There is a Time to Be Silent and a Time to Speak

Most days I am choking on the words stuck in my throat. The ones I repeatedly stuff down with both hands. I remember being a young girl and thinking one day I would be able to tell them what I was feeling. I would finally have an opportunity to speak up. One day. When is “one day” anyway? I’m still not sure.

I was brand new to serving on any board let alone a church board. After the meeting, I shared my perspective on something that had been discussed. He wondered why I had not shared this during the meeting. I responded saying, “I’m still learning when it’s okay to speak”. I guess, in many ways, I’m still trying to figure that out, too.

I have spent my entire life caught between this tension to be silent and to speak. Solomon says, in the Book of Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything, including a time to speak. It used to encourage me, but now I wonder if it was just satire.

I’ve done my best to keep the deep things, the controversial things, to my blog and my journal. They occasionally spill over into my preaching and social media. Some of you laughed. Occasionally? But you should hear what is happening in my head. Trust me. I am holding back the dam.

You can read my post from three years ago here when I talk about the Willow Creek scandal. Then this week the RZIM scandal broke. I’m devastated and reeling like many others. And it seems to be never-ending. If you follow me on social media, then it will not take long for you to find my controversial post about it. It has been suggested that it was inappropriate in tone (maybe content, too). Yes, absolutely. Probably. Maybe. I guess it depends who you ask.

Every so often it boils over. The anger, frustration, abject horror of a recurring problem that doesn’t go away. Yes, I know evil, the fall, sin, blah, blah, blah. You know what would be nice? It would be nice for someone to say, “I’m sorry. I wish I knew how to fix this complex problem”. At least they would be acknowledging that there is a problem because there is a problem. In the Church. There is a problem in the Church. There is a problem in the Church. There is a problem in the Church. (no, it’s not a typo)

Typically I might post something and then move on, but I cannot seem to let this one go. Something happened in the last year. Something broke inside. The pandemic, compassion fatigue, the election. All these things, but none of these things. Perhaps it was sixteen years of ministry and feeling like we’re not any further down the road with patriarchy, gender issues, and ego in the Church. There were also a few people who broke trust last year. Once you break trust, it takes a while to get it back. But, you know, I’m sorry goes a long way. I imagine I will be waiting a long time.

We all experience broken trust. I’ve been guilty of it myself. But somewhere in the midst of everything that 2020 had to bring, I found myself wondering if the Gospel was still relevant. I wonder if the Good News is still good. I have been told to my face that women are vices. I have had peers and lay people reduce me to my gender. And I have collected so many stories from women over the years that I have trouble standing up under the weight of it. I’ve tried leaving it at the cross, but it seems like Jesus keeps kicking it back as if to suggest I should do something about it. But I don’t know what to do about it.

I have started ministries. I planted a church. I planted a dinner church. I gave up my pulpit for women and POC. I launched a blog and a podcast and I’m desperately trying to write a book. Does any of it matter? Is the Gospel even relevant? Is the Good News even good? I’m in the trenches with unchurched and de-churched people who have a problem with organized religion and I have no plausible explanation of why they should trust us. You know, because when you break trust it takes a long time to get it back! And the Church has broken trust with our communities. So I am out there with the rest of my faith community and we spend most of our time saying “I’m sorry”.

So here I am with all of my inappropriateness telling my male colleagues to zip up their pants. Trust me. The unchurched I speak with would not be so delicate. Yes, there are so many Christ-like male colleagues that I respect and admire. They have opened doors and treated me with respect and not like I am a stupid, emotional woman. I even had one call me to apologize for another male colleague. You know who you are and that is what integrity looks like.

But I cannot apologize for those words stuck in my throat that leak out. My soul is dying little by little. I don’t know how to do this anymore. The majority of the people we minister to are unchurched and de-churched people. They either come from faith backgrounds that have bingo and beer tents or they identify LGBTQ. So I finally just stopped taking in members. It was the only way I could stay true to the Gospel and “keep the rules of the manual”. I didn’t want to stop telling them about this Good News, but now I wonder…is it good? The Good News should change people and systems for the better. Is it better?

Is this how Phoebe Palmer felt? What about Harriet Beecher Stowe? Martin Luther? Which reminds me…there is a website called the Martin Luther Insult Generator. And you think I am inappropriate? Well, you know, not female.

Look, I am not even sure how to bring this to an end. I guess I am saying, “No, I’m not okay. Thanks for asking”. Except no one was asking were they? Exactly. So I’m sitting here at Jesus’ feet, laying down that burden, and hoping He doesn’t kick it back my way because I got nothing. You know what’s funny? I have not lost faith in Jesus. But I am not sure I trust His Church. It’s going to take time I suppose. It’s going to take lots of time.

2 Comments on “There is a Time to Be Silent and a Time to Speak”

  1. It isn’t easy being green, JoAnn. You stick to your guns. Just like you always have from the day you were born. You know what is right. Just keep holding Jesus’ hand and hang in there. For those who don’t want to follow, there are plenty of other churches they can go to.

  2. I have been very torn about whether to respond in public or private. Public seems appropriate.

    I was going to discuss RZIM a few weeks ago when you yielded your pulpit to me, but decided against it. It was in the context of chapters 3 and 4 of First Corinthians, and goes directly to the dangers of following humans rather than Christ. As you will recall, I wrote a rather sentimental eulogy for Ravi Zaccharias not too long ago. Within days of that writing being sent out, news started leaking out about his being an abuser. Much to their credit, RZIM did not deny these things. They conducted their own investigation, found that the abuse was even worse than initially indicated, and made it public quite some time ago.

    Any organization using a human name is at the same risk, as all of us humans fall short. I’m not using “fall short” as a euphemism here. Ravi’s sin was neither personal nor private as he damaged and destroyed others. That is the nature of sin; it results in death. It has tainted beyond recovery decades of brilliant thinking, speaking and writing, and is taking down a multi-national organization which has had a huge impact for the Kingdom. Sin can taint and take down any human institution – including the ones using the moniker of “church”.

    This is my problem with referring to the church as an organization, denomination, building, or something we do. It would be much easier to differentiate if we used the word “Church” to uniquely identify the ecclesia, the called out ones, the one body of believers, and used other less confusing terms for all the rest. Yes, the “church” has done incalculable damage as it has followed human leaders to the exclusion of remaining focused on Christ. God.

    The rest of this is more personal. Since I was young enough to start thinking for myself, I have been very much ashamed of what has passed as acceptable and even expected of “masculinity”. Walking that line between respecting societal norms while recognizing the liberty and equality we all share in Christ would be impossible without the Spirit’s guidance. I am not alone in this discomfort with the injustice and abuse. I am sorry, and I am not alone in this regret.

    God uses us anyway! He can even use a sinful, broken person like me. He can wash me clean and call me His own. He can touch and heal me without sullying Himself. His Grace is sufficient, and His love is not dependent on my ability to be good enough. I am certainly not good enough.

    But God IS good enough, and that IS Good News.

    Pete. . .

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