My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 20

For part 19 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

The next day, after the big blowup at the church, seemed like a relatively normal day. I awoke, went to work, came home and started doing some chores around the yard. My son brought the phone to me and I found it was the head pastor who had called. What he said would change my ministry entirely.

“Hello,” He said, “I just wanted to say how hurt I was last night during the service. Now I don’t want to worry you, but there are rumors that the district is going to strip you of your credentials. I don’t want that to happen and so the district has agreed that if you will get up next Sunday, apologize for the disturbance you caused, and say you were completely wrong, they will forget the whole thing.”

The only thing that I could say at the time was, “I’ll think about it.” He told me to think and pray about it, knowing that I would eventually do the right thing, the thing that god would want me to do. I hung up the phone realizing, that for the first time in my life, I was actually being blackmailed. I felt sick to my stomach, sad, hurt, and beaten down. How on earth would god allow something like this to be done to me after I had stood up for actual biblical teachings?

I don’t remember much from that week outside of the prepared statement I made. It wasn’t very long, about two paragraphs but had taken me almost the entire week to write. Every time I sat down to write it, emotion would overtake me and I that same sick feeling would hit. I knew that this was going to be something I would not be able to turn back from, and so just the thought brought waves of nausea and panic.

I arrived at church very early, the next Sunday, and spent a long time in prayer. This wasn’t something I wanted to say but I was being forced to say it. I had spent a good period of my life trying to become a minister and being threatened with the stripping of my credentials had hurt me more than you can possibly imagine. As the service started, the pastor came to me and asked if I had thought about what I was going to say. I told him that I had and was ready to give my statement.

I really don’t think I have ever been in a service that seemed to last as long as that one did. Every note during the song service seemed to last longer than the one that had come before it. The prayer requests seemed to go on for an eternity, and then the sermon seemed long and drawn out. I remember the message, the pastor gave, was on heeding authority and bowing before god. It was obvious to me that I was being told to tow the line and get back into my place before it was too late.

Finally, the sermon ended and the pastor said that I had a short statement to read before the church. I took the stage and gathered my thoughts. I looked out among the congregation of people who had become my friends. I saw the faces of my family in the congregation as well and knew how shocked they would be by my statement. Then I caught the face of the head pastor, smiling in the way one does when they know they’ve won.

I pulled my statement out from my bible and began to read. I will summarize the majority but here was the first couple of sentence. “I know that you know how much I love being a pastor here. So it saddens me to say that I am giving up my credentials with my denomination.” The church was absolutely silent apart from a few gasps that escaped the mouths of a couple congregants. As I said those words you could see the smile of victory fade from the head pastors face and replacing it was a look of fear and anger. “I have been told that my credentials would be stripped if I did not come here this morning and tell you folks a lie.I will not lie in order to please man.” I remember watching as the head pastor stood up, along with his wife, and walked out of the church.

I am not a bold person, but my point was made, I am not someone who can be blackmailed. The idea that my credentials were being used as a weapon against me had sickened me to the core and it was not something I could stand for. The rest of my statement went on to say that I would still be happy to fill in as a lay minister(A preacher who doesn’t hold credentials) and that I loved everyone in attendance.  I walked off the stage with the congregation in complete and total shock. I grabbed my stuff and I left.

Later that day, one of the deacons called me, he had been one of the people that had agreed with me during the fateful night that I had called out the non-biblical beliefs. He said that as soon as I had left the church board had met and decided that I could continue to preach as long as I felt willing. The also said that they would speak to the head pastor about what had happened and never again would that fraudulent woman’s faith healing be taught in our church.

As I hung up the phone, I don’t really know how to describe the feelings that overtook me. I had won, I was still going to be a minister at my local church, even without the credentials backing me. The joy would follow me to the next Sunday when I was handed the printout of ministry duties for the next month. The head pastor filled this out and when I looked at it I found that I was scheduled to preach only one Wednesday night bible study for the entire month, no Sunday morning or evening services. It was obvious, if he couldn’t force me to accept his dogma, he was going to try and force me out of the ministry one way or another.

The next couple of months went exactly like this and then the night of the church business meeting arrived. The first thing that was brought up was why I hadn’t been preaching as much as the other two ministers? A vote was taken and the church stripped the head pastor of his scheduling duties and gave it to my aunt. From that point on, I was back to my regular schedule.

After the initial statement was given before the church, the head pastors messages took a dark turn. He gave the same sermon nearly every Sunday that he preached, a message against those who dare to usurp authority and go against the will of god.  For the next couple of years, that was basically the only sermon he would deliver. He might switch the biblical passages up, but the message was clear, he was saying that I was an evil usurper and that I was hell-bound. Inwardly, I took a little pride every time he spoke out against me.

The next few years went by in a fairly normal fashion. Eventually the church told the head pastor that he had to stop beating me up every sermon and had to apologize before the church or he would not be allowed to preach there any more. The apology was lackluster but things did seem to improve for a bit after it was given. He started preaching less and less at the church which meant more services for me and the other minister.

Around this time I decided to go back to school. I had worked at the meat packing plant for nearly 5 years and it was killing me. Ministry wasn’t going to be something I could make a living on, the most I ever made was 50 dollars per sermon, and so I decided to go back to school and get a degree in accounting, actually it was history at first but I found accounting to be much more practical. Going back to school was scary but i found that I really enjoyed it. I was studying topics that broadened my mind and I loved it.

Life was seemingly getting better and while my mind was broadened in many aspects, my faith had never been stronger. I knew that god had protected me from the wrath of the head pastor and that I was doing his will. My sermons were still filled with fire and brimstone, sin and hellfire, a very dogmatic approach to the faith. I felt that if I just continued on this path I was on, that life would continue to get better. Things at home had seemed to calm, mostly due to the fact that my ex was having another affair, during which she would more or less leave me alone. I was happy and healthy and making a better life for myself and the kids.

I remember thinking at the time that nothing could shake my faith, I would learn very soon that not only could my faith be shaken but it could eventually leave me altogether…

To continue on to part 21 of my journey, click here.

Something Different Saturdays

Something Different Saturday #3: Interpretation of Tongues

For last weeks post on speaking in tongues, click here.

So last week I discussed speaking in tongues, glossolalia, and so I thought I would talk today another “gift of the spirit” the interpretation of tongues.  Basically, after someone has given a message in tongues, according to scripture(At least in the Pentecostal church), someone else, or in some cases the same person, is supposed to stand and give an interpretation. This is also supposedly divinely given by god, as to what was just said in tongues. If that isn’t the most convoluted way to get a message across then I don’t know what is…

Imagine sitting in a bar with friends and all of you speak English. Yet you don’t talk to each other in English, first one guy talks in gibberish, then another friend tells you what he meant. The next round the second friend talks in gibberish and the first friend explains what he was saying. That’s basically how speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues works in the Pentecostal church.

Another aspect of the interpretation of tongues that I always found hilarious is that growing up, whenever someone gave an interpretation, god, speaking through the interpreter, almost always had an old English way of speaking.  I never once heard anyone interpret anything along the lines of, “Hey, people, god loves you and he wants you to keep doing what you’re doing. Good job.” Instead a “normal” interpretation would be something along the lines of this, “Oh ye my people, thine actions have been seen and thy glory has been shown to shine across the land. The lord thy god will bless thee and keep thee for the works that thou hast committed.”

Now granted, in other countries where the native language is not English, I would assume that the interpretation of tongues does not have this Old English way of speaking.  There is one reason and one reason only why the vast majority of American Pentecostals speak in this manner during interpretation, they assume god speaks like that because that is how the King James version of the bible is written. One can only assume that if the bible had been translated centuries later, in 1930’s New York ,god would then give interpretations that sound much like an Italian Mobster of that time. This began to change as the popularity of more modern interpretations of the bible began to be accepted by members of the church, however the older the congregant the more likely the message would be in old English.

One other thing that always struck me about the interpretation of tongues is that they almost never had anything of substance. Not once did I hear an interpretation where god said anything groundbreaking. It was always one of two things, to praise the church for being the best darn church in all of churchdom, or to admonish someone who the interpreter had an issue with. God seems to have a whole lot of time to do a whole lot of nothing, and in other cases god always seems to dislike the people who the interpreter disliked…isn’t that odd?

 

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 19

For part 18 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

Needless to say, the pastors words had shocked me quite a bit. How was I to respond? “Oh, Pastor, you know people don’t come back from the dead…” No, I still fervently believed in the resurrection of Christ at the time, but something told me that this miracle was not going to occur. My grandfather, a sweet man, took my silence to jump in and say that it would be an amazing miracle and that we would all be praying for god’s will to be done. We then said our goodbyes and got back into my grandfather’s truck.

“He’s lost his mind,” my grandfather said.

“No, he’s just deeply in grief, he’ll come too before the funeral.” I said, at least that is what I hoped.

The day of the funeral came and around the time it was going to start I received a phone call. It was a woman with the church saying that the head pastor had got the prayer chain going, he needed us all to pray so that god’s miracle could occur. I hung up the phone believing then that my grandfather had been right. I knew that his daughter was not going to be resurrected and that in the end he was just going to make a mess of her funeral. I learned later that when the funeral was just beginning, he had gotten up, gone to the front of the church and commanded her to get up. A few seconds later he did the same thing. He then screamed at the top of his lungs for Jesus to heal his daughter and yet still she lay still. I’ve been told that he nearly collapsed and was helped to his seat, the only words he said for the rest of the day was, “If only we had more faith.”

After that, a tension fell upon our church. Each Sunday that the head pastor preached, he would speak on faith and that not believing god could do something was the same as praying against a miracle to occur. I hate to say it but a few times went by when I did question if my lack of faith had been what had prevented the miracle that he had been so sure of. His sermons lacked energy and you could tell that he was a broken man. I felt awful for him but would pray daily that god would heal him of the depression that he had fallen into.

This went on for about 6 months and then one day he arrived at church in a positively manic mood. He was bouncing with excitement and couldn’t wait to speak before the church. When he took the stage he said that he understood what had prevented the miracle from occurring and he would make sure we never went through another struggle like he had experienced. He had been up one night, watching “Sid Roth’s: It’s Supernatural,” when a faith healer had been interviewed. She had talked about all the numerous healings that she had taken part in and that she was willing to teach anyone who was willing to listen how to do it. That night he had bought several of her books and a DVD of her miracle ministry.

“He had been up one night, watching “Sid Roth’s: It’s Supernatural,” when a faith healer had been interviewed.”

He then went on to say that he would like to lead a bible study based on her books and that he would be inviting other local churches to take part in it.  The first night we would watch her video, and the next night we would read from her book and see if god would bring about the healings that she promised it would do. He was absolutely sure that if we just paid attention to what this faith healer had to say, we would see miracles and revival like we had never seen before.

I was very doubtful that anything could be found in this woman’s book that we couldn’t already find in the bible and even more so, I absolutely hated faith healers. From the first time I saw a Benny Hinn video tape at around the age of 7, I knew the whole thing was absolute bunk. I remember the scolding I got, from a church member, for asking why Mr. Hinn’s cameramen are never slain in the spirit like everyone else around them? I saw through the act even at that age. Now, I’m not saying that I didn’t believe that miracles could occur, I definitely believed in miracles, but I didn’t believe that god would be ok with people making money off of miracles.

The first night of the Bible study started like any other. We had an enjoyable song service, a testimony service and then the lights were dimmed so that we could watch the video. Within minutes I knew it was a complete and total scam. The first miracle shown was a woman being healed of legs that were different length, as an attempt to cure her back pain. This is one of the oldest cons in the book and I will include a video of the con below. The video isn’t the greatest quality but shows how old this trick is, basically you slip one shoe slightly off making it appear as if one leg is shorter and when you push the shoe back on it looks like the other leg has lengthened.

I was absolutely disgusted, but everyone around me was eating it up. This faith healers schtick was in the prayer-book she sold. While healing someone she would repeat a prayer from her book and the healing would occur. She said the reason that we didn’t see miracles was due to the fact that we weren’t praying with the right words, but lucky enough for us, god had spoken the correct words to her in a vision. She then went on to cure a man of his blindness, and another of her deafness. These are all common cons that fraud healers practice every day,  they work by acting as if the persons ailment is worse than it actually is and playing off of it. So if someone says they have trouble hearing, you play it off as if they are fully deaf, trouble seeing, you play it off as if they are totally blind.  It’s bullshit and they know it, but enough gullible people exist to keep the scam going. When the video ended, I sat in shock as people in the congregation, from several local churches, openly wept and praised god that we had been sent the answer to all of our prayers.

After that it was question and answer time. People would ask the head pastor a question and he would give a nonsense answer. I seethed in anger at some of the things I was hearing but probably would have kept my mouth shut until the pastor said one thing.

“This video has opened my eyes, the only book I’ll ever need for my ministry from here on out is this book,” holding up a book of prayer sold by the faith healer.

That was too much. I stood up and raised my hand to get the pastors attention. He acknowledged me and I asked, “Isn’t this entire thing contrary to what Christ taught about prayer in the bible?” He asked what I meant and I read from the bible this passage from Matthew.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

                                             – Matthew 6:5-8

I was simply trying to point out how the video and the biblical passage did not line up, but I could tell how angry and hurt the head pastor was. He looked up and said, “Do you think I don’t know what the bible says about prayer?” I tried saying that I knew he did and wasn’t questioning him personally but he cut me off. “I know exactly what the bible says about prayer and yet I know this woman is right, sit back down, Matthew.”

I stood my ground and my aunt, also in the congregation that night, stood up for me. She said that until I had spoken up she had been in awe of the video but that I was right and that everything in the video was non-biblical. A couple of others agreed and said that while they too had been amazed by the video, they didn’t believe she was teaching something that Christ would approve of.

Angrily, the head pastor said, “If that’s how you folks want it, we’ll end the bible study now, we won’t speak of this again, but don’t be surprised when you need a miracle and god doesn’t grant it because of what has happened tonight!”

I was both hurt but also happy. I had stood my ground and won. I knew that god would bless me for standing on his word and not allowing my mind to be drawn away by greener looking pastures. I went to bed that night thinking that things might calm down. I figured I had been through the worst of it but little did I know how vindictive this man, the respected pastor that I loved, the one that had performed my wedding ceremony, could be.

To continue on to part 20, click here.