Calling Church Leaders to Account

January 2015 was when everything changed for the members of Lutheran Church-Canada. People that had entrusted the church with their life savings, building funds, personal savings, retirement savings, and their sacred trust found out that a so-called “perfect storm” made it impossible for ABC District to honor the mounting withdrawal requests for their CEF and DIL funds. When District entered CCAA protection in order to stop the redemptions, stop any lawsuits that were sure to follow, it gave District time to restructure its affairs – while also leaving depositors and the church wondering “what was going on?”

That same month someone opened the CEF Investors Forum as a place for people to discuss the situation. Initially the conversation was mostly about understanding what had happened, why it happened, how to react to the initial restructuring / liquidation proposals, and debating what was the most appropriate way forward given the limited information at the time. It was only natural that other discussions arose including questions about the conduct of church leadership and what was appropriate for membership to expect from them.

The following CEF Forum post I made back in Sept 2015 was in response to “Paul T” about

  • the way various “church leaders” were behaving,
  • what I thought of that behavior,
  • what I thought people had a reason to expect, and
  • what I thought needed to happen.

Truth be told, the opinion I expressed in this post hasn’t changed much in the time since I made it which is why I’m now sharing it “out in the open”. I also think these are questions and issues every church ministry needs to keep front and center.

It is my fervent hope and prayer that Synod’s new leadership will chart a different course more in keeping with what we as Christians supposedly believe, teach, and practice. It is also my hope that the current Synodical President will show himself willing to get his hands dirty ministering to the people and addressing the hard questions caused by CEF as compared to his predecessor.

You can read the LCC’s official response on the Canadian Lutheran:

Following is one of then President Bugbee’s Jan 14, 2015 comments on what people could do:

“In terms of concrete action, there is not a lot that most of us can do as the ABC District moves forward with its consultation with CEF investors,” he said, “but I encourage LCC congregations and members across the country to name this situation in their prayers continually. Pray regularly and pray often. Our hearts go out to our faithful church members as they try to come to grips with these losses.”

“Not a lot that most of us can do” is factually incorrect. Shortly after this became public the “Barnabas Project” was created as a grass-roots effort for membership to help the people that were impacted by this travesty.

Then-President Bugbee adamantly objected to this initiative and anything like it and instead advocated a “hands off” approach. As a result neither this initiative nor others like it got off the ground, the CEF/DIL depositors were deprived of the help the rest of of the church might’ve otherwise given, and members looking to do what was right in helping the afflicted were frustrated in their desire to act in keeping with their faith.

In the following text “Paul T”s comments are indented and italicized, my response is not.

ANO


Regarding ANO’s most recent comments: what I am advocating is that you and others stop tearing down church leaders with the Law. 

The absolute worst thing one brother can do to another that’s caught in sin is to leave them alone. When the offender is a public leader in the church, they’re called to greater account, and when they fail to do the job they’re called to do, they need the hear the Law until its sunk in before the Gospel’ll do them any good.

With respect to “tearing down church leaders” – they did that themselves. District leaders did it by abusing the trust of its CEF depositors, and Synod by failing to publicly and strongly address the theological implications of this breach of trust.

Had Bugbee dropped everything and spent his time focusing on and ministering to the people affected by the CEF fiasco, I’d be applauding him. The problem is – he hasn’t. His public commentary so far has been some variation of “Not my fault, I can’t do anything” and “keep sending money to Synod.” He shot down a proposal for members of LCC to start a fund to help the depositors in favor of letting the legal process run its course. From where I’m looking, his actions are consistent with someone trying to dodge any responsibility for the mess, for dealing with the fallout of this mess, and in so doing is breaking faith with the people who elected him to the presidential position.

In my book that is completely and absolutely unacceptable behavior, and it needs to be called out as such.

They are ordained ministers, and if God the Holy Spirit commands respect and honour (Romans 13:6) of secular ordained ministers like Nero, how much more are the church’s leaders owed those things? In fact, go to Romans 13:8: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” If something illegal has been done, then since the ABC resorted to secular corporations, courts and lawyers, those misdeeds will be uncovered in due course.

I ask you – how is it “loving” to “forgive” people who have abused the trust of people of the church, or who so far have failed to provide the requisite theological leadership? Particularly when the offenders have not repented of their offence? Isn’t that “cheap grace”?

Second – are you fine with criminals remaining in positions of authority of the church until such time as the courts decide to charge them? Are we not to hold our people to a higher standard?

Here’s some questions I’d like your answer to –

  • Why is the church not doing its own investigation?
  • Why didn’t the church have controls in place to stop this from happening in the first place?
  • What controls did the church have, and weren’t followed?
  • What is the church doing now to minister to the people affected by this breach of trust?
  • Why did East District give Synod $100K instead of giving the money to the AB CEF depositors?
  • Does Synod prioritize meeting their budget over helping make the CEF depositors whole?
  • Why didn’t Synod “catch” that something was amiss and hold the ABC District to account for it?
  • Why hasn’t the church leadership written and talked extensively about the theological implications of this issue via the Canadian Lutheran, the church website, and other venues?
  • Where do the depositors sit on Synods list of priorities?

I’m sure I could come up with some more question – so this’ll do for starters.

But we don’t need you continuously railing against the church authority, such as it is, and inciting others to unleash their anger against the leaders. Rather, we need the Gospel and its message of love and forgiveness so that people can get past their anger and bitterness. Emphasizing revenge will do nothing to placate those suffering losses.

By being silent, the church authorities are not doing their job.

The people have a scriptural right to be angry at the failure of leadership, and they have the scriptural right to confront the people who either wounded them or allowed this travesty to take place, and they have the scriptural right to hold these people accountable for either their actions or lack thereof.

Note that I said accountability – not revenge. Holding people in positions of authority to account for their actions is completely consistent with Scriptural teaching.

Would that more people in the church would understand the difference.

What is needed is something like what HI has said or what reverend Astley says in the most recent Canadian Lutheran, “Consecrate yourselves, for the Lord will do wonders among you. Consecrate yourselves. Be in the Word day by day. Our Heavenly Father has so much to say to people who come into hard times. As you are in His Word, He will speak calm to your troubled heart, no matter how this crisis has affected you…. He will drive you and me to our knees in repentance and He will raise us up again with His forgiving love shown us in Christ.”

“Consecrate yourselves, for the Lord will do wonders among you. ” is a quote from Joshua 3 where Israel was about to cross the Jordan in order to take the promised land. In that instance, they had the Lord’s direct and personal promise that He’d do mighty works in their midst to cleanse Canaan of its inhabitants and give it to Israel.

My question is – what basis does Pr Astley have for telling the CEF depositors this? Does he have a message from the Lord that the Depositors will be marching into their promised land? And if time marches on and this promised “wonder” fails to materialize, do we subject Pr Astley to the fate suffered by a failed prophet?

Pr Astley’s encouragement to “be in the Word” is certainly nice, what would’ve been even better would be if he’d listed some specific passages that talk about betrayal and breach of trust in Scriptures and how Scriptural people dealt with it.

We need the gospel of love applied more than ever and to dial back on vengeance. Thank you.

The most loving thing is to hunger and thirst after righteousness, justice, accountability, as well as forgiveness.

Not vengeance. “Vengeance is mine” says the Lord, “I will repay.”

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