This ‘discipline‘ as it turned out was not discipline at all, but punishment which had the appearance of one acting to satisfy his wrath against those who resisted or opposed him. He actually commanded the whole church to SHUN these young people for varying periods of time from 2 weeks to 6 weeks according to the severity of their ‘crimes’. There was only one given 6 weeks, and that was for making the statement about his not disciplining them unless he disciplined the others. This he said was the worst offense of all because that person was, “Making an accusation against a pastor without witnesses”. This person was also suspended from coming to church altogether for 3 of the 6 weeks.
This shunning meant that no one was allowed to greet, talk to, communicate by writing– phone or email, and not even to make eye contact with those being punished inside or outside the church. The church was almost 20 years old, and nothing like this had EVER been done, not even to ones who had committed adultery! It was shocking, disturbing, heart-breaking and appalling all at the same time.
Two of our own children were among the shunned including that one who had spoken the words he declared the worst of all. We were so caught off guard that we were at a complete loss as to what to do. We did, at least, leave the choice as to whether or not they would go through with this ‘shunning‘ up to them. Both felt they had no choice but to do it since they would be banished from their friends and possibly even churched, and they were right. That’s exactly what would have happened.
It was on the day the shunning would be announced that my husband went to The Preacher’s office and told him we would be leaving. The Preacher told him he shouldn’t make that decision in emotional upheaval and should give it 6 months. Paul loosely agreed to this, and we all endured 6 long weeks of watching our loved ones being shunned by the only church family they had ever known, simply because they talked.
There is much more agonizing detail that I will save for another page which will deal with the shunning itself. But to end this telling of our story, I will briefly tell what happened in the months before we left.
We actually did not stay for the 6 months. We only stayed for 3 months because every sermon thereafter was directed at our family. He ranted and raged about fathers who make wrong choices that cause harm to their families for the rest of their lives. He ranted and railed about what repentance really is and what it is not. He railed about (my family) having downcast countenances over being chastened using the passage in Hebrews 12 that says to “Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees..” Then, finally, the sermon that answered our need for affirmation–the notorious Panty Sermon. This one was the last straw.
My husband reasoned that even if he did agree to 6 months, he did NOT agree to have his family subjected to that kind of abuse from the pulpit. To his way of thinking, The Preacher negated any agreement by using that time to bully us.
There were two meetings set up between the four of us: The Preacher, his wife, Paul and me, to discuss our objections to the shunning and then at the second meeting, to discuss how this would affect our family relationship with them. Each meeting went on for about 5 hours.
In the meeting about the shunning, The Preacher’s main scriptural defense was that the word “withdrew” was used when Jesus departed from the disciples. He was separated to the degree that there was no communication with them at all. This is what he used to decide that shunning was appropriate.
Then his supporting arguments had to do with how church discipline was administered in the days when the church was persecuted. He talked about how severe it was and that how since they were persecuted they would have been closer to God, so we should follow their example. He said that early churches in America would have “laughed” at the mild way these kids were ‘disciplined’.
That was the gist of 5 hours of discussion. At the end of the meeting, he admitted that it was a “judgment call”.
There were obligations that we fully intended to fill before leaving. There was camp coming up the next week. Paul taught at the Institute, and hoped he could continue. Once The Preacher was convinced that we were leaving and there was no talking us out of it, he told us not to come back. He said he would handle telling the people, and that he did.
So, we never came back. We didn’t say, “Good-bye”. We simply walked away.
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Cindy Foster is “Mom” to eight gorgeous, talented, temperamental, noisy, opinionated, alike-but very different kids. She has been married to their daddy, Paul, for 34 years. Cindy blogs at Baptist Taliban and Beyond.
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce