The truth can set you free…and get you fired


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
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***Update: Since writing this post, Chad has become famous.  I hope he still moves to Tennessee!*** 

Back in February I wrote a post entitled “Dear Pastors, Tell Us the Truth” in which I urged pastors to be honest with their congregations about their fears, their failures, their needs, their journeys, their opinions, and their ideas.

Emails poured in from pastors all around the country…(indeed, the world!)…who told me that if they were honest with their congregations, they would be fired. It was heartbreaking and eye-opening.

Recently my friend Chad Holtz told the truth about some of his ideas concerning hell, homosexuality, and the Kingdom of God, and it led to his early dismissal. This is his story, told in his words

***

Pastors and Shepherds, here are some helpful tips if you wish to remain employed. Disregard at your own risk.

1.  Don't blog or Facebook.

2.  If you ignore #1, at least do so anonymously.

3.  If you ignore #1 and #2, be sure your stuff is fluff.  Write about daisies, the weather, your kids t-ball game, vacation plans, car repairs, and dinner recipes.

4.  If you ignore #1, 2, and 3 and choose instead to write about matters of faith, be sure your ideas, thoughts, opinions and questions match the ideas, thoughts, opinions and questions of your congregation.

5. If you ignore #1, 2, 3, and 4 you can join me in a job hunt.   And, if you are not completely disillusioned, help me plant a church where advice like this will not only be unnecessary, but absurd.

They say that experience is the thing you get when you didn't get what you wanted.  The above advice is borne out of experience. On March 20, 2011, I preached my last sermon at a church I had been pastor of for nearly 4 years.

I was not released from my position as pastor for moral misconduct or financial embezzlement or even for preaching heresy from the pulpit.  No, I was fired for writing this, and this, and then all hell broke loose with THIS.  

What I had hoped would be a safe, inviting forum for people to express their questions, concerns, doubts, fears, or even disgust and disappointment became instead my own noose.  While many outside my community have found my blog edifying many within my community found my blog threatening to their sense of community.

Rachel wrote a letter to pastors in February asking us to tell the truth.  A healthy discussion ensued and one thing became quite clear:  Pastors long to live into that letter but are afraid it will cost them their place within their community.  Their fears are not irrational, as the countless emails I have received from ex-pastors and my own story will attest.

Unfortunately, I think Rachel's plea to pastors to tell the truth is a naive gesture, one that assumes that Christians find their sense of community in the waters of baptism rather than their shared ideas.  Her advice awakens in us a sense of who and what we ought to be whereas my advice, regrettably, illumines where many of us are.

My hope is that through sharing my story and with the help of laypeople and pastors everywhere we can help bridge that gap between who we ought to be and who we are.   The more we air this stuff out, the more chance we all have to heal.

To close, I need to say something about the community where I had the privilege and honor of pastoring for the past four years.   They are not the bad guys of this story.  What has happened to me is not their fault.   This is merely one small story that highlights a symptom of a far greater disease.  

If pastors are shepherds then I lay the majority of blame at our feet.  We have long histories of not striving for excellence in our shepherding but have instead settled for managing.   It is easier to churn out good citizens as opposed to faithful disciples.  We are merely reaping what we have sown.

So, if the goal is a community where truth can be told without fear of reprisal like the one Rachel describes, then I pose this question to those of you who are Shepherds:  What are you doing to get us, your sheep, there?

***

Are you surprised by Chad’s story? As blogging and Facebooking become more and more the norm, what, if any, responsibilities rest with both clergy and lay people in the transmission of their ideas?How do you respond when your pastor holds a position with which you don’t agree? 

Chad will graduate with an MDiv from Duke Divinity in May. He and his wife and five children plan to move to Cleveland, Tennessee, (just down the road from me!), where Chad will sell life insurance for a while before one day re-entering parish life. You can follow his blog here.

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