I write this letter to those I have left at the LA Church of Christ. People whom Dan and I both felt close to. The people we never want to forget. The friends we thought of as most dear to us.
As you know it has now been close to six months since Dan & I left the church. I would imagine it came last June as quite a surprise to most of you. Let me begin by clarifying that it also came as a surprise to us as well. This was not something we had ever thought we would do. Our reasons were based on what we believe about Jesus and His word. We both continue to agree that this decision was in the will of God. Our only regret is not saying good bye to you and not giving you an explanation of why we were leaving. Dan & I both hope and pray you will forgive us and understand the circumstances surrounding our decision not to discuss these matters then.
Our purpose in delivering a letter to the Mains about our leaving and requesting not to be contacted by anyone in the church at that time was for two reasons:
The following is a brief summary of the circumstances surrounding my leaving. It also includes some of the teachings and practices both Dan & I disagree with. Certain details are intentionally left out because they are either inappropriate to discuss in this letter or not pertinent to the reasons Dan or I left.
When I first joined the church the most convincing thing taught to me was that the church followed the Bible and I was told "if any member found the church not following the Bible you are able to confront leadership with your finding. If the churches' doctrine/practice was not in line with the Word the church will change the doctrine/practice to conform with God".
A few years ago I was examining certain practices of the church in both Scripture and in my personal prayer time with God (not considering leaving at all then). These practices were "one over one" discipling relationships, the definition of "fruit" and the focus of ministry ("sharp people"). There was a strong calling on my heart to discuss these issues and my findings with the sector leader also the regional leader that time. Regretfully, I did not approach him with what I was learning. At that time I felt I might be wrong and probably needed more time to study and grow in the Word. I remember the LeAnn, Kevin & Sonia situation and I'm not sure if they left the church before or after I was studying and praying about these issues. I didn't know LeAnn but had met her at a leader's meeting during First Principle classes and Dan & I were trying to get to know both Kevin & Sonia better and build a friendship with them. I felt very confused hearing all about this persecution stuff at a mid-week service and about how people hire deprogrammers in order to get people to change their beliefs and leave the church. I don't recall all the details of this warning but I do know I felt, confused and fearful. I was scared that people would try to deprogram us from our beliefs in Jesus. I did not want to not believe in Jesus or His teachings.
God was the best thing I had found in life and was and continues to be everything in my life. I therefore just went along with the whole thing and basically wanted to call Sonia but didn't. I'm not sure to this day why I didn't call her. Again, I know I felt confused and fearful. I was thinking, hey these guys must have some sin and it has affected their conviction. That must be why they would believe what someone else tells them and I don't want to be influenced. Another side of me really wanted to get their side of the story and not just what I was hearing through rumors and midweek services about what they were doing. I know we were told not to talk to them so it must be pretty serious.
Another significant time for me came during the "Discipling" Classes. (Not to be confused with the First Principle class. This class focused on discipling relationships). As you now know this was a teaching and practice I had been studying and praying about. I had never found any scripture that convinced me that one would require accountability to an individual person in order to stay faithful or to mature in Jesus. This is not to say that I don't agree with following others example in the faith or seeking counsel from others.
At the "Discipling Classes" we were to memorize historical facts about the LACC and Scripture verses. The leaders were quizzed before each class and expected to set the example for other members in their family group. I memorized all of the Scripture verses but could not bring myself to memorize the history of the LACC. Of course when called upon to answer I seemed to always receive a question about the LACC. All the other leaders, except for Dan & myself seemed to fly through all of this. I personally felt the expectation was not necessary to my sharing of the gospel about Jesus with others. The focus seemed to be on the LACC and presenting it to others.
The directive of our need to be "fruitful" or we would be cut off of the vine (as in John 15) was also given at one of the "Discipling" Classes. The preaching of the message brought up once again my beliefs about the focus and meaning of "fruit" as taught and defined by the church. The focus and directive to "make disciples" or you could say "produce disciples in keeping with repentance". I did not agree with the fruit mentioned in John 15 to be my making of a disciple but the fruit of the Spirit manifested in us and the good works produced by the Holy Spirit in us and through us.
After hearing this message I did not want to come back to church. I didn't understand all that I was feeling then. I thought I must be in sin and God was displeased with me. I wasn't meeting the directive of John 15 and I was unfruitful. I figured I would never meet the expectations of the church or of God. The pressure to bring people to church and convert them or the accounting of the salvation of others was something to big for my shoulders to bear. Even though somehow I knew in my heart that the teaching and focus was wrong, I still felt confused by the mixed messages I seemed to be getting through the direction of the church. A leader did meet with me and confirmed the "fruit" in John 15 to be the fruit of the Spirit. He stated he believed the term "fruit" to mean people also. I don't remember the lesson to include teachings about the fruit of the Spirit. It was a challenge for commitments and to convert others and I felt discouraged.
This was a real confusing time for me. Dan & I both agreed not to continue our role as family group leaders. This decision was not due to any influence from leaders or anyone else but came because, at least for me, I felt I could never meet the expectations or the standards of the church.
For about the last six months I was with the church I followed the directives for commitments and Bible studies as best as I was able. I would as I did before consult with God and ask for his help to meet the goals given. In my heart I knew I only needed to share my faith in Jesus with others and to preach the message of the gospel of Christ. God provided many opportunities to do this. These usually didn't turn into commitments to church or to Bible studies. I would continue to pray about how God viewed our evangelistic process.
I studied the Bible with different women. A couple of women would be baptized and others at later studies would turn away from the church. One woman wanted a relationship with God and to be baptized but not to commit to LACC services. She wanted to continue attendance at another church organization. She also wanted to understand God's grace.
Around this time I also felt a calling on my heart to pray to God about His direction and will for my life. I started praying to be able to really lay everything out before him. To totally surrender all that I am and follow His complete direction in my life. All most everyday I would pray for God to "enlighten the eyes of my heart so I could know him better and to understand what His will was for me." When I would talk with God I knew he was going to do something big but I had no idea what it was. I never considered leaving the church. This was the farthest thing from my mind. I wanted to know what God wanted me to do assuming I would always remain there.
To help the woman I was studying with I listened to a tape sold at the book table and produced by the church. A leader in San Diego had preached a message entitled "Born Free" in which he discussed baptism, salvation and the grace of God. Our son, Michael who was twelve at the time had also been listening with me and asked where the guy got this information about grace in the Bible. I told him and asked Michael why he asked this question. Michael said it was because he never heard this stuff at church. This concerned me greatly as it was the message of the gospel. The message Paul preached! The other great concern came at the end of the tape. A disclosure was at the end instructing disciples to be careful how they handled what they had learned from the lesson and not to be too hard or critical of their leaders for not preaching or teaching this.
Something else sparked another of my beliefs with regard to the woman I was studying with. I had heard indirectly from a leader that I needed to help this woman understand that this was not just a better church but was the truth. I thought through this - thinking about the conversions in Acts. "So even if she turns to God in faith and is baptized but attends services other than that of the LACC, not having a discipler, she is not in the truth and therefore could not receive salvation and follow Jesus? I know that Jesus is the truth!
This led me to focus my mind and heart on what the gospel really is. I had never believed that the International Churches of Christ was the one and only true church. Just because you are a member does not mean you belong to or do not belong to Christ. In just the same way, no one can decide that someone who is not a member either belongs to or does not belong to Christ. I believe that all that are in Christ, belonging to Him, form His "spiritual church" which is His Body. And belonging to Him means you are connected to Him, who is the Head, Christ.
Around this time, Calvin Kwan & I were starting to get to know each other. Calvin was hired at the Bank I worked for and I was his supervisor. Calvin & I would both invite people to church together. I really liked him and he was always helpful to me at both work and on a personal basis. There were times when I was concerned about Michael not calling to let me know he was home from school. Calvin would drive to my house when he got off of work to make sure Michael was all right.
One day Calvin came in early to work. He wanted to be the one to tell me he left the church. I was shocked and disappointed. I was concerned about why he was leaving. He told me briefly about his reasons. He did not agree with some of the teachings and ways the church practiced certain things. He seemed reluctant to give me details like he shouldn't be talking to me. I probed him about his relationship with God. I wanted to help him with his faith. I couldn't understand why he would leave the people he was so close to. Little by little I asked him what he didn't agree with. Calvin & I discussed some of the teachings/practices. These happened to be some of the same things I disagreed with but had not told any one about. I still tried to convince Calvin to stay and work things out. I defended the church and felt Calvin should stay and help change things.
I suggested that Calvin speak directly to the administrator of the church if he had any doubts about the churches' financial integrity. This was not something I had ever questioned. I knew this was the right thing to do because when the LeAnn incident happened we were told the administrator would help people who wanted to know about finances and that the church was open with their records. From this announcement, I thought everything was open. This always made me feel comfortable. Calvin told me he approached the church to review the financial records and was told he couldn't see the books. I personally do not know all of the details to Calvin's experience and there is a lot I'm not aware of as far as how all of this was handled by the church. I can only tell you what I saw and felt through my experience with this whole thing.
I was bothered by the results of Calvin's request and I wanted to talk to the Regional Leader because this leader was the one behind the announcement about "open" books. I had believed what I heard and was now trying to help a brother and friend resolve his doubts about the church. I did speak with this leader and I was informed that Calvin was given permission to view the records at the church office in LA. I was also told there was a concern about this information being used to persecute the church and there is certain information that would not be appropriate for him to view in this case. This made me feel better about how Calvin responded to the apparent reluctance at first and the persecution theory seemed to ease my concerns about this subject. I did feel that we shouldn't have anything to hide and it could have helped ease Calvin's mind to have had detail financial questions answered. I also thought if we are doing the right thing what does it matter if someone tried to use it against us. That would be persecution!
At church I started hearing the rumors and negative comments about Calvin. Hearing that he was persecuting the church. I heard he was contacting members to influence them to leave. At work I would confront Calvin about the "sin" rumors and about him "pulling others away". This was such a difficult time. Here I had a relationship with Calvin, talking to him almost every other day, and hearing from people at church what terrible things he was doing. Part of me wondered, "am I falling away from God because I don't feel like everyone else about this and because the same teachings and practices Calvin disagreed with, I also disagree with?"
I tried not to talk to Calvin much after that and he would never offer his views to me unless I asked or brought it up first. I started to pray passionately to God for understanding, wisdom and insight into all of this. I asked God what was going on? During that prayer I knew God was asking "if I was the LA Churches' disciple or was I His? This cut my heart in two! Why would He question division between following the church or Him? I became concerned that I was following the church and what they taught. I knew it was time to stand up for what I believe about the gospel of Christ. The Scripture that Paul wrote came to mind: "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ."
This is why I left. I do not agree with how the church teaches and practices many things. I finally admitted that I didn't agree. This answered a lot about what I had been feeling. Sometimes confused and pulled in two directions.
(As defined or practiced by the International Churches of Christ)
"One over One" Discipling Relationships.
One "True Church" Doctrine. (Members of ICC being the only ones saved).
The definition of fruitfulness.
The pressure to produce commitments and baptisms.
The focus to convert "sharp" people. (Can the blind, the diseased, the terminally ill, the lame, the poor, the mentally ill, those in prison, the elderly in nursing homes, etc. Be saved?).
Method of conversion. (I have often thought about how complicated we make the gospel message. I have also wondered why we didn't start with the message of the cross and about how much Jesus loves us. How much he wants to forgive us and will do anything to have a relationship with us. That is why he died and rose on the third day sending His Holy Spirit to be with us so we wouldn't be orphans while he was gone. He wouldn't give up on any of us. He wants all men to be saved and to know him. What a better message to help some one come to faith/belief and want to follow and obey him.
Overall lack of teaching & encouragement about God's love and grace. (The "true" good news about Jesus. The gospel of God's grace).
There are other things I disagree with but did not influence my decision to leave. I'll now get back to the events leading to my departure: Calvin was writing a story about his experience. I wanted to read it (I was the one he thanked in his story called "Jenny" a Pseudonym). I read it and also another former member's story. Both stories will real to me. I related to how they both felt and with what they believed. I now knew I had two options. Challenge the church with what I felt was wrong and needed to be changed or leave. I chose to leave.
The day I decided to leave I let Dan know. He was relieved because he said he had been ready for sometime and was going to leave whether I did or not. I have discussed some of the issues I have (only briefly) with Kevin. He came over the same day we delivered our letter. He was very kind and allowed me to express my feelings. Kevin never heard my whole story. It was very difficult to articulate everything then. It was a very difficult time and a very difficult decision to make because I love you all. Kevin tried to convince me to stay, to "work with him". I started to feel like maybe I could make a difference and things could be changed to be the way God would want them to be. I agreed to stay if John and Connie could be our disciplers since we were also friends.
When Kevin left that night I had an uneasy feeling. He also wanted me to write down all the things I disagreed with. I locked my self up in the bedroom the next couple of nights reading various former members' stories and letters sent to the church questioning these same teachings and practices, also hoping to make a difference. I new about the announcement to be made a the mid-week service "marking" Calvin. I prayed more and came to this conclusion; if the church hadn't changed these things by now they weren't going to. A sector could not make these changes anyway. It must come from above and the letters I read will already addressed there. I was also reading to many similarities of how each member was treated when questioning the church or it's leadership. I called and left a message for Kevin telling him that my decision to leave was final. From my point of view, I don't believe anyone really talked to Dan.
You also should know that I never called Nora to influence her to leave the church. She called me because she had been wondering for sometime why I left. She wanted to see if why she wanted to leave was for the same reasons I left. I did call Shawna to give her my new phone number as I began to do for many of you but stopped because of Shawna leaving the church. I knew people would think that I had intentionally influenced her. The truth is that Shawna was wondering about certain things she was discovering about the church when I called. I did not tell her why I left during that phone call. Shawna called me back and asked me because she also wanted to know if I left for the same things she was seeing.
And that's pretty much it. I have been contacted by church leadership and informed that people would be told not to talk to me. The reason is because of my assistance to both Nora and Shawna who already wanted to leave. (People do make their own decisions).
I'm glad I wrote this letter. Not to tell you to change what you believe or to leave the church but to clarify why I left. I just wish I could have explained it to you then and have said good bye. Many of us might still be friends now. Some of you will distort what I have written in this letter and some will misunderstand it. It doesn't matter. I must simply tell the truth and now my conscience is clear. I have left messages for some of you and I understand why you haven't called. If you haven't received a phone call it is because of concern you will think I am trying to pull you away from the church. It is somewhat of an awkward situation. Kind of a catch "22".
For those who have read this I thank you for listening. May Grace and Peace be with you all.
In closing, I am reminded of the following story from Max Lucado's book, A Gentle Thunder:
BEHOLD A HERO of the west: the cowboy.
He rears his horse to a stop on the rim of the canyon. He shifts his weight in his saddle, weary from the cattle trail. One finger pushes his hat up on his head. One jerk of the kerchief reveals a sun-leathered face.
A thousand head of cattle pass behind him. A thousand miles of trail lie before him. A thousand women would love to hold him. But none do. None will. He lives to drive cattle, and he drives cattle to live. He is honest in poker and quick with a gun. Hard riding. Slow talking. His best friend is his horse, and his strength is his grit.
He needs no one. He is a cowboy. The American hero. Behold a hero in the Bible: the shepherd.
One the surface he appears similar to the cowboy. He, too, is rugged. He sleeps where the jackals howl and works where the wolves prowl. Never off duty. Always alert. Like the cowboy, he makes his roof the stars and the pasture his home. But that is where the similarities end. The shepherd loves his sheep. It's not that the cowboy doesn't appreciate the cow; it's just that he doesn't know the animal. He doesn't even want to. Have you ever seen a picture of a cowboy caressing a cow? Have you ever seen a shepherd caring for a sheep? Why the difference?
Simple. The cowboy leads the cow to slaughter. The shepherd leads the sheep to be shorn. The cowboy wants the meat of the cow. The shepherd wants the wool of the sheep. And so they treat the animals differently. The cowboy drives the cattle. The shepherd leads the sheep. A herd has a dozen cowboys. A flock has one shepherd. The cowboy wrestles, brands, herds, and ropes. The shepherd leads, guides, feeds, and anoints. The cowboy knows the name of the trail hands. The shepherd knows the name of the sheep. The cowboy whoops and hollers at the cows. The shepherd calls each sheep by name.
Aren't we glad Christ didn't call himself the Good Cowboy? But some do perceive God that way. A hard-faced, square-jawed ranch-hand from heaven who drives his church against its will to places it doesn't want to go.
But that's a wrong image. Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd who knows his sheep by name and lays down his life for them. The Shepherd who protects, provides, and possesses his sheep.
Tammy's Letter - January 1999
©1999 by Tammy Murphy <firstname.lastname@example.org>. All rights reserved.
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