Yesterday I was home sick with some sort of stomach flu, which gave me opportunity to lay around all day, read, scroll social media mindlessly, etc. That is how I found myself following a strange twitter storm related to Pastor Tom Buck and an article that was posted regarding his marriage. I‘m going to confess that my understanding of the whole mess is limited by the fact that I don’t follow Pastor Tom or know much about him. Also, I’m not a baptist, so I don’t try to understand the weird baptist political thing (I think this is a Baptist thing… usually if I don’t get it, I assume it’s those crazy baptists again). I don’t want to delve into the details of the situation, which looks more like an episode of a bad high school gossip soap opera than the bride of Christ prepping for her wedding day. I am engaging this topic for a slightly different reason. I believe the engagements display several things about Christians in social media that are decidedly unChristlike. I have two objectives in this missive: (1) To address how the conversation surrounding it has revealed our broken focus and (2) to address the caustic culture that keeps folks from seeking help in the church. This situation displays both very well and despite my ignorance of the specifics, I pray my foolish weighing in speaks the truth in love.
- Our broken focus:
All sorts of topics were bandied about in relation to this matter. Discussion of whether or not this was a purely political hit job, if it was a betrayal of victims rights, patriarchy and abuse in churches, whether or not Tom should be ejected from ministry, why ‘big Eva’ is bad, how this relates to the Baptist church government, etc. I couldn’t even reasonably list off the major areas of discussion related to this matter. The one common thing I noticed in the mix was that I never saw anyone discussing how the public flogging of this very personal matter glorified Christ in any way. Mostly tweets are focused on pet topics: whether it be left/right theology, abuse ministry, ‘big eva bad guys,’ who runs the baptist church, or some other ‘vital’ issue. Missing is the main thing that matters: how are we glorifying Christ in this particular issue? Are we bringing about repentance and reconciliation? Are we building up the body of Christ by investing in unity and spiritual growth? Is the world watching and glorifying God because we are so loving… Jesus mentioned that the world would know we are his disciples by the way we love one another… would this be an example of that?
One might argue that the discussion of particular matters on twitter doesn’t warrant such reflection. I would argue that the epistles are a good model for us to follow. In a way the letters of the apostles are similar to twitter arguments. Paul, Peter, and James intended their letters to be read publicly. They were open statements to the church that addressed different specific matters in the life of believers and church bodies. They were meant to be publicly read. How did the disciples use their public statements? Each of the apostles focused their discussions around glorifying Jesus and building the unity of the church. They built up. They loved one another and called believers to fulfill the great commandments… The issue is not that twitter is a terrible forum. The issue is that we have lost sight of the gospel as the guiding principal for the church. The truth that the love of Christ manifest in us is the thing that matters. Period. Christians on twitter should hit the brakes and ask why we don’t come back to these central themes. What does it say about us?
(2) Graceless Church Culture
In relation to Pastor Buck, who I don’t know or interact with. I can’t speak to his specific stuff. I can share what I have experienced as a pastor. I’ve been in ministry for 25ish years. I spent a chunk of that time early on as an alcoholic (along with everything that entails). My marriage was a disaster because of me. One night, after a terrible fight, my wife prayed for God to fix me or kill me… She didn’t care which. He did both. In the 15 years since, God has used my brokenness to minister to many people. I can’t take credit for any of it. It’s all Jesus. I should have been driven from ministry completely. My wife should’ve divorced me. No one should seek my advice or help. I am a garbage person. Only Christ in me has value. Before I quit drinking and for years following, I was terrified of the church. I desperately wanted to ask for help, confess my sins, and seek support. I was far too afraid to do so because the church was the least safe place to do that. For years I avoided AA meetings lest a church person see me going and destroy my life. Revealing my sin was essentially begging to be ostracized. This is the opposite of what the body of Christ ought to be. In fact, Christ’s repairing of broken sinners brings him glory. I don’t know what happened with Pastor Buck. I believe that God probably reconciled and healed him. It sounds like Jesus healed the Buck’s marriage. If we aren’t discussing God’s amazing grace or calling him to repentance if it hasn’t taken place, then we are acting contrary to the gospel. If we aren’t praying for him, we are not obeying Jesus. If we look like the world’s political and activist machine then we don’t look like Jesus.
Pastors ought to be held to a high standard, but they should not be expected to attain perfect sinlessness. When we cannot confess to brothers or make mistakes we are bound to fall into sin. We need to be able to confess our lustful thoughts, our struggles with prayer, our anger, and our hurt. We need to be able to fail and be reconciled. When past sin is brought is brought to light, pastors should be free to say: “Yeah, I am imperfect. I sin. Let me tell you about how Christ redeemed me.” We should be able to point to our sins and praise Jesus for forgiveness. The current church culture doesn’t allow this. We play gotcha, even over sin that has been repented of and dealt with (as seems to be the case with the Buck family).
Also, slightly off topic but speaking as a long time ministry worker, many times when people bring out the past and play the part of accuser off the brethren… it is motivated by personal vendetta rather than a desire to bring glory to Jesus. I have been attacked many times by people who have left the church. It hurts on many levels. Often the accusations are either false or exaggerated. It happens. Not every whistleblower is being honest or pure. Weigh the matter, the gospel, and the appropriateness of your involvement before weighing in. Pastoring sucks because of stuff like this.
When Jesus speaks of the sheep and the goats, he refers to the judged feeding, caring for, visiting, or healing “his brothers.” Let there be no doubt, he is speaking of brother Christians (especially his servants in ministry!). We need to understand that if feeding pastors is something we do for Jesus, then lording over their struggles or playing political “gotcha” is something we are doing to Jesus. The nonsense with Pastor Buck has revealed our brokenness. Brothers and sisters, repent and be made whole. Pray for this man and pray that we embody the type of grace that glorifies Jesus.