The first few questions I am going to be asked from those who don’t understand is “Why are you doing this? Why does it matter to you? You don’t even live in Jacksonville anymore so what happens there shouldn’t matter.”
So I am going to start this post with answering those questions:
I am doing this because I am sick and tired of seeing people abused by the church. Whether that is sexual abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse and dare I say it spiritual and authoritarian abuse. I have watched it for far too long and it is time I use my voice, advocate and stand up for those without a voice or those who feel they can’t for one reason or another.
It matters to me, especially THIS story. It matters because an innocent woman has been accused of not being a believer. She has been told that she is willfully sinning and her soul is in jeopardy of going to hell. She has been told that she needs to repent of her sin and find restoration with her church and the Lord. But the problem with this is two things. First, she did nothing wrong and second, WHAT MAN has the power or self-created God-complex to even feel like they have the authority to tell anyone this? It also matters to me because I have walked in the shoes of this sweet lady. More on that in a minute.
You are correct, I don’t live in Jacksonville anymore. I do not attend First Baptist Church anymore; but as of right now (unless I have been excommunicated and not informed) I am still a member there. This affects me because that has been my church home for 48 years….I have many friends and loved ones who still attend and I plan to do everything in my power to open the eyes of those still there so they see the tyranny that is in the pulpit and the leadership he has in place.
As a woman who went through a divorce in 1999, I know how hard that is. It is a difficult road to travel paved with despair, anguish, heartache, sorrow and failure. It is not something you plan on happening but sometimes you have no other choice. Abuse happens. Adultery happens. Abandonment happens and no matter how hard you try you have no other choice than to walk away. I remember when I got to that place of having to walk away and file for divorce. It was devastating for me. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly but I knew it was my only option. Had what happened to the lady in this story happened to me; I honestly have no clue what I would have done. This is a true but dark story and it needs to be shared.
My “victim” has asked to remain anonymous so to honor her I have changed her name to protect her. So let’s call her Mary. This is her story……
Mary and her husband had been having issues. Her husband had some mental health issues and had secretly stopped taking his medication. Things started to decline rapidly and unfortunately some infidelities took place.
Mary wanted to save her family so she asked her husband to go to marital counseling with her. They began counseling with one of the Associate Pastors at First Baptist Church Jacksonville. It only lasted about 2 months though as Mary’s husband would not allow her to be totally honest with the pastor.
In December of 2017 Mary and her husband separated. The indiscretions had gone too far so she told him she was done and he needed to move out.
Mary started seeing a female counselor at FBC (for the record she is no longer employed there). She was able to be totally honest with the counselor and really liked her. She was able to work through a lot of her hurt and was helped a lot. She continued through counseling from January 2018-May 2018. But by May she knew she had no other choice but to file for divorce. Another Pastor (who also is no longer employed at FBC) asked her not to divorce her husband and give it 6 more months. Even though they were separated she knew the marriage was damaged beyond repair so she decided to end it.
She filed for divorce and in July of 2018 her divorce was finalized.
During all of this she remained active in church. She attended all services, served in areas of the church and brought her child to church faithfully.
In November of 2018, Mary met a man and they started dating. They attended FBC together. Her church family met him and they were faithful to the church and The Lord. Not one negative thing was ever said by anyone from the church during their dating and engagement.
In April 2019, they were to be married.
Two days before the wedding Mary received a phone call from the Women’s Ministry Director who asked her “are you certain your divorce was Biblical?” Mary was mortified that the question was even asked….Yes, it was Biblical. The questioning caught her so off guard as her divorce had been final for almost a year and prior to this nothing had been said. The staff member continued to grill her even asking what Bible verses she found to confirm her divorce being Biblical. By this time Mary was in tears and she was flustered. She said, “I think it was Biblical.” She was confused at this point as she respected this lady so much; but she was hurt and so upset. Mary was told by the FBC staff member that she was being prayed for.
The next day, one day before her wedding she received a call from the Young Adults Pastor. She answered the phone and he said, “Do I know you?” She told him they had met a time or two and had several conversations. Then he said, “Well I want you to know that I love you but I am concerned for your mortal soul. You are sinning if you remarry. Willfully sinning and committing adultery which will send you to hell.” No grace….just matter-of-fact judgement. She was sobbing. She told him that she knows Jesus loves her and her sins are covered. She went on to explain that she did have Biblical grounds for divorce. He continued to berate her and she asked through her sobbing tears, “Do I need not to come back to church anymore.” To which he replied, “No we want you here. We will work through this with you and help bring you to restoration with the Lord and the church.” This was a devastating phone call for her but she put it aside and got married the next day.
The next week they went to church where the Pastors wife told her she saw her wedding pictures on Facebook, and how beautiful she was and how happy they were for her. That seemed to ease her mind.
Mary wanted to stay at FBC for her child mostly; it was the only church she had ever known and there had been so much change in her life. This was a stable environment and one she loved. So they kept going as a family….April, May and June of 2019. Things were going great and there had been NO follow up from the Women’s Ministry Leader or the Young Adult Pastor since the interaction prior to her wedding. In June, one of her best friends shared some things with her. They had decided to go to Church of Eleven22 and asked her to come with them. In July she and her husband decided to visit. They went to Church of Eleven22 and loved it and felt God call them there.
By September of 2019 they were going to Eleven22 faithfully. She didn’t say anything to anyone at FBC about their move other than they were looking at where God wanted them as a family so they were visiting around.
In October of 2019 the Children’s Music Leader texted her and asked if her child was going to be coming back to choir. She replied, “Oh I am so sorry but we are attending Eleven22 now so we won’t be back.”
The next day Mary received a call from the Associate Pastor. She didn’t answer because she was at work, but he left a message asking her to call him back. She saw no reason to call him back since she was no longer attending FBC, so she didn’t.
In November of 2019 she received a certified letter in the mail dated Nov 7, 2019 from FBC stating that due to her sin and refusal to receive the Biblical Counsel she had been given she was needed to come to a meeting to discuss her situation. Ultimately, this restoration committee would determine if she remains in good standing or because of her actions of acting like an unbeliever be evangelized as an unbeliever with the goal of seeing her restored to a proper relationship with others including FBC and her Lord. If she did not come actions would be taken to remove her membership, she would not be allowed to participate in church ministry or receive communion. Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, and other leadership in the church will be made aware of the action that was taken out of concern for her soul. It was signed; Love in Christ, The Deacon Member Care and Restoration Committee.
After receiving that letter, she was so devastated that something like this could be said to her, she did not respond to the letter nor did she show up to the “Discipline Meeting.”
A few weeks later she received another certified letter dated Dec 10, 2019 stating that they have repeatedly endeavored to help her see the sin in her life. Because she has refused to repent and turn from her sin the following has taken place.
You are no longer a member since you have demonstrated you are not a follower of our Lord.
You are not to participate in the church’s communion service since communion is a reverent service where believers in Jesus Christ remember the body and blood of their Lord given in sacrifice for their sins.
You are not to participate in any church ministry activities that represent you as a follower of Christ since we believe you are acting as an unbeliever.
If another church contacts us for transfer of membership, we will make this information available to them.
It was signed; With prayer for your soul, The Member Care and Restoration Committee (Consisting of Senior Pastor, Associate Pastor and Deacons)
Now, you may ask….what was her sin? THAT is my question.
When I went through my divorce I too, saw a Christian therapist (not ACBC, thank God)! He told me that there were many Biblical grounds for divorce. Let me say that this same man, still to this day fights to save marriages. So, he doesn’t promote divorce. He knows though when there is no fight left. Abuse, Abandonment and Adultery; those are your Biblical grounds for divorce. But, let me be clear here….EVEN if you fall in the category of divorce under means other than Biblical….IF you know Jesus, IF you have accepted his FREE gift of salvation for ALL….NO UNBIBLICAL DIVORCE is going to keep you out of Heaven. Your soul is not in jeopardy of perishing in hell! YOU ARE SAFE….His grace covers you!
The downright mental, emotional and spiritual abuse these church leaders put Mary through is despicable. As I talked to Mary Saturday she said to me…..”I never said anything to anyone because I didn’t want to put a black mark on the church or cause anyone to stumble. I know people are not Jesus so when they act like this I have to be able to separate them from Him.” I was astounded by her grace and the way she looked at it. Through our talking though I told her that it is such an arrogant thought process to think you have the right to be the judge and jury on someone else’s soul. The bottom line is what you do, you will answer for one day to God Almighty….not to any other pastor or man alive…GOD ONLY!
Now my personal input so take this as you want:
There should be NO Disciplinary or Restoration Committees in churches. All that does is put a man in charge of the sins of church members. WHO does that? But I will take it a step further and ask WHY was it a woman picked on for this? Why didn’t Mary’s ex-husband get treated like this? This is very much abuse of power and in my personal opinion “preying on a woman.” Complete manipulation and completely disgusting!
This is the scripture the church uses to base their “Restoration Committee” on. I call it a Disciplinary Committee because ultimately that is what it is. Matthew 18:15-20
15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
But the question that needs to be asked is….WHO among any church staff leadership has the authority to call out or point out sin? I am still wondering what sin Mary committed? Are these church leaders saying they don’t sin? We know that isn’t true, so who points out their sin? What about John 8:1-11….”He who is without sin cast the first stone?”
Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. 2And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. 3And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, 4They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. 5Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 6This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. 7So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. 8And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 9And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 11She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
It is quite appalling to me that church leadership can pick and chose the scripture that fits their agenda when there are other scriptures in the Bible that need to be considered as well.
What about Matthew 7:1-5
Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
The bottom line is this……Mary was treated like the unbelieving sinner on the cross next to Jesus. She was scorned for a sin (we still don’t know what that sin is) that she was told would send her soul to hell. THAT is spiritual, mental and emotional abuse and it is abuse of power. Why are we giving ANY man in church leadership the power to abuse?
I will be scorned for writing Mary’s story. I don’t care. I am here to speak for women like Mary who have been abused and mistreated by the ONE Institution/Shepherd who should have protected her! It is a Pastor’s job to take care of the flock God ordained him for and has entrusted him with…..dare I say that perhaps MAN ordained and entrusted this particular preacher and God has removed HIS hand?
I hope people will take notice of this story. I hope people will see how horribly Mary was treated. I hope that someone with some power at FBC and other churches this same scenario is happening in will finally stand up and say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! That someone will decide it is more important to protect the sheep than it is to protect the image of the shepherd! It keeps happening all over America. It needs to stop. The CHURCH should stand up even if that means questioning the man in the pulpit for allowing abuse to happen. These are the things that are happening behind closed doors that the membership doesn’t see. This isn’t the only case of this at First Baptist Church Jacksonville but it SHOULD be the last case. Mary and her family deserve an apology for what they have been put through. THIS should never happen again.
Thank you Mary for being so brave and coming forward and allowing me the opportunity to stand with you and for you.
Until next time……..
**To my faithful blog readers…..I promise to get back to the more lighthearted and fun blog posts (especially the Parents in the Basement series) but this is too important not to post about. I am sick and tired of the church not being a safe place; a place where God dwells and grace is present. I am thankful I have found a church like that here in Birmingham. I am thankful that I won’t have to ever endure abuse at the hands of a pastor or his staff. Please join me in helping to spread the word and stop abuse in the church**