Where do hurting Christians go?
The Bible tells us to talk about it, take it up with those who have hurt you. But Church often makes its own advice impossible.
Our church members, excluded from our denomination eight years ago, are no less faithful than we were when our doors were not padlocked.
We’ve been effectively shunned for nearly a decade, as un-Lutheran as that is.
Most of our members are still in touch despite other Lutherans voting to close our congregation and claiming our land (against their own governing laws). Some of us meet every Sunday morning. Some drift, catching up occasionally in smaller gatherings. We were working on a community project this summer and members we hadn’t heard from in a while were showing interest. Then Lutheran leaders returned to our neighborhood, which they had abandoned in mission, to cause more trouble.
We visited more than 80 churches after we were locked out. None went out of their way to attract us as members, even those nearby.
We are a spiritual people. Even at social gatherings, someone is likely to pull out a reading or news item and start a conversation—the kind we used to have in church. We can count on one of us stepping in to temper heated conversations. But then that was always a strong Redeemer trait. We made peace just as easily as we argued, so we had no reason to avoid confrontation—as healthy as it is unusual in the Church.
A member of one church that befriends us comments that we seem to be a joyful people—that we have met bad treatment with strength and good humor.
A good observation. We are positive and we continue to use our various talents.
As reassuring as this is, it doesn’t erase the pain that we experienced at the hands of our regional body. It’s been eight years for some. Those of us with longer involvement can remember back to the earliest days of the synod, when we first had to defend our endowment from the claims of a struggling Lutheran agency. We were successful. Ten years later, and after two years of working at it, we were successful again when the synod raided our bank account. We were unsuccessful (so far) in the latest attempt that followed the last by another ten years. Every ten years seems to be the cycle. (Two years to go to the next!) Our money and land values were centric to all problems. Hateful rhetoric fueled the cause. Had no outside eyes coveted our assets, there would have been no conflict.
Most of the time we get by without thinking about it. We like being happy. Nevertheless, eight years of struggle are not easily forgotten. Nor should they.
Last week, I saw an advertisement for a holiday choir. I suggested we try it. We’ve been locked out of church on Christmas Eve for six years now. It might be nice to have some way to enjoy Christmas together, doing something we were pretty good at—making music.
Rehearsals were in a Presbyterian Church—safe ground. I always say, I could be Presbyterian, but I was predestined to be Lutheran. So two of us went to a rehearsal. It seemed like a good group with excellent musicality and the potential for new connections and friendships.
But then, we encountered our former choir director. She has been gone from our congregation for nearly 20 years, but we know she still has Lutheran connections and some of those connections are to people who were involved behind the scenes in hurting us. It was discomfiting. Would our presence feed the insatiable appetite of the Lutheran gossip mill?
Excluded for so long, we were suddenly present with someone who knew us. She knew what was being done to us. She may have done nothing to further that, but as far as we can tell, she and hundreds of others did nothing to stop it. We’d have to overlook the elephant in the room at every rehearsal, pretending to not be hurt.
Lutherans, those who don’t ignore us completely, give us cheap, self-serving advice. “Just move on.” Translation: “Make taking what belongs to you easy for us, please.”
There are no suggestions for how to do that. Forgiving is easy. We have not been allowed to forget. Every time we try to reestablish ourselves in our own neighborhood, carpet-bagging Lutheran leaders return and start defaming us to our neighbors (as evidenced this summer).
There is lots of talk about us and very little talk to us—a tactic of all bullies.
What do we do with our feelings? Ignoring bad behavior gives it license.
And now, how do we sing together of love and peace when we have experienced so much hurt?
If we can feel so vulnerable after only a decade of abuse, how lonely those in our society must feel after centuries of hate and prejudice.
How do hurt Christians deal with such feelings? We continue our mission with what was left to us. Fortunately, time and talent have more mission potential than dollars!
As for me, I write.