In case you haven’t seen it yet, Matthew Paul Turner (who blogs, and tweets with the moniker @jesusneedsnewpr), has an amazing–and amazingly painful–story on his blog about a young man named Andrew who, after admitting to cheating on his fiancee, was subjected to overly harsh church discipline at Mars Hill Church. There’s a lot more to the story than that, and I encourage you to read it. (It’s in two parts, one and two.)
Allow me to add a few somewhat random thoughts before you click on over (or after you come back). First, this affirms one of the things I believe in more than I believe in just about anything else, and that is the power of stories. For the most part, Turner just tells Andrew’s story. Sure, he editorializes a few times here and there, but it’s mostly just one guy’s story of how a church and its leadership hurt him when he was most vulnerable. This, more than anything, is why I encourage you to read it.
My second thought relates to the fact that Turner has come under a lot of criticism (check the comments section and his Twitter feed) for telling only Andrew’s side of the story, and not talking to anyone else at Mars Hill. Turner rightly defends himself by insisting that what he is doing is not journalism, but blogging. Thus, he says, he’s under no obligation to any kind of journalistic rules. This is an interesting thing about blogging, and I’d like to think that, as a person who considers himself both a blogger and a journalist, I might hold myself to similar standars across platforms. But, that being said, I accept Turner’s defense, and think he’s justified in it. What I’d like to see now is for a journalist to pick up the trail–tell more of the story, get input from both sides, and bring this kind of spiritual and emotional abuse to light.
Finally, I know that some form of church discipline is necessary. And, when people commit themselves to a church, they also subject themselves to that discipline. This is applies to any kind of social organization–breaking the rules at work can lead to getting fired, cheating in school will get you kicked out, heck, you can even get booted from a bar for acting out of line. But, as Andrew’s story illustrates, church discipline is also the area where it is most easy for those in authority to take advantage of the power that has been entrusted them and to cross lines into manipulation and abuse. I have seen the damaging effects of church discipline gone wrong, as I suspect many readers have as well. In light of this, Andrew’s story is a chilling reminder of just how messed up we all–including our spiritual leaders–can be.
Anyway, if you haven’t clicked away yet, I really do encourage you to read the post.
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is editor of Patrol and author of Not Your Mother's Morals: How the New Sincerity is Changing Pop Culture for the Better. Follow Fitz on Twitter.
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