Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Conference of the Lambs
by James Glaser
June 22, 2007

Sometimes we get so involved with politics, American foreign policy, and the goings-on in Washington, that we forget about what is going on right in our own home-towns.

We worry about the people in the Middle East or in the Far East, but we think nothing of those around us. Americans have a lot to worry about and so many things to work on right here at home, that it seems we use foreign problems so we don't have to work on domestic problems.

Last weekend I attended the 1st Conference of the Lambs, in Charlotte, North Carolina. I had no real idea of what this conference would entail, but I did know that it was going to reach out to people who had been abused by Fundamentalist churches and pastors.

Nobody likes to talk about this problem, and I have never heard of anyone looking into what can be done to help those who have been abused. When you think about it, you often read about this priest or minister being charged, and you do hear about monies being paid out, but you never hear what happens to those who have suffered through these crimes.

I didn't know what to expect by going to this conference. I didn't know if there would be victims there, if there would be stories of abuse, if treatments would be discussed, I went in with an open mind, hoping to learn something about what I could do as your average vanilla flavored Christian, to help those who suffered, and maybe be able to spot trouble in a church before it started.

What I got was way more than I had hoped for. While there were people attending who had been abused, their stories were not directly part of the conference. Instead, the Conference of the Lambs was more of a spiritual experience, where the word of God, the Bible, was used to comfort and explain what a holy Christian life was supposed to be like.

Most of the sessions were titled, "Devotions on Christ," or "More on Christ." There was one on "Coming out of a Legalistic Church" and one on "The Fear of Going to Church." It is very understandable that if you were abused in a church, it would be hard to step back into one. The conference was two days, and after the first you could ask questions, and the next day the people putting it on tried to answer them.

I asked about how you go about looking for a church, and what some of the warning signs might be that a particular church might not be what you are looking for. Churches that suffer abuse usually have a domineering pastor who controls things way past what is right. Here are a few warning signs that I wrote down, and some of these I have experienced while looking for a church since I moved down to Florida:

  • If the pastor is intolerant of questions
  • If the spiritual leader of the church ever says, "Shut your Bible, I am going to tell you something you never read there."
  • "God told this to me"
  • Public shaming of people in the congregation
  • The Church tells you what clothes you can wear, how to cut your hair, controls what books you can read, etc.
  • The church hides its financial records
  • Spiritual leader has an unreasonable fear of the outside world. It becomes "Us versus Them"
  • They tell you that if you leave this church, "You are leaving the Family of God"
  • If you find yourself afraid to say what you want, for fear of what the pastor will say.

If you find yourself seeing some or many of these signs in your church, it is time to walk away. . . maybe run. Along with this, it was stressed that you should never be content with others telling you "Truth." The Bible should be the focus of the any church, and that is where its teachings must come from. All of this seemed like good advice and if you read about abuse in any church, you quickly see that whoever is abusing, has taken strong control of every thing that goes on in the church.

I found all of this about churches and "legalism" in churches interesting, but what made the whole conference worthwhile for me, was the time spent talking about what Christ told us about how to live a holy life. Something I wrote down, "That which makes us right with God is what keeps us right with God." I don't know if that is a Bible quote or not, but it fits with trying to live a holy life.

For me, it seems pretty clear if I read Matthew 25:34-40.

"Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me, I was in prison, and ye came unto me."

"Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty. And gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?"

"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

So simple. Jesus is telling us in plain words that we should be feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, giving shelter, taking care of the sick, yes, even visiting those in prison. It doesn't matter if we know the people or not, because Christ tells us we should take in even strangers.

We actually have millions of Americans in prison, and we have millions of our fellow Americans living on the street. I was talking to a church-going Baptist yesterday, and he was telling me how his church was supporting one of the girls in the Lighthouse Children's Home here in Tallahassee. That is one church, about 600 people supporting one girl. At that rate, we are not going to make a dent in the poor population of our country. If we want to follow Christ's teachings, we all have to do something.

I don't know what I am going to do so that I can follow Christ's words, but I am going to do something, and I am going to start it real soon. Maybe the Conference of the Lambs was about people who have been abused by Christian churches, and I will try and help those folks any way I can, but you know how it is said that God can work in mysterious ways? Even though it wasn't the intended teaching of the Conference of the Lambs, I think what I took away from this Conference taught me that I should be doing something for the least of God's brethren.

That is a good thing to learn, and it made the time and effort going to North Carolina worth while.

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