(The following is excerpted from an email message to myself and the ekklesia email group. This person had read the "A Psycho-Sexual Analysis of Authoritarian Worldwide Church of God Polity" paper, wrote his "spiritual lesbian" analysis and then I asked Mr. Meyer to respond.)
Reprinted here with Mr. Meyer's permission.
>To: [email protected]
>Subject: Re: Psycho-Sexual analysis of Worldwide Church of God...
>Date: Sunday, July 06, 1997 1:14 AM
> >Do you realize what Bill Myer is saying???
>He's saying we're all a bunch of
>warped spiritual lesbians who'll never recover from the spiritual incestual
>abuse we got from Herbert W. Armstrong unless we go to another organized church (one modeled
>of course on his version of a wholesome family - the Disciples of Christ)!
>Baloney! We are in God's family, not the preacher's family! Me thinks you
>stretcheth the analogy a bit too far.....
>Hierarchy, non-hierarchy, the entire bloody business of religion is what is
>wrong. To be honest Bill Myer, this cheap shot at those of us not in
>organized religion is not any better than Herbert W. Armstrong's cheap shots at other
>Sheesh, just spend about two weeks on [email protected] if you have any
>doubt what can happen in the congregation polity of the Disciples of
>Christ/Churches of Christ! Those folks are hurting every bit as much as
>the Worldwide Church of God people are.
>Some family model!
At 09:58 AM 7/7/97 +0000, you wrote:
>So, Mr. Meyer, would you like to respond to this before you sign off?????
Sorry for taking so long to respond.
I did want to respond carefully, because this is an issue I've wrestled with for months in pretty much the terms I presented. I've struggled with this for years, not knowing exactly what it was but knowing something was very, very wrong.
And Ed, I'm sorry I messed up the address to your web page. If any of you think my response would add clarity to my paper, feel free to post and link or some such.
... So I wanted to thank everyone for wading through my analysis of Worldwide Church of God polity and for commenting. Based on some of the comments, however, it seems I may have offended some other exiters or been at least partially misunderstood.
I'm sorry for any offense taken by fellow Worldwide Church of God exiters. I regret that this paper is being viewed as a cheap shot. I don't think it is. (I get paid to spot and erase cheap shots in my work as a newspaper copy editor, so I know what they look like.) I realize offense has been taken -- which I regret -- but I don't know of any other way to say what I think needs to be said. And whenever the issues are really, really important and touch us at the core of our lives, there will always be some chance of offense.
I began writing this article about six months ago and sent messages about some of the core points and allegations to some of the top Worldwide Church of God leadership types. I got ripped by them over my tone and negativity. I obviously had a bad attitude and was unfit to serve as any sort of pastor. But they challenged neither the core facts about Herbert Armstrong's perversions nor my basic conclusions about their implication for the Worldwide Church of God.
I've also let the paper sit for several weeks to "age" and cool down a bit. And I've actually toned down my language substantially.
I don't mind taking pokes in print occasionally at leadership types who are continuing to harm people -- after an offense has been brought to their attention and blown off or ignored.
But I'm very concerned that offense was taken by my fellow Worldwide Church of God exiters, whom I consider sisters and brothers. I certainly do not want my remarks to be understood as implying that there is something defective about people with the guts to actually follow their convictions right out the exit doors.
This is a very healthy -- though vastly difficult -- thing to do, actually following your convictions.
Despite conclusions that some of drawn about what I said, I think the strongest language I used about any Worldwide Church of God exiters, in any posture, was "err." And my language about the self-sustaining Worldwide Church of God leadership was much more pointed.
So in this context, asserting that I'm somehow calling Worldwide Church of God exiters who chose not to join a church for the moment "spiritual lesbians" does strike me as a bit harsh. I'd also like to say that there was little that was Freudian about my analysis. I had nothing to say directly about repression, and I certainly didn't build much of a case for unconscious motivations.
Most of the connections that I tried to make were basically common sense. I had hoped that they would be accessible to anyone.
I also don't like to be seen as shilling for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) Of course this is the choice that I have made and that the Geneva Independent Christian Congregation has made, and I really do believe that it might be a healthy choice for others. But I think I actually only mentioned the Disciples of Christ once in my paper. I mentioned Baptists more than once and mentioned Martin Luther or Lutherans also more than once. Yes, I think the DOC would be a healthy choice. But it is but one of many, many healthy denominational choices that Worldwide Church of God exiters could make within a wide range of accountable church polities.
(As a digression, a question occurs to me that I didn't address in the paper. Is it possible for a Christian to thrive in a cyberchurch or some sort of electroekklesia? And that leads to another interesting question. Is Ferguson's Ekklesia network in fact just such a cyberchurch, perhaps even with himself assuming some basic, non-directive pastoral functions? I'm not expressing any opinions here -- just raising the questions.)
At any rate, I think I should clarify, or try to clarify both what I did not intend to do with my paper and what I did intend to do.
It was NOT my purpose to:
1. Offend any of the victims of the Worldwide Church of God or make them feel inadequate in any way. It is my conviction that Jesus meets all of us -- including Worldwide Church of God exiters such as myself and most of you -- where we are are and then comes to us with his powerful grace and healing. Then as a good shepherd, he gently leads his sheep -- including those who have been traumatized or badly wounded -- to safety and to better pastures with the rest of his flock.
2. Rush anyone into a premature or ill-considered church affiliation that might further compound the damage done by the Worldwide Church of God or perhaps drive one away from Jesus Christ for good. Especially on the fundamentalist end of the church spectrum, there are some groups and denominations that could do a lot of harm. In any event, many Worldwide Church of God exiters may indeed need to take their time and frankly just rest a bit.
3. Suggest that every church or denomination outside the Worldwide Church of God is healthy or suggest that every member of every church or denomination outside the Worldwide Church of God has an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. There are indeed lots of people in other churches who are also spiritually "messed up."
4. Give aid and comfort to the current Worldwide Church of God leadership, as long as it continues in its present self-serving course of confirming its cultic control over the credulous.
However, it WAS my purpose to:
1. Point out that the Worldwide Church of God is not, in its present circumstances and under its present neo-papal leadership, a healthy place for children or other living beings. Along these lines, I had hoped that the paper might help some indecisive would-be-exiters sort out the disturbing jumble of fact and fiction about the Worldwide Church of God and make an informed, intelligent, inspired decision and then actually act upon it.
2. Confirm that real damage has been done to almost everyone who has been a part of the Worldwide Church of God for any length of time.
3. Encourage those who already have exited the Worldwide Church of God by validating the soundness of the exit decision.
4. Discourage back-sliding by wavering exiters currently being blandished to go back into the cult by misguided cult loyalists or my personal fear or guilt, which the Worldwide Church of God was very good at instilling.
5. Promote the self-liberation of a completely personally directed -- yet divinely assisted -- forgiveness of those who have hurt us at the core of our beings. I thought it would be appropriate and helpful to speak personally about what I have been going through along these lines. (But I certainly didn't want to come off as smug or triumphalistic here.)
6. Explain my own reasons for choosing a safely congregational fellowship -- but at the same time lay out some criteria for judging the safety of other non-authoritarian denominational polities.
7. Point out gently that Christianity is actually a relational and communal faith, based upon not only my understanding of the New Testament record but also upon my understanding of the nature of God and of God's interaction with us.
I think this last point may need some explanation.
God is one, but is Father, Son and Holy Spirit within that unity. Jesus, in his agony in the garden, reflected upon his unity with the Father and prayed for his followers (in John 17: 22) "that they may be one as we are one." This unity of all believers would seem to require a relational and communal expression among Jesus followers.
If God the Father is truly the father of every believer, then we are all sisters and brothers. All of us. Every one. And this would also seem to require a relational and communal expression among Jesus' brethren.
If the essentials of our faith are belief in Jesus and union with him, (See Rom. 8: 1 and surrounding passages, especially in the Revised English Bible) then it would seem that a union is also required for the body of Christ. Otherwise, the discussions about the body of Christ as a "unit, though it is made up of many parts," in I Cor. 12: 12 (NIV) and in the surrounding chapters would seem to have little real meaning.
(I'm trying to lay out a sound theology of Christian Ekklesia.)
Jesus promised to be present in the meeting whenever two or more of his disciples are gathering. (See Matt. 18: 20) Not meeting together would then seem to deprive his followers of this sort of experience of his presence and power in other human beings. I think that is why we celebrate our communion with Jesus not only in terms of and with his symbolic blood, but also with his body. And we make that body a part of ourselves when we celebrate our communion with him.
The Father too is promised to believers. Jesus himself said the Father would come and dwell within them. (See John 14: 23)
And if the Holy Spirit is truly fully personal and fully divine, and he is, then the Holy Spirit also has a presence -- fully personal and fully divine -- within each believer. He gifts each in unique ways for the edification and interdependence of the entire Christian community. There is no one exactly like you. The entire body of Christ needs you. (See I Cor. 12: 1-21) And we each need one another and the entire body of Christ very much. "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you' ... Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is part of it." (verses 21, 27)
So when a Christian meets with other Christians, she comes into the presence of the spiritual gifts and the unity of God. She comes into the presence of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, who are all present with each truly believing disciple. She also comes into a gathering where Jesus is authentically present not only with the individuals, but with and within the group as well.
Let me digress here a bit.
In I Cor. 3: 16-17, a passage that has been misunderstood and misinterpreted by the Worldwide Church of God and many other perfectionistic English-speaking churches and that done a great deal of harm, the "you" is the Greek plural "you." Many people have been disfellowshipped by the Worldwide Church of God based on this misunderstanding, which is impossible in Greek and in the German bible and in other languages that distinguish between the singular and plural "you." In fact, many of the New Testament usages translated as "you" in English are in fact the Greek plural "you." The very language of the New Testament emphasizes the collective nature of the church and does so in a way that rules out some of the Worldwide Church of God's historic abuses.
This passage, which is referring to the collective life of the church and not to physical fitness or smoking, reads:
"Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him: for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple."
In all cases, the "you" is plural.
As I see it, the Worldwide Church of God leadership has caused a great deal of destruction in the individual lives of its members. And it is continuing to cause collective destruction through its maintenance of anti-Christian authoritarianism within the collective temple of God. God considers the collective sacred, and the leadership will be answerable for the destruction it continues to cause.
Turning back to Jesus' final instructions in John's Gospel, in John 15, we are reminded that we are the branches and Jesus the true vine. Our essential connection with the vine of necessity brings us as the branches into close proximity with each other. Jesus' summary command to his disciples at the end of this discussion about the vine is: "Love each other as I have loved you." (See John 15: 12, 17)
Loving others as Jesus loved me of necessity also requires me to have some sort of regular association and community with the others who also love and follow Jesus. As Jesus loved me, I must love other believers. It has been correctly pointed out recently on the Ekklesia network that this love must go beyond just charitable thoughts and sentimentally telling those in need to be warmed and filled.
Love is proven in real engagement with others: really caring, really connecting.
Jesus had this kind of community with his followers. So, I believe, we must all work toward and move toward this kind of community with the rest of his followers.
In what I consider one of the most beautiful and helpful and significant passages of scripture, the author of Hebrews (in Heb. 10: 24-25) tells us:
"Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another -- and all the more as ` you see see the Day approaching."
My purposes in my paper were really along these lines. I did hope to be a bit provocative, but I did not intend to be needlessly offensive. I had hoped to provoke discussion, thought and reflection about important questions that can really be uncomfortable to look at and think about. And I even dared to hope that this might be a positive spur for carefully and patiently working toward a more healthy post-Worldwide Church of God Christian posture for those who have successfully exited but haven't gone significantly further in reestablishing healthy fellowship ties. In other words, I had dared to hope the end result might be love and good deeds for all of us.
Put a little simpler, I was trying to present practical suggestions for spiritual self-care for others like myself who have been badly wounded by the perverted polity of the Worldwide Church of God and all that that continues to mean.
At the risk of being misunderstood and slapped around a bit for my trouble, I wanted to present suggestions that would help all of us tap into the healing resources of the whole body of Christ.
I had hoped to be encouraging, not discouraging.
I had hoped to encourage -- if I can be allowed to say this, since we seem to be stretching the sexual metaphors to the limit in these discussions -- safe intimacies. I wanted to encourage us not to give up prematurely on the very sort of vulnerability and the very sort of trust in God and in other people who also love and obey God that makes us fully human and enables us to grow into the fullest possible Christianity.
In saying this, I know this is a very, very frightening thought to many people whose vulnerability and trust have been horribly violated and misused. Who have been shamed and made to doubt themselves. Who have despaired of the possibility of wholeness and intimacy with God and other believers.
Yet I really was trying to suggest that such is still possible. And I was really trying to suggest that it can be done safely.
I'm not trying to encourage re-victimization.
Caution is needed. Really. And time is needed. But maintaining permanently a hard, protective shell against the possibility of intimacy with God or the people of God would seem to grant a continuing and permanent power and control over our spiritual lives to those autocratic, misguided leaders who victimized us in the Worldwide Church of God in the first place.
I refuse. And I think others should refuse too.
At the end of the day, I simply refuse to allow my victimization by the Worldwide Church of God and its sick leaders to harden me against the kinds of right and pure and wholesome and healthy intimacies that God intends for every new creature in Christ. It is through his body broken for me that my brokenness can begin to be healed. And it is by his body that others who suffer from the same kinds of wounds can be healed as well. In God's good time. In Christ's uniquely caring ways, fitted perfectly to the circumstances of each individual.
I hope those who read what I've struggled to adequately share in print will allow God's Spirit to break through the scars and the inevitable tender spots and even callouses to touch the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit in them. Then perhaps the Holy Spirit himself can take over and do his powerfully instructional and motivating work.
Ultimately, no one needs to hear my arguments. I can really persuade no one on my own. I can't browbeat others into accepting what I believe and doing what I do. Clever arguments never adequately substitute for the authentic work of the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless, as a brother, I can and I think must explain what I believe and do on these important questions to my brothers and sisters. If I'm correct, I can expect the that the spiritual competence that resides within each of my sisters and brothers will allow them, with God's help and nudging, to do the rest.
In a scripture that was never quoted in Worldwide Church of God sermons that I recall, because of its frightfully and marvelously seditious implications, the elderly John (in John 2: 27) reminds his hearers of their spiritual competence:
"As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, and not counterfeit -- just as it has taught you, remain in him."
To the extent that I've fallen short in my paper or here -- or attempted to do myself what only the Holy Spirit can do within each believer -- please forgive me. It was not my intent to blame, shame, offend or hector any of the victims of the Worldwide Church of God, among whom I number myself.
So, if my comments seem to make anyone out to be a "spiritual lesbian" -- a characterization that I dislike because it gets its force from and seems to turn on diminishing and dismissing human beings for whom Christ also died -- or seem to make any believing exiter out to be suffering from any other defect or deformity of the spirit, I guess that that person will just have to be me. I'll wear that label, personally, if I must.
I've written what I've written because to one degree or another, I suffer from all the same problems. And I think God that it was to the spiritual outcasts that Christ actually came! It was the spiritual outcasts that he served and saved and chose as his intimate friends.
I continue to believe that the solution to my brokenness and the brokenness of others like me is not the church, but Jesus Christ himself. But our union with Christ and our healing from him then will and must bring us into fellowship and friendship with a community of others also in union with him.
The solution to our brokenness is the very body of Jesus Christ and our communion with him. He himself said, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." (See John 6: 56)
Obviously my paper suffers from the lack of a second set of eyes to edit it. It obviously needs some tightening up. I would certainly welcome any further comments or criticism.
But because God's anointing of the Holy Spirit is real and personal and remains within every believer, let's remain in Christ and seek the Father's will in prayer and in personal examination of the scriptures. Let's then trust the inner witness and counsel of the Holy Spirit to each of us as unique and spiritually competent individuals.
And the Holy Spirit will teach us and show us how to respond individually to the essential unity of God and the essential unity of the entire body of Jesus' followers.
In Christian brotherhood,
Bill Meyer >
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