“The usefulness of an elder will depend in the long run more on his character than on his gifts and knowledge.”David Dickson said in The Elder and His Work
Yesterday, a website went live with an overwhelming number of screenshots from a Facebook group named Genevan Commons. Sadly, I know there are more. I am very aware of this group, as they have been harassing me for years now. I was made aware of a number of these screenshots last fall. There will always be jerks on the internet, but the more concerning factor is the number of church officers participating in this group, some are the administrators leading it. I have a lot of commentary I could say about the behavior in this group. But I just want to try and restrain myself from that and stick to the biblical qualifications for an elder and let you look for yourselves.
1 Timothy 3:2-3: An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach…not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome…”
Above reproach: Douglas Milne writes, “The elder must mirror the best fruits of the gospel in his life, both as an example to the membership and as a public defense against outside critics.”
Bully: “A bully has a track record within an organization that follows a particular and repeated pattern. This includes gas-lighting, shaming, reframing narratives, isolating individuals, misuse of Scripture to excuse themselves or blame the victim, and then covering their tracks through half-truths or lies. This is exacerbated by a compliant, willfully blind, or cowardly management structure within which that person is working, that, instead of reprimanding or sacking the bully, allows them to continue their work at the expense of the victim.” Steven MacAlpine, Bully Vol. 2 https://stephenmcalpine.com/bully-vol-2/
“prone to or characterized by overbearing mistreatment and domination of others”; “abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful”; “ a person who habitually seeks to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable.”
Quarrelsome: belligerent, bellicose, pugnacious, contentious having an aggressive or fighting attitude.
Titus 1:7-9: “As an overseer of God’s household, he must be blameless: not arrogant…not a bully…loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.”
1 Peter 5:2-3: “Shepherd God’s flock among you…being examples to the flock.”
Arrogant: “unpleasantly proud and behaving as if you are more important than, or know more than, other people”; “overbearingly assuming”
“First, an elder must not be arrogant (aujqa¿dhß). An arrogant man always insists on his own way without any regard for the opinion of others. An arrogant man is not a team player, which is essential to eldership since oversight of the church consists of a plurality of godly leaders…An arrogant man not only disregards other people but also disregards God’s will and replaces it with his own. He is the opposite of a man who is upright (1:8).” (John Fonville, dissertation)
Sensible (also in 1 Tim. 3:2): safe in mind, of sound mind
This is not a verse about elder qualifications, but a pertinent one for all Christians. Verbal abusers/revilers are right up there with the sexually immoral. We are not to associate with those who say they are Christians, and continue in verbal abuse:
1 Cor. 5:11: “But actually, I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person.”
Verbally abusive/Reviler: “to use abusive or contemptuous language in speaking to or about; call bad names. To humiliate.”
“A reviler is a person who uses words to damage, control, or insult someone’s character or reputation. Today we would call a reviler a verbal abuser.”
This is a very small sampling of what these people are okay saying in a group that had around 1,100 members last fall. They did a big purge when they realized some of the screenshots were being shared and got rid of around 400 members.
Do you think this disqualifying behavior?
Should anyone participating in this have spiritual authority over God’s people?
This is also a serious violation of the 9th commandment according to our confessions. But the church officers in my denomination do not stop there. Shane Anderson, an elder in the OPC, and Michael Spangler, a teaching elder in the OPC, have spread false witness about me, calling me and others dishonest, against truth, lame, lacking virtue, sinning against nature, against Scripture, and call upon me and anyone who has been in spiritual authority over me or hosted or published me to repent. They propose things that I never write or suggest, like encouraging men to drive “alone with [with a woman] in a car driving her to her hotel late at night” and talk about how “stupid,” “foolish,” and “ungodly” my work is. I am labeled a feminist with Marxist-like teaching. OPC elder Bennie Castle writes that I teach a “radical feminist oppression narrative.” There is a “call to arms” to discipline me and for any parachurch organizations I work for, any conference organizers or churches who have hosted me to speak, and anyone who has published my writing to repent, as I am a false prophetess like Jezebel. I have not responded to these articles, as I didn’t want to give attention to them. It’s beneath my own dignity to have to address this. But I am now, as something needs to be done. This is very different than critique, which I should welcome.
John Fonville, in his dissertation on qualification for elders writes, “The elder who fails to rebuke wolves and protect the sheep is not “above reproach.” He is not fit to oversee God’s church. He is an unfaithful steward. He gives evidence that he does not love God’s sheep. But the goal of rebuking is a positive outcome, namely to make one sound in the faith (Titus 1:13).”
Officers in my and other denominations in NAPARC have reached out to me. I know there is major concern. But they are going to need encouragement and support, as the bullying, projecting, and turning on any who confront this will be severe.
I’ve mainly shared what those participating in Genevan Commons have said against me, but they aim at many others as well.
This darkness must be brought to light. Jesus Christ loves his church and this is the opposite of love.
“What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.”Elie Wiesel
I have received a couple emails from people in Genevan Commons who were added to the group before it got belligerent, muted the group as the posts were frequent, and later were either purged when the group became more suspicious or removed themselves after the membership list you see on the screenshot website. It makes sense that not everyone on the membership list actually participated in the group or even paid attention to it. I was even added to the group originally (before Facebook updated the policy to require invitations that you need to accept) and paid no attention until I was tagged in a post where they were talking about me. After trying to reason with them and calling out their behavior, Shane Anderson kicked me out.
There are different levels to think about here, those like the above who aren’t really culpable, lurkers, and participants. Lurkers are guilty of breaking the nineth commandment as well. And of course, if anyone saw the behavior, it should have been rebuked before leaving.