was the point where Liz reminded him that he had asked her to do internet research to learn what the cool churches had been doing. He wanted to incorporate some trendy things into his sermons. He was angry with her because she had done what he’d asked her to. Besides, she pointed out, she’d written many positive things on her personal blog.

He got very loud at this, slamming his hand on the table. “All the positive stuff is about Glenn Blossom,” he yelled out. “Glenn Blossom! Glenn Blossom! I’m sick to death of Glenn Blossom!”

“Well, Glenn has been very kind to us,” I said. “I consider him my friend and mentor.”

“Well, you once called me a cold hearted preacher, he screamed. And….there it was. Four years before, a young man who from our congregation lost his life in a car crash early on a Sunday morning. The entire service went by until there was an “oh. as some of you have heard,” announcement. After dismissal. I met the pastor and told him I’d thought that the late announcement wasn’t enough in this situation. I told him that I’d wished he’d done more. He explained why he’d approached it the way he had and his point made sense to me. I told him so immediately and we parted, I thought, amicably.

Not so. Now, in the presence of the assistant pastor, the kid from the worship team and my wife, he spewed out his bitterness. The saddest part about it is that he had been acting as everything was fine. He was taking communion every Sunday and serving it to me. He made me a deacon. And, all the while, he hated me for a conversation that only happened from him reliving it and rewriting it in his mind. I reminded him of what really happened and he admitted I was right. He then launched into a “you two are so bitter that nothing any pastor does can make you happy.” Then, he heel-turned and was off to pick his daughter up from school.

Why did it happen? I think it was a pastor who didn’t understand his job. He admitted that he never was on Twitter. He’d only felt he had to do something because his wife brought it to his attention. And she heard from the kid on the worship team. But, why did he care? What if the tweets weren’t quotes but were Liz’s own words? What if there was, as the tweets suggested, a problem with the church in that it was functionally segregated by color and culture? What if the church really wasn’t doing enough to care for the poor? Is it really preferable to keep silent about it? Should tweets really be, as the pastor actually insisted, “rah, rah, Jesus?” I don’t think so. and this Protestant pastor needed to remember that Martin Luther didn’t think so. In fact, that church might never have existed if Luther hadn’t criticized the Church of his day, using social media in nailing his 95 Thesis’ to the Wittenberg door that Saturday in October.

The next Sunday, during his sermon, he held up a copy of Platt’s book. It was a book he was enjoying, he claimed, and promised to be working Platt quotes into his messages.Of course, he never did. And then he did the thing pastors often do when they fail to dominate their prey in a meeting. He re-enacted a question/answer from our discussion but altered the responses to prove his point. The phone calls started three weeks later. The assistant pastor called to ask why we were still coming to church. He told us that, if a pastor had spoken to him as venomously as ours had to us, he’d be gone. After several more calls I asked a friend of mine, a counselor on the church staff, why I was getting these repeat calls, He told me that they wanted us out.

And, so it crystallized for us. A string of people had been driven from that church after nasty encounters with that pastor. We were just the latest. So, yes. We would start going to another church because that’s what our insecure pastor wanted. I told him we wanted to go to a church that had a greater outreach to the poor. Makes sense, he said, because “you’re not gonna get that here.” So, we went to the other church, the one from last week’s Ashley Madison post.

So, Pastors, don’t fight your flock. Shepherd us. You’re called by Christ to take care of us. Treat us kindly. Drive us into the safety of the church, not from it.Don’t use our private conversations for sermon fodder.  And certainly, under no circumstance should you slam us as bitter without being willing to help us with our problems. Oh yes, and don’t expose your own bitterness while accusing someone else of being bitter.

And, should we not mention problems within the church so that we get people to join us? Is that the way we grow our churches? I think not. I think it never hurts to speak the truth, for the truth will set you free. I have that on good authority, too. It isn’t even from David Platt

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As always, I appreciate your comments. Next weeks’ blog will likely be about the aforementioned Glenn Blossom. Let’s see if you get sick to death of Glenn Blossom too.

Confession, Gossip, and Ashley Madison (part one)

by Ross Decker Sr

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.”

When I said those words, it struck me that I’d  never thought that The Penitential Act of confession would be one of the major attractions to Catholicism for me. Why would I sit in a dimly lit booth and speak my sins out loud to another man? For thirty seven years it had been drilled into me that there was no mediator between man and God but Jesus Christ, and I could access God’s forgiveness at any time by merely thinking about it in the privacy of  my head. Now, I was comforted while confessing my sins to a priest.

There was something very welcoming to me about confession. I knew for certain that it was the Seal of Confession more than the confession itself that drew me. I knew that whatever I told the priest would not be shared with anyone else, not even with me. And that was very different from the religious culture I’d come from.

During my previous thirty seven years I’d learned that you had to be careful what you allowed people to see of you in church. The Apostle Paul, Saint Paul, wrestled openly with sinful desires. He didn’t hide that. Romans 7:15-20 has him writing “ For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Let me be clear; Saint Paul would be excluded from ministry in a few churches I’d attended. 

In all of the churches I’d attended, only one pastor, Glenn Blossom, ever admitted to the same struggle Saint Paul so openly wrote about. His openness about his own temptations and failings created such a comfortable environment at that church. He often said that the church, a precursor to our heavenly family, must be the safest place on earth. I wonder too, if the ability to speak freely about ‘little’ sins might be a good defense against the major failings we’ve seen via Ashley Madison. Maybe, if Josh Duggar and Sam Rader weren’t conditioned to hide their sin as a means of self preservation, perhaps someone could have helped them avoid this latest scandal.

Needless to say, those other churches were never the safest places on earth. Following the pastoral lead, everyone dedicated themselves to hiding and denying any sin issues in their lives. To be discovered would mean being shamed, being curtailed from any ministry you might be doing and, what I didn’t find out until much later, being grist for the pastor gossip mill. Just before I left the Evangelical church on my tiny island, I learned the secret that moved me out. The pastors on Staten Island socialized regularly. Their topic of conversation? Their congregation.

I was naive enough not to know that. These pastors all preached about the sin of gossip from their pulpits. It was dishonest. It was hurtful. It ruined lives. It tore congregations apart. Yes, they told us that gossip would surely do all these things. And then, they gossiped.

In the last church Liz and I attended, the one that drove me to the open door of Catholicism was where I found this out. Liz was asked by the choir director to take over the choir. This is Liz’s gift, she has led worship for many years. Surprisingly, the pastor said she would not be allowed to do it because she had been greatly hurt in a church fifteen years before. I immediately asked for a meeting with that pastor.

I was concerned about two related things. First, I wondered why he thought Liz was troubled fifteen years after an event. Secondly, I wanted to know why he thought, believing that to be true, would tell it to his current choir director.

The amazing revelation about the meeting was that the pastor realized that Liz and I did not know the two people he’d heard the story from and….wait for it…..he remembered that the story was about someone else and he’d thought the story was about Liz. He didn’t want to create any “confusion” so he thought it best that Liz not become the new choir director anyway. Besides, he said, he’d spoken to another pastor about us and that pastor told him our twitter pages had “dark posts” on them.

I asked him if he didn’t consider all this to be gossip and he assured me that he didn’t. He told me that he regularly got together with a few Island pastors, naming them, and said that they always talked about the people in their congregation. He said they did so to “protect” the congregation. When someone from their churches left to go to another church the past pastor would call the new pastor to alert him to things he should watch for in the new attender. We asked a pastor friend of ours why this could happen and he answered readily. “It’s because pastors believe the lie that they’re special.”

Staten Island is a small island. Knowing that all the pastors gossip about their church was an eye opener to us. But learning it meant there now was no way we could again sit in an Evangelical church without the reasonable fear that the pastor had heard a story about someone else and now thought it was us. We couldn’t listen to another sermon about “integrity” without feeling betrayed. The church was no longer the safest place on earth.

We began to think about the local Catholic Church parishes. We weren’t thinking of converting. We were just looking for a place to live out our faith in the presence of God without worrying about the gossipers. We knew there was no interplay between the Evangelical pastors and the Catholic priests. Catholicism seemed safe. We drove past one church, The Church of The Sacred Heart, and noticed that the door was always open. That attracted us. We went inside. The service was beautiful. There was so much meaning to me at every moment.

So, as I knelt in the confessional, confessing my sins to a priest, I was confident that no one else would hear about them other than the three of us in that booth. Only me, the priest, and god. I knew that the priest would strive to not even remember my confession. He wouldn’t bring those sins up to anyone. Not even me.  I was safe in church, I was home.

As always, I look forward to reading your comments.

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