“You are my sister in Christ and will be eternally.”

Thus ended a message I received via Facebook from the “Chief Governance Officer” of the church the day we were tossed out. The words are branded into my brain. They cross my mind several times a week, even ten months later. I wish I could ask this man what being a ‘sister in Christ’ means to him. I wish I could understand how he could send me a message like that and, at the same time, support the way that I was being treated. And had been treated for many years.

The Chief Governance Officer serves as a lay-leader on the Executive Board of the church. He is the top lay-person who serves on the Executive Board. So, this message was sent to me by the highest ranking lay-leader of the congregation.

The Executive Board, according to the church’s website, “serves as ambassadors of Jesus Christ.”

Ambassadors of Jesus. What does that mean? Based on my experience, it appears that an ambassador of Jesus rejects people because they ask for help. It means that Jesus ignores people when they are hurting. It means that the board believes that Jesus tosses people aside and shuns them when people ask Him questions and Jesus finds they are too much of an annoyance. It means that Jesus has no compassion for people when they are robbed of their dignity. And it certainly must mean that Jesus refuses to communicate with those who don’t have the good sense to just go away.

I’m no theologian, but I thought Jesus was about acceptance, not rejection. I thought that Jesus was about relationship, not ostracism. I thought that Jesus was about healing, not hurting. I thought that Jesus was about leaving the ninety-and-nine to find the one who is lost. Where is that ambassador for Jesus? I did not encounter him or her in my former church.

According to their website, the Executive Board’s job description includes the following bullet point statement:

“Praying for congregational pastoral care needs, conflict resolution and restoration.”

My story is most certainly about conflict resolution and restoration. I pleaded for it. I begged the senior pastor to help me, to explain why I was being ostracized and condemned. I prostrated myself for more than a decade. With absolutely no response. Not from the pastor. Not from the Executive Board. No one. Not even this man who declared in his message to me that “You are my sister in Christ and will be eternally.” I cannot help but wonder if their definition of conflict resolution and restoration is different from mine. Because if they used my definition, there would have been conversations about the judgment and condemnation I experienced. There would have been answers to my questions about why I was being treated with disdain and disrespect. There would have been clear and specific steps throughout the process of resolution and restoration.

Instead, I was ignored, avoided, and told I could not be given a reason because there could be “legal ramifications.” Well, I guess there definitely was conflict if there was cause for me to bring about legal ramifications. Conflict that, by it’s very nature, made resolution and restoration seemingly impossible. How can there be resolution and restoration when they can’t be honest because they have broken the law? (Except maybe they should have considered that as an ambassador for Jesus myself, they just might have received grace. Hmmmm . . . )

Another bullet point in the job description:

“Supervising the Senior Pastor for accountability and to ensure the vision and values determined by the Executive Board are carried out.”

I would have assumed that a ‘value determined by the Executive Board’ is to concern themselves with holding the senior pastor accountable for resolving conflict and restoring people – especially when the conflict is with the senior pastor, himself. Yet no one – not the senior pastor, not the Chief Governance Officer – no one made any attempt to resolve or restore this particular “sister in Christ.” How does one hold accountable a person in leadership when those who are charged with holding him or her accountable will not carry out this responsibility?

And what about holding the senior pastor accountable for actions that could lead to “legal ramifications”?

No, rather than adhere to their own job descriptions and be true ambassadors for Jesus, they found it more palatable to toss us out of the church and hope that we don’t pursue those things that would lead to “legal ramifications.”

In the messages that I exchanged with the Chief Governance Officer, he told me, “When I step in it gets more complicated.” So he was unwilling to get involved. As the CGO, it would seem to me that he was obligated to get involved, to “step in.” To “ensure that the vision and values determined by the Executive Board” – like “conflict resolution and restoration; like being an “ambassador for Jesus” in the true sense of the phrase – would be his highest obligation. Yet, he would not. Because “it gets more complicated.”

I can only surmise that getting “more complicated” means that he feared suffering retribution toward himself if he were to “step in.” I wonder how he sleeps at night?

According to an online version of an online magazine (which I cannot share without compromising his identity) the Chief Governance Officer gave some opening remarks at a joint worship service between his denomination and a “sister” denomination. These are the words that he spoke at the service which was held just six months after we were tossed out of the church: “How countercultural is it not to fight but to embrace?” He went on to say that ‘We are to forget what separates us as we are “preoccupied with Jesus together.”‘

And I am left to wonder, what does he think it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ? Does it mean that it’s okay to toss someone out of the church for speaking up about abuses that were taking place? Is it okay to support ostracism? Shunning? Persecution? Is it okay to misrepresent the Jesus for whom you are an ambassador? Is it okay to completely ignore significant points of your job description as CGO and a member of the Executive Board?

As a member of the Executive Board, he is supposed to concern himself with conflict resolution and restoration. He was supposed be an ambassador for Jesus Christ.

Instead, he couldn’t step in – because it would get complicated. But I needn’t worry. I am still his sister in Christ. Eternally.

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