It began with a post. A simple post on a little blog in the Emergence Christian blogosphere. A comment and then another. A scandal in the making about a public figure. Lots of he-said-she-said. But it snowballed.
He-said-she-said was being transformed in the public consciousness into he-did-she-did. Without regard to context, the claims, the suggestion of abuse was being transformed into actual abuse. This was getting pretty ugly pretty fast.
Then it got even weirder.
This stopped being a story about a man and his ex-wife, with mutual charges of abuse at the other, it became a story about power and (somehow?) about “further proof of the death of emergence”. In a stunning misunderstanding of movements and cultural systems, there became much hand-wringing about an institution that doesn’t exist and the demise of a movement because a nonexistent institution and a single leader.
There is no institution behind the Emergence Movement. There are gatherings of like-minded people and there are theologians and practitioners who have given voice to the movement, but there is no institution. And there is no pope of an Emerging Church. There are only people who communicate with one another about making the church better.
One man’s personal conflicts (and occasionally surly attitude) do not compare whatsoever with the deeply abusive behavior found in many of our churches, nor could it possibly invalidate Emergence Christianity, for it is not institutional. An abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, for instance is magnified by the scope brought to it by the vastness of the institution, the hierarchical nature of the institution, and the number of leaders with oversight that did not prevent the abuse from happening. This has zero common character with emergence.
It is also why Tony Jones is not Mark Driscoll. Driscoll’s abuse of his congregation, of his followers was abuse within a definable institution. A place where Driscoll had direct supervision over people he was abusing and creating a culture of abuse with them. He was also the pastor of the church in which there is mutual understanding that he would protect them, not wound them.
None of this means that I can speak to the accusations themselves. Nor does this count as my being an apologist for the patriarchy and the powerful. In fact, I think the comment section of blogs where people who have no personal experience with the people involved is the last place we should be judging the behavior of two adults still dealing with the messiness of a divorce several years old now.
What I can’t conscience is the negative attacks on some good people: many of whom actually know the people in question. Or the lumping together of all of those people emerging from a more abusive form of Christianity with the hope of creating more lasting and visible reconciliation with the world as wolves in sheep’s clothing. I don’t pretend that abuse doesn’t exist here, but it isn’t the same.
As a pastor, I have been on the receiving end of spiritual abuse from members of congregations I’ve served. Words I hesitate to even put in print because they seem so subjective. Fear that friends from those times might read them and wonder. I don’t want to make any trouble for them.
But I have been attacked for doing my best, for not doing enough, for not being enough, for not being Superman. I’ve been attacked for the decisions of others and my superiors. And I have witnessed the most vicious attacks on people I so deeply trust and know are talented and devoted leaders. Angry, nasty, red-faced shouts from people who claim to be Christian. On this, I’m no pollyanna.
This is my experience of abuse and the church. This is what I know. And no good can come from raking other people through the mud. Nothing.
No amount of raking another has helped me or made me look good. No amount of raking stopped the abuse I witnessed or prevented it from happening. No amount of raking caused anything but anger and discord within the Body of Christ. The only true vehicle for change is not slander or internet trolling, it is attempts at reconciliation of the individuals and transforming the culture: a culture that currently encourages and elevates abuse to a political tactic for institutional change. A sort of ends-justify-the-means sort of thing.
We want the means to justify the ends. Let’s make that our statement against abuse.