I like how Barbara at Mommy Life responded...
Since I published Doug Phillips' excellent New Year's piece on forgiveness, several people have emailed me asking about the controversy surrounding the excommunication and shunning of a couple from his church, as well as attempts to discredit them in the wider Christian community. How does that square with the wisdom he has shared on forgiveness? While I don't have time to get involved in a big controversy, I do have some experience with this problem which I felt compelled
to share with the couple who have gone public with their testimony.
I am not judging Doug Phillips. I understand the weakness in Christian
leaders which can contribute to this problem. This kind of event takes place on
a regular basis all over the United States in aggressively religious churches.
What I mean by aggressively religious churches is churches that have forgotten
that Jesus said we must come to him as children, that we are not to lay heavy
burdens on people, and that we are to love one another.
What seems to happen is that a couple with good ideas for conducting
their spiritual life or raising their family begins to teach others. At
some point the sharing of principles which worked for them crosses over the line into moral superiority, judgment of others and legalism. There are so many people I can think of that this has happened to - the Ezzos and the Pearls come to mind. On the other end of the spectrum is Dr. Dobson, who dispenses help for parents with a helpful spirit and without the overlay of moral superiority.
Do you see what I mean?
From our own devastating experience in 1990 with an out-of-control
Christian leader, Tripp and I learned that Christian leadership can never
succeed (yes it can succeed in the world's terms, but not in Christian terms)
unless it is built on servant leadership. The picture I keep is Jesus washing
the disciples' feet. When a leader's platform begins to be about elevating
his/her own ministry and having people serve it, there is something wrong. A
Christian leader should come under the people who are learning from him and lift
them up to release their potential, not use them to release his own.
Also, sometimes in these "perfect" Christian congregations, a couple
who doesn't fit in perfectly can cause great discomfort and things can rapidly
spin out of control. Tripp and I saw it happen over and over in the "cutting
edge" "remnant" church we were in: if a couple was not in lock step with the
leader's thinking, they were counseled with the purpose of getting them to
conform. A big delay in their immediate "healing" (meaning coming into
conformity with the group model) brought out the worst in the leadership. Next
thing we knew, they were drummed out of church and private things they had
discussed were used for sermon fodder. We were told to shun them.
My response to this kind of behavior is that it strikes me as being more like the Pharisees than like Jesus. When we pick Bible verses to back our strategies which are at variance with what Jesus said, I'm gonna go with Jesus every time.
While I don't want to be presumptuous (and I refuse to get in a big
debate about this) -, my guess is that God is trying to get Doug's attention
through the couple who has taken their story public (which they certainly have
the right - and also the Christian responsibility) to do. My feeling is that the
truth is stronger than falsehood, so if Doug has nothing to be ashamed of, he
should not be so threatened by this. After all, these people are alone (thanks
to Doug's church) and he has thousands of defenders....
Please know that I am not making any judgment on Doug Phillips. I just
think there is a better way to work this out. Since I was once accused myself by
a former pastor of not being a true Christian, "marked" and shunned - and since
I know that all along I was a Christian and it was not the pastor's call to make
but God's (John 10:14 - also somewhere there is a verse "The Lord knows who is
his" but I don't have time to find it right now because I've got to cook dinner
:), I feel qualified to speak on this couple's behalf and say there is probably
some truth to their claims.
Doug Phillips will have thousands of people who blindly defend him. The
fact that this couple is willing to do the difficult task of trying to call a
larger-than-life figure to account when they are people of relatively small
consequence and thus easily discredited and discarded (I always hated that in
elitist churches and religious systems) should be taken seriously. Rather than
rushing to Doug Phillips' defense, his followers should be urging all parties to
submit themselves to an independent reconciliation service.
I realize that this might not sit well with some people in my own
church who think very highly of Doug Phillips. But we cannot put people on such
high pedestals that we think they are incapable of human error. We can't just
dismiss the claims of someone who has been harmed. Otherwise we become idolators ourselves.