After my sarcastic post a couple of days ago, I want to share a personal experience to demonstrate just how reckless some Christian pastors can be.
Some Christian pastors.
I started college at Western Carolina University, where I spent two years, Fall 1987 through Spring 1989.
(My first year, I was in Reynolds dorm, which had the advantage of being an older dorm with larger rooms, and the disadvantage of being pretty much at the high point of campus, and at a far edge.)
At the beginning of my freshman year, I attended a church and got involved with its college group.
I met a guy I’ll call A.J. Somehow we became buds, which was somewhat odd: I was a white freshman and he was a black upperclassman. (I try to remind myself that some churches can level social hierarchies and open racial barriers.)
Eventually, A.J. started to open up to me, and he had some real hurt and confusion.
He had shared some personal, private difficulties with the pastor of the church.
The conversation was supposed to have been in confidence, but the pastor told some other people on the church staff.
I realize I don’t know exactly what his difficulties were. I realize sometimes a private confession is scary enough to warrant alerting others. Ultimately I just don’t know, but I tend to doubt A.J.’s difficulties warranted sharing. Maybe they did.
Either way, the violation of trust did significant damage to A.J.
He started dropping by my room in the late afternoons and evenings. He would ask me, again and again, “Why? Why did he tell others?” Why, why, why.
A.J. was astounded, hurt, confused.
I was only 18 years old. With a September birthday, I had begun my freshman year as a 17-year-old. I knew less than nothing.
I tried to help A.J., lobbing weak suggestions at his grieved face, nothing I said finding purchase. He was going in circles, we were going in circles, stuck on the question of why the pastor had violated his trust.
My church back home was loosely affiliated with the church near campus. So at times, I even tried to play the pastor’s advocate. But A.J. would reason back at me — to him, there seemed no justification for the pastor to divulge the details of his conversation.
So many conversations. Then, A.J. disappeared for a while.
I welcomed the break. I couldn’t help him. All he did was talk and talk and share his misery. The relationship was becoming a burden to me. I didn’t want him to show up.
Right before he disappeared, I remember passing him in a dorm common area. He was shut down, turned inward, mumbling to himself, yet walking with purpose. It was strange, but he kept walking, and I didn’t want to get into another marathon conversation.
I later found out why he disappeared for a while. He had been in the hospital. He had tried to kill himself.
The night I had seen him mumbling to himself, he had taken a bunch of pills. Later that evening, he had placed his thick leather belt around his neck and tried to hang himself from the bunk bed in his dorm room.
I can’t say with any certainty that the pastor’s gossip, that his violation of confidence, was the direct cause of A.J.’s suicide attempt. He was already struggling. But the pastor’s gossip made it worse.
All this and the recent Ron Wheeler letter regarding Pastor Mark Driscoll makes me wonder what a good pastor really is.
Does a good pastor say the right doctrinal things?
Driscoll has been saying the right doctrinal things for his Reformed circles.
A.J.’s pastor was saying the right things for his church circles.
Does a good pastor have the right leadership skills?
Driscoll has had very good leadership skills for corporate America. He could get a legit NY Times bestseller by writing about gaining and keeping power.
A.J.’s pastor was dominant enough in his church circles to maintain a leadership position and a mantle of authority.
Yet what once grew later fell apart.
I thought, in the Christian faith, what genuinely grows never falls apart.