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Monday, May 16, 2011

Pigs in the Pulpit

Pigs in the Pulpit by J. Michael Wittman

Michael Wittman tells a painful, but powerful, story of his experience in a church with controlling, destructive leaders. 

Wittman became a Christian after years of struggling with drugs and other difficulties, and he stumbled into a conservative, Pentecostal church that, while warm and inviting, didn't always line up with his idea of what it meant to be a Christian.

I just began to quietly talk to God. I had no preconceptions, no religious ideas and no expectations. It was just Him and me. I don’t remember exactly what I said or how I said it. I do remember calling on the name of Jesus, even though I didn’t really know who He was. I just started pouring out my heart to Him, apologizing, confessing, asking for forgiveness, begging for His help.

I didn’t know it at the time, but what I found myself thrust into that wonderfully wacky Sunday morning was a church organization that many believe departs from orthodox Christianity on several key doctrines, even by their own admission.

Wittman ultimately began to question some of the ideas of the church, in particular the ideas of the senior pastor, but he still ended up following one of its leaders to another church, where he experienced many of the same red flags, frustrations, and spiritual abuse.

After a time, many, many things that would certainly be looked upon as “gray areas” by other
Christians, situations and things which were clearly not covered topically in the Bible, actually became a salvational, i.e. a heaven or hell issue.

One of the techniques they used to modify my mindset is called “love bombing.” Despite my initial misgivings about Jason’s behavior and our head-butting exercises, despite my internal queries about the “rules and regs” ...these cultish warning flags were easily overcome by the amount of love, affection, attention and sincere friendship I was shown by other members of the congregation.

To avoid accountability, they [these types of leaders] want you to think that you’re the one sinning, instead of them.

Wittman finally disengaged himself and his family from the troubled church and its leadership. 

I began to ponder some questions like, how did I get here? I aa reasonably intelligent person. I love Jesus. I want to serve God. I love my wife and kids. I want to serve the church. But how did I give my- self permission to get to this point?

He is frank about his own faults but cautions readers against believing they could not find themselves in a similar situation. Also, he does a great job of including warning signs and suggested resources for those who do believe they are in a cult-like environment. The book is well-written, sincere, and moving.

And he even discussed one of my biggest pet peeves...

I’d been around long enough to know that if someone throws out “God said” or “God told me,” there was no point in pushing the issue any further. After all, if “God said” or “God told me” and you disagree with anything else, you’re not disagreeing with me, you’re disagreeing with God!

However, as a Christian myself, I was troubled by one of his conclusions.

My advice is, if you make the decision to finally leave a less-than-healthy church, don’t allow yourself to feel pressured to go to another church. Don’t even put a timetable on it. You’re already a member of the most important church and, frankly, the only one that really matters: the Body of Christ. Don’t let anyone tell you that you must “punch a clock” on Sundays in order to be a healthy Christian. Especially, don’t allow yourself to feel pressured by some internal guilt feelings or “drive” that says you’re somehow falling short of God’s expectations for you by not attending “church.” We need to be the church, not go to church. 

He does go on to clarify, saying...

I’m not saying that you should never attend another church again. What I am saying is, get to know your God better, work on your relationship with Him first. Allow yourself time to heal and recover. Life is a marathon journey, not a sprint.

I have never personally experienced a cult; although, I do have close friends who have. I don't dispute at all the idea of needing time to heal, and some might need time away from church to do that.

However, if we're using the Bible as a guide, I don't think you can overstate the importance of the community of believers. From the community of Israel in the Old Testament to the new Christian church we read about in Acts, we see God dealing with His people through community much more often than we see Him dealing with them through personal revelation.

Almost all of the letters in the New Testament were addressed to, read aloud in, and interpreted within the church itself. Ideally, being part of a church helps ensure that we are correctly understanding the Bible and keeps us from basing too many of our beliefs on personal experience and feelings. Verses like these, these, and these underscore the importance placed on the local church and echo Christ's instruction to "love one another."

On another note, Wittman seems to be a thorough reader and a student of theology, so I would recommend that he read some "meatier" material than Joel Osteen and Dr. Phil. I'm not criticizing these authors, but I think Wittman could easily handle and benefit from Wayne Grudem, James Garrett, or N.T. Wright.

Again, Wittman's book is a troubling read--in both the abuses and his conclusions--but it is an authentic and well-told look at the misuse of the church and those who serve in it.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

LOEX Conference Photo Essay

I just finished an intense two days of the LOEX conference (related to academic library instruction). I haven't been to a huge number of conferences in my career, but, so far, this was the best one.

The organization was flawless, the hotel was amazing, and the sessions were informative, entertaining, inspiring (the list of adjectives could go on and on). I'm heading back to work on Monday better equipped and eager to implement some of the things I learned!

In the meantime, I couldn't resist getting some shots of the Omni Hotel in downtown Fort Worth where the conference was held...

(Insert here: the chef at the Omni has a rooftop garden where he grows his own herbs.)

And I know I've said it before, but I really am almost done with the Pigs in the Pulpit review. Tomorrow? Maybe?

Read from the beginning...