Blogging Truth to Power

By Michelle Van Loon
Christianity Today
July 1, 2015

My husband and I once belonged to a congregation where leaders took their cues from the Shepherding Movement. Emphasizing allegiance and church unity, they expected members to submit to their authority in all matters. One of their favorite mantras came from 1 Corinthians, using the King James Version for extra emphasis: Touch not God’s anointed. I was taught that to question a leader was to defy God himself.

I was a naive sheep in this flock until I stumbled upon the elaborate efforts to keep hidden the pastor’s porn addiction and infidelity with a congregant. Anyone who got too close to this secret was branded a problem. I found myself drafted into the uncomfortable role of whistleblower. After my husband and I brought our concerns to church leadership, the elders made it clear that we were untrustworthy and troublemakers. After a number of failed attempts to resolve the situation, we left the church.

It took a while to heal from the manipulation and misuse of authority my husband and I experienced at the hands of these men. Over time, others experienced the same treatment, which, turns out, was a demonically effective way of deflecting attention from the real problem. Over a decade passed before the pastor’s marriage fell apart and the truth came out.

I’ve watched from afar as similar scenarios play out as whistleblowers decry leaders-gone-bad in organizations and congregations across the country: Doug Phillips, Bill Gothard, Mark Driscoll. Especially online, we hear from these voices long before the pastor finally makes a grudging public admission of his wrongdoing.

When I see someone suggest those harboring hurt or suspicion toward the church are in sin, or that fellow believers would do best to ignore whistleblowers, my internal alarm sounds. Unquestioning allegiance to any earthly leader, even in the church, has proven in many cases hurtful rather than helpful.

Pastors and leaders unwilling to engage criticism or concern reveal a high stake in maintaining their ministry’s status quo. In last month’s CT, Ted Olsen calls on each us to wave a red flag if necessary: “Ask religion journalists which they’ve encountered more: false witnesses and discord-sowers, or people with firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing who stay silent.”

Certainly, habitual kvetching about church dysfunction can suffocate faith with bitterness and cynicism. Complaining is not a spiritual gift. But I do believe that some whistleblowers among us are exercising their gifts of prophecy and discernment when they raise their voices for the abused, marginalized, silenced, and disenfranchised for the good of the body. Whining can be the fruit of pride or immaturity, and tends to be focused on our individual, consumerist preferences. Whistleblowing is meant to awaken and protect others. As hearers, can we trust the Holy Spirit to sift wheat from chaff when we listen to their words?


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.