On The Pain of Going to Church and How Community Orchestra Helped

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It was hard to be in church yesterday.

Trump won the US presidential election, and it is no secret to readers of this blog that I was sad about that (although I will respect him and pray for his government). But I was sadder still that pollsters said more than 80% of evangelical Christians voted for him, and so it was hard to go to worship in an American evangelical church on Sunday morning. With a US flag up front. Even though the prayer was tender, and the sermon spoke so directly and kindly about loving our Muslim neighbors. It was hard to be there.

I was sad about how divided the church is.

I was sad about how much damage we’ve done to each other and the witness of the Gospel in the world by presuming to speak for God with “endorsements as Christians.”

I was sad about what felt like a win for fear and divisiveness, when the church is supposed to be about mercy, radical welcome, the kingdom of God, and love.

hate feeling this way. I feel a bone-deep grief for the church and our community, and I’m wrestling with my own attitudes and judgments towards other believers who are just as loved by God but who seem to come to such different conclusions about life. “What a mess we are. What a mess I am,” I wailed as I drove alone in my car yesterday afternoon. “What do you think of this, God?” I challenged.

He didn’t say anything.

I had to cut my prayer rant short and find parking: I’d arrived at the community hall where a local chamber orchestra was giving a recital. I brushed the tears off my face and slipped into the back row. They had just started the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th: a well-known and well-loved piece if ever there was one.

And friends, it was…. how shall I put this? It was…. not the best rendition of Beethoven I’ve ever heard. I confess I winced more than once in the first few minutes, particularly when the cellos sounded discordant (I’m not sure if that’s because the strings section was weaker or because I am particularly aware of cellos since it’s the only orchestra instrument I’ve ever played.)

But it wasn’t long before my wincing was replaced by more tears as God gently walked me through a series of thoughts:

“This doesn’t sound very good, but I couldn’t play any better than this.”

“The skill level of each of these individuals is pretty high, but getting people to play music together is so much harder than playing alone.”

“A player’s individual weaknesses are sometimes disguised by the sound of the group, but each person’s weakness also lowers the overall quality of sound.”

“And when they’re not listening to each other or the conductor, it sounds particularly messy.”

And then,

“Each one of these musicians knows how this piece is supposed to sound. And each of them knows that it doesn’t sound like they wish it did. Perhaps they’re tempted to quit because they don’t want to be a part of something that sounds so awkward. And yet they keep playing. It doesn’t sound as it should but it’s better than it did when they first started rehearsing. And so, they keep playing, and doing their best. Measure by measure. Movement by movement.

“If the cellists were to realize they were the weakest in the group and simply stopped playing, the whole thing would fall apart. All the parts matter. Rather like 1 Corinthians 12. Who are we to honor one part above another, or say to any one else “I don’t need you?”

“And, still, they are making music. Listen, that part with the pizzicato was lovely. Listen, your heart beat faster in that section. Listen, awkward as it is at times, they are making music together and look: it is finished, and you are clapping, and you mean it.”

God showed me a glimpse of the church as his little community orchestra, filled with faithful-and-far-from-perfect musicians. Each person with their skills. Each person with their weaknesses. All of us letting the others down at times, and yet all of us soldiering on together at the conductor’s urging. Sometimes the combined sound makes us wince, but what shall we do? We’re not where we should be yet, but God knows: we have to keep playing.

So I’ll go back to church on Sunday, and I will focus my efforts on playing as faithfully as I can and keeping my eyes trained on the Great Conductor. We all will. And one day, we will look back, and we will have muddled through and made music together, and we will be glad.

Ask Me: How Should I Respond to the SCOTUS Decision if I Disagreed?

Dear Bronwyn,

How would you suggest Christians who don’t believe in the morality of gay marriage react to a culture at large who will attack and invalidate a dissenting opinion as hateful and bigoted? Almost everyone I know who disagrees is too afraid to say anything to the contrary lest they be verbally assaulted – by Christians and non-Christians. Is it just best to hold to the unpopular truth with as much love and gentleness as we can, and take the inevitable hate that is going to spew our way? Or be silent on the matter and show love and acceptance (without approval)? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
– Conscience-Bound
Dear CB,
Within my own Christian community, there are those that were celebrating Friday’s decision, and a number who bore the day with heaviness. The SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage was SIGNIFICANT, for a host of reasons.
The question is: what do you say or do now, if you were hoping the decision would go the other way? Here are a few of my thoughts:
1. Take the long view:
I loved Andy Crouch’s advice in this interview. He urges us to take the long view: our culture is in the middle of a long conversation about what it means to be male and female. This decision reflects part of a much longer arc – so we have some thinking to do on that. Here’s Andy’s quote (at length), but I found it so helpful:

Whatever the Supreme Court’s decision, we have to see this as a multi-generational story of our culture trying to negotiate whether there is any significance to our creation as male and female in the image of God. That is not going to turn on a dime, and healthy cultural change actually never happens quickly. It’s worth remembering that Christians — both liberal/progressive and conservative, but especially the modernist Protestants who were then in positions of cultural power — created and sustained the ideology of racism that gained power in the 19th century, advancing the supposedly “scientific” belief, concurrent with the rise of Darwinism, that some races were intrinsically superior to others. And there were plenty of Supreme Court decisions along the way — Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson — that seemed to reinforce that arc of history. It took the better part of a century to reverse that profound insult to the biblical doctrine of the image of God, which was always meant to be expressed in human cultural and ethnic diversity.

If, as I believe, we’re in the midst of an equally mistaken denial of the image of God in human beings as male and female, that is not going to be undone quickly. So any contribution to the discussion about this month’s decision should take the long view. What is our hope for human beings, male and female, several generations from now? What kind of society do we want to leave for our children and our children’s children? The more that our contributions to the conversation can be hopeful — not necessarily optimistic in the short run, but hopeful in the long run — the more chance we have of helping our society turn the corner on these issues.

2. Take it as an opportunity to refocus.

One of my professors at Bible College warned us often that those who taught wrong doctrine were in just as much trouble as those who taught right doctrine, but gave it the wrong emphasis. Christian cults are often guilty of exactly this: teaching true things, but in such disproportion that the net effect is not a faithful witness to the gospel.

I found Ed Cyzewski’s perspective helpful here: he views the SCOTUS decision as a gift to the church: an opportunity for us to recalibrate and, rather than using all our energy on fighting same-sex marriage, to major on the majors according to Jesus in Matthew 25. We have a hurting, bleeding, poor, starving world all around us, with nearly a third of people not yet even having the beginning of a Bible being translated in their language. We have work to do. Prayers to pray. Money to give strategically to Kingdom work. Let’s get busy.

3. Find a way to put it into perspective.

As I’ve said before (here and here, for example), I think that we fail in the realm of sexual ethics on a whole host of fronts. Our world is full of people struggling with pornography, our churches have adulterers and divorcees and who knows how many couples who are sexually active before they are married. Every one of these falls short of what God has said (even though, for example, a couple living together may not think there is anything morally objectionable about their arrangement at all!) And yes, I believe same-sex relationships are a violation of God’s sexual ethic, too.

So, for me it is helpful to see this current crisis in the bigger context: another way in which we need to think deeply about how we talk about sexuality and sex and our bodies, and what Scripture says to these bigger issues. God’s word is good and his truth is freedom – somehow, we need to be better at figure out how to give a vision for God’s good for us in his words on sexuality, and prayerfully seek gracious truth in how we encourage one another towards righteousness in all areas of life, and all areas of sexuality. This article from Karen Swallow Prior on Gay Marriage, Abortion, and the Bigger Picture is a truly excellent example of this.

4. And if you take abuse, turn the other cheek.

It’s okay to be disappointed—heartbroken, even—but don’t be angry. If we are being labeled as  bigot or haters, I think that is a real invitation for us to search our hearts and figure out if there is any truth to those accusations. Have we majored on a minor, or caused “a little one to stumble” in our dealings? If so, we need to apologize for being offensive.

But if you know in your heart that you were not being hateful, that your position is one of sadness and wishing it were different for the sake of others’ well-being, then dear friend: try to turn the other cheek. As one wise counselor once said to me in marriage counseling, “What’s more important here: being right? Or being in relationship?”

Take courage. Jesus is still King and he has given us work to do. Let’s get on with it.

 

The Most Important Thing About Caitlyn Jenner

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I’ve been thinking about Caitlyn Jenner’s cover photo on Vanity Fair this week, and All The Things that have been said and written about it/her/the former dad of the Kardashians this week.

I am related to a person who had gender-reassignment surgery: I met her at an extended family reunion with her new boyfriend. I didn’t know her in the days when she was a son, and a husband, and a father – and so, for me, it was not that hard to greet her by her new name. (Things did get a little weird when, a few hours in, we crossed paths in the women’s bathroom and she wanted to trade girl-tips on finding cute shoes in bigger sizes… I mean, I do have big feet, but that felt awkward.) My heart went out to her, but also to the family members who didn’t come to the reunion because she was there. They didn’t want the confusion of explaining why their uncle/brother (the identity they’re retaining) looked like a woman. My heart went out to her sons, who have a person who is still their parent, but not their father.

It’s all very messy.

I don’t know the answers on this. I don’t know how it works when people feel there is a disconnect between their biological identity and their gender. I really don’t understand how sexual orientation and identification develop: it’s complex and I think there are 1000 ways to get it wrong in our response. Especially for Christians.

I think one sure fire way to get it wrong, though, is to react with disgust and outrage and rejection, especially towards people who are not claiming to be Christians. We have no business passing moral judgment on those outside the church.

Of primary importance is not whether Caitlyn Jenner, or anyone for that matter, identifies as a woman, but whether she identifies with Jesus.

Of course, if people do come to know Jesus – then we are committed to a life-long overhaul of patterning our lives after His – something which will affect everything from the way we text and spend and talk to who we sleep with and how we map out our future. That future with Jesus certainly DOES place (life-giving) limits on our sexuality and sexual expression, just as it does on everything else.

What does that look like in practice? I’m not sure. A lesbian teen recently asked, “if I become a Christian and I’m still gay, does that mean I’ll go to hell?” Her youth leader looked around at her peer group and wisely answered, “What if Peggy is still a liar? And what if Kate is still sleeping with her boyfriend? And what if Brianna is still sending gossipy texts?”

Touche. If our acceptability to Jesus depended on our performance, we’d all be up the creek without a paddle.

But that’s not to say that our moral choices don’t matter. They DO matter to God, and they do matter to society. It is not okay to abuse people, or to participate in sex trafficking, or to cheat on your taxes and treat those things as if they are “personal choices” and so we can’t comment on them. Our evil choices cause societal harm and so there HAS to be a place to talk about things which promote and protect and flourishing of society. The conversations about sexuality form part of this (and, judging by my relative’s kids: no-one can deny that their parent’s gender reassignment surgery has not caused them harm.)

BUT, BUT, BUT… we need to be so careful about how we talk about this. We can’t say nothing and freeze people out by silence, but we need to save the hating and disgusted speech, and pray hard that God will help us to speak as Jesus would in these circumstances: somehow, he always managed to speak graciously, even while never compromising.

I doubt Caitlyn Jenner will ever visit my church, but it is not beyond the pale to imagine that one day my relative might come to visit. If such a day was to come about, I hope she would know that we are so much more concerned about her spiritual orientation than her sexual orientation, and that God bids us WELCOME. He loves us just the way we are, and yet loves us too much to leave us that way.

Oh Lord, teach us to speak the truth in love, just as you do.

Pick of the Clicks 6/6/2015

Bronlea Pick of the Clicks

WOW, there are some game-changer reads in this week’s line-up.

Ready? Set? GO!

Abigail Rine’s essay What is Marriage to Evangelical Millenials? raised some really excellent questions about the presumptions people bring to discussions about marriage (particularly why we marry at all). Do not miss, on this topic, Matthew Lee Anderson’s Why I Am Opposed To Gay Marriage: a masterfully written and very thought-provoking treatment on the place of eros in marriage. Anderson covers why we marry, why the sexual chemistry factor (eros) matters, how it calls us to faithfulness, and how a beautiful and true vision of marriage (the “I will always love you” kind, with eros being a feature throughout) affects the way we conduct all our conversations. It’s a lengthy essay but well worth your time. Even if you don’t want to read the application to same-sex relationships: READ SECTIONS 1-4 on love, sex and marriage.

Sheryl Sandberg’s tribute to her husband, Dave, who died tragically last month, and to the community who are standing with her as she wades through grief and love is profound and profoundly beautiful:

“Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not.”

Edward Schlosser (a pseudonymous name) wrote an eye-opening piece from his perspective as a liberal college professor, who has become terrified of his liberal students. This piece is worth reading not just by college students and educators, but for all who engage in online discussion, because he writes about the changing culture of the “politics of personal testimony, in which the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed.”  I am not a college student, but I can see patterns of what Schlosser describes on the internet: people presenting challenging ideas are increasingly viewed as threatening people.

It’s not just that students refuse to countenance uncomfortable ideas – they refuse to engage them, period.

Steve McAlpine’s observations on Stage Two Exile in Western Christianity are worth reading if you have read, grieved, brainstormed or prayed over how we can “do church” better in the world in which we live. To set the context, he describes “Stage One Exile” this way:

Cafes were taken over for morning conversations between up and coming exilic leaders; pubs were used for exilic church; MacBooks were bought in bulk; and emerging/missional trailblazers employed coffee quality as a spiritual boundary marker, with a zeal that would have made any adherent of Second Temple Judaism weep with recognition.

In Exile Stage One the prevailing narrative was that the Christian church was being marginalised, Christendom was over, the church needed to come up with better strategies to strip away the dross, and all of this in order to reconnect Jesus with a lost world.

This article is peppered with wisdom, laugh-out-loud tongue in cheek, and some really deep-thinking observations with massive implications for our approach to church and engaging in culture.

Alastair Roberts kicked off this week’s discussion of the Saltshaker blog with a conversation about The Eternal Subordination of the Son, Social Triniarianism and Ectypal Theology. Yes, I know: the title is terrifying, and yes, I know: Alastair is incredibly clever and it is intimidating to read things like this. BUT…. this post is fascinating because it summarizes a critique of theology which is based on the supposed nature of relationships within the Trinity and then seeks to apply them in human relationship (e.g. The trinity live in community, so we should too, or the Father is a King-figure, so healthy communities should have a King, or—in the case of the gender discussions—the Son submits to the authority of the Father, so women should submit to men because this “reflects the Godhead”.) I’ve heard a myriad arguments based on this kind of thinking before, and this article blew a hole in it for me. I’m still processing.

I loved this story of 5th grade boys who spotted bullying and took action.

This is fascinating: a ground-breaking study where they have found a missing link between the brain and immune systems – a finding which has HUGE implications for conditions such as MS, Alzheimers, and even autism.

“In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist.”

Scott Saul’s essay on The Most Honest People In The World, And Why We Need Them was a refreshing and needed read (hint: it’s children.)

Micha Boyett’s reflections on pregnancy are poignant and important: ‘As Long as the Baby’s Healthy’… But What If He’s Not? No matter what, we need to be prepared to receive the children God gives us. I just love Micha’s heart and her writing.

The Narrowback Slacker’s thoughts on How I limited screen time by offering my kids unlimited screen time is DEFINITELY something I plan to consider with our kids in the years to come.

This guy is crocheting food-shaped hats: both random and hilarious.

This delighted my LEGO-loving children no end:

And, I have to post this Dear 16-year Old Me video. I am crazy obsessive about this. So important:

From me this week?

I have a post over at the wonderful SheLoves magazine on the Surprising Wisdom of Ants:

If you had told me 25 years ago that I would one day order a package of ants in the mail, I would have laughed in disbelief.

But I did not know, 25 years ago, that there were such things as ant farms: miniature terrariums where you could observe a colony making their subterranean labyrinths. I did not know, 25 years ago, that I would have two small boys with an irrepressible love of multi-legged creatures.

How could I have known that, late one night—bundled under blankets and bulky expectations for the perfect “boy” birthday—I would click “buy now” for an online order of a space-age looking ant farm, and one small vial of harvester ants? (read the rest here)

I shared some thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner), gender reassignment surgery and how we respond here, if you’re interested.

And on the blog: a tribute to two of the most inspiring students I’ve ever worked with (and to you, the invisible hero in our midst).

Thanks for reading!

Photo Credit: Seven Pegs, by Anders Adermark (Flickr Creative Commons)

Is The ‘Women in Ministry’ Question A Gospel Issue?

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I sat down at the virtual table at the Passing the Saltshaker blog, where some online friends and I write about Christianity, the church and gender. This week we’re talking about where and how women belong in complementation churches and parachurch organizations.

Here’s a snippet from today’s post:

It was St. Augustine who wrote “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” It seems to me that Christians in church and para-church alike all agree with Augustine. We all want unity on the essentials, and liberty on the non-essentials. The underlying issue, then, is whether we consider the question of roles and relationships of men and women in the church to be an essential, or non-essential doctrine.

In other words: is the issue of women in the church a ‘gospel issue’?

I believe that the amount of liberty we are willing to extend in gender applications is directly proportional to how firmly we believe our theology of gender to be an essential to the Christian faith.

Pull up a seat at the table and read the rest here….

The Verse I’d Never Seen Before

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Sometime in my 20’s, I started to cry. The transformation was astonishing: from being the Kid Who Didn’t Cry, I became the One Guaranteed To Blub. I cried during commercials, during Oprah, during weddings, and every-time-without-fail : I cried at baptisms. The beauty of seeing a believer washed new; brave and bold and dripping with the passion of one reborn undid me every time.

And so it was, a few months back, that I sat crying as I witnessed a baptism one Sunday morning: wiping tears as I corralled the toddler with one arm and a bribing snack, shushed the preschooler who was pretending to be a fighter pilot, and snuggled my 6-year old close. My tears dripped off my chin and onto her hair, and I wondered how bad the crying would be on the day when it was my own children in the baptismal font. If a stranger’s baptism undid me so, I would for sure be bawling when my own children’s day came. I wallowed in dramatic thought a moment longer: “do you know what would make me really ugly cry?” I thought. “If their dad were to baptize them.” I had seen some pastor friends baptize their kids. The mental image was exquisitely poignant.

Later that night, I broached the topic with my husband. “When the time comes, “ I asked, “do you think you would like to baptize our kids?” He mulled it over for a moment and shrugged: “not really.” I nodded, a little disappointed. Maybe he would be more excited about the idea in the future.

A few weeks later, I found myself sitting huddled at my dining table in the early morning dark, scrambling to finish reading Matthew’s gospel before my BSF small group. Even though I was in a hurry, something pulled me to a stop. Jesus’s words in Matthew 28:18-20 leapt off the page:

“(18) All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  (19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (20) And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I read it again, and again. And I cried.

How was it that I had never seen verse 19b? As a woman – how had I never seen that?

I knew that the promises belonged to me: the One who has all authority in heaven and on earth (v18) is the one who is always with me, even to the end of the age (v20b).

I knew too that the Great Commission applied to me: I, too, was called to go and make disciples of all nations (v19a), and to teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded (v20). Surely this was my overarching goal as a Mom: to disciple my children as disciples of Christ.

And yet, I had never seen the permission – no, the mandate – to be one who baptized too (v19). For years I had lived, loved and served in a church where men did the preaching and the officiating of communion and all the baptizing (for these were pastoral, and therefore male, functions). And since I had never, ever seen a woman baptize, I had never, ever seen verse 19 commissioning me, as a woman, to one who is enjoined in the calling, reaching, baptizing and discipling work of the Great Commission.

Later that night, I settled down next to my husband on the couch. “Honey, remember I asked you whether you wanted to baptize our kids? Well, this morning I was reading in Matthew, and it occurred to me that if Jesus has called me in the Great Commission to disciple our kids and to teach our kids… don’t you think I should be able to do the middle bit too – and baptize them? Because I’d love to. I mean, if they wanted it, and it was okay with you. But I’d love to – and I just never even thought it was a possibility.”

He looked up and paused. “I don’t see why not,” he said, “if you want to.”

I do want to.

I do. And as it turns out, Matthew 28 says it is allowed: not just as a concession, but in fact as a command. For I, as a woman, am one of the beloved disciples he has called and commissioned.

And so, when the time comes, I would love to be able to baptize our children in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Even if I cry the whole way through. They would be tears of joy.

 

Photo credit: Rishi Bandopadhay (The Water Pours Freely), licensed with Flickr Creative Commons (edits by Bronwyn Lea)

The Case for Excommunication

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This was meant to be a no-blogging week, but I have a story to tell and now is the time to tell it.

Why now?

Well, last week Leadership Journal published an article written by a former youth pastor and convicted sexual predator entitled “My Easy Trip From Youth Minister to Felon“. I do not want to detail the ins and outs of the article, and to their credit – Leadership Journal took the article down and issued an apology.

(If you do want some quick background, though, I would refer you to the hashtags #takedownthatpost and #howoldwereyou on Twitter if you would like to read up on the outcry for justice that erupted after this post. Also, I would commend to you Karen Swallow Prior’s #HowOldWereYou: Origins of a Heartbreaking Hashtag and Halee Gray Scott’s To Publish a Predator. If you read nothing else on this topic, read those two.)

This is not a post about sexual predators in the church, though. This is a post to say that at times like this, I want to make a case for us to take the Bible’s words about church discipline, or excommunication, to heart.

In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus spoke about how we were to deal with situations where a Christian sins against another – calling for an increasing number of witnesses and publicity if the person does not repent. If the person did not fully repent, Jesus said to treat them as “a Gentile or a tax collector” (in other words, outside of the worshiping community). Such a public “binding” would be reflective of a heavenly binding, said Jesus: the words we speak corporately against egregious deeds echo in the heavens.

In 1 Corinthians 5:1-12, Paul wrote to a church where some had been caught in terrible sexual sin – and the community had done nothing about it. Paul had strong words for this church, who had “become arrogant and had not mourned instead, so that the one who did this would be removed from your midst.” Rather than turn a blind eye, they should have spoken up and dealt with the couple – excluding them from fellowship to show them the grievous nature of what they had done. This expulsion, or “handing over to Satan”, was hoped to show the offender the seriousness of what they had done, in the hopes that the “wake up call” would bring them to repentance (v5).

Furthermore, Paul says, to fail to exclude them from fellowship would mean that the church was keeping a breeding evil in its midst: it would be keeping “leaven in a lump of dough” – a combination which could only lead to further spiritual and moral fermentation (v6-7).

Waste no time: said the Apostle. Deal with this kind of stuff swiftly.

I am not unaware of some of the incredible difficulties that might come from putting this into practice. Abusive and cult-like churches can quickly turn these passages into licenses for witch-hunts and a paranoid control of others’ lives. In addition to the problems of the abuse of this practice, there is also the problem of discerning when it should be applied: should all young couples who are known to be engaging in pre-marital sex be called out? What about those who download pirated movies? Or use their cellphones while driving?

We are always in danger of hypocrisy here: none of us are without sin; none of us qualified to throw the first stone. The threats of being piecemeal, hypocritical and partisan are tremendous, not to mention the damage we fear it would do to the church’s reputation as a place of grace and welcome. How would we communicate grace if our community knew we were people who sometimes singled out unrepentant sinners?

These considerations are enough to stymie almost every church I know into a position of passivity in the face of gross sin. But when I read this last week’s articles – I was reminded of a story I want to tell.

I once attended a church where someone was excommunicated. The situation was this: an elder in our church had decided to abandon his wife. I knew the couple well, and his behavior tore our community apart. Those who served with him and under him in church were angry and felt betrayed. Those who loved them both were hurt and bewildered. Those who watched his young wife respond with an almost impossible amount of grace and strength were heartbroken. We all felt so helpless. Our pastor spoke with him: he would not change his mind. A few more elders went to see him a second time: he would still not change his mind. And finally, after much prayer and consideration, a closed meeting of church members only was called after one Sunday morning service – and in it, our leaders announced that he was officially being removed from our church community as a response to his behavior.

Granted: the man was not there and did not hear what was said (he received a letter informing him of the decision after the fact). Granted: he could easily have attended the church around the corner who would have been none the wiser about what had happened behind our closed doors. BUT those 10 minutes of church discipline (the only I have ever seen enacted in my 30+ years of church attendance) made a significant etch on my soul – for in that moment, our community named what he did as unacceptable. We called it sin. We took a side. Doing so brought a clarity and a relief to our hurting community who had felt so helpless in the face of someone who had been causing hurt. We said “that’s not okay, and God says it’s not okay,” and just the saying of it made a difference.

I am reminded of this one incident, more than a dozen years ago, when I read of pastors committing sexual offenses against parishioners in their churches.

Yes, they should be prosecuted by law. Yes, they should be fired.

But for the health of our communities – they should also be excommunicated. There is healing in a hurting community standing together and saying “that is NOT right, and we will not have it here.” It is an extreme thing to do- but it occurs to me that in these extreme cases which cause extreme pain, it is appropriate. The hurting church is not without remedy to call out evil.

And more than that: I believe the Gospel demands it.