As I have posted openly about my horror over the situation unfolding at St. Luke “Community” UMC, I have been accused of being judgmental and throwing Mr. Gordon, former Senior Pastor there, under the bus.
- First, anyone can begin a church. Unlike, for example, the medical profession, there are no national standards of credentialing for clergy to hang out a shingle.
- Second, Mr. Gordon has a lawsuit filed against him but no judgment. There are only allegations of improper behavior, no court tested proof. He is, in the sight of the law, innocent until proven guilty.
- Third: Mr. Gordon voluntarily relinquished his ordination credentials. He cut himself loose from The United Methodist Church (UMC) and its system of both protection and accountability for its clergy and the laity who trust those clergy to lead them spiritually.
The relinquishment of credentials in the UMC is a “no-turning back” act. We probably have the longest, most convoluted, and most challenging path to ordination of any denominational body. On average, it takes eight to ten years to complete the process. We must earn an advanced degree from an accredited seminary, offer multiple years of service, face examination from every angle, pass background, health, and credit checks, and engage in difficult interviews with peer groups.
When a person is ordained as Elder or Deacon and elected to full membership in the Annual Conference, it means that such an individual has entered into a profound covenant relationship with all others who have that same status. When Mr. Gordon first came to the North Texas Annual Conference (Annual Conferences are both geographical locations and a collection of clergy and laity), he himself was given the privilege of serving as Chair of the Order of Elders. He knew, or certainly should have known, that he was in covenant, in a promise relationship of devotion and unstinting service to God, to the church and to one another with each of us.
He has broken ties with that covenant.
When I first heard that there were difficulties at St. Luke, my first response was sympathy for Mr. Gordon. Serving as pastor is a lonely job (this is why the covenant part of this is so important), and often, very often, what we do is seriously misunderstood by many.
Attacks come, almost always from well-meaning people who also love God and the church, but who find themselves very unhappy with the pastor. Had Mr. Gordon, even with the apparent seriousness of the charges that were filed against him, chosen to remain within this covenant connection, he would have been given counsel, a right to a fair trial before a church court, confidentiality, and a lot of support.
We clergy do help our own. No one wants to see a brother or sister go down.
But Mr. Gordon walked away from that trust relationship. He walked away from an inquiry that might have been painful to him, but that also includes a way to bring restoration and reconciliation. He walked away from any sense of accountability to others.
He has now set himself up as an independent pastor—he has titled himself “Senior Pastor” and I’m sure can get credentials from some source so he can at some point rightly call himself “Reverend” again.
Mr. Gordon has enormous talent as preacher and vocalist. He offers huge charisma—charism is from the Greek word for gift—and Mr. Gordon is extraordinarily gifted.
My question: does deep, formed character underlie the external giftedness? Has he practiced the disciplines of the faith to such a point that, when the temptations connected to fame, power and adulation come his way, he is able to stand tall and chose the painful way of discipline and holiness?
Being accountable to others has very little to recommend it if comfort and public adulation are major life goals. It means others have the right to peer into our souls and ask painful, probing questions. It means entering again and again into the practice of repentance, looking honestly at ourselves and our practices, and choosing the high road of integrated character development and internal transformation, even when the low road of relying primarily on talents and gifts seems so much more desirable.
A well-shaped character does not mean a person doesn’t make mistakes, sometimes very serious ones. It does mean that mistakes lead to repentance, greater openness to the revealing light of God, and a willingness to take the time necessary to sort things out with others, with God and with themselves.
Again, by his relinquishment of his credentials and walking away from The United Methodist Church and its often cumbersome and lengthy methods of accountability and connection, Mr. Gordon has set himself and his considerable talent free from a system of accountability.
And that appalls me. We’re a nation of shallow thinkers and ostrich-like followers where our religious leaders are concerned. Anyone who asks people to use good critical thinking skills, to dig into doubts, and to engage in reflective faith practices is generally swept aside by the far more powerful leader who says, “Just trust me—I’ll make you feel good.” I wrote here why I think many clergy often get away with unhealthy patterns.
My guess is that Mr. Gordon will found a large church and will rake in more money and fame than he has ever seen before. But I ask: will it be a holy place? A place where contrite and broken hearts find peace and forgiveness before God? Will it be a place where all will be safe from potentially predatory practices by leadership?
I hope so. I’m willing to be wrong in my thoughts and anger here for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
But I don’t think I am. Charisma alone is insufficient for holy leadership. It must be anchored by character and covenant.
I hope those who choose to follow Mr. Gordon in this new venture keep that in mind.
I hope those who choose to be a part of any church where I serve also keep it in mind.
Added Friday, March 1: Second lawsuit filed against Mr. Gordon. Please see this link for information.
I have no further comment.