When pastors fall the primary victims are the wife and family.
Today, we present an essay in three parts from a friend who survived being the wife of a fallen pastor…a friend who knows better than anyone the healing path from rubble to redemption.
Here is the fragrance of the crushed rose...
My redemption has come full circle. I have been through a restoration process that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, and I am marked with a priceless scar as a result. This is my offering of freshly minted insights—my brand new nature borne from narrowly surviving the distorted-god-culture of my youth. And although this culture was the one that snipped me from the mother ship that is all things Calvary Chapel– hurling me into deep space in my time of desperate need—She was also the keeper of my spiritually formative years—and still dear to me for that reason. Her people are my people, and there is no good in promoting cannibalism in our midst. Nor will I sweep under the rug the breeches in her levy and look the other way as if a broken system is inconsequential. Neither is it my intention to imply that God cannot work in the broken CC system: He does. Broken systems are all God has ever had to work with—myself included. In fact, mentioning CC here is only for the sake of contextualizing my comments in regards to the Coys’ new situation—I do not intend to single out Calvary Chapel as the sole culprit of our floundering evangelical landscape: Sadly, She is not alone, and I have since discovered the same mal-nourishment well beyond CC’s non-denominational boundaries, spanning the entirety of our faith’s history.
The Coy’s story is reminiscent of my own Ichabod: God’s glory departing from the landscape of my life. Having walked down an eerily similar path to that of theirs as the pastor and pastor’s wife, I was sickened today by CC Ft. Lauderdale’s tragic news. But beyond the nauseating grief of this announcement, was the frustration borne from my being relegated to the sidelines on a day like this–unable to speak a veteran’s clarity into an already combustible situation—a scenario so nuanced and convoluted that it will no doubt take years for this crippled family of faith in Ft. Lauderdale to unravel. It was also unnerving for me to recall the brutal lessons borne out of my trial.
I’ve become convinced that precious few can see the complexity of the storm system we are now viewing at FLCC. Most onlookers cannot and will not know, because the truth is just too painful and theologically destabilizing for them to seek out and to bear. And who, after all, volunteers to take God’s hand and walk into His glaring light publically? Who willingly hangs naked for all onlookers to gaze upon in the midst of their deepest test? And who writes this kind of story for themselves? I have come to realize that nobody walks willingly into their own death camp—nobody not the fallen and not those observing their fall. But it’s an experience we all desperately need.
Jesus may even have alluded to it once or twice?
It is precisely because I wear this survivor’s lens that I can speak passionately to this issue and notice critical components that others may not. For example, I recognize the illusions that the Ft. Lauderdale family must be swimming in as I type this page the now elusive realities of Bob and Diane Coy that came crashing down in a day.
I include Diane in this narrative as I included myself in the culpability of my own tragic story because an illusion this big cannot persist without the “covering” of a wife. Not because I do not recognize our own victimization—I do. I include Diane because there is a role that an enabling spouse plays—whether intentional or not—which must be recognized to initiate a healing-path of any kind. I have no intention of sounding cruel here. I am indicting myself.
But I no longer believe a pastor’s wife could be married to a man caught in a stronghold of duplicity without playing her own integral part. Somehow the wives of CC became the pastors’ unnamed P.R. firms and lent our credibility to their regimes. And if you are sitting in on of our pews you might think, “She seems nice enough, if there was something wrong she would say something. Right?” Calvary Chapel, like so many others, simply lacked in modeling accountability, and did not encourage the wives to hold their men to any standard of truth. And while I never heard the words “cover-up” in the ranks, it was an unspoken reality and we all knew what was expected of us. Patriarchal systems like the CC network of churches aren’t known for giving the keys to the kingdom to their wives.
Not that I judge her with any kind of harshness. On the contrary, she is the greatest victim here and my heart is aching for her in a strangely tethered way. The fallout in Diane’s life will undoubtedly surpass that of any other’s in this hideous ordeal, and she will be required to navigate without the benefits of her church family, or the position of privilege she has lived with for the better part of three decades. Nope! She is just out: history erased, identity stripped, done. If any persons require a tender sort of triage today, it is Diane Coy and her children. I pray the body tunes into their grave state in the midst of their leader’s eclipsing fall. This notion that he Coy family is simply encountering garden variety “marriage problems” is an illusion, and probably the tip of an enormous iceberg that has become their mega-church way of life.
Another common illusion in the church is manifest by our language of instant and easy grace. It’s not just us. It’s a twenty-first century problem that has infected every aspect of our lives. Insta-everything! Don’t like the results? Press, “delete” and move on. We want to be good parents, for example; but we rarely take the time to instruct, disciple, and discipline our children to bring about that good result? Instead we abdicate our essential role as the bad guy and wonder later about what went wrong. Like parenting, the kingdom life is a long journey and full of work. There is no way to wholeness or path to healing that can circumspect this reality of unwanted work. It’s no wonder so many are tempted to sweep our dysfunctions under the proverbial rug of grace. It’s so much easier to slap a Bible verse on it and call it good.
I have purposed here to use the term “healing path”, as opposed to a “healing” or a “restoration” that would indicate the immediacy of a miraculous event. I choose this language carefully because I am certain that while many are even now initiating the narratives of hope and restoration for Bob and Diane—the kind offered in a drive through window, so as to not waste any time getting their beloved pastor back where he “belongs”—I know that their wholeness is a long, arduous, and terrifying way off—if they can find this healing-path at all. I suspect there is a faithful stand of men huddled in someone’s living room who do not recognize their own misplaced agendas of immediacy. They’re lobbying for the grace Bob so desperately needs, and arguing for the generous dispensation of it now. Both to save God’s reputation and to preserve the precious “altar calls” so needed in their town. Rare is the Christianized publicist who recognizes the profound value of coming altogether clean. As a family, our attentions need to stay fixed on what matters. My grueling and restorative path taught me that truth not only matters, it matters in a million different ways. Without truth the leaven can only remain.
As a previously fallen pastor’s wife, I imagine Diane’s focus is on the immediate threats to her marriage and ministry, and not on the incalculable collateral damage that a scandal of this magnitude has yet to produce. Soon the tsunami will sweep through every relationship in her life: her identity, her inner circle, her nervous system, her mental health, her financial security, her shattered sense of community, her sense of kingdom “calling”. Denial too will be ripped from her weakening grip that unspoken guardian of fear that protected her from what she wasn’t ready to face. Her losses will prove to be multi-faceted and probably the most difficult trial her life will ever present. I can only hope that she will one day refer to this nightmarish episode as the introduction to her deliverance, and not an “attack” on her mega-church’s existence. Diane needs a handful of tenaciously loving friends, as I had, to help her grope through this darkness. God bring her those courageous friends.
There is a tragic irony at play in the leadership of our faith circles everywhere—a dilemma hidden in the spiritualization of all things Christian and the rationalization of all things base. We’ve learned to manipulate with our religious language and control our potential mentors with well-crafted verse. Manipulation and accountability make horrible partners. Our integrity will remain elusive if we will not quiet ourselves long enough to let all of that finagling go. Oh that we could surrender to the mysterious methodology of reconciliation that is God’s alone to orchestrate! Surrender is one of those critically vital deals.
Today, I would bet my life that the stuff that needs to be discovered examined and talked about behind closed doors—many integral components of a potential healing aren’t even on the Coys’ radar. Not because God is hiding it from them, but because they are no doubt in a state of denial and unknowing self-sabotage. Strongholds are nasty like that.
I am thankful to hear that Bob got fired, even though it sounded more like, “I think I should step down for a little bit?”, (which leaves room in the minds of his parishioners for his eventual return). Having gone through that particularly ugly power-struggle from the inner circle, I hold the belief that, [and no doubt this is contrary to the belief of some of Bob’s anguished stand of followers] reinstituting the Coys to their previously “anointed” ministries cannot be the answer to this devastating situation in Ft. Lauderdale. In fact, I would argue reinstatement is the worst course of action possible. For Bob and Diane as individuals, for the Coys as a family, and for the church as a genuine community of Christ followers in Ft. Lauderdale, the language that encourages restored ministry is the very last narrative they need to hear.
Conversely, I have come to believe that it is only during the long and agonizing process of reconciliation that one can discover the potential for something of real kingdom-value in their newly shattered lives¾a process yet to be seen in the Coys. This process will include taking an honest look at every relationship in their life: Their relationship to their God, to themselves, to all others, to money, to their childhood wounds, and to the earth. The Coys face many difficult truths wrought with difficult decisions, and we cannot know now how they will react. There are no short cuts—only cheap and unsustainable counterfeits that offer fleeting relief. Upon reflection, I can recognize that our CC network of churches rarely expounded on the God of this tedious process. Why should a Christian emphasize that kind of self-examining work when the God of instant miracles could be claimed so readily by examining the right verse? We prided ourselves in not getting weighed down with such things.
Unlike the God of “instant” answers, my newly unveiled “God of the Process” taught me to appreciate my very practical institution of pain. And I believe that if the Coys would willingly enroll in and submit to such a school, the fresh agonies of their new and unfamiliar curriculum would more than suffice for total restoration.
But it is with deep regret and unwavering confidence I am predicting what they have in store even in the best-case scenario.
These are the irreversible consequences, and the newest friends on their journey back toward being reconciled to the Body of Christ. Hope for the Coys will need to include a gracious acceptance of the anger on the faces of people they served and eventually betrayed. This alone holds the potential to cauterize these lessons on their hearts. They need to let their congregants’ pain burn something eternal into their own wounded souls: That’s good and effective medicine, and not to be confused with shame. Furthermore, I would also guess that they would discover an inability to categorize the black from the white. This new sensation will usher in a sense of unexpected disorientation and darkness along with the innumerable shades of gray that haunt their recently lost sense of stability and control. They won’t get to be “right” all the time or call all the shots. Bible verses will bring more dissonance than peace. The things they previously took succor in will be found empty and repulsive. And all of this is a true gift from God because this season of deconstruction is necessary to make way for the work.
There is no room for the new, until the old has been cleared away. No room. These new experiences and more can be added to a list healing events that could fill several books about true restoration, but how could I expect you to know that reader, unless it has happened to you?
But it did happen to me. God reached out and waited for me to take His hand on the most terrifying journey of my life. And I was eventually glad to discover it, because it meant that what the Scriptures had said about Him was true. He came in grace and truth, to heal that which was broken, to set the crooked back to straight. He came to make all things new in my wake of destruction and yes–victimization. He had NO desire to sweep anything under any rug justice is part of His story. His intentions were thorough and brutal and loving all at the same time. I trusted Him with my breaking point, and He entrusted me with His treasures that allowed the wholeness to finally come.
And IF Bob and Diane decide to surrender to the mysterious stream of God’s Spirit that leads toward healing waters and a new whole life, [a journey not resembling that of their current spiritual context] And, ….IF…. they continue in that direction…
IT WON’T LOOK LIKE A 30-DAY PROGRAM!
Again, It’s not because I believe they do not want the help; it’s because all roads leading to something nearer to the truth than their own versions of it have been quadranted off as “from the devil”, or “off theologically”, or too “humanistic”, or “too psychological” to offer them valid relief. We can only hope that the expulsion from their unsustainable man-made Eden will bring them to the God of the whole world’s treasure trove of help—and not merely to the God of Calvary Chapel’s seemingly impotent solutions.
If lasting help is to be found, It will be nuanced and multi-faceted—complicated and surprising—each lesson so big it can only be in the lime-light itself for a day at the most—too big to share with any other day. And if all is progressing well, their tomorrows will hold a handful of new lessons, each day filled with fresh revelation and illumination—the kinds that burrow into the “inner-most parts” of their once sealed-off souls. Thankfully, this seems to be God’s slow and merciful approach: reserving the power to trickle the truth out in small, manageable doses—not the “all at once” approach. [In my case, the immediate truth of my exact condition would have killed me if it came to me all at once. The actual gravity of my bent state and its consequences would have been too crushing for my tender heart to bear.] I love how God is full of mercy—a tender reed He will bend but never break.
To survive this, the Coys will probably have to adopt an entirely new approach to their faith—one that doesn’t include the Bible as weapon, or the Bible as excuse, or the Bible as permission to dominate, or the Bible as permission to “cover” our sins rather than hold them squarely under the Light who is Christ in the here and now. They will need a language that sets aside the Scriptures that have handily been “used” to justify, rationalize, and manipulate–in order to maintain Bob’s position of power/influence/”call”/”giftedness”—one that humbly makes way for something Eden-kind-of-new.
I’m holding out for hope that. If healing and wholeness is to be found in the lives of Bob and Diane Coy, then today could be the first of innumerable days filled with the creative power of the God who brings order from chaos, whether together or apart. I have also purposed not to act as though the “marriage” is the most important thing at stake here: I do not believe it is. I hold to the conviction that their individual faith is what hangs in the balances—threadbare and not yet tried. Concentration on anything else could hinder this critical process.
Finally, it is with this new and painful reality in mind that I would urge the body of Christ to let them find their chance at a healing far and away from public ministry—a life with all the realities possible in Christ—one that Bob could only address from a distance before. It’s time to allow our tenacious God to save them from their humanly constructed and clearly unsustainable lives. But first, we must all face our family’s dysfunction and get out of the way. He is up to the task folks.
Let them go.