Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Scarlet Letter

I read on the Drudgereport this week an article about a woman who's sins were being exposed by her church... I clicked on the article and was shocked to realize that this woman lives in my town and I've even visited that church before on a couple of occasions. This reminded me of the "Scarlet Letter" story except in this case, both parties were single. Here's the article: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,469928,00.html

It made me really sad and mad on several levels....

I am not sure how much of the details are true or were accurately reported… This 49 year old woman is being excommunicated from her church for being involved in a sexual relationship with a man who is not her husband. Several months before, this woman confided in her spiritual mentor and admitted her struggles with this relationship. The mentor was supposed to be there to help this friend with her problems with a relationship that was obviously not honoring to God. The woman had attempted to break up with this man on ten different occasions, but she still kept going back to him.

Then in October of this year the mentor decided to take this woman's confidential confession to the next level and tell some other ladies in their church. It seems as though the woman involved was willing to admit that she had a problem and had confided in someone in the church to help her deal with this issue. I don't know exactly how much time lapsed in between her sharing with her mentor and the time her mentor brought it before this smaller group of women in the church. Apparently, the church was now in step two of a three step process to deal with this issue of sin in this woman's life. In Matthew 18, there is an outline that Jesus refers to which many interpret as the way the church is supposed to administer "discipline." There does not appear to be a specific time frame in between each step. The verses read:


15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

The article does not say that the woman "refused to listen" in step one of the process; however, it does appear that she was so deeply entrenched in this relationship and was truly battling with how to handle it. She did turn to someone she trusted to help her deal with this situation and was surprised and shocked to learn to see how her mentor handled her confidences.

… if anything this process seemed to have caused the woman to dig her heels in and rebel even further, going to the press and broadcasting the whole thing publicly, more public than the church was intending to take the situation. However, in some ways, it seems as though the church was more concerned with confronting the sin than they were in restoring the sinner…. but we don't know the whole story or all the details in the situation, nor should we need to. We can only surmise from what we read in the paper.

The article goes on to say that the woman left this church and resigned her membership before she received a letter from the elders stating that they were going to publicly confront her sin during a church service the first week in January if she did not repent. The woman said she had left the church and was now attending another church in the area.

It’s interesting… when this kind of church discipline was practiced in the 1st century… there were not several churches in one town…. and when someone was excommunicated, they didn’t have another church to go to… because the church was not only a place of worship; it was also a social gathering and a place where people had established close-knit relationships. There were more serious ramifications about being banned from the church — we don’t see that today because someone could just go from church to the next.

As I said in the beginning of this post, I have mixed emotions because I know that sin needs to be dealt with and that when we align ourselves as believers with a local body of Christ, we are exposing our lives to others with the intent that we are to spur one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24). Ideally, in the kind of church that is honoring to God, which endeavors to hold true to the holy scriptures, where believers are really engaged in meaningful, transparent and accountable relationships with each other, we may never have read this story in the paper--because it would have been resolved in a biblical way. As I said previously, I don't know the whole situation, and in some ways, I am inclined to be a bit cynical towards the woman who felt it necessary to broadcast her story wider than it was ever intended (now the "whole world" knows).

But as someone who has been burned in relationships and who has been really hurt by others 'in the church" who have unjustly harshly judged and condemned me, I can relate to this woman too - even though my circumstances are not the same as hers. There is a breakdown somewhere here. I know this church is intending to be biblical in their process and they probably mean well. But when you're dealing with imperfect human beings, on both sides of the situation, even the most well-meaning Christian people can believe they are "doing what's best" when they think they're helping someone for their own good.

The sad thing is this woman will mostly likely not be restored to a meaningful relationship with the Lord - I cannot say for sure, of course, but with all this media emphasis, I am concerned that she is going to become more embittered and settled in her ways and sin… and that she will not be able to hear the still small voice of the spirit speaking into her heart…. it just makes me sad.

I was talking with my children about this story today and one of them said, “But mom what about the of gluttony, of lying, of stealing, of other sins.. are they supposed to confront about those kinds of things…” One of them said, "Sin is sin in God’s eyes, mom… why are they making this sin bigger than any other?" She’s right… it’s just that we don’t often “confess” to a sin of gluttony, of impatience with our kids (what I struggle with too often!), of lying, of cheating on our tax returns, of speeding when driving, etc. Sin is sin - all sin breaks the heart of God. All of these sins sent Jesus to the cross to die.

Just my two cents…

Lord have mercy.... on us all...

3 comments:

madame said...

Patti,
I don't think she was sinning against anyone in the church, or was she?
I think this type of church discipline is for people who are causing trouble in the church with their treatment of other members. Much like in a family, if you can't solve the problem without witnesses, witnesses are brought in. If it the offender doesn't repent, you take it to the elders.

I think this woman has been treated very badly. If she were teaching or leading some ministry, I could understand exposing her sin if she didn't step down, but someone who is struggling with sin to be exposed like that?
I'm with your daughter.

Patti S. W. said...

It's interesting that the verses do say, if your brother has sinned against you... it does not specifically say what kind of sin (which is probably a good thing). I don't know that it makes any difference if she was involved in leadership or some ministry in the church or not... she was involved in sinful behavior that is against what the Bible says, but dealing with it the way they did was a bit over the top. There was no mercy, no compassion. You can be merciful to someone without condoning their sin... Jesus even said, "where are your accusers..." to the woman caught in adultery and she did not see any. All he simply said then was, "go and sin no more." She knew she was wrong; He knew she was wrong. Now she had a choice to make.

madame said...

Patti,
The way I understand that passage, Jesus is addressing how to deal with people in the church who are sinning against us.
This woman was living in adultery, but her adultery wasn't wronging any church members. Much like my problems with food, someone else's problem with drinking, or even a person's problem with pornography. We all sin, and we all need God's grace.

I'm with you, she was treated without compassion.
Thank you for mentioning the way Jesus dealt with the adulteress. He didn't overlook the sin, but he showed her grace, mercy, and gave her a new chance.

We should all treat brothers and sisters who are struggling with sin, with mercy. Not overlooking sn, but not sending them away, or publicly disgracing them. Like your daughter said, sin is sin. My murderous looks at someone are no less sin than someone else's adultery.

The difference between a person living in sin but still seeking relationship with God and the Church, and someone living in sin and leading the church, is that church leaders have a standard to live up to. Their lives should be good examples to the less mature Christians.
I'm not talking about excommunicating church leaders who have been caught in sin, or publicly disgracing them.

People sinning against their brothers and sisters are causing troubles that need to be addressed. Their sin is not "just" their problem, it's the body's problem, and the body has to do something to protect those who are being hurt.