I ‘met’ Monica Barden over a year ago through mutual friends on Facebook. Our common history in patriarchy environments gave us a lot to talk about and our hearts knit as we often discussed oppression of women and legalistic rules that had at one time hurled us into bondage. Many years of being told we couldn’t serve God as leaders due to our gender was just the beginning of a long history of spiritual abuse in different denominations, on opposite sides of the country. At times it seemed as though we came from the same fold.
When my husband and I were looking at moving, her little town was one of our options. Due to a series of events in his parent’s lives we ended up coming to Southern California, but my heart and prayers remained with this tiny country church called, Radiant Fellowship. Each Sunday I would tune in to their website and watch their service live. Pastor Bob has a Facebook page (That’s Not My God) where I got to know more of the congregation and we wrestled with scripture and the popular church culture interpretations of ancient passages printed on rice paper.
I was recently able to visit her church in Waupaca, Wisconsin. Pastor Bob invited me to come speak with the church about spiritual abuse. Monica had emailed me to ask if I had a request for a song that she could perform at the close of the service. Since the topic to be discussed was spiritual abuse, I felt “Less than Perfect” by P!nk was a good selection. “Less than Perfect” is the ‘family’ version of ‘F*ing Perfect’.
Pastor Bob and his wife, Tracey, picked me up at the airport and drove me to their home where Monica, Chris Wileman, and Lisa Benitez picked me up and they took me back to Chris’ place. Even though it was about 40 degrees outside, at 1 am in the morning, we sat together in the hot tub and the conversation was like catching up with old friends you’ve had for a life time. I shared more in depth about my personal story about my husband’s years of difficulties, the rumor mill of our previous community, and his year long stay in a recovery mission. The details of our story caused Monica to speak up about something going on in her own little town.
While dining in a restaurant with a friend, someone had overheard part of her conversation and rather than having compassion for her dilemma the person took it and morphed it into something horrible. Within a week or so, Monica began to get hate mail. I read one of the letters that was sent. In the five years I’ve been dealing with spiteful people, I have never seen hate mail like this before. Honestly, I think Westboro Baptist Church would have had more class than the writer of the letter. Whoever the person is, the private conversation had turned into a public witch hunt. It was nothing that had to become public, but some people have an incredible lack of discretion.
We spent the weekend together and enjoyed a long walk at the park. We discussed grace and practical approaches to handling common life turning moments that most women our age experience. On that chilly Sunday morning, Monica and her worship team began the service with empowering music. She knew Bob was going to be talking to the church at the close of the service. This is not something he would normally do, but since the morphed information had become an elephant in the town, he felt it imperative to nip it in the bud. The person who penned the spiteful mail was out to hurt Monica.
Why do Christians stab their own wounded?
Don’t they ever think about how the other family members will feel when family business gets spread through a small rural community?
The best way to deal with it at that point was to deal with it publicly.
Monica didn’t know how the little congregation was going to respond.
I’ll tell you what happened, but you’ve really got to watch it for yourself (or you can listen to the podcast). The audio on the video was a little distorted during the music, but the speaking was better. If you’ve ever wondered how a grace filled church handles issues like this, you’ve got to watch the video.
I’ve never seen anything like it. Pastor Bob has lead the congregation well. His teaching on grace has prepared the congregation to truly BE the Body of Christ. If people can’t be confident that their church is a place of grace, where people with periods of brokenness in their lives can’t be honest without fear of hate and judgment, then how will the Body ever truly heal people?
Bob shared the story as discreetly as he could and as he expressed his love for Monica and her family the congregation burst into applause and cheers of “We love you, Monica”. Even as I type this my eyes are filled with tears and the memory of my emotions come flooding back to me. It was the first time I have ever seen grace cover a congregation like that. Monica and her family have a journey ahead of them, but they know they have the strength of Christ in the Body to walk with them. No matter how dark the valley, He is with all of them.
I was in awe that Monica had the courage to continue with the close of the service as she sang “Less than Perfect”.
On Thanksgiving Day, she sent me another email. She wanted me, and several other women, to read something she wrote. She was expressing gratitude through a few typed out words on a little ol Facebook status. She has given me permission to share it publicly.
When life throws us into a turmoil, temptations or even depression, may we rally together to cover each other with grace. Stoning people to death in a public square is not the way of Christ. As Christ confronted those self righteous religious people, he stooped to the ground and write with his finger. No one knows what he wrote, but I don’t think it’s about what he wrote. I think it’s the fact that he wrote at all. The religious men viewed this woman as dirty, and yet Christ wrote in dirt. It’s a beautiful illustration of his hand written love on our hearts. While they wanted her stoned to death, he wrote his love on her heart.
May these beautiful words from Monica bring healing to all of us, but especially to the women.
WOMEN–Today I am thankful for the women in my life who are ALWAYS there for me. I wrote this today for all of you, you mean so very much…..
Go to the nearest mirror, preferably full length, and hug yourself, look at yourself. Take it all in, and say this:
YOU are my body and I love you. I refuse to be ashamed of you, I refuse to be guilty over the things you’ve been through. I love your shape, and you can walk with your head held high, proud of yourself and how wonderfully you were created.
I love the seen and unseen scars that make you exactly who you are, from surgery or abuse or hurt…. even if you put them there yourself to cope with an inescapable situation. I love your curves and bumps. I love you, breasts or not…large or small…tall or short…pale or dark…stretch marks, wrinkles, gray hair, razor wounds from a rough day, cigarette burns, empty wombs, broken hearts, beaten bodies.
I LOVE you EXACTLY that way, and I love the person you have become from the crashing waves of time and circumstance. I love the parts that this society deems unacceptable, because I know you’re okay, and you are MINE. I will not allow you to be treated as inferior or second-best, and I will not give you away….I will protect you, and comfort you, take care of you, and be PROUD of you.
YOU are MY body, and I love you.
This….this grace Church that heals…gives me hope for Christianity.
Failure of the Mega Church
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