Monday, December 5, 2011

Confrontations in Church

The Setting: 

So I blogged recently about a doctrinal disagreement I had with a fellow Sunday School student. He took exception to my blog post about the topic, and "confronted" me about it.

As I offered no apology - due to the facts that A) I had not wronged him, and B) he never approached me as being offended, but rather as a bully would - things escalated. He found his opportunity to seek attention.

As I write this, we await a time to be set up to meet with one of our senior pastors. This meeting was demanded by my fellow student. The sad part of this is that he thrust Right Minded into the middle of the whole thing. Evidently, in his "intense" study of scripture, he never ran across Proverbs 16:28 -
Destructive people produce conflict; gossips alienate close friends.

And as much as my fellow student won't like it, this post is not about him either. You the reader simply needed to know this background to understand why I say the point of this post:

The problem with it all:
Machiavelli said: "It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both." This was certainly the attitude adopted by my fellow student. Attempts to bully me were not successful.

The solution:
We are set to have one of the senior pastors mediate the difference. As is expected, I have thought through ever major possibility. Every possible outcome is perfectly acceptable to me. Why?

The catch:
My wife and I had been considering leaving the church. We had pondered doing just that on several occasions over the past four years. Why? The church had parted ways with strong men of conviction who were in leadership positions, much to our dismay.

What was left (and the prevailing attitude of those selected to replace these men) was an unmistakeable air of legalism and plutocracy. This attitude from the leadership positions on down, has attracted the pharisee types in droves. Sure, our attendance numbers are up, but at what cost?

The catch, part 2:
So we had actually decided to leave the church by year's end. But then, my fellow student decided he would try to bully around just the wrong person.

Having devoted the better part of my life to the martial arts, and having taught the martial arts for upwards of 25 years, one could say that I have devoted a big part of my life to equipping others with skills needed (verbal, mental, and physical) to deter people just such as my fellow student.

It would be hypocritical of me to tuck tail and run at this point.

The catch, fin:
So you see the position we have here. I am OK with the extreme possibilities of the outcome of the mediation: either the expulsion from the church of my fellow student, or myself.

How did I arrive at that possibility? Simple. If I am directed to offer an apology to my fellow student, I will kindly and firmly refuse. Forever. If that means the church feels I should leave, then I've lost nothing.

What if the decision is not at the extreme?
Fine with me. Again, nothing to lose for me in any event.

Naturally, I suspect that a simple mediation solution will be offered. It's just much more likely. Something to the tune of either myself or my fellow student being displaced to another Sunday School class. If I am the one forced to leave, then I leave the church, too. Just that simple. Our Sunday School class is the only thing that has kept us there.

What it all means:

There is an old Italian proverb:
"Beware the man who has nothing to lose, for he has only to gain." 
There are few times in my life when I could honestly say I was in that position, but this is certainly one of them.

In this situation, I stand only to gain. There is not an outcome in this situation that has me at a loss. It does remind me of another Italian proverb I saw when looking for the link to the one above:
"Chastise the good and he will mend, chastise the bad and he will grow worse."

The Bully: 

From this link:
"Serial bullies tend to project their own deficiencies on to their victims. Knowing this, the victims need to clearly label the allegations of bullies as projections during an administrative resolution of problems (which is EXACTLY what I did). The victims also need to closely examine the bully's past performance in the areas of accusation. By having facts about the past failures of the bully, it is much easier to make the case for projection. The experts at the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line say that the best strategy for combating bullies is to focus attention on the bully's past failures and then label the bullying behavior as projection.

If the targeted victim is successful in keeping the attention of supervisors on the past deficiencies of the bully, then the bully will generally counter-attack and try to prove that the victim is mentally unbalanced. If this strategy does not succeed (which it didn't in my instance because I provided an emotional front of absolute calm and peace), the bully will try a third strategy, which is to claim to be the victim of the victim's attacks. Bullies in the workplace are often very good at all of their strategies: isolating and attacking people, counter-attacking victims if they are charged with bullying, and playing victim themselves."
Emphasis mine - because they describe accurately what I witnessed. Only difference - it was in the Church, not in the workplace.

The Events:

The meeting with the Senior pastors is over. We met with the discipleship pastor and the senior pastor.  I found out that my fellow student had been in communication with them... significantly. This was to be expected.

I had prepared a list of instances where my fellow student had shown similar arrogance and bullyish behavior when dealing with others online. There happen to be many examples. One person with whom he has argued in the past calls him a modern-day pharisee. His head knows, but his heart does not. This would explain the pride, the arrogance, the bully behavior, and the lack of understanding of things he knows.

The list was not needed. My fellow student never denied trying to bully. He pushed forward with his agenda. Finally naming a reason he felt he was wronged - that of not coming to him and telling him of sin to his face.

Even when the Senior Pastor encouraged us to air our grievances, my fellow student would not apologize for the bully behavior - then he only apologized for "anger." Worthy of note here is the fact that Biblically speaking, anger is not a sin. Ephesians 4:26 says, in part, "be angry, but do not sin..." In fact, several times the Bible talks about Jesus getting angry - but He never sinned.

So when my fellow student apologized for anger, it was my impression that he was not apologizing at all for a sin. He was making a clear distinction in his head. In so doing, he was displaying yet more arrogance. He was displaying contempt for our senior pastorship. And he was displaying more bullyish behavior (not "guilty of any wrong").

Bully behavior in adults, is indicated by showing several of the traits on this list. I weep for my fellow student, as he shows all of the first thirteen, I am unsure of the next two (which happen to be of a sexual nature), and all of the rest of the dozens of traits discussed.

At the meeting, I was asked to apologize to my fellow student for failing to come to him when I saw him in sin. I refused. My refusal stemmed from the fact that he had not wronged me in the sin of arrogance. I had no dog in that fight.

The Aftermath:
The senior pastor asked us to prayerfully consider all we had said and done, and comment back with him in a week or so. I did so. In my email, I acknowledged that on some topics the pastor had pointed out, I needed to rethink my stance. As it was, these topics were wholly unrelated to the situation, but I was glad to have learned from him.

On a related note, the pastor had asked me to forgive my fellow student, even though I felt (and still feel) I had not been wronged. I offered my forgiveness in the situation - something I needed to do - despite the lack of an apology on one issue (the bullying attempts), and despite the lack of having been wronged in the other issue (the pride issue).

Additionally, the pastor gave me verses indicating that even in issues of sin where we are not wronged directly, we still need to confront the person about their sin. And although this post is not the proper forum, I will discuss later how this suggestion has merit, and scriptural basis - and also how we are still not to be the "Christian police." Nevertheless, this is a lesson I've learned, and again, there are times to use it and times it does not apply.

Also, I offered martial arts classes to my fellow student free of charge, or, alternately, to pay for classes at a local martial arts school to address the bully behavior. The senior pastor took a measure of offense to this, replying:
"[The Discipleship Pastor] and I will also be in touch with [your fellow student] concerning the steps he needs to take.  I believe it is more appropriate for us to handle that from a pastoral perspective than for you to handle it from a martial arts perspective.  The reconciliation needs to occur between two brothers in Christ who are united in the same body, and I believe moving the process into a martial arts setting (whether your class or another) would make you an authority in the situation instead of an equal."

I mentioned nothing of an apology, and the pastor asked me to offer one. This time, in print, he asked me to offer an apology for making public comments about my fellow student. This was different than the original apology requested by my fellow student. Since I did no wrong in making the public comments about my fellow student, I declined to offer an apology.

Additionally, I did apologize to the pastor for writing something he took to be me attempting to usurp his authority. Also, I made clear my intent to make a charitable donation in an amount equal to a month of martial arts classes at the most expensive local school.

The response was fascinating: the Senior pastor still wants me to apologize to my fellow student - this time for "blog-gossip." 

Since the "offense" (if there actually is one - seems doubtful to me) seems to be a moving target, I cannot apologize.

More than a bit of irony that a bit later, the Senior pastor asked me again to apologize, stating I was not at all in the wrong, but that my fellow student was, but the Senior Pastor wanted to confront him (fellow student) about anger, bullying, and the like. He felt it would be hard without my apology. But he admitted I was not at all in the wrong. Funny.


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