Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Today my heart broke. I heard of a pastor in Gig Harbor, Washington state who has allegedly raped and molested a little girl (a member of his own family). I used to pastor this little girl and serve with the so-called pastor. My heart lies in the street, broken, lifeless. I am left with the epistemic questions of faith. What sort of God would allow this to happen? What sort of God, in whom all power and majesty and honor are bestowed, could stand by allow a seven year old to be raped and molested by a pastor and her father. He was to be the very presence of Christ and the very form of the Father to her, but he chose to blaspheme God by heinously violating her. Today, I cry for this little girl and her family. I have not spoken to them in almost three years, but my heart broke today.

The Church of the Nazarene and its leaders submit a report full of statistics lamenting the fact that we've only grown by .6% in the US and that there is a leadership vacuum in the church. I say there is a theology vacuum in the church today. This church, the Church of the Nazarene, seems to be more interested in theories of leadership and growth than theodicy (answers to the problem of evil) and doctrine of God (whether or not Jesus really was resurrected). Woe to you, Church of the Nazarene, when you hear of victims of your pastors and hurt not. Woe to to you, Church of the Nazarene, when you concentrate on the Maxwellian leadership and not the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. When a church is more interested in the skill set for leadership of its pastor, in the numerical growth of its churches, in whether or not its seminarians and its college graduate pastors know how to lead a board meeting than in how it handles the epistemic questions, the questions of faith, like how to deal with the problem of evil or the Holy Spirit and her charisms and how they might inform how the church is run, then that church might as well lie down because it has already died!

Tonight, after I (seriously questioning my faith) taught my kids at church about the power of God, I prayed a prayer of protection for them. I raised my hands and said, "May the God of creation, redemption, and resurrection protect you. May the Holy Spirit fill you and surround you that no evil on earth my touch you. I pray these things in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen."

It is not leadership that will change this church, it is theology. Our pastors must be able to answer serious epistemic questions of theology before they can run a good board meeting (I don't even know what a good board meeting is anyway). I pray now that the Church of the Nazarene will stop trying to look like Coca-Cola co. and Wal-Mart and start looking like the Kingdom of God. I pray this in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Anonymous said...

I felt sick in my stomach when I heard of this and last night was spent alternating between lying awake wondering why this had to happen and finally drifting off to sleep only to have bad dreams.
My heart is also broken for this girl who was hurt by someone she should be able to trust.
Thank you for your words, I think more people should hear them.

Eric said...

I am working on my own response. I am afraid to publish my thoughts right now. I need some time to let things settle for me. It is a horible tragedy. It is one that I like to believe could have been and should have been avoided.

This is a person who has been in the educational system at least 6 years and in the ministerial preparation progam at least 5 years maybe more. How could we as coleagues have missed this? How could we as friends not have done something? How could we as a church ordain a man who was active in raping a child. For all we know he did it and then went to his ordination? I can't look myself in the eye and say I did everything I could. Can the Church of the Nazarene look me in the eye and say it does everything possible to see that this doesn't happen?

I'm going to stop now because I don't want to say anything I shouldn't. I will elaborate, but only after I have had time to be calm and for my mind to clear.

My deepest sympathies and prayers to the victim and the families. My deepest prayers for my brother and friend.

Marsha said...

"It is not leadership that will change this church, it is theology." Leaders with a solid theology would be my choice...

Such a heartbreaking story--

Troy said...

Read St. Augustine's Confessions. For as he reminds us, perhaps not in Confessions, but elsewhere that no one, minister, theologian, homemaker, businessman, lawyer, etc. are free from temptation. It is at a time like this that we would be wise to recall the words of God to Cain, "ז הֲלוֹא אִם-תֵּיטִיב, שְׂאֵת, וְאִם לֹא תֵיטִיב, לַפֶּתַח חַטָּאת רֹבֵץ; וְאֵלֶיךָ, תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ, וְאַתָּה, תִּמְשָׁל-בּוֹ." (If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”) Ge 4:7 or what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, "πειρασμὸς ὑμᾶς οὐκ εἴληφεν εἰ μὴ ἀνθρώπινος· πιστὸς δὲ ὁ θεός, ὃς οὐκ ἐάσει ὑμᾶς πειρασθῆναι ὑπὲρ ὃ δύνασθε ἀλλὰ ποιήσει σὺν τῷ πειρασμῷ καὶ τὴν ἔκβασιν τοῦ δύνασθαι ὑπενεγκεῖν." ( No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.) 1 Co 10:13.

Such a story as this (and others like it) should be a warning to all of us that the reality of sin isn't just for some but for all. And a reminder that we all must choose holiness, not once, but day after day after day after day after day after ( I think you get my point.)

I am disturbed by what this man has done and am concerned of the future realities for this child and/or the other children to whom it may have happened. However, I am too keenly aware of my own shortcomings and faults to pick up a stone and throw it at anyone, even at the church that chose to ordain this man.

I often read in the Gospels where Jesus has the ability to know what is happening in the hearts of those around Him and I sometimes wonder if the church shouldn't get some kind of special dispensation, at least those on credentialling boards, but the reality is that the best they can do is the best they do.

Do we need more leadership in the church? Absolutely. Do we need more theology in the church? Definitely.

But I don't think this issue has anything to do with either one. Neither better leadership or better theology would have kept this person from doing exactly what he did. Only a pure heart can do that. He could be a great leader and a great theologian and still choose to sin against his family and God.

I pray for the child. I pray for the family. I pray for the man that chose to do this. I pray for the church(local and general). I pray for you. I pray for me.

Let us pray.

Evan and Julia said...

How true, Troy, that we cannot forget that sin is too serious a problem for us to forget it. God have mercy on me, a sinner. Forgive my ramblings as the words of a man trying to figure out why I feel this hate (that I know is sin) in me. God have mercy on me, a sinner.

As to the rest, however, there are too many pastors in this denomination that can tell me the five most recent books written by John Maxwell or Rick Warren or whomever, but cannot appropriately or effectively explain a solid theodicy.

The presence of Christ is not about leadership, it is about Calvary. Leadership is a tool. Theology is worship. Leadership is like epistemology, on some level it needs to be done, but don't canonize it. Leadership is the bathwater; it's only needed when the baby needs a bit of cleaning. Leave the baby in the water and it gets all pruny, starts to look like corporate America.

Unfortunately this issue has everything to do with theology. The hard work of Christian formation and catechesis (theology) is what we have after a horror such as this. By the power of the Holy Spirit it is what helps us understand the real presence of Christ. How can we, as pastors, be the real presence of Christ to a little girl who was raped and molested by one who claimed to be the real presence of Christ? Nothing to do with theology? Try everything. Theology's only purpose is to serve the local church and serve it well, unless it's just not there. Leadership won't help with the problem of evil.

As far as the church goes, we as pastors (licensed and ordained) must be willing to look at our practices, our canonical law, critically and ask questions such as the one Eric asked above: "Can the Church of the Nazarene look me in the eye and say it does everything possible to see that this doesn't happen?" It's a perfectly valid question. Equally as valid is "did I do enough to ensure . . . ?" The answer is obviously no. God have mercy on me, a sinner.

Troy said...

My initial reaction was because I thought you were suggesting in your post that if only this pastor was a better theologian than he would not have done this. If the church leadership (namely credentialing boards) had better theology they would not have ordained him. And by suggesting that this has nothing to do with theology I mean that his actions were determined by sinful character rather than a failure to understand right theology.

Yes, we do need better theologians that help us process something like this, that will help the little girl. And we do need leaders who think theologically first, and then otherwise second. And in my experience I have run into both kinds. I know a pastor who says, "except for meeting my wife and best friend, I'd give all the money I paid for college for this drawer of John Maxwell tapes." and I know a pastor who is working through a Doctorate (2nd one) in a Wesleyan theology of worship at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

I have some more thoughts but I'm not sure yet how to verbalize them about theology and the different takes we sometimes have and yet how that is not to be the end of the discussion but rather the beginning. Meaning that we don't all agree theologically yet, we are best to discuss it as a community of faith and perhaps in some areas we are starting to understand that. Perhaps.

Evan and Julia said...

Yes, just as in interpreting the canon, theology is best (though not only) discussed within the community of faith.

ron.zimmerman said...

I, too, felt sick. Physically, sick. I fear for domino effect of the emotional, physical, and spiritual scars. Will this child be able to break this hideous cyle of abuse and move into Christ's arms in 10, 15, 20 years when the effects of this violence, mature. Bluntly, can she even survive.

I am also sad not sickened for another reason. I have, from personal experience, seen what one person's extremely evil act can do to the purpose and mission of others. My calling by God to serve in a mission field called public schools, was rocked by the acts of one man. His evil act caused my community, to see me with a more skeptical eye.
Now, Evan, more than ever, we need your kind, the Tom Felder's, the Bill Rolfe's, the Jeremy Bond's, the Margaret Tyler's, to show Christ to our kids. Strengthen your faith quickly, the evil in Gig Harbor, has broken our Savior yet again. Luke 7, Christ sees the grieving over a dead, only child of a widow. He brings the child back to life to return to the family. John 14:12 calls us to reach out to the Kerrs bring this child back and MORE.

Sorry, should have wrote my own blog.

I believe in you Evan Abla.

Ben said...

When you have a pastor rape a child, that has everything to do with theology. And because theology is all about practice what the church does now has everything to do with what its true theology is. I can’t help but wonder what the church could have done to prevent this, and how the church can change to prevent this in the future. Because these things never just happen, I wonder what kind of things are in place for a pastor to go to someone with their temptations, even temptations as serious as these. Could Stephen have approached his church, his district, his DS, or anyone without losing his job? Probably not. I don’t think we know what to do in this church with sexual sin or temptation. It’s something we push into a corner until a little girl gets raped, and that’s utterly horrifying. The blame of this has to fall on the church. Just as Christ took responsibility for the sins of the world in order to change it, the church must also take responsibility for the sins of our leaders so we can change who we are. Is the church doing anymore than just dismissing Stephen of his position? How is the church caring for this child? How are we seeking to be a more open community that offers healing instead of a cold shoulder?

Jason said...

You write with passion in regards to this subject of evil and disgust with the Church of the Nazarene. Rightly so! I am not sure of what the answer to either problem is but I pray that God brings peace to you and your spirit. Perhaps it is time to seriously think about other traditions that value theology and practice more than attendance and leadership programs. shalom.

Evan and Julia said...

Jason, I know exactly what you mean. I have thought of other traditions, but the only tradition to which I would run is to the Orthodox church. Unfortunately in the Orthodox church there is no place for my wife.

It may make me an idealist or just plain masochistic, but I think I want to change this church from the inside out. If they don't change, I still will not have wasted my life, nor my wife's.

Anonymous said...

you don't know me - but i wept as i read your entry.

May Jesus hear your prayers for our children and our church.

franklin said...

I appreciate your musing...they make us all think.

Theology (the study of God)does not change the human heart...only the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can do that.(an experience with God) This evil happened because a heart was not changed....and this evil happens in all churches of all denominations.

This does not mean theology is's just inadequate to take care of the problem of evil. God has already done that in the resurrection...Jesus told us plainly that in this world you will have trouble...but, behold, I have overcome the world...I took Him at his world when he said that.

Does our denomination have problems...of course it does...but I've yet to find a church that is more biblical in her theology than our church.

I look forward to reading more of your writings.

Evan and Julia said...

Uh, I would say the Orthodox church, but I guess that would be splitting GIANT hairs.