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Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Almost Perfect Church: Chapter 2- Why This? Why Now?

This will be a very long and not always pleasant story, and some will probably become angry at me for telling it.  But it needs telling, events that have been covered up need to be aired out honestly and openly so that we can all learn and grow and hopefully avoid repeating the same tragic outcomes.  The biblical directives concerning confession and repentance, followed by forgiveness and reconciliation, apply to human relationships as well as to our relationship with God.  The biblical model was not applied in this situation, but it isn’t too late to make that right.  And TA isn’t the only church which needs to go through this process.  People at TA frequently told me that they admired my passion and fearlessness to speak uncomfortable truths.  As you will see, I haven’t changed.

My goals are edification and healing but a few wounds will have to be painfully lanced before we get there. 

Specific Reasons for Writing:
  1. After 20 years of serving TA, during which I repeatedly said publicly that I planned to stay “forever”, you all deserve an honest explanation.

  2. One of the reasons our personal pain has lasted as long as it has is because there has never been reconciliation between ourselves and those whose actions resulted in our leaving.  Many of them (and their spouses) were our closest friends and we often long to call them and laugh and share together but it is impossible to do so with so many unresolved (and up to now) unmentionable issues between us.       The biblical way is not to sweep these differences under the rug and put on smiles and pretend.  The biblical way is to speak the truth in love, to take full responsibility for the consequences of our personal failures and to do whatever authentic repentance requires us to do. And we must honestly tell others when they have offended, hurt or disappointed us and pursue mutual understanding and forgiveness.  We should not expect our interpretations of events to ever reach perfect 100% agreement but we should pursue a genuine reconciliation based on speaking the truth in love and not mimic the world’s strategies of avoidance and pretending that things are OK when they are not. Until we have made our best efforts to do so (we are not responsible if others refuse to cooperate) we are to abstain from the Lord’s Table, so important to Christ is reconciliation and peace-making in His Church.

  3. At this point I have already, repeatedly, both in writing and face-to-face expressed to the elders the wrongs I felt they committed against me.  I cannot say that I ever felt they heard me, nor did they respond (as will be seen) but there should be nothing in this document that they have not heard from me before.  I have repeatedly apologized for any specific offenses I have been made aware of.  No specific explanation or defense or apology has ever been offered to Jeanie or I. 
    When I was fired, the message was delivered to me by the District Superintendent, none of the elders were present (nor did any subsequently comment on it) and when I asked what the DS said I had done to deserve this, the only answer I got was- “Nothing specific, just a lot of little things.”

    For my part, though I did communicate with the lay elders, I did so in a time of unbearable stress, sleepness nights, unprecedented pain and, as a result, an emotional breakdown.  My letters to them cried out in pain, but were also accusatory.  Once I completely broke down, after the September 2009 attack by two board members in that meeting, I was not an easy person to deal with or reason with.

  4. Honest evaluation and discussion (and, hopefully, reconciliation) is, if anything, even more important for the future of Trinity Alliance than it is for Mark and Jeanie.  Unresolved conflicts and spiritual toxins do not cease to  be detrimental to the life of a church simply because they are swept out of sight and never mentioned.

    Some of you came from family systems that operated this way.  There were a lot of “no-talk” rules, a lot of dirty laundry that was never mentioned, never dealt with. If someone did try to talk about it, then that person was viewed as the problem.

    I was the founding pastor of TA and for 20 years poured my LIFE into it. At age 56 I was dumped – we were torn from our closest friends and family, left in a  virtually unemployable state (unless Jeanie quit her job and we moved) during the worst economy of our lifetimes.  Our friends, our family, our future, our financial well-being, our ministry and passions- all were ripped from us suddenly, without explanation or process.

    If the elders continue to feel that I deserved the treatment that I received, that I was the cause of TA’s problems and that removing me, whatever the cost, was the best solution, then they should explain their reasoning to us and to the church.  The way they treated the founding pastor becomes a permanent part of the ethos and culture of TA and will manifest itself in many ways including how the current and future pastors are treated.
  5. TA has a new pastor now. While this letter will stir up some dirt that had been hidden under the rugs and furniture and thus make his ministry temporarily more challenging; it is best to deal with it now so that he and TA can move forward.  I’m still in Redding and even if I didn’t write this I can no longer, for personal or biblical reasons, engage in a cover-up of this incident.  It is better to get it all out at once than for it to trickle out over the months and years as people still at TA ask me questions about my leaving.  It’s time to do surgery, remove the cancer cells and then move on rather than to just ignore their presence as long as the symptoms appear minor.

  6. Finally, I do believe that God has many years of fruitful ministry and service ahead for me and I am very excited about the future but in order to move forward I need to get my reputation back.

    People in and out of TA know that I was the founding pastor. They saw me on TV or heard about my ministry from others or experienced it for themselves.  They knew of my commitment to stay “forever.”

    Then suddenly I was out.  No credible explanation was offered.  I didn’t want any more trouble and was emotionally wasted so I kept my mouth shut and was vague and elusive when asked.  The elders wanted as little to be revealed as possible.
    Everyone knew we were covering up the real reason, whatever it was.
    A. Either the board had treated me very badly and I had simply chosen to “fall on my sword” OR
    B. I had done something very bad and the board agreed to keep it hushed up if I would just agree to leave quietly.
    There really aren’t any other believable options why my time at TA came to an end as abruptly and mysteriously as it did.  Almost anyone would assume that some variation of one of these two options must be true.

    It’s usually been pretty easy for me to tell which option people believe just by the way they treat me.  Those who suspect I was treated badly seek me out and offer a listening ear and emotional support and encouragement.  They tell me stories of how they or pastors they know were treated similarly.  If you have been one of these people I cannot begin to tell you how much you have blessed me and kept me from despair.  Thank-you!

    Unfortunately a lot of other people, in and out of TA, have treated me the way you would treat someone you thought you knew but who had been accused of some awful or perverted deed.  They don’t think I’d do anything disqualifying but neither do the elders who fired me seem to be evil or mean people so they can’t seem to rule out that maybe I DID have some secret sin that was found out.  They don’t seek me out, don’t encourage me to share any details of what happened (they don’t want to put us both in an awkward spot) and often avert their eyes, break off conversation quickly and generally keep a distance. At times I feel like a leper.

    Did the elders catch me with a stash of porn, or in an inappropriate relationship, or stealing from the church coffers?  Many people treat me now the same way I would treat an old friend if I heard that they had been accused of some terrible sin and I really couldn’t believe it, but…

    As you can imagine, this has been a horrible burden to bear.  
    And the truth is this: There was NO scandalous or secret sin that lead to my sudden dismissal.  The elders will confirm this and they all have my permission to tell you everything about why they did what they did.   Elders: if for any reason any of you feel like you need to keep quiet about what happened “to protect Mark”, please don’t!  It isn’t helping.  I was there- there is nothing true you can say about me that is as bad as the rumors caused by your silence.

  7. Why was I fired?  No one ever told me. In the pages that follow I will offer my own best understanding of the situation as I have worked it out in my mind over the last couple of years.  But the elders have never stated their reasons, to me or to anyone else that I know of.  If you ask them, and they do give you a credible non-evasive answer, I would really appreciate it if you would let me know what they said to you.  No one has ever explained it to me.
Well, I’ve probably already exhausted your patience and all I’ve done is explain why I’m writing.  I haven’t even started my story yet!  If you are still with me, let’s summarize and move forward.  I have stated the reasons why I am writing and distributing this to you:
  1. You deserve an explanation from me.
  2. I hope this will be a catalyst for true reconciliation.
    1. For my sake and Jeanie’s sake.
    2. For Trinity Alliance’s sake.
  3. The issues at the heart of the matter are the most important issues facing all churches and believers in these last days.
In the remaining chapters I will cover:
  1. Background (a brief history of my ministry at TA prior to the crisis).
  2. Unresolved tensions that lead to the crisis.
  3. How everything (including me) unraveled (September 2009- January 2010).
  4. Where I failed.
  5. Where I believe others failed.
  6. What I believe needs to be done now.
  7. Where I believe God is leading me from here.
That’s a lot to cover but I want for this to be a comprehensive report of all that has happened and perhaps even something of a manifesto by TA’s founding pastor.  God chose to give the vision for this church to me and to use me as the leader through whom He brought that vision to reality and gave it flesh.  It exists today and grew for nearly  two decades as a great church because of that vision and I believe today as strongly as I believed 20 years ago that TA must hold to the core principles of its original vision and calling if it wishes to survive and thrive.  You may agree or disagree, but time will clearly tell if I am right or wrong.

Click Here for Chapter 3.

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