Monday, June 02, 2008

Verbal Assault After Worship

I was verbally assaulted yesterday after worship. That sounds so dramatic, but I don’t know any other words that better describe it. I was the target of fifteen minutes of verbal abuse, and what made it even worse is that it came in the guise of a theological critique of my sermon, the worship service, and the congregation in general.

Here’s what happened. We had a family of first-time guests yesterday, a mom (Martina) and her six kids, aged in their teens and twenties. At least I’m assuming they were a family, we never really got that far. They came up to me in the line after the service, near the back. There were a dozen or fifteen people left in the line after them. We shook hands and they told me their names, and I introduced myself and told them how good it was to have them here in worship.

It kind of went downhill from there.

“Is this a Bible believing church?” Martina asked next.

Maybe I should interject here that my sermon, from Romans 3 and 2nd Corinthians 5, had centered on the theme that Christ died for all not just some, that there is no distinction between people in God’s eyes, that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and that God loves all of us rather than only a particular group. The children’s sermon featured a craft made by some of the kids of the church, made out of posterboard, felt, markers, and yarn, that depicted a beautifully diverse circle of people all holding hands with the phrase “God loves us” in the middle of the circle.

The overall theme of worship was, “No matter our differences, God loves us all.”

Martina and her family proceeded to subject me to fifteen minutes of tag-team haranguing that was comprised of a litany of ultra-right wing Christian language and a succession of what sounded like rehearsed buzz words and phrases. They were very sad for the children, who had not heard the call to repentance this morning. They were angry about how I had presented that which what makes us all the same: I emphasized that God loves us all and they wanted me to emphasize that we all sin. They were worried for the soul of one parishioner with whom they had spoken, who dared to say that he hoped everyone would get to heaven. They questioned my own faith, and my role as a pastor who would only preach a part of the Gospel. They lamented the spiritual condition of this congregation who is clearly suffering under my leadership.

And on and on…

It is kind of hard to describe, but their tone was bitter and angry, accusatory and malicious. It made my stomach hurt.

I realized after a minute that they really didn’t want to have a conversation. From what I can remember, my own responses to them included:
- I would love to have this conversation with you, but not right now. Please call me at the church first thing in the morning.
- It isn’t reasonable to include every aspect of the Gospel message in every sermon, and your observations are based on hearing only one sermon. Growing in faith means being a part of a community over time, which gives you a chance to hear different points of emphasis at different weeks.
- If you would like to wait for me, I’ll continue this conversation in a few moments. Right now we are being disrespectful to the others waiting in line behind you. (This was after 5 – 6 minutes.)
- It’s not really up to me whether everybody goes to heaven, is it? I think God makes that decision, and that God really, really wants everybody to get to heaven. Today’s sermon was more concerned with living a Christ-centered life right now, as I mentioned from 2 Corinthians this morning.
- Salvation is a journey, and as John Wesley pointed out, people find themselves at many different places on that journey from the very beginnings of a relationship all the way through being perfected in love. You can’t speak to everyone every time.

And so forth …

I think that, halfway through it, I understood that nothing I said was going to make a difference on Martina or the older ones, so I started meeting the eyes of the teenagers. They were standing in a semi-circle around me, each within two to three feet of me, so it was easy for me to see them all! I noticed that sometimes the teens would kind of “shush” one another at times to allow me a word in edgewise. I noticed that the youngest ones didn’t say anything. I also noticed that they would glance quickly over at Martina when I was looking at them – looking for …help? …affirmation? …what? But they mostly met my gaze steadily, even when I invited one teenage boy to turn around to the people behind them in line and explain to them the reasons for the hold-up or that, if they were concerned for particular people, they might want to go to those people and have this conversation with them rather than me.

I have to confess that I took a kind of guilty pleasure in the final moments of our … ahem … “conversation.” In an attempt to make her final emphatic point, Martina observed that I was nothing like John Wesley, and began quoting the hymn “And Can It Be That I Should Gain” at me. I’m sorry to say that I was amused by the look of surprise in her eyes when I began matching her word for word, and even finished the verse for her when she stopped.

Now, this has been my perspective on what happened. I’m sure that Martina and her family have a different take on it. I honestly would love to hear it and understand it, but I don’t think I ever will. But I wonder, what was their motivation? What was at stake for them? Even bracketing out the content, what possessed them to have this conversation at this time in this place? Why would they have possibly felt that was appropriate?

I’m not going to obsess over / dwell on this event. Writing this article has been a very helpful part of shaking the dust off my feet and moving on (thank you, MS). But I also don’t want to just ignore it altogether, because who knows who the next target will be? I had heard of stuff like this happening, but this was really one of the very first times it happened to me with such violence. If my writing about it helps another victim of such verbal abuse, then I’ll write about it a million times.

When my son Wes asked me about it later (yes, he saw it happening, as did my daughter Cori and a bunch of other people), I kind of explained how that when I said “God loves everybody” it made those people angry.

Wes said, “That’s sad.” That’s about right. Thanks for the perspective, Wes.


Update: Also posted here.

25 comments:

Danny Boy said...

WOW! I can't believe that sort of thing happened. Especially at a church that wasn't the home of those instigating the riot. Crazy.

I'm all for people having a different view than I or those in my church family. Truth be told, nobody has the same outlook (nor should they until they are face to face with God). This is crazy, though.

I'm with you on the motive. It escapes me that there would have been a positive reason for anyone to do such a thing. A number of years ago, I was approached coming out of a bar in the Bricktown district of downtown Oklahoma City by a young guy who insisted that I didn't know God. It had nothing to do with me coming out of a bar on a Saturday night (I'm guessing since he went in when he was through with me), but it seemed to be his mission to make sure I knew what he knew. It may be around in other communities, but this was particularly common in the middle of Oklahoma. There was a thing called a "Mega Church" that preached fellowship being a kind of "everyone-is/believes-the-same" kind of idea. So much so that several of my friends in college who were of alternative lifestyles or other religions had confrontations with these people that never ended pretty.

It's great that God's message has reached people. Especially that it reached them so deep that they feel compelled to share and save. But a I would believe God wants us to see that healthy chunk of reality that is acceptance and tolerance. Without those two basic principals of Christianity it would be the Holy Crusades all over again!

~Danny

Dave Wood said...

Sounds like you handled it very well. I'm sorry I was not closer by. Maybe I could have run some interference for you. It was bound to happen. As we become better disciples, getting the word out, we will attract more attention. Not everyone will be 'happy' with how we do things and say things. We discussed 'spiritual imbalance' in Artos Sunday school class Sunday morning and one of the descriptions was when you go to the extremes. Sounds like the mom was 'out of balance'.

Dave said...

Sorry, but that was me in drag yesterday posing as Martina, I'm surprised by 5'Oclock shawow didn't give it away....lol

Seriously, that was inappropriate on so many levels. I'm sorry to hear that happened.

Kansas Bob said...

I agree with the Daves that their behavior was totally inappropriate and that you handled it very well.

Sad that people feel the need to judge after hearing you only one time.. even sadder that they feel that they have the right to be rude :(

kory said...

I am always met with the most "feedback" when I approach the subject of salvation as anything except black/white. The idea that it's less about accepting the gift and more about desiring, knowing and becoming more like the giver seems to infuriate some people to no end. It's a testament to the social influence of ministry, and a reason why we all have to be careful when dispensing theology, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

I am pretty sure that Jesus was crucified when he said that everyone was loved...what is it with people and not liking that? I thought that we would have learned something over the past couple of thousand years.

Justin

Ryan Dunn said...

In the brief ministerial training I've had, one of the recurring statements I hear is that "if you're not making a few people angry, then you're probably not speaking truth." What's a shame is that, if there were 100 people in your congregation that day, the other 92 probably agreed with you but weren't as vocal about it. I agree with you,too. Not everyone liked what Jesus had to say either... but a lot MORE people love what Jesus says to us. I'll pray you are able to move on from this... maybe even think of it as a badge of honor--just think, it's another thing you have in common with Jesus!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
qkneesmith said...

Two things:
1) You can't reason with some enraged
2) The best defense is no defense.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry that people don't think about, or maybe not care about, other people's feelings when they spout off - no matter the topic, but especially when it so deeply important to people. Spirituality takes many forms and it would be wonderful if everyone remembered that we may not all be at the same place.

It is hard to believe that some people believe in a punitive God, I prefer to believe that God is a merciful God and that we do our best to do what he wants us to do.

I feel very deeply for that family as it doesn't seem to be a stretch to think that they are living in fear and hopelessness. How could they not. The children especially.

But the good news is they are probably praying for you and our congregation as well...praying for each other, for whatever reason, has got to be a positive thing!! Polly

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that you wrote about our private conversation and published it on a blog for all to see. Whatever happened to clergy confidentiality? John Wesley would be so disappointed with you.

-Martina


(just kidding!)

Anonymous said...

I'm working really hard not to to be angry at somebody who would attack you. Mama Bear is coming out in me. I feel a little like people came into my home as guests and then assaulted my family. Home invasion, if you will.

However, I'm going to try to pray that everyone (including me)finds peace and contentment with their own beliefs and that they be willing to let others be peaceful and content in theirs. It must not be very comfortable to be in Martina's skin or those of her children. I'm glad that God loves them, too.

I do find it particularly interesting that when one is so sure that some people are "going to hell" that they seldom believe that they themselves might be among those people.

God loves you and your children, Martina, just like he loves me and mine. God has no grandchildren. As Theresa Stewart said yesterday afternoon, everybody is entitled to their own personal relationship with God. And some folks like you, Andy, are secure enough in their relationship that they are willing to take on the responsibility for leading and teaching some of the rest of us.
Thank you, Andy. Keep on preaching your beliefs, And good luck in the Ozarks!

MamaEdna
Mama Edna

**Beth** said...

This really does not surprise me much but I am sorry that you had to deal with it at all. But some poeple don't understand that there are many different ways to praise the Lord. I have been to many different churches in my time and I have to admit we as a family strayed from church very a long time. But the very first time I came to the First United Methodist I was amazed by the heartfelt welcome my family and I were given. It wasnt about the clothes I wore or the car I drove. It was about me as a person and my family. I felt the love from every single person there. When I had every person behind, in front and beside me greet me and shake my hand and even hugging me I felt like we had found our true home at last. I feel like God has blessed me and my family by leading us there. So regardless of what anyone, any where thinks we are a family and we are there to worship.

Anonymous said...

I am appalled that someone would attack someone else in the House of God. While I was out of town on Sunday and did not hear the sermon, I can guess that the content was to say that God does love us all and wants us all to enjoy the peace of heaven. Keep preaching, Andy, we love you!!!!

chae sone said...

Verbal assault after worship.

I believe that you are very gentle
minister. There are all kinds of characters who act differently to the same situation. This incident could give you more courage to preach the word of God more meaningfully.
May God bless you. cs

Martin said...

I've been thinking a lot about this situation off and on since I read this last night. While I myself would probably wither up under a pew if this were to happen to me, Andy said, "I would love to have this conversation with you." HUH?!? Then I started thinking that this situation was EXACTLY what part of Andy's sermon was about -- we're not called to bring people JUST LIKE US into the church - we're called to meet them where they are. And if that means having the tough spiritual discussions that need to be held, well, then so be it. We don't learn anything by sitting in the back of the cave and not being willing to engage with people different than we are. Now am I gonna go looking for this particular family? Nope - not strong enough, yet. Might I be more willing to engage people at work when opportunities arise? Absolutely. There's a Stephen Curtis Chapman song that (ironically) says man, if you're gonna bring it, then bring it. Any hardship, trouble, adversity that I weather is just gonna bring me closer to my God, so bring it on. Let the trouble come! Let the hard rain fall! Let it make me strong! Does sunshine and flowers bring you closer to God? Not like coming face-to-face with a personal attack does, that's for sure.

One final thought, and then it's off to work -- while there's a part of me that would welcome someone standing physically beside me through a verbal assault such as described, there's another part that would stand taller knowing that while physically I was alone, spiritually God was standing right there with me.

And if you've not ever heard the Chapman song, check it out here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm1uGny-67w. And be warned -- you gotta have a bit of attitude on when you listen to it. Ignore the video, just check the song.

Anonymous said...

I'd encourage you each (y'all) to check out Bishop Will Willimon's latest book, "Who Will Be Saved?" from Abingdon Press 2008. It's very worthwhile. -Mitch

Patrick Moore said...

"Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets." Luke 6:26

Dude, happens to me all the time in the Army. Everybody in chapel is a spokesperson for Jesus, and lets me know about it.

Poppy said...

Just a thought ... you know there are folks out there who get "sent" to upset people in the name of a hardened and intemperate view of the scriptures and faithfulness to a leader. I'm thinking here of the cruel groups that picket the funerals of gays.

Clearly, people such as these have serious issues surrounding their own sexuality. It may be that Martina is in the sort of fear for her own soul that obliges her to harangue you in public. Or, as you report, she used enough coded language to have been indoctrinated into such uncivil behavior.

Either way, Martina is, indeed in some emotional jeopardy. While praying that she might be reassured of God's grace let us also pray we are not seeing the beginning of a trend.

Anonymous said...

Thank God for the United Methodist Church and the gracious agents which preach grace.

We need to keep preaching Christ's mercy for all-this incident is evidence.

Becky

revhipchick said...

Andy,

i am continually amazed and in awe of your ability to courageously and lovingly handle a multitude of situations. you are truly an inspiration to me and my ministry.

it's also wonderful to read the comments of others supporting you and loving you through this.

blessings.

Nathan Mattox said...

What is it Paul said to Timothy--"Always be ready to give a defense of the hope that is within you," or something like that. You did it!
Sounds to me like these folks were def. part of some "Purity campaign" by another church to send members out as "missionaries" to "non-Bible-Believing churches" so they can be corrected. Your sermon seemed to emphasize the Arminian character of Wesleyan theology --something the more charismatic "Wesleyans" cannot seem to stomach.

pppnyc said...

As a gay man, I will tell you what is at stake: My very existence, and the rights to all the same protections under the law that you, and your followers enjoy.

THINK ABOUT IT.

Anonymous said...

Myers Mermel
A petition to Bishop Jeremiah J. Park to recover misused Church money


Dear Bishop Jeremiah J. Park:

Current and earlier events need the attention of your office because they will test the meaning of Christian values and of honor among Koreans.

Recently, you advocated, “No torture”, and with other religious luminaries you have marched to the United Nations to protest against the torture and abuse of suspected terrorists held at U.S. facilities in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. However, why did you not condemn the torture and abuse of the innocent members within your church?

Unwittingly it seems to appear the double standard of morality in the episcopacy as you overlooked the torture agony within a Methodist church.

In any event, the church should not be let alone in a Mafia image under your jurisdiction.



More specifically, Mr. Steve Park, and other church officers, had deliberately and consistently tortured and abused my family for many years while the church remained silent. He and his church underlings used the church’s name and trust fund to malign my family and me in order to rid of us from the church. It was to cover up the looting of the church money.

For instance, for one of the three frivolous lawsuits, Mr. Park falsely accused my son and me that we planned to kill him, his family, his attorney, and other church members in one of his court depositions:

12 A “He said watch out, you asshole,
13 Specifically said you asshole, you watch out, if
14 You don’t watch your step; I’m going to kill you.
...
5 A “I’m going to kill your whole family.”
6 Q That’s what Dr. Sone said to you?
7 A “Yes.”
P. 62; 9-17, 21-23.
9 Q You’re claiming that Dr. Sone
10 threatened to kill you and your whole family?
11 A “Yes.”

Furthermore, he substantiated his assertion that more than 10 persons had witnessed our threats to murder. His witnesses included Reverend Wontae Cha, Y. S. Kim, K. D. Shin, Y. H. Lee, Y. J. Kim, D. J. Chun, Paul Choi, Y. J. Kwon, and I. C. Lee.

Rev. Cha is a good colleague of yours according to information.

Because of his false allegations, my son and I were on trial at the New York State Supreme Court in Nassau County. He used the church’s funds to finance his lawsuit against us. In his lawsuit, Mr. Park also demanded $4,000,000 in damages, while pushing us into the jail as felons.

His lawsuit had nothing to do with the church and was simply a personal vendetta against us. My only offense against Rev. Cha, Mr. Park and others was to strictly observe my fiduciary duty as the chairman of the Board to protect the church’s Building Fund. Nevertheless, according to the court records, officials from the church hierarchy and Steven Park had deceived the judge as if the case was a church-related during an ex-parte conference.

Now, Bishop Jeremiah J. Park must be responsible to identify the persons who were at the secretive meeting with the judge. He must investigate all and any conspiracy against the church and its members. The bishop’s actions matter much with the prestige of the episcopacy.

The year 2008 is the 87th anniversary of the Korean United Methoidst Church and Institute. Bishop Jeremiah J. Park, Reverend Won Tae Cha, Steven Park, Young So Kim and other such characters one day must come to the church and faithfully explain to the worshippers for the justification of the looting for either personal gain or criminal racketeering against the innocent loyal members.

The cowardly leadership owes an explanation to the fellow church members about the mismanagement of church finances: For example, an $180,000 building renovation contract lost for nothing. It only enriched the related parties. Or, another example when the chairman of the board of trustees embezzled $70,000 he is awarded with church money to pay for his legal fees and for part of his embezzlement. Also his faction paid the fines for the sanctions and the contempt of court with the trust fund although they had to pay. Another irony is Methoidst Mission Fund donated $50,000 to the trust as if an incentive to the looting

The judge and NYS Attorney General advised to recover the funds from the abusers. But, why anyone in the church leadership has done anything about these malfeasances?

Now, the time has come to your office to clarify the ultimate moral issues. On July 15, 2007, the church decided to hire a certified public accountant (excluding Korean CPA) to audit the church finances starting from year 2000. The audit is to determine if any fraud has occurred. But, since then, Reverend Chang, the current pastor, who is a friend of yours according to information, has not yet started it.

The church must recover the stolen funds from Mr. Park and the embezzlers. Perhaps, the church may file an insurance claim for the stolen funds so that the insurance company can compensate them. But, you, the bishop, must enforce church rules and order to help this church recover financially as well as morally. Otherwise, the church has no standing as “a light house” to the dark world.

Now, remember that any decent mind cannot allow our historic church to be built on the foundation of the age-old scandals, but on “the rock”. Most of all, the church should be liberated from evil capitulation still in power. If Mr. Park and others like him have succeeded to scapegoat the church scandals on an innocent family, then they would have said, “Halleluiah!!” The church should be maintained as a house of prayer, but a “den of robbers.” (Matthew 21; 13)

Without any further delay, you must recognize that the Korean United Methodist Church and Institute has been under the control of the spiritually-dead clergies and criminals who are filled with demons, falsehoods, hatreds, and deception. It does appear to be a moral crisis of the Korean Church, the NY Annual Conference, and, perhaps, the United Methodist denomination.

I am praying for your spiritual victory in good faith and for the renewal of our historic church. The Book of Discipline guarantees open meetings and free speech. Why can’t we have an open debate for the renewal at the church or a public media? The congregation wants your spiritual leadership as the bishop of the NY Annual Conference as well as the top church leader of the Korean immigrant Christian community.

Please let me remind your office that it is my duty and mission to continuously protect the church’s common interests, according to the church’s rules and the Christian teachings. That is my only way to seek justice and to restore our family name as I have learned from the church throughout my life.
Alas! The church is spiritually, morally broken as it is now.


Sincerely yours in Christ,
Distinguished

Chae S. Sone and family


Please forward the e-mail petition to:
Reverend Jeremiah J. Park, Bishop
New York Annual Conference
White Plains, New York
e-mail address: Bishop@nyac.com

Reverend Chul Woo Chang
e-mail address: chang.kumci@gmail.com, OR WRITE TO
633 WEST 115TH STREET, NEW YORK, NY10025

Let us pray for the Bishop to do His will accordingly. Especially it is a wakeup call for Korean Christian community – It is a cyber age.

chae said...

Another decision to audit - RETURN GOD’S MONEY TO HIM

On 12/14/08, at the church meeting, a resolution passed to recover the abused trust fund as proposed by Mr. Hyun Joong Kim, that was long overdue since Assistant Attorney General Nathan Courtney’s order to recover them. But he delayed it up to now in an excuse that it would be costly for the church to recover.

Now the church has spoken loudly again that “the demand of return of the abused money to the church is “not Anti church or anti Christ”. It is right thing to do for the church officers to recover God’s money from the abusers.

Now his opposition to the return of the abused fund found to be morally wrong as a pastor as the church formally legally, rightfully, demanded to recover them.
Now the audit is imperative. It should be done as soon as possible without further delay as it matters with the image of this historic church.
This resolution should be disguised as another trick to cover up or delay the
The abuse, embezzlement, or money laundries which disgraced this church and the congregation by a few.