My wife and I are both public school teachers, so we both took umbrage when the pastor began making horrible remarks about the public school system in our area, including making many remarks that were outright lies. They included such ludicrous claims as one which proposed that the public schools were trying to force kids to become homosexuals. Equally preposterous were the claims that by teaching books like the Harry Potter series, teachers were basically teaching kids witchcraft and devil worship. The pastor and his handpicked deacons began making sweeping reforms in the church as well, such as the removal of women from virtually any position of leadership. This was reinforced through the Sunday School classes, as a directive from the elders of the church, to teach the proper role of men and women in relation to each other. I was dismayed to find that their interpretation of Scripture left no room whatsoever for women to have any meaningful role in the decision making of the church.
I began to notice a change in the membership as well. Old timers who had been in the church for quite some time began to grumble about some of the changes being made and were one by one taken out of their positions of leadership. The deacons and the pastor began to introduce measures into the church by-laws that removed much of the democratic process and involvement by the lay people as a whole in decision making. A wedge was slowly driven between those who supported the pastor and those who did not. Those who did not were confronted alone and asked to make decisions about their commitment to the church, and if the answer was not what was being looked for, they were asked to leave.
One of the largest changes was the direct support from the pulpit for the Republican party in general and President Bush in particular. When I, as a high school Sunday School teacher, asked questions as to whether the administration's policies really lined up with what Jesus asked of His followers, I was brought in for "training." When I talked about politics with fellow church members they often expressed astonishment that I supported progressive politics. I was asked directly by the leadership to stop making my political preferences known, as that was causing "conflict within the Body of Christ" and told that church was not the place to air political views, despite the fact that the pastor and the deacons were doing so every Sunday.
This all came to a head one afternoon when my wife had enough and called the pastor to express her frustration and ask to talk things out. She had been a member of the church for 25 years and had dedicated much of her life to serving the congregation there. The pastor's response to my wife's issues? He told her that he hoped the two of us found a good church home. I was immediately removed from my position as a Sunday School teacher, through an intermediary, and told that if my wife would not "submit to my authority" and return to church that I was not welcome there any longer. During this time nobody from the church -- not the pastor, the youth pastor, or any of the deacons, would return my phone calls or e-mails. Sadly, my wife and I gave up and left.
It saddens me to think that this is what our country has come to, that a neo-nihilistic fraud of Christianity has hijacked a peaceful faith and turned it into a message of violence, greed, and political ideology. If you are reading this and recognize some of what I write happening in your place of worship, I have one message to you: FIGHT!