We Exist to Love
Bill Mefford

Bill Mefford

Executive Director

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One Sunday morning at worship I heard a testimonial of a person who had grown up in a large denomination, but was scarred by the trauma and abuses of the church so much that they left not only the church, but their faith in Jesus. I know we have heard far too many stories of individuals pastors, priests, and faith leaders who have betrayed the trust placed in them, but we forget that there are almost always ecclesial systems and structures in place behind them that have been used to shield those pastors, priests, and faith leaders from being held accountable for the harm they perpetrate. As a person who worked for a decade in the upper echelons of a large denomination I can attest that denominations are like any corporation or large societal institution: they exist to exist. And in their quest to sustain their existence people can easily become expendable.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard some iteration of the story above. In fact, I feel like church abuse and trauma is so endemic that those in church leadership positions, particularly those in large faith structures like denominations, simply accept as a given that this harm will continue, largely unabated. Church harm and trauma in too many structures is accepted and expected collateral damage from the daily running of the church institution. I have not known a single church leader at the general church level of the United Methodist Church in particular to hear stories of abuse and to question the functioning of the institution. That still stuns me to even think about.

Not too long ago I heard a story from a friend who was deeply harmed by a local United Methodist Church, as well as the conference of which it was a part. I knew the Bishop of that United Methodist Conference so, with that person’s permission, I wrote to them to inform them of the harm and trauma this person had experienced and I asked them to make some effort to bring repair and healing. The Bishop responded and said how much they enjoyed hearing from me and expressed their hope for healing for this person, but refused to take any responsibility or any reparative action to be an agent of that healing. You see, if they accepted any accountability for the harm they might be opening themselves up for possible litigation.

Corporations exist to exist; healing be damned. Sad to say, I was not at all surprised by their response.

But as I listened to this person’s testimony I was pleasantly surprised to hear this person share how they had come back to faith in Jesus through the love and care of the same small church community whom they were sharing with.

Imagine that. This person came back to their faith in Jesus not because the church pummeled them with doctrines or statements promoting orthodoxy. This person came back to a belief in Jesus because they were loved.

Isn’t this what we are called to do? While conservative evangelicals insist on beating people into submission by a list of doctrines and dogmas they have plucked out of history and labeled orthodoxy, and while far too many institutional liberals maintain their highest allegiance to a structure which regularly harms and discards people like collateral waste from the gears and the levers that make the engine of the denominational machine run; there are small, local bodies of Christ which exist to love.

Hurt people can find healing, damaged people can find repair when local groups of people dedicated to following Jesus simply exist to love. It’s not about establishing a systematic theology designed to promote someone’s idea of what orthodoxy is. It’s definitely not about creating a large structure that can ensure health care and pensions for those they deem worthy of ordination. It’s simply about existing to love people.

Yeah, that’s pretty cool.

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