A Story That Must Be Told
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Feb 12, 2008 at 08:52:55 AM EST
I am currently in South Dakota leading a three day retreat on the theme of my book, Steeplejacking. The three days have been well spent, and pastors from all over South Dakota have been asking me how in the world I knew what was going on in their churches.

But what I want to share with you is the story of a church in another Conference. I am going to include the words of the pastor in their entirety, unedited. It is a success story of a church that refused to be steeplejacked. It is a source for me of both profound joy and deep satisfaction. When anyone asks why we went to the trouble of researching this phenomenon and writing this book, this answers their question.

Hi John,

I wanted to share with you that our resident "steeplejacker" decided to surface again and take another stab at his agenda at our annual meeting.

To fill you in, *** has been a clergykiller for decades...my predecessor  says she was persecuted by him for years and he tried multiple times to use "blackmail tactics" (her words) to get her fired or removed.  He has been just as persistent with me for over a decade. Though all pastors have been a target, the 2 females have been more so.  On top of all of his layers of prejudice against women, "colored people" and gays, he has a very strong anti-UCC agenda.  He claims he "never became UCC, he opposed the merger and stayed E & R."  So, he has been angry for over 50 years.  In 2005, after the Marriage Equality Act, he worked furiously to get us to pull out of the UCC but I stood firm against him and so did the leadership.  He surfaced again this January and started up the same agenda, but he now realizes he has to get me fired first.  It is all classic textbook stuff, as per your "Steeplejacker" book (yes, I did read it!  Thanks for your work!).  

** was bold enough to make the mistake of alerting the Conference Minister of his agenda at the beginning of January--only the part about getting me fired, he neglected to share with her his ongoing agenda to pull out of the UCC.  She notified me and I began an immediate plan of strategy with a very mobilized Consistory, an excellent Consistory President and a group of past Consistory presidents, and a strong base of supporters in the congregation.  Consistory President & I kept in contact with the Conference Minister and I notified the Church and Ministry Chair.  
I kept a timeline of "responses to dealing with a congregational abuser", in case you'd ever want to see it.  ** thought he could "win" with a secret phone campaign...but I know how to strategize too.

I think a very influential piece that lay people organized was to "visualize support"...they had an email campaign to ask supporters to wear red shirts to church on Sunday.  Of course many of them wore the red UCC God is Still Speaking shirts.  The sanctuary was a sea of red...and some supporters who didn't get "the memo" went home to change and others just held red UCC hymnals.  When *** walked in the door for the meeting (he never attends worship, just the meetings where he can fight), with his agenda to fire the pastor, fire the music director, denounce the Consistory leadership as "illegal", disputing their election (and next goal, pull the church out of the UCC)--it was clear that there was overwhelming support for me, the leadership and the denomination.  Might be a helpful thing to pass along to other churches in that situation--wear red in support, it has a powerful visualize impact.

Another important strategy was to require people to use a microphone to speak--no shouting from the pews.  We had 224 in attendance, the most ** could muster was about 25 people (including inactives who had not been to church in the 11+ years I've served).   In short, the "red shirts" stood to speak in support of our ministry and passed the budget.  Consistory President asked at the beginning of the meeting, and after the budget vote, for other agenda items to be presented, but ** did not speak up.  

The Consistory President spent about 5 minutes urging people to come forward with their comments, questions, suggestions, anything they were mad or unhappy about.  ** did not come forward, or anyone else from his group.  He sat in the back pews and spewed nasty comments loud enough for others to hear, but he did not have the courage or honesty to stand up for his position and come forward to speak at the mic.  Just before the meeting closed, a "red shirt" stood and spoke in support of me and the congregation gave a standing ovation (except for *** and his small group).  The "red shirt" spoke in support of the music director and said "we are UCC" and again there was a standing ovation, then meeting adjourned.  

*** snarled "ra ra" and stormed out, and I am sure will continue his campaign behind the scenes, because that is the only place he has power.  He is not smart enough to know about the IRD, but he is deluded enough to think that as a long-time insurance salesman in town he has enough support to "take back his church" (his words).  A sweet little old lady called me to tell me that after the meeting she saw *** on the sidewalk still spewing nasty comments and another little old lady walked up to him and shook a finger in his face and said "we don't want to listen to anything you have to say anymore!"  

The meeting was a watershed moment for the congregation, I think, because for years they have tolerated congregational bullies at the meetings and "the sane rational people" simply stayed away and others just shrugged off **'s constant negative debate.  This time, however, they decided to stand up to him and to strategize and to show support for the church.  So, as much as I will continue to be under personalized attack from **, I think the laity have seen what power they have to be a positive strength against those who would divide.  And the meeting gave a good dose of momentum to folks in the pews to step up and show support by increasing giving and supporting programs with volunteering and visioning.  In a way, ****'s efforts had the opposite effect he intended;  he stirred up the people to work in support of the pastor/leadership/church/UCC, not against.

Hello, John,
I am so glad that you are back!  I have been missing your posts for quite a while.  As an Ohio UCC member, I am glad to see you are still keeping us informed about what is going on in some of our churches.

by sheltie on Tue Feb 12, 2008 at 01:46:06 PM EST
it is good to be back. Life has been a little crazy of late. I've been busy spending all that money UCCTruths has accused me of making on my book, and have not been able to do any work of late.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Tue Feb 12, 2008 at 10:47:48 PM EST

Although I'm an atheist, I heartily support the right to freedom of religion. From the pastor's letter above it is clear that many so-called religious people do not. I am heartened that devisive, ugly people like "**" are confronted and dealt with in such a polite and effective way, and that the good people of that particular church held sway.

That sounds like a church and a congregation I could even feel comfortable around; people of love who express their religious faith in positive ways.

It seems apparent, John, that your book is accomplishing the good that you intended. My compliments to you, and also to that pastor and his congregation.

by Forrest Prince on Tue Feb 12, 2008 at 02:05:13 PM EST
it is heartening indeed to hear stories like this. It truly makes all the effort, and the abuse we have endured, well worth it. And, you know, I do think even you might feel home is such a place as this church - I sure know you would always be welcome.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Tue Feb 12, 2008 at 10:49:41 PM EST

Dear John -

I've been thinking about a couple of these items and just curious how to defend the following:

'He is not smart enough to know about the IRD'. That undermines your assertion that the IRD is behind all the Steeplejacking. So is this guy some rogue element within the church?

A note on the PCA pastor you wrote a few weeks back and sort of goes with this article: How can one say he was Steeplejacking as he had to get voted in by the majority at a minimum?

I think you and others will also agree that clergy killers are not organic and exclusive to mainline denominations.


Grace and Peace

by semperreformed on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 01:03:35 PM EST

First of all, I have always said, and repeat often in every one of my public presenations, that the vast majority of people who are working to disaffiliate churches in our local congregations have never heard of the IRD. But, David Runnion-Bareford, who is the Executive Director of the BWF, not only has, but is intimately connected with them. The IRD has written that the reason they formed the coalition known as the Association for Church Renewal is so that they can synchronize strategies across denominational lines, and that much of their planning and development for those strategies occurs when their trained activists are present at invitation only training events. It is there that materials are written, talking points developed, propaganda authored that will eventually end up in the hands of people like the one described in this week's article. Another point raised by the IRD themselves is that they will write resolutions for local churches, as well as regional and national gatherings with no real concern that they pass. So then, what value do they have? Well, two things: one is,  they foment dissent and keep the body active and divided. The other is, it is an effective recruiting tool. Put one of their resolutions on the floor, disperse your trained activists through the crowd, and watch who comes to the mike or who whispers to whom, make note of that, and you have a whole new recruiting pool to which you can send your materials. They need never know who the progenitors of that material are. So, that this gentleman does not have any idea who the IRD are does not mean he is not, by our reckoning, a steeplejacker - that is, one who is conspiring to remove his church from the denomination. He is in fact doing just that. And whether he is clever enough to know how he is being used by forces larger than he or not is irrelevant - the IRD and the Biblical Witness Fellowship are a part of what happened in that church. I can promise you he has been sent, and has read, material that originated with them.
The question you ask about steeplejacking has in part been answered. Whenever one conspires, with or without the IRD, to remove a church from the denomination they are steeplejacking it. This man mobilized a base of his own supporters, members who had not been in the church for many years, to show up at a meeting to help him take this church out. This may be the most inept Steeplejacker out there, but he is nonetheless one who conspired to remove a church. He failed miserably, and I am not ashamed to say that one of the reasons is because the church got a hold of our book - not that that is an antidote in and of itself - simply knowing about the phenomenon, not laying down when a bully like this tries to take the church over, and standing up is enough.
Thanks for your questions.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 03:49:03 PM EST

It is important that people know not only about the institutions, front gourps, tactics and strategies of the religious right, but stories of effectively countering them. It is also important to note, as you do here, that steeplejacking is not limited to those specifically allied with or informed by the IRD and is affiliates. Sorting these things out is a part of the challenge of church leaders throughout mainline christianity. Just because a specific attack is not connected to IRD, does not mean the church is not under attack. It also does not mean that the iRD and its affiliates are not involved in other church attacks and more generally, efforts to divide denominaitons against themselves.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Feb 16, 2008 at 12:22:31 PM EST
Even in those churches where no one knows about the IRD, or has heard about them, or has no material sent by them, the IRD's 25+ year campaign has affected, influenced, and shaped so much of the dialogue and the tactics that it doesn't matter anymore whether we can draw a direct or indirect line to them. They have made acceptable what was once unacceptable. They have adopted tactics that would have been unseemly long ago, but have induced so many to adopt them on the grounds that their theology empowers them to do so - an old ends justifying the means argument.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Sat Feb 16, 2008 at 05:51:15 PM EST

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