October 23, 2016
Sunday, 10:30 p.m.
Letter #458: Attempting to Make the Coup Fly
I know this may shock some of you, but not all prisoners have the purest of intentions or the most selfless of motives. And, crazy as this may seem, this bad behavior crosses all bounds and finds its way into the church as well. (Wait, someone just tossed me a Twinkie … oh my gosh. How can something so wrong taste so right? Clearly, not everyone in the church is bad … at least not my Twinkie-tossing friend, anyway. #icanbebought) Well, activities that took place this week were full of bad intentions, wrong motives, and poor character. This is unfortunately normal. What isn’t normal? Finding myself in the middle of it all.
Over the past few weeks, accusations have been building against Art, my closest friend and confidant. Several guys have pointed him out as supposedly being the reason they no longer attend church worship services or even fellowship with other believers. Some claim that Art watches inappropriate shows on television, a constant struggle for many earnest believers due to the always-on nature of the dorm televisions and the worthless nature of the selected programming. The crazy fact about the accusers? None lives in our dorm and thus could not know that Art watches no television but the news. He is also accused of not fellowshipping with other believers, a curious claim, again, because he spends 90% of his waking hours with me!
As accusations surfaced, I tried to diffuse some of them myself by setting the record straight on an individual-to-individual basis. I explained that not every Christian leader is required to do ministry the same as they do ministry. Each person is given different gifts, and each one contributes to the wellness of the Body of Christ differently.
Art’s focus on one-on-one discipleship isn’t as flashy as the many weekly Bible Studies he used to lead before the prison closed the opportunity, but it’s just as needed. His current focus of preparing his business plan and developing his real-world contacts is proper, considering he’ll be paroling at the end of January and setting up a business that will be able to provide jobs for guys as they leave prison. This very practical aspect of ministry here—helping guys get prepared to leave prison with the right mindset and business skills—is what I’m most passionate about in prison-church ministry, too, so I was uniquely qualified to come to his defense on the topic.
The tensions amongst the estranged members of the church and church-goers alike soon spilled onto the members of the elder board as well as the others of us who are part of the leadership team. At the most recent leadership meeting, one of the elders, Brady, whom I’ve known since my days in leadership a few years ago in La Palma, Arizona, said that the chaplain wanted to put out some of the current elder board and put in a few new guys of his choosing.
The next day, Don, an elder who is a good friend of mine, tried in vain to verify this with the chaplain. An immediate meeting was called in the chaplain’s office, where two of the elders, including Brady, tried to blame the chaplain, but the chaplain had not made any such recommendation to oust members of our elder board, and he set the record straight. It became apparent that Brady and Rick, the other elder, were trying to get rid of Art and Don, the two most conservative and outspoken elders, and replace them with guys who believed exactly like themselves.
After the meeting in the chaplain’s office, Brady and Rick said that they would take up the issue in front of the entire church next week, though the other elders urged them not to do so. I told Art that the elders should have a private meeting instead, but there was nothing he could do about it.
So, I went to each one of the elders in their respective dorms and urged them to please gather together the following day in my keyboard class, where I’d give them space to be able to work things out amongst themselves. Each of the elders said he would be glad to meet, until I came to Brady and Rick. I asked if I could meet with them, and they agreed at first. I said that it was sad that they are leveling accusations against Art and Don yet had not bothered to ask those of us (like me!) who have lived with them if any of the accusations are true—especially those regarding conduct in the dorm.
At this, they claimed that I would be “biased” in my response, since I am Art’s and Don’s “friend,” essentially claiming I have no personal moral integrity. I pointed this out, respectfully, and things got hostile.
Rick said I had no right to be addressing the issue since it is a “leadership issue,” and I’m “not in leadership.” Again, I pointed out, respectfully, that I am indeed considered part of the leadership, so they revised it to say I’m not an elder and thus have no rights to help a struggling elder board to get along and do things properly.
I cried out to God for mercy, wisdom, and grace to do the right thing. No meeting will take place, but it appears the accusations will take place this Saturday morning, during our church service. I know God can still get the victory, and I’m praying for wisdom in what role He asks of me.