If my experience in the Mennonite culture had been limited to what I described in the previous part of my story, I would have believed the culture itself was altogether evil. And if my interaction with Christians had been limited to those experiences, I can’t imagine I would have lasted. Fortunately I encountered the radical Christ within the Mennonite culture several months later and many times after that. In the next few posts I will share how, where and through whom I met Jesus in the culture. If I were to share it all, it would take a thousand posts. There is much good to tell.
It was the summer of 1988. A few months had passed since that meeting, and I was visiting friends in Pennsylvania. During my time there, one of my friends told me that her deacon/minister had told his youth they were not to spend time with me because I was a bad influence.
I had lunch with my friends, Jay and Joyce, the day after hearing this and shared with them how disheartening and upsetting it was. I was toeing the line, as far as standards and rules went, and still I was not good enough. I told Jay and Joyce that, on the condition that they would go with me, I wanted to meet with the ministerial team and find out what I had done wrong and what I could do to be a better influence. One experience trapped in a room full of religious men was enough for me. They agreed to be there for me.
Jay called his father and explained the situation. It was a Tuesday night and the ministerial team was meeting at the church for ‘Instruction Classes’ with a group of youth preparing for baptism. It would work for us to meet immediately following the class.
We arrived at church moments before the class ended and upon the other group exiting, we entered. Awkward is the first word that comes to mind. It is amusing to observe a group of men, who are always composed, stoic and in control, be completely disarmed. All ‘rhythm’ and the typical ‘here’s what we’re doing and here’s how we’re doing it’ was gone by the wayside. That wasn’t my intent but it was a side benefit. Jay’s father had only informed them that we were coming as the other group dispersed. They had not had any time to ‘prepare’. What happened in the ensuing moments exposed the hearts and their deepest religious belief systems.
Jay explained that I had a question and then gave me the floor. He sat on one side of me, Joyce on the other. The bishop, the deacon and two ministers formed a semi-circle in front of us. Nervously I told them what I had heard and then asked, “What did I do to deserve this accusation?”
There was no black book to list my sins and clearly they had nothing on me. Grunting. Clearing of throats. Bewildered looks. The silence was clearly awkward for them. It was reassuring for me as I sat there trembling.
At long last the deacon, blurted out, “It’s your past, Trudy. All we have to go by is your past.”
My body instantly shook with sobs. So this was grace? This was Christianity. In that split-second I vowed I would walk out the door, not on these men but on all they represented in that moment. My first thought was, “to hell with religion!” (Yes, I behaved like Peter at the fire pit, and like him, Jesus forgave me.)
On the heels of the deacon’s declaration came something yet more powerful. Something much more shocking. Something that stopped me in my tracks and charted my future. Jesus showed up through godly men.
“GOD FORBID!!” Jay said with passionate anger and obvious disdain for what he had just heard.
And then Jay’s dad, Paul—a man I had never met before—stood in the gap between Jesus and religion. Emphasizing each syllable, calmly, and yet with an authority I had never heard before, he spoke:
“Brother Steve! But for the grace of God, neither my past, nor your past would be any different than her past!!!!”
I can’t tell you what else transpired that night. I don’t recall if we talked for a while or if that was pretty much it. What I do know is that if there are jewels in our crowns when we get to heaven for people we impact—if indeed we receive a crown–Paul ‘s crown will have a brilliant gem for what he did that day. It cost him. He was removed from ministry shortly after this event.
Several years ago I wrote a letter to Paul, now an old man, to say, “Thank you for showing me who Jesus is. If it was not for you, I would have walked away from my faith that day.” I was too young a Christian then, too wounded a soul, to be able to see Jesus through the mess of lies, accusations and Spiritual Abuse. Paul took all of that on himself, so that I would see Jesus. Who knows if he ever understood that. Sometimes men of God do the right thing and never know the fruit of that obedience.
Paul is one of my heroes. If any one person inspired me during that season of my life, it was Paul. Other than Jesus Christ, no human being, to my knowledge, has ever before or since laid down his life for my salvation to this extent.
© Trudy Metzger 2012
Go to First Post In This Series: http://trudymetzger.com/2012/05/22/spiritual-abuse-introduction/
I appreciate your vulnerability and the grace with which you share your story.
Thank you Fern! I pray that the grace God has shown me is the grace that flows out!
Thank you for sharing, Trudy. God’s grace truly is greater than anything we have faced or done. Anyone who doesn’t understand that is missing out.
Thank you Margaret! You too know the grace of God through suffering! Maybe more intimately than most of us! Be blessed!
Thanks so much for sharing this! God’s grace shows up in amazing ways. May brother Paul be blessed for standing the Holy Spirit boldness against the self-righteous bigotry of the other leaders. God bless you in your journey.
Thank you Lavern! God bless you and yours as well!
What a man of intergrity Paul is!