Character, Charisma and Covenant

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.

Three points:

  • 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.

8 thoughts on “Character, Charisma and Covenant

  1. Dear Christy, my sister in Christ and in ministry, 3 comments concerning the reality of the process, NOT Mr. Gordon or his specific situation.
    In your blog response, you wrote, “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.”

    Comment #1: When faced with an allegation of misconduct, those bringing the charge (the Bishop, DS meeting with the pastor accused) present options of “voluntarily” relinquishing ordination credentials or facing church trial. Either option is the equivalent of death by lethal injection or death by firing squad. Until you are the person facing the accusation, you have no real grasp of how “involuntary” the choice truly is, even if you do not believe you have broken the covenant.

    Comment #2: The UMC system which if for protection and accountability rarely works both ways. The system is designed to protect the institution, not the clergy accused. Where is the covenant bond of unconditional love? Why is there not a strong effort made to restore a fallen pastor instead of “washing our hands” of the matter. Is our covenant no more than the words of accountability? Where are the clergy, the DS, the Bishop who will recognize the seriousness of an alleged offense, yet also the years of gifted and effective service given by a fellow servant of Christ? Is ours not a calling to a ministry of reconciliation? The system finds it much more expedient to shoot the shepherd and wash their hands, rather than to come to the aid of both accuser and accused and find the path that leads to forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and wholeness for all.

    Comment #3: The relinquishment of credentials in the UMC is NOT a “no turning back” act. One who has relinquished credentials may seek to have credentials reinstated. The process, like that of ordination in the first place, is long and arduous and full of many moments of anguish. The former pastor will have to have the accusations originally made addressed. The DCoM has to agree that the individual’s circumstances warrant reinstatement. Then, as in the original process, the DCoM makes a recommendation to the Conference BoOM, which also evaluates the original complaint and surrender of credentials and the present circumstances, wherein they too make a recommendation to the Clergy session of the Annual Conference, and they also then vote. If all of the levels give consent, then the credentials can be reinstated after a 2 year period of probation while serving in a place of ministry. At any time in the process, the individual can be rejected.

    Interesting enough, the GCFA adopted a set of guidelines in late 2010 to work toward a more compassionate, less legalistic approach of dealing with allegations so as to promote restoration, rather than just punitive action. Sadly, the denominational leadership often finds it far more convenient to just wash their hands. So much for covenant. I guess God is the only One who declares that even if the people violate the covenant, God will not violate God’s part of the relationship. It’s called covenant and we should learn from God.

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  2. Christy I do not mean to sound rude in any manner but you do not have the whole story. When the covenant is broken first by the other party I do not believe a person has to uphold the covenant any longer. I cannot go into details but Tyrone did not break the covenant first. So, please do not talk about someone breaking covenant when you do not have all of the facts.

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    • There is much we do not know. It might be that the civil process will create a clearer picture of the situation if this goes to trial. There could be some information come forth that complicates the current story line. This would not surprise at all. Good defense counsel will know the tough questions to ask, and the lawyers on the other side as well. I can think of at least two questions I might have if I were a lawyer or on a jury. Trials are tried in court. Public opinion is not a good judge or jury. We don’t have all the facts.

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  3. Just a word of encouragement for you, Christy. This was not a personal attack on Tyrone, but a well developed and thoughtful essay on the consequences of giving up the accountability of covenant. I agree most especially that “Charisma alone is insufficient for holy leadership. It must be anchored by character and covenant.” This is not just true of Tyrone Gordon, it is true across the board. And I would add, when we stop relying on “stars” to pastor our churches and remember that Jesus is the head of the church, we will all be better off.

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  4. Pingback: Tyrone Gordon to begin new church this Sunday, March 4. | thoughtfulpastor

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