Church Discipline?

If there’s an upside to my growing up in a cult-ey environment, it’s that I was extremely turned off to organized religion through the 80’s, 90’s and part of the 00’s and missed out on the boom of fundamentalism/evangelicalism that occurred during that period. As a result, I often find myself scratching my head and wondering “What the fuck?” at some of the stuff that comes out of world. Today’s story is a prime example.

This saga is long and nasty and I’m not going into the details, as others have already done so. For a fuller accounting, read Matthew Paul Turner’s excellent Daily Beast article. That said, last year, Karen Hinkley found out her husband, Jordan Root, had been spanking the monkey while looking at child porn. Hinkley and Root were missionaries in east Asia when he confessed and, of course, this brought their mission to a screeching halt. You’d think this nightmare would be the worst of it for Hinkley, but you’d be oh, so wrong. You see, when she returned home, Hinkley began seeking an annulment of her marriage. When elders of The Village Church (TVC), the congregation that had supported her financially and spiritually (and was her home church), found out about this, they informed her that the church had forgiven Root and she was required to as well. When she balked at this, she was placed under “church discipline”. When she attempted to end her association with TVC, she was informed that a member who was under discipline was not allowed to leave the church. And, there it sat until this sordid tale came to light and threatened to damage TVC’s reputation. At that point, the church quickly offered a couple of half-hearted apologies filled with crocodile tears and released Hinkley from their membership.

There is a lot to be concerned about in this ugly and disturbing narrative: Root’s pedophilia and TVC’s attempt to cover that up, just to mention a couple. But, what gets me is the control that TVC attempted to exert over one of its members. They repeatedly told Hinkley she should not take steps she deemed necessary to end her relationship with a man who had engaged in what can only be described as a heinous crime without their authorization. I mean, seriously, what the hell is up with this “church discipline” bullshit? Hinkley was supposed to clear everything she did with her church elders and, if she didn’t, she was punished? And, couldn’t leave until she did what they wanted? What the fuck?

Now, if you’re like me, you are probably wondering why Hinkley didn’t tell these nimrods to stick their “church” where the sun doesn’t shine and go on her merry way. Well, if she where to do that, TVC elders would’ve likely spread the word throughout the congregation that she was a terrible sinner who had rejected the path God had chosen for her and told members to shun her until she returned to that path. I’m not making that up, it’s a favored tactic of Acts 29 churches (TVC is a member of the Acts 29 Network and pastor Matt Chandler is that organization’s president, by the way) in dealing with wayward members. Here’s what I really don’t get, though: Hinkley knew all this before she joined. She signed a five-page membership contract, er, covenant. I mean covenant. Anyway, whatever you want to call it, this document laid out all the rules and expectations of members at TVC. Those rules included submitting herself to church discipline in all matters. And, she signed it anyway. Which, for me, brings up the question, “Why the hell would anyone want to belong to an organization like this?”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is Hinkley’s fault. Everything TVC did in this situation is supremely fucked up and, if we’re laying blame, that’s where it needs to be placed. But, I really wish someone would please explain to me the allure of  a church that works it tentacles into every part of its member’s lives and exerts a level of control that’s just fucking creepy? Because, I’ve been there and done that and I cannot see the attraction.