Ele of Homepaddock reminded me tonight of this story I saw today:
A 72-year old Southland woman has had her 30-year church membership revoked because she lives in a de facto relationship.
The Calvin Community Church, a presbyterian church in Gore, has revoked the membership of one of its long-term members because her relationship with a man she lives with was “at variance with what is expected of a member of Calvin Community Church”.
The woman said she was told “out of the blue” she had to either marry her long-term partner, leave him, or no longer be a church member.
She was still able to attend the church, but she has declined to do so because “they have discussed my private life around the table”.
“I was shocked. I was very upset at the way it was put to me, someone just phoned me out of the blue and I was told I had to either marry him or I can’t be a member of the church.”
“This is 2014, not the 1950s, times have changed.”
1) Similar things to this have happened in churches I have been involved in – in fact one quite recently. The basic story – follow the rules if you want to keep your membership – is hardly anything exciting.
2) The most curious thing is the age of the woman. Usually such problems are had with much younger people. She has also been a church member for 30 years, yet it seems that she isn’t prepared to live her faith. Frankly, I find that bizarre. Why spend 30 years in a (the) church if you don’t really believe it’s teachings?
Actually, reading further it looks like she transferred to Gore in the last few years. In that case it sounds like she’s the “my parents did it” sort, who goes to church not because she believes it but because that’s just what you do.
3) If the process is as written in the article (“out of the blue”) it hasn’t been handled well at all. This sort of thing should go several steps, beginning with a sit down with the pastors and elders do discuss the sin that she has fallen into. What frequently happens is that the person under discipline rejects meetings and then you get the formal letter. But, given the letter is reported to state “You have said that your partner is not willing to marry you”, that suggests that this is not the first contact and that the “out of the blue” claim is untrue.
I do know that church discipline is handled very badly in far too many churches. I heard of a case in a baptist church years ago which was extremely messy to my ears, yet I was also told it was regarded as the best handled in that church. Worse, it’s problem that feeds on itself – people who are not disciplined begin to act as though there are no standards to be upheld, and that appears to be the problem here.
4) I happen to know that this particular church has not been properly run in the past. My information is that decisions have not been taken by the session, but rather by a sub-group. It is possible that the new pastor is part of tidying this up, but possibly not.
5) This woman has been a church member for decades and is upset because “they have discussed my private life around the table”. Does she seriously think that the church takes no interest in it’s members? What does she think the leadership is there for? What does she think “spiritual shepherding” means?*
As I see it, she has several problems:
1) “This is 2014, not the 1950s, times have changed.” – She’s under the impression that the church should change to suit whatever sin is in vogue. Admittedly a common problem.
2) “As a Christian, she said she would prefer to be married to align with her beliefs.” - She sees avoiding sin as a preference, not a necessity.
3) “There is only one judge and that is God” – She rejects the authority of the leadership of the church. That alone is enough to have you removed from membership. Without looking it up, I’m quite certain that accepting the leadership and guidance of the elders is actually a big part of the oath of membership in our church. If you don’t accept the judgement of the leadership of a church, why on earth would you join it?
4) “Why break up a happy relationship.” – Since when is sin something we avoid because it feels bad? If it felt bad, you wouldn’t be doing it in the first place, would you?
5) “I’ve thought about it and prayed about it and I’m happy with my relationship.” – This comes back to the previous point, but also the one before that. She has prayed about her relationship, but not sought (or at least, taken) the guidance of her pastor. No one forced her to join the Calvin Community Church, or to put her under their disciple. Yet she has rejected their guidance when it has been given and is now complaining about it to the media no less.
(Personally, if I create a situation I prefer not to advertise it – but that’s just me.)
But the quote “I’ve prayed about it” sickens me. This isn’t some difficult ethical decision where either way may lead to the deaths of innocent people. This is personal pleasure vs. the clear teaching of scripture and the church.
Overall, I’m actually reasonably impressed with the response of the church.
When rung by the Southland Times, pastor Keith Hooker, who has been at the church for 10 months, said he had written the letter on behalf of church elders.
In a written response to questions, Hooker said the woman remained welcome to worship at Calvin Community Church but church members agreed to lead a life consistent with their profession of faith as contained in the teaching of the Bible.
“No-one is ever turned away from our church. All are welcome to worship here.
This is an important point. This is not about her being welcome, it is about vows of membership.
But member or not, all are welcome at church. Period.
* Yes, I get that people who aren’t used to churches might find this irksome. But think about a rugby club – would you expect the coaches never to discuss player performance? Church is about live, elders and deacons end up working with members on a wide range of issues.