Monday, December 1, 2014

Coral Gables Congregational Church Restricts Internet for Members, "City of Coral Gables denies permit for a pillory in front of church" (Faith Less, Faith Lost Series, update)

Pastor Laurie at Gay Pride: A "good" witch? 
"No matter where you are in your spiritual journey, you are welcome here." is the tag line of United Church of Christ and the Coral Gables Congregational Church. The UCC is part of the original denomination that entertained the Salem Witch Trials. It's clear in 2014, it hasn't strayed too far from its roots.  Recent events, specifically a post written by this blogger, has forced the church to review the internet activities of its members and force leadership to sign a promise not to write anything negative about the church in blogs, Facebook or personal webpages.

Since approximately one third of its 600 members are on various boards and committees, they are now restricted from expressing themselves freely on the internet. The church leadership was quite swift in it's punishment of this author after writing a mild criticism of poor sermons by un-mentored new pastors and its blatant cultural insensitivity towards Latinos in it's alteration of it's long standing baptism policies.

Spouse! From now on please refrain from blogging about CGCC!

Apparently, barraging dissenting members with negative emails questioning their Christian faith, demanding spouses turn on each other "for the unity of the church" and forcing members to shun offenders is not enough.  One church leader demanded that the spouse of said blogger "take away his internet privileges." All through this the Senior Pastor, Laurinda Hafner sat in silence as leadership attacked both this blogger and his spouse.  The Senior Pastor decided to "break covenant" with our family, which according to sources, is some serious pastoral shit when it happens.

That being written, I can't express the pain that writing that blog has caused my family. My father and his family ,who are still members of the church, were upset with me for not expressing my opinions "tactfully".  The pain was especially acute for my husband, who was the "leader" of the church, who was forced to resign his leadership position over my blog post. Subsequently he was shunned by leadership and members. As recently as last week a few members asked him not to tell the church that they had wished him a happy birthday. Really, you have to hide birthday wishes to a person who you prayed next to for the last eight years? In my opinion don't even bother sending wishes at all.

Furthermore, I never realized the extent emotional entanglements that being part of a faith community entails. Family, friends, business colleagues can all be connected through church.  The subsequent awkwardness when you've chosen to leave, or they've chosen for you to leave is half pain and relief to see if they will retain the relationship or not. The hardest part are the ones who remained silent through our grief and are vaguely aware that "something is happening" but prefer not engage for fear of repercussions from church leadership.
Covenants break too.....

Finally, the holidays.  I can't express the sadness caused by loss of a faith community during the Holidays.  Thanksgiving dinner was peppered with questions about church. Lamenting losing the traditions of Candlelight services on Christmas Eve, which no church does better than Coral Gables Congregational. The fact I won't be sitting with my Dad after 20 Christmases together at that church is heartbreaking on so many levels.

 I do take responsibility for my actions. I couldn't in good faith go to an institution which showed it's true colors when I questioned the church, it's policies and it's pastor. A church that shuns, bullies and punishes members "who have stepped out of line".  Now it prevents dissent by censoring members, this confirms that the decision I made to leave was the right one.