Faith, spirituality, ethics or a lack thereof affects who we are as men and how we interact with business contacts, family, friends and people we cross paths in the course of our daily lives. It’s the North our internal moral compasses point to.
It doesn’t matter if you believe in God, Jesus, Allah, and Buddha or if you believe there is no spiritual presence helping us through life. We base our decisions on something and, “It felt right” is still a moral decision.
I was raised in the Lutheran church or “Catholic Light” as we used to call it. From fifth grade through my high school graduation I attended Christian school and eventually went to college to major in religion with the goal of being a pastor. I’m telling you this so you can understand how the story of faith, spirituality and ethics I’m about to tell you shaped me into the son, brother, father and friend I am today.
A year into my religious studies at a Christian college (I was about 26 at the time) a church in Central California contacted me. They asked me to come help run a drug and alcohol rehab home they recently started, and to be the youth pastor at a church they were planting. I arrived with big ideas and was ready to do the Lord’s work, but I left 18 months later in the midst of a huge spiritual crisis.
The Associate Pastor at the parent church, who I will refer to as “C,” had recently set up the group home because he was a reformed drug addict and felt it was God’s calling for him to do so. C’s story is that he was a former GM for a large restaurant chain’s local franchise and had a huge drug problem. He lost his job for embezzling a lot of money from his employer and spent time in jail where he found the Lord.
The majority of my time was spent at the jail interviewing inmates who wanted to be released to the program and leading a weekly Bible study. Eventually, however, I would come to find out that C was in the middle stages of setting up a welfare fraud scheme with the church-run group home as the funnel. Once I figured out what C was doing, I immediately started looking for another church to work at.
I was “saved” by a church in Southern California and was happy to put that unhappy situation behind me and to be closer to my family.
The head pastor here, J, was a former convict/gangbanger/drug abuser. On day one I learned that J doesn’t come to the church office because he doesn’t “want to be bothered” by parishioners stopping in and taking his time. I, however, was required to be there from 8:30-5:30 every day Mon-Fri. Wearing a tie.
I listened to this “Man of God” Give out the names of two generously tithing families who had recently left our church for another. He then told a packed congregation that the two families “Are not following the will of the Lord and are not to be associated with.” Around the same time I found out two very concerning pieces of information.
The first was the way the elders of that church are elected. J selects the candidates he wants (i.e. people who worship the ground he walks on) and the congregation “votes” on them. Basically, J runs the operation like a Pomona drug dealer runs his crew—anyone who dissents against your decision has no place on the crew and are thus “expendable.”
The second was regarding the title to the church property. It was paid off during my time there and I learned that J’s name and J’s name alone is on the deed. Basically, the people who attended that church have paid him what I imagine to be a pretty decent salary while also handing him a very nice piece of investment property.
When he finally figured out that I wasn’t going to be the best team player I was told the church no longer needed my services.
“It’s what’s best for you,” J told me. “God showed me that this is not your place.”
To say I was ready to take a break from church would be a huge understatement. God and I had a minor argument (we cleared the air) but it took several years before I would even think of going back into a church.
Over the years I’ve made a few attempts at finding a church my daughter and I can feel comfortable at but so far I’m only hitting foul balls. When my daughter was in middle school she asked about going to a church youth group that her friend went to and I told her that she absolutely could. I was happy she wanted to. Just because my church experience has been horrible doesn’t mean hers has to be. I want my daughter to have a positive experience.
But every once in a while I remind her that not everyone is as holy as they profess to be.
—Photo credit: Hobbes vs Boyle/Flickr