As I read the newspapers online I have been following a nasty City Council fight over the past 18 months in my city. Finally I waded in because it looked like the City Council were scapegoating the previous City Manager. They kept accusing him of things, and then when he produced evidence that showed they were incorrect, they came up with more accusations, reporting him for an ethics violation, and on and on. I waded in to say that it seemed like nobody was apologizing after their numerous (about eight) accusations were proven to be false, and they might be opening themselves up for a slander lawsuit that we as taxpayers would have to pay.
A friend of mine, who is active in local politics, took me aside and let me know that I should use caution when talking about this, that these were respectable, intelligent, humble people who had leveled these accusations, and this was not a simple case. I said that since the stock market crash and finding out their pension fund was short several million, they had scapegoated the previous City Manager for not warning them, and couldn’t view anything he had done in a positive light. Nothing he said would they believe. They were sure he had been sneaky and underhanded in everything he did, especially his own benefits, which they contested and refused to pay him. She replied that that could not be so, and these things were very complicated, and if respectable people believed he had done all these things, and if intelligent people read the contracts and minutes and came to these conclusions, then there must be some substance to it.
Finally I decided to stop arguing with her. It reminded me of how painful leaving our church had been, and how many rumors and stories went around that we could not address. And ultimately we could not have persuaded our church friends unless we went back in time and persuaded the people who baptized them. Their loyalty was to the people they had grown to admire and respect. The security of their faith rested in these relationships.
I remember once an elderly woman was arguing a scripture with me. I showed her a passage that directly contradicted what she believed. She replied: “That which proves too much cannot be true.”
Losing one’s reputation is the most powerful tool the sect has to keep you inside, toeing the party line. If you want all the people you love and depend on for emotional support to love and support you, then you have to stay in the church, and you have to believe and teach the party line.
When you lose your reputation, and those people–the ones you depended on for emotional support–you go through the valley of the shadow of death. It is a painful journey and one that causes many to retreat into addictions, take antidepressants, go to therapy, get a divorce, have children who act out, and lose their jobs; which gives the nay-sayers more ammunition to cluck their tongues.
Of some comfort is the story of Jesus, who identified with our helplessness, having been kicked out of all the synagogues, wrongly accused and killed in a humiliating way, we can know that he took the side of the wrongly accused, took the humiliation that we are tasting now. He went through it before we had to.
We can also know that the pain doesn’t last forever. It gets easier year by year. And you don’t stop growing in maturity.