Is Grace Community exceeding their bounds?

Here’s a situation that could get very interesting in the near future.

Rebecca Hancock is a 49-year-old divorcee and former member of Grace Community Church in Jacksonville, FL. She and her boyfriend have been together for some time now and – as you might expect from consenting adults – the two have become  sexually involved.

Apparently the nature of her relationship with her boyfriend became a real bone of contention with others in the church. She felt so harassed by the congregation over it that she recently left the church. She said that felt like she was being “run out” for being “the church harlot.”

But the story doesn’t end there.

Despite leaving the congregation and now attending another fellowship, the elders of Grace Community Church sent her a letter informing her that they have “no other choice” but to “tell it to the church.'” They intend to air her dirty laundry to the congregation on January 4th.

Granted, there are very few details available about the history of this conflict. We don’t know what the elders have done previous to this to try to address her behavior in accordance with the teaching of Scripture. And if she is defiant and unrepentant regarding the sexual nature of her relationship to her boyfriend, there is cause for correction and rebuke.

But I can’t help but feel like the church has over-reached its jurisdiction by threatening to publicly air the “sins” of a former member. It would seem to me that if there were a need for discipline her removal from the fellowship should have satisfied it – even if it was her decision to leave.

I also wonder … If the church does make good on their threat to air the dirty laundry of a former member, have they then paved the way for a very winnable harassment or libel case to be brought against them?

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34 thoughts on “Is Grace Community exceeding their bounds?

  1. Creepy! If she left the church, they should leave her alone. Will they be “airing” the private “sins” of everyone who was once in their congregation?

  2. What exactly does that mean? That they’ll send a letter to her new congregation, discuss her leaving and the reasons why with the elders, or discuss it with the congregation (by name) on a Sunday morning?

    Sin in the congregation should be discussed by the elders, even if she leaves. It’s important to figure out how to deal with these situations. And sin which can affect others (like say a rapist or pedophile) should be quietly voiced around the congregation. We in the church have been so quiet about some of these matters that abusive husbands have gotten remarried to unsuspecting women and pedophiles have molested children in the name of forgiveness and ‘not wanting to embarrass anyone.’

    There’s not enough information here to see if Ms. Hancock started a group of rumors before she left that the church leadership feels the need to set straight before it causes a schism (perhaps the letter invites her to return to set it straight publicly) or if they’re simply royally pi**ed at her and get off on being in authority.

    Neither one would be a first for the Body of Christ.

  3. There must be more to the story, or else they’re just misguided and cruel.

    You’re likely right about there being more. We’re clearly only getting one side of the story in the article. I mean, how’d the news find out anyway? Did she go to them? What would her motives be in doing so?

    What exactly does that mean? That they’ll send a letter to her new congregation, discuss her leaving and the reasons why with the elders, or discuss it with the congregation (by name) on a Sunday morning?

    The way I interpreted the information in article, the letter was sent from the elders and their intention is to discuss it publicly with their congregation (her former church).

    Sin in the congregation should be discussed by the elders, even if she leaves.

    I’m not sure how I feel about that. There’s a really fine line between addressing the issue of sin in the congregation and being slanderous. I shudder to think that any of my former congregations are having formal meetings to discuss what a jerkoff I am.

    And then again to Jenny’s point. When do we start airing every former member’s sins? (And how about we start with current members?)

    In my opinion, the church should probably back off. It’s understandable that there might be a desire among the elders to clear the air, especially if this situation has been ugly and divisive. But sending a threatening letter to a former member is a bit too far. The situation can be addressed diplomatically without bringing further shame to the woman or her children (who remain in the church). And even if that means taking the high road rather than helping yourself feel vindicated.

  4. All I know is … If I’m a pastor and our church discipline issues have made the Drudge Report, we somehow fudged the whole thing up a looooong way back. 😆

    That should be the litmus test. Every elder board should end every meeting by asking themselves, “Is there any chance what we’ve discussed tonight might make Drudge?”

    If the answer is “yes,” start the meeting over.

  5. WILL CHRISTIANS PLEASE STOP BEING OBSESSED WITH SEX!!! good God it is ridiculous. forget grace, mercy, goodness, forgiveness, love, peace, patience, justice, advocacy and helping those in need. let’s all friggin’ fixate on who’s doing it, how they’re doing it, where they’re doing it and when they’re doing it. it’s like the “guess whose boning” game at nyack but only much much worse.

  6. Amen, Tim. I’m starting a new political party (or denomination, maybe) called “Mind Your Own Genitals!”

    Ah, the Nyack Boning Speculation. I figured the people who made out in chapel were probably NOT sneaking into Westgate hotel rooms. I liked how they’d worship God with one hand and their gf with the other. Godly men are so hot.

  7. And yet in his writing Paul seemed to care an awful lot about who was boning whom, and had some strong words of rebuke for the guilty parties. Levitical code showed some concern as well.

    While I agree that we in the church have a tendency to treat sexual sin as the most egregious of all sins – and in so doing elevate it to the status of nearly unpardonable sin – the church should not and must not turn a blind eye to it. Particularly when it’s at work within our own congregations.

    Something about bread and leven.

  8. If a private, closed discussion in church leadership is slander, I think the definition has changed. We only discuss what a jerkwad you are Shane at informal occasions (potlucks, dedications, etc).

    I think we have to go back to scripture over the use of authority in the church regarding sin. Obviously the church is not intended to be the first or even second line of defense against sin. However, I think this discussion yields some interesting points on American Christianity.

    1) We’re afraid of authority.

    2) One of the reasons we’re afraid of authority is because our relationships with each other within the church have become so distant. We are not a family. We are not a body. We are a club that meets from time to time, complete with minutes, mission statements, and dues. When we walk into a church we’re even afraid people will be ‘too friendly.’ We’re afraid to drop our pretense and accept each other as we really are.

    I find that aspect much more interesting then the sex. Just about anyone can have sex, but can we create community? Can we create trust? Only then can we create accountability.

  9. If a private, closed discussion in church leadership is slander, I think the definition has changed.

    But that’s not what we’re talking about in this case. Of course elders can talk about things in private. But in their letter they threatened to blab her doings (literally) to the congregation. That smells foul to me.

  10. dude, if you want to mention one thing from leviticus, then you’d better not trim your sideburns, make the mrs. go to a hut when she menstruates and start preparing burnt offerings for the LORD. and yes, paul had plenty to say. paul also said men shouldn’t have long hair, women should cover their heads and also be silent and subservient to men and that it’s better to not get married.

    i realize that my own view of scripture, that the 4 gospels are all you need and the rest is not as important, is not a common one. but, compare paul to jesus, and see that the only thing jesus ever said about sex was…well, nothing. actually, he did say to pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin, so i guess all of us should have empty orbital cavities. and he said that divorce is acceptable if infidelity has taken place. but that’s basically it. i think the teachings of christ take precedence over the opinions of paul (not that i’m saying his writings are not inspired…but i’ve said before that it really seems like his own stubborn, hard headed pharisutical background appears to creep in from time to time). and clearly he had issues with women.

    i’ve probably also said this, but we have to look at scripture in light of time & place. God is not cruel. you become a man at 13 and a woman at 12 in jewish tradition. a tradition established by God. why? b/c that’s when puberty has/is taking place, and biologically you are ready to have sex. we created adolescence and the “tweens” via industrialization. before that, you went from child to adult overnight and you got married as a young teen. so, the cruel and damn near impossible struggles we have with pre-marital sex are our own creations, not God’s intent. i refuse to think God wants us to suffer so much. and i don’t think God is as concerned with a human being not being able to live up to this insane standard of waiting til marriage as he is with how we treat other people. the teachings of christ are based on 2 things, and they are what he summed up as the greatest commandment – love God, love humanity.

    the obsession with sex is out of control. it’s priority #1 for the finger pointers & gossips. and it’s sickening. mind your own business & genitals and keep mind of the plank in your own damned eye. and this instance is ridiculous, this is 49 year old grown ass woman, whose been married. who cares if she is having sex and maybe based on personal experience doesn’t want to rush into marriage again for the sake of not sinning. perhaps an awful lot of nyack grads who rushed into marriage before they could even buy a g.d. beer just so they could have sex now feel the same.

    this is a hot button issue for me b/c i’m sick and tired of the judgement when every single human being is guilty of sexual sin – as jesus said, if you think it, you’ve done it. and that makes every single one of us adulterers and fornicators. and what about all the OT heroes of faith who were bigamists? why is it ok for moses and david and solomon? i mean 1,000 lovers? he’s the wilt chamberlain of scripture! the hypocricies reeeeeeeeeeally bother me.

  11. and (like i didn’t already rant enough!) i have serious personal issues based on my own experiences. for example, the “satan lived in my penis” comment a few posts back was funny, but it was REAL. my ma made me think i was some kind of perverted freak for masturbating when i was 12 or however old i was. the psychological impact of that lingers, and it sucks. and why was she like that? i’d say a combination of her own personal issues and what the fundamentalist/conservative evangelical church we attended was saying.

  12. lots of passion on this, huh? sexual sin is by definition of scripture on a different level, and for reasons that i think can be seen clearly.

    as for this church, there is most certainly another side to the story. so it seems to me silly to discuss. and probably if the church had been the one publicizing what was going on we would be having a whole different conversation. usually in situations like this i tend to side with the people who aren’t out making a public scene, like if she didn’t want to make a scene why is she making a scene?

    just from growing up in a pastors home i know that a lot of things could be said about my dad or the church that were horrible misconceptions (only hearing one person’s story) and if people only knew the other side…………………

  13. I (obviously) disagree with your take on Scripture. Which apparently puts us at impasse when it comes to sexual sin.

    Jesus – himself – also had this to say about sex:

    “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’…

    Since sexual immorality and adultery are mentioned separately, we can rightly conclude that he’s referring to all sex outside of marriage.

    Sorry, I’m simply not buying the “Jesus didn’t talk about sexual sin so we shouldn’t care about it” argument. Because, for one, he absolutely did. And he said it was sin. And he said people needed to be saved from it – and not to INDULDGE it. And he gave instruction on how to deal with sin within the fellowship of believers.

    So even if you want to throw away ALL THE REST OF SCRIPTURE there’s still enough to go on that says Jesus considered sex outside of marriage sinful and rebuked it.

    Now, if you want to talk about how the church needs to execute more grace and love, and less judgment and venom. You’ve got my ear, and I’m on your side. I’m with you on planks and finger pointing as well.

    I already said I felt this church was going too far.

    But as a community of believers, we have an obligation to address sin as it arises among us. And if someone is unrepentent and defiant about their sin, it’s kind of an issue.

    And seriously dude, don’t waste my time with the “Gospels only” nonsense. If we throw away the restl we not only do away with all evidence that points to him as the messiah, but we also get rid of all witness and testimony about him from the disciples. If that’s the case he’s just some stark raving lunatic who said alot of bizare stuff that eventually got him killed.

    Those guys ask me for change on my way to work every day. 😆

  14. @jess – I totally get that there’s more this story than one side. I’m going to go ahead and bet that there’s been some division over it and the elders are having to answer some tough questions.

    I think my only real question is if a church should still be pursuing matters of discipline after someone has ether been removed from or left the congregation. That’s where it gets a bit dicey for me.

    Now that she’s gone, I really don’t think the church has a place with sending her letters after the fact demanding that she dump the dude or they’ll talk about her sex life to the congregation.

    Way too far in my opinion.

    Like I said. It made its way to Drudge. It’s already out of hand, why make it worse?

    To an extent anything we discuss is based on missing information and speculation. So there’s alot about this specific situation is silly to talk about. Like you said.

    But it also allows us the opportunity to look at a situation hypothetically and discuss the right/wrong ways to handle a situation like this. And it’s brought up Tim’s sexual issues, the authority of Paul’s teaching and church discipline. Those are all good things to talk about. Even if Tim’s punching inanimate objects as we speak.

  15. so i agree with you shane, and i think this is really hard to find the line to walk between love and grace and the church ‘addressing sin’ as you say.

    i think most likely this church is trying to find that line and this woman doesn’t like where they found it, but that’s not surprising is it?

    we had a situation not long ago with a friend who was a believer and got married (under strong recommendation not to) and within the span of the first year cheated on him, divorced him and was ready to marry the new guy. it was REALLY hard to know what to do as a friend, a christian, etc etc. especially since she was like you said pretty defiant, unrepentent and defensive the whole way through.

  16. my bet is that this lady made some sort of beef with the church and the elders tried to calm it down. probably got louder. and now they’re saying okay look, general congregation, here’s the deal with her and here’s the deal with us as your leadership. this the church body’s business and noone elses. they probably trust that their church body is mature enough to handle the information and make an informed judgment. noone else needed to know. the fact that it was announced to the press is strange…did she do that? did the church? did another member?

  17. I think all of us have had difficult situations like this come up in our lives. And wanting to be faithful to the command to disciple we’ve all been given, it’s often difficult to know what to do (if anything), how to feel, etc.

    I had an experience several years ago that involved a guy that I was helping to disciple on a one-to-one basis for a short time. He ended up cheating on his wife, getting involved with drugs, etc. It was darn near impossible for me to discern right from wrong in coming up with solutions to the problem.

    The thought never occurred to me to simply say “Jesus didn’t talk specifically about getting sexual favors from crack whores, so I guess you’re off the hook.” Maybe I should have tried that instead of rebuking him.

  18. Jim’s probably right about how most of this went down. Although, members of the Rochester media follow me on Twitter. So I’m well aware that there are millions of ways for the media to find out about stuff. 😆

  19. damnit i hate it when i say something that’s wrong! 🙂 good call shane, i forgot about that one. clearly we all can probably agree on sexual immorality, as to what it consists of. but i think a lot of churches and christians need to start focusing more on what we should be doing instead of that aged laundry list of “you can’t do this!” i suppose if members of a church want to confront a person about something they have that right, but as for me, i would not want any part of a church where i had people in my personal business. i grew up with it, went to college with it, and am done with it. my life is my own, it’s between me & God so shut up and mind your own damn business!

    and yes, jess, i am most certainly bitter, and i know it’s bad for me. but, i had 22 years of what i felt was being judged, torn apart and hurt by these people, so it’s hard to forgive & forget – though i most certainly would be the first to say i need to forgive.

    and shane you’re right about the scripture thing. it’s not that i think we should use the gospels only, i just think they are superior. we as christians can all agree that the NT supercedes the OT (if not, you better start practicing those 613 torah laws!), and i think the gospels supercede the rest of the NT. a personal opinion, but i think the life & teachings of christ are of much greater importance. to me that makes perfect sense. i must not be the only person who has issues w/ paul. and what of the other things i’d mentioned that paul said? and of the idea that perhaps our definition of sexual immorality might need to be looked at in light of what God’s plan was, and the world that we’ve created. you really think God wants a person to be sick with struggle over sexuality for 20 years?!?! God is not cruel…except to job.

  20. Fame doesn’t last long. Just ask Lois Feldman (Google: Lois Feldman Hawkeyes). Her Drudge fame only lasted a week, however I am looking forward to the Hawkeyes bowl game!

  21. This is an interesting topic, to say the least… We had an issue over the summer of an elders wife having an affair with a 19 yr old in our congregation. In our attempts to try and minister to the family and show grace to them, in hindsight, I truly believe that we allowed the sin to exist for far to long (I know it’s not our choice to eliminate it, but it was not confronted head on the way it should have been). We attempted to follow biblical principals, first speaking to her individually, then as a group of church leaders. It was taken to be “bullying” not accountability or church discipline. They left, and my general view is that they’ve been released to their sin as scripture says.

    If we’re going to deal with sexual sin, I think that 1 Cor. 5&6 has quite a bit to say about how we should act. It’s something that should not be rampant among God’s people.

  22. WOW….
    My guess is that one Jim is right about how it was going down and to that they are trying to follow Matt 18 and maybe say hey this has impact more than just you and your BF…my hope is they would say the truth filled with grace and love…but this final step if done in love can be powerful….
    i have seen a former employee at church who did everything (drugs, sex, stealing, false accusation, divorce, division, trying to get the Sr pastor fired and more) and it took this step. Now the elders didn’t give details but did give enough that thing wouldn’t be assumed and eventually this employee can back and asked forgiveness….
    I guess like most things hard to make a call on it unless you have All the info

  23. In my opinion you can decide who goes to your private churches and worships with you using codes of conduct.

    Beyond that the whole going out of your way to make sure the next church this woman wants to go to knows about whatever is stepping into someone else’s place to judge.

    Once you start going around pretending to be God and deciding who can and cant do what you crossed a line that is far worse to cross than the one the people you like to point the finger at have. What you expose your families and private institutions to is your business, someone else’s life is not.

  24. Devils advocate here Pdog, but at what point does Paul’s heed in 1 Cor 5 apply to the Church, big “C”…..

    “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.”

    As leaders of the Church, regardless of congregation, should we at some point stand for righteousness so that people such as this don’t just hop from congregation to congregation until they find one accepting of their lifestyle?

    I know that it sounds like total judgment, but there’s got to be some lines drawn. While judgment is not ours, there are earthly consequences for our sin. Grace is always available, but it must also be accepted and not exploited or abused… should we continue to sin so that grace may abound? Surely not.

  25. ok, here’s a question. why would paul say that when jesus ate & drank enough with sinners that he was accused of being a drunkard and friend of sinners. am i the only one who sees a problem here? and like i’d said above, according to jesus we are all guilty of sexual immorality, thought = action. and why do we put so much emphasis on the sexual aspect (and for many the drunkard, as well, though to many that = having 1 beer which is totally unacceptable, sadly), and ignore (seemingly) the greedy, the swindlers, the idolaters? greed abounds, but everyone seems fixated on sex. sex sex sex sex sex. i guess this is one reason to be glad i’m not clergy or else i’d have to actually figure out how to handle these types of situations. God bless all of you who have to, b/c it seems scarily frustrating.

  26. Paul says that it doesn’t apply to “the people of this world” aka non-believers, but to those within the Church who should know better. Jesus and Paul both are very kind and accepting to those who don’t know any better, but set high standards for those who do.

    Sure, sex is the hot button topic because our entire society is fixated on it. If it’s not a significant issue, then why do churches like Driscoll’s Mars Hill attract so many people when they are so hard lined on sexual purity?

    Somewhere in the 2000 years of the history of Christianity, we’ve lost the understanding that there is a need for discipline within the church. The early church didn’t seem to have an issue with it – acts says people were scared of the church but the numbers grew none the less (not to mention God’s role in early church discipline – Ananias and Sapphira) – and yet now when the church attempts to maintain some level or morality and hold accountability it’s seen as imposing and overstepping. I personally think that we’ve become entirely too sensitive to the subject.

  27. “There’s gotta be some lines drawn”

    This sounds to me like you are deciding for God. Does it really matter you think if you take whatever passage you want and use that to make total judgments? It doesn’t just sound like total judgment either it is and your own words confirm a step from helping to deciding.

    This is my point not that I think we should all wander around aimless with no one to try and teach or show us a way to a better life. I do however think people get confused where that line really is and like to allow themselves to do so by using bible passage as an excuse.

  28. OK, so practically speaking then, how do we address sexual immorality within the community of believers? We all acknowledge that its exists so what do we do? Maybe “drawing a line” is a bad way to word it, but are there no absolutes?

  29. Also, I don’t believe that passage to be an excuse… Quite the opposite really. I think that Paul was pushing the church in Corinth, a really jacked up body of believers probably not far from the American church, to purify itself.

  30. Well of course its opinion based arguments right now so no I am not right because of some example I can have. I am mainly talking about actions taken by people like in this story that Shane posts that makes it hard for Christians to get people to even listen to a word out of our mouths because we are starting to assume we are right in every situation and we are not.

    It is however my belief that there is but one absolute and it has nothing to do with something an elder in a church or priest or whomever. Now I am Catholic so of course we have different beliefs but I do not see my calling in life to force someone else to conform to my social standards, I see it as to do the best by my God, Family, and friends throughout my life and be judged for it in total in the end.

    I am not arguing that you should not “police” your own congregation to make sure their belief system matches up with those that the elders and congregation set out to follow. I am arguing that you should not step outside that community and into another to punish the person for not doing what you think they should.

    This is not our place no matter how much we want to justify it to ourselves that they “need” us to help them find the way.

  31. Understandable… My posts above were not specifically in reference to the story Shane mentioned. I think there are far too many unknowns to take a solid stand on how I feel about that situation. Even if I as a leader were to communicate my concerns with another pastor or eldership, I surely wouldn’t broadcast it to the world.

    My comments were more in general to dealing with sexual sin within the body of believers. It’s an issue that’s been grossly mishandled by Christians – see devil in penis comments – but I don’t think it’s one that we should avoid or back away from just because it’s been the whipping sin of Christians. At some point I think the church needs to be honest about sexual sin enough that, yes, it’s dealt with with directness and accountability without it being something that has to have such a negative.

    The way I read scripture, sex between a husband and wife is the closest understanding to the intimacy that the church has with Christ that we as humans can understand. It’s no wonder then, that guys like Paul get pissed when it’s abused and corrupted and treated with such disregard even among the people of the church.

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