I am getting a lot of this kind of correspondence at the moment so I want to cover it here to save me some time in counseling people. Nice when I can just have someone read a blog post. I get letters like this quite often (this one will be a fictitious amalgam of quite a few situations over the years):
I have this terrible problem at church/assembly/synagogue/homegroup – the leaders are very controlling and they have suddenly turned on me, shaming me publicly, and even encouraging others to shun me. I don’t even know what I have done wrong – I just disagreed on something that didn’t seem like a big deal. I didn’t deny Messiah or anything, it’s just a doctrinal disagreement for goodness sakes – I never thought they would ever do something like this to me.”
I look at a letter like that and the same thing always goes through my mind, from long experience.
“I need you to be absolutely honest with me, have they ever done this to anyone else?”
“Okay, when they did it to the other people, who did you support?”
“Um… the leadership.”
“Well gosh, I am not really sure – I mean, I guess I thought those other people had it coming and I really didn’t want to rock the boat.”
This is the point where I always /facepalm and /sigh and get very real.
“How is the rest of the congregation treating you?”
“Well, they are supporting the leaders – I have been trying to meet with them and everything, but most don’t want to hear my side of it and I guess they just don’t care – the ones who do listen, they pretend to feel bad about what is happening but they do absolutely nothing about it so they obviously only feel a vague sense of discomfort! I feel like everyone just wishes that I would shut up and go away so that they can continue enjoying their fellowship. I don’t understand why they don’t care that the leadership is treating people this way. Why don’t people care that I am being hurt?”
“When it happened to the other couple, did they try to reason with you about what was happening to them?”
“Yes, they did.”
“So then – what you did to your neighbor is being done to you now. You are not being persecuted by the leadership, you are being judged by God for standing by and allowing the leadership to persecute other people. Goodness, you may have even financially supported them while they did it!”
“But they are wrong…”
“Yes they may very well be wrong and probably are – Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah, because God sent him on that task, but the *way* the Babylonians went about it was wrong because they were a wicked people. God has plenty of wicked people on the payroll (and many others in volunteer positions) that He uses to discipline people, He doesn’t ask righteous people to do underhanded things to people – He simply allows unrighteous people to do what they are already inclined to do. You took part in something wicked against another family, and now their own pleas of protest are coming out of your mouth. Make no mistake, you will be ignored by your former allies because that is what you did to someone else – but be encouraged because you are being disciplined for a purpose. It would be worse for you if you were simply the kind of wicked person that is actively being used to discipline and refine others. Goodness, congregations are full of people like that who are beyond discipline and have become powers unto themselves – get down on your knees and thank God because He is giving you a chance to get out of that side of the equation. You and the other families in your congregation sinned against that family and YOU are being given a chance to get out and stop being a part of that sin in the future. Your eyes are being opened.”
I’ve never explained that to a person who didn’t understand it but some refuse to accept it – they still strive to show everyone how wronged they were, to a bunch of people who just don’t care and may be absolutely incapable of caring at this stage of their walk. It would be nice if people did care when a congregation turns its collective back on someone over something either trivial or questionable, but in general we are a pretty unloving bunch – we generally don’t care unless the person being betrayed is someone who we actually do love in an egotistical way (and by that I mean someone who, if they are shamed, it also touches upon our ego – like a spouse, child, or very close friend). Situations like this show how incredibly dysfunctional the Body of Messiah is in every single denomination I can think of – although certainly not every single congregation!
This goes for a lot of different things (from gossip in the pulpit to full blown sexual abuse silently consented to by the congregation), really, and yes sometimes you will have that rare occasion where a total innocent gets swept up in such a situation – but generally, when it happens to us as adults, we have already watched something similar happen to others and we just didn’t care, or worse, we approved and participated. I used to mock people cruelly, and then I was disciplined and pulled out of that lifestyle. Now when I get mocked, I simply sigh and am not as surprised when people rally around the mocker – I remember how fun it was to watch before I was judged and how quickly my flesh moved me to see it as a good thing, to justify it at any cost so that I wouldn’t have to peer into the darkness of my own heart. Generally anymore, it just makes me sick – not just to see the public shaming of someone and to understand how much and how deeply it hurts them, but when I watch how people justify the behavior – just like I used to. I get sick because I remember, and it grieves me that I was ever so cruel and so eager to believe that I was righteous as I was doing it.
We need to learn a lesson from the Babylonians – God uses the wicked to refine those who should act righteously. Just because we are being used by God – well, it doesn’t mean that we are any better in the inside than Nebuchadnezzar. Coming out of Babylon is much more complex than people give it credit for – in the end, Babylon was judged because of the excessive cruelty with which they treated God’s people, even in the midst of the righteous covenant lawsuit judgement against them.
So embrace the judgement and allow it to teach you compassion – the people who do it may seem to prosper, but goodness, Babylon seemed to prosper for a long time too, until another wicked nation was used to judge it. We must be patient and allow God to work within the hearts of individuals, and sometimes the methods He uses are kinda ugly because… well we are kinda ugly. Until we get to the point where sins against others outrage us more than the sins committed against ourselves, we aren’t there yet, and we need every ounce of discipline we can get.
And yet, woe to those who are being used to deliver it!