Weapons of Intent

As I was reeling in the wake of the news from South Carolina yesterday, this came into my in box.  It is a reminder that violence takes many forms, and that the intent behind our acts have consequences.  Major acts get media attention, but minor acts impact our lives in big and small ways every day.

“Dear Rev. Dick,

My friend said I should write to you to tell you about something that disturbed me a lot at conference.  I am a young adult and it was my first time coming to conference.  I will be honest and say it wasn’t what I expected, but in some ways it was better and other ways worse.  I had hoped to meet and hang out with more young people, but that didn’t happen, and I was a little disappointed more young people weren’t there.  But putting all that aside, I loved the music and I think our Bishop is funny and cute, and I was really impressed with worship and the positive energy.  By Saturday, I was wondering if some kind of ministry might be what I should do with my life.  That all changed on Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon I was in the entryway near the entrance to conference when this angry little man stomped into the area and began talking really nasty to the people behind the desk.  It became obvious that he disagreed with something, but it was the way he was acting that was just awful.  He snarled at people who were treating him respectfully and calmly, but he threw his name tag into one woman’s face and yelled that he would never come back again.  I was stunned, as were all the people in the hallway.  I couldn’t believe an adult would behave that way, and then I heard someone say he is a pastor!  You have got to be kidding me.  Are there really pastors who believe being rude, hostile, violent, and childish is okay?  I go back and forth all the time on how I feel about the church, but I have to tell you, if that is how pastor’s act, I want no part of it.  It is okay for people to get upset and to disagree.  I get that.  But what gives a pastor a right to mistreat people because he doesn’t get his own way?  This is a church leader!  This is someone who we should be able to look to to teach us how to be Christian.  This man made me sorry that I came to conference.  His selfish, rude behavior undid so much good that I felt until then.  He threw something in someone’s face!  I want to find a place that is better than that.”

There are almost two more pages, but this captures the heartbreak and disappointment of a young person looking for the church to be somehow better than the rest of the world.  Sadly, it takes the actions of one infantile, self-centered, entitlement-minded bully to poison the whole well.  I wrote back to this young person asking that she not judge the whole church on the misbehavior of one psychologically dysfunctional individual.  I haven’t heard back.

We stand at a critical juncture as the body of Christ and stewards of the will of God.  Hateful acts of violence, whether with guns or nametags, are purely and completely unacceptable.  The church must take a stand.  We must not allow our witness in the world to be one of selfish disregard, disrespect, aggression and attack.  Where is the fruit of the Spirit manifest in such blatant violation of simple common decency?  It is embarrassing to have to make excuses for intolerable bad behavior.  The time has come to be peace-makers, peace-keepers, and peace-modelers — and to name unacceptable behavior wherever and whenever we see it.

The world is watching.  Even when we don’t think “we’re on,” people see what we say and do.  We are not part-time Christians, only “being good” when it suits us.  Other people were unhappy that they didn’t “win” at annual conference.  A couple left in disgust — who simply turned in their name tags and departed quietly.  To my knowledge, only one chose violence against completely innocent people — but it only takes one.  The beauty of Paul’s Body of Christ imagery is that concept that when one part succeeds all succeed, but when one falls or fails, the whole body falls with it.

I am hopeful that this person was just having an off day (a truly egregious, horrendous, temporary insanity, kind of off day…) and that this is truly an aberration.  For the rest of us, I hope it is a wake up call.  More and more South Carolina shootings are going to happen as long as we close our eyes to the small, random acts of violence that are quickly coming to define our society.  Enough is enough.  We need to start small and stand tall.

5 replies

  1. Dan, I spent my whole career believing the church should be better than the world at large. But over 40 year of work within church related groups, I was continually struck with how much like the world the church worked, from local churches and conferences to colleges and the Board of Discipleship. I’ve sadly seen too many people like this one pastor who attained positions and used power to just hurt others. If one tries to follow a suffering servant model of leadership, you will not go far in the Methodist church. Safer to be funny and cute and ruthless. The old classic “How to become a Bishop Without Being Religious” was meant to be a satire. I’ve seen too many ministers who seemed to use it as a real manual for advancement. Someone should update it to fit the post modern scene!

  2. I’m thinking this must be a very young, somewhat insulated person who would measure the whole by one very small part. He saw an incident. We all occassionally see uncomfortable and difficult incidents. It does not mean anything other than what it is. I hope there was some pastoral care offered by someone to the upset man..

  3. The Virginia Annual Conference had to remove a pastor today because of his actions while in an appointment. His threatening the church SPRC, Finance Committee, etc. with bodily injury was but part of it. I also found out he’d been suspended multiple times prior to this because of similar incidents. If the Church cannot take action faster than this with a person obviously out of control then how can we expect the Church to teach anything about the Christ? Leadership starts at the top in our system, contrary to what one might think. Where are the true servant leaders? The current Sr. Pastor we have serving where I’ve attended for the past 30 years is beginning his 5th year in the appointment. Our SPRC tried to have him removed for a number of reasons during the last appointment process, but nobody else would take him because of his reputation within the conference. So today he still is drawing a rather large salary but doing the minimal amount possible so he can comfortably stay where he is. How is this allowable? This is the fallacy of guaranteed appointments. No wonder we’re in the shape we’re in.

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