They come....They Go
I found myself in an odd situation. I loved the people in my congregations and had many wonderful friendships and friends, I thought. This final congregation in South Carolina was the toughest by far, even if everything was going well. They were used to being rewarded by the minister for their loyalty and friends became deacons and included in the lives of all the brethren. There were always three or four waiting and chaffing at the chance to be the real minister. Ugh! I didn't work that way so quickly fell afoul of their system. I didn't take deacons on visits to know and hear the problems of others. That was not their business and people aren't honest when they feel they are being grilled. One on one worked for me, because someday I'd be moving on. At any rate, Church Picnics went from really fun to drama events. We stopped having them.
Some would tell me what the church was really up to at HQ and that this or that really was going to change. Dumb me would call Joe Tkach and simply ask him if A/B or C was true or not. It was never true according to Joe. It was ALWAYS true according to what actually came to be. As a result , I'd come back and tell the church all was well and then end up looking like a fool caught between the Administration that lied to me and the members who thought I was stupid and naive. Of course I was..ha. Thus, as the baloney in the middle of the sandwich, neither side kept much in touch. That was my experience with friends.
The only time those who have either stayed with the new and improved version of the Church, which has changed it's name to distance itself from it's own past, or those that have left it for splinter groups that profess to keep the old ways intact, or those that have moved on to greener and more stable pastures, or the disillusioned meet is at funerals or in the final days of some former church friend. Sad isn't it? One has to be dying or dead to find out you had friends after all. But then unless you were having an out of body experience attending your own funeral, you'd not know. It is more comfortable being friends to the dying than the living. And I am sure after I am dead, thousands will once again say that we were friends. Dealing with a dead Diehl is easier than dealing with the real Diehl. :)
When churches implode, as they do, friendships explode. I can count on one hand the friendships that have stayed in tact since my being labeled a minister who "knew a lot about Jesus, but did not know Jesus" and then being terminated. Don't misunderstand. I was outgrowing the literalism of any church but was in a transtion. And...I have fingers left over!
It is reckless change and administration of policy that tears friendships apart when associated with churches and the hope the promote in their teachings. Local ministers, who can have their own dictatorial ways, can tear friendships apart as well by causing "friends" to make choices and take sides in endless and stupid disputes or personality cults.
In my own case, I have had more than one former member, whose children I had married and whose husbands I had buried, pass by me at the lobby desk in a hospital where work to make ends meet. I simply do not exist to them because I am no longer one of them, whatever that might mean. I have known minister friends who have drank themselves to death after reckless change confused them and their friends marginalized them for being hurt and confused. One minister even jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge if you can imagine that. That takes planning and a total lack of friends left to help you through. Suicide seems often the mistaken idea that the death of an old idea mistranslates into we think we have to die It's a permanent solution to a short term problem. . Very sad but I understand it.
So when your church implodes, why do your friendships explode? There are several types of friendships built when we become a part of a church and their dynamics are all a bit different.
First of all, everyone in any particular believes that "we all have to be friends," because, well, we are in the Church. The common bond of similar or same beliefs is what constitutes the friendship. In any other setting, we would not be friends with most of these people as we would really have nothing else in common to hold it together. Thus, when the church implodes, the friendships explode, fall apart and are not salvageable. They are based on being in the common church with a common belief. When that falls apart, that is generally the end of your friendships.
If you leave the church in discouragement, anger or theology fatigue, you are now a seed fallen on bad ground. Those who you leave behind will read about you in Matthew as one of the seeds that fell on hard ground and when trials came alone etc, did not have the ability to survive. Of course, it will be a bullshit explanation, but it makes them feel good to see that they are off the friendship hook with you for being disillusioned, hurt, marginalized or just worn out by controversy. Without the church work, doctrine or goals, you have no friendship. These people will disappear quickly should you ever begin to wake up to the fact that NO church knows all it needs to know about the Bible to be THE one true church. Of course, since no one attends the one false church, you will be labeled, disfellowshipped, avoided and generally cast into the Lake of Fire, Hell or other imagined bad places for the wicked person you are. These are mere not friends that stick closer than brothers, or at least not unless you live in the same house. Since you moved out, you are no brother of theirs.
The second kind of church friends you will cultivate are genuine friends that are friends in spite of church. You have the church in common. You met at church, but you also have kids, ideas and needs in common and develop a friendship outside of just church stuff. Your kids grow up together, make fun of the church and minister together, as do you from time to time and it's just normal. But if you leave the Church or the Church leaves you, they have agonizing decisions to make. If they stay, they might sneak your friendship but if the Church was still the main draw, they eventually will leave you alone, high and dry. They might even leave the church themselves, but if they move on to an even more righteous church than the one they left, and you just became disillusioned and non-committal, they will spend some time getting you to follow them into the truer church, or drop you in time as well. They don't mean it. You're not being theologically tied to any belief and even willing to step outside boxes that lead to different conclusions about religion will leave you without these friends in time. They will feel sorry for you for not moving on to even an more true church in their quest for the one true one. These friends will make you feel icky if you insist on staying around them just because they are all you have left. They will make you feel inferior for your beliefs or lack of them compared to their now new and improved ones, which is always a sign you might need to just forget the friendship. It's not real.
Another group are those that may be somewhat like you in your skepticism and having learned more than the church would have wished you to learn from the whole experience. You'll have all the bitching in common about the past. You will have quality time living in, mulling over and analyzing the past, but when you tire of that and realize that your life is not going forward in the past, these friends will also dry up and blow away.
I am writing this while listening to the great hymns of the Church. Me...Mr. Skeptical, listening to the old hymns. I get teary because it provokes the chemistry of a more simple time, when I was younger and didn't know I was going to learn and experience all I was going to with regards to Church, ministers, theology, politics, behavior, humans and reality.
Wait a sec, It is Well With My Soul is playing...gotta get teary...ok, back.
Seems a shame church friends who have suffered through the ridiculous and reckless folly of those who are determined to not think change through, have to meet only at funerals of the wounded and now dead friends of the past. Maybe if someone had been a real friend, in spite of Church, they would still be alive.
Well, I guess that answers in part, where did they all go? People who hop from truer church to truer church in pursuit of the TRUE Church build friendships based on being a member of that particular church or set of beliefs. That is one kind of friendship but they also tend to dissolve quickly when conditions in that church change. That has been my experience in spades.
While the Bible says "a friend loves at all times", that has proven elusive to say the least among the survivors of the WCG debacle.
In reality, I find that many who say they love you or are you best friend don't tell you it's conditional.
Dennis C. Diehl