A little listening music:
Although you weren’t asking, I would say the four most commonly used words I heard growing up, would be ‘bitter’, ‘rebellion’, ‘’reprobate’, and ‘backslide.’ The word I hear most often about myself (as in “out-of-church-Glen”) is ‘bitter’. I don’t think that’s a secret. Clearly I’m pretty jaded. My posts aren’t exactly filled with memories of puppy dogs and rainbows. Perhaps unexpectedly, I am 100% completely ok with this label.
So why would someone like be ok with this label? Well for one, it’s accurate. But there’s also more to it than that.
Let me explain:
I had a very, very shallow outlook as a young’n. I saw people on the fringes of my church growing up that carried the ‘rebel’ label. I saw people come around occasionally that had long since left church, and they carried the ‘backslider’ label.
But the word thrown around more freely than any other was ‘bitter’. At the time I bought right in. Someone has a negative opinion of the church/doctrine/pastor? They’re bitter. Someone doesn’t agree with the way something was handled? Bitter. They left our church? OUR church?! They’re so bitter I almost blew blood vessels from wincing too hard.
See, growing up that was the only logic I knew. There was no such thing as hurt, offense, mishandling, abuse, strife or anything else. Just bitter.
**Before I say the following I would like to say this: all of this is in the past. My family has made peace with our past and holds no grudges or ill will, nor do we believe any is held towards us. It’s all gravy baby.**
I was born and raised in one church. My dad was born and raised in that same church and his father before him came into it at a young age, and raised his family in it. Mom started going when she married dad.
Who cares right? Well, you know that guy at your church that pretty much does everything? He has the keys to the place, he’s on the board, runs the sound, he sets up for events, decorates for the holidays, buys the supplies for communion, and so on? That, and more, was my dad. My mom was active as well. After a while he had some disagreements with the church leadership. Not doctrinal disagreements, just political. So my dad decided to leave the church he grew up in, and up until that point, raised me in as well. To be 100% honest I still don’t know what his final reason was, because my parents have a rule: they never talk bad about the ministry, even to me. When they left I decided to stay at the church and stick it out, because they didn’t want to influence me or talk bad or anything like that, so I had no reason to leave. They were model Christians and left the church for another as quietly and politely as possible. However after leaving they received the same description as everyone else who has ever left any Pentecostal church: “they were prayed out because they were blocking revival and very…” wait for it….wait for it…..”bitter.” Yep, they got the red ‘B’ on their frocks.
Not that being called bitter is even a shocking thing these days. We who write for SAL get called bitter so often that Joel actually confused his own first name as Bitter once. It’s weird though. Weird that Joel gets called bitter. Because he’s not bitter. I am bitter about some things and have no problem saying as much. But Joel’s not. (I'd like to posit that I am ruled by emotion and Joel is ruled by intellect. I let things get to me and become bitter. Joel's concerns are based in logic and study. That's the dichotomy between us here.)
Bitter or not, it’s always amusing to see just how the word is thrown around. See, if we post about a touchy topic the word is dropped instantly.
Gotta love the “Therefore” in there. As if the commenter is doing some sound analytical logicizing in the same mold as Bertrand Russell. There was another guy who was throwing it around almost antagonistically, saying things like "ok bitter kidders," etc. Most of the time the word bitter is thrown around on the site it’s used as an escape. Rather than confront an issue head on, it’s easier to commit an Ad Hominem attack and discredit the person discussing an issue as if labeling someone bitter proves the issue false. Rather than deal with any uncomfortable issue at all it’s easier to label any dissenters to be bitter and act like that proves something. Lee Stoneking once said that if I talk to you and bring up anything questionable then you should just punch me in the face because I’m just so darn bitter.
Why is this word the answer to every question?
Now, as stated prior, I own up to the accusation. I like to use ‘jaded’ instead of ‘bitter’, because one sounds pretty and the other doesn’t. I don’t need to rehash or recap my life in Pentecost to any avid readers of SAL, but in case you’re really curious and have 20 minutes to kill, then you could go read my post on ‘Value’, and get a pretty good idea what I’m all about. And after you read it, perhaps you’ll see why I’m jaded/bitter.
Now, without getting into all the various stories of finger pointing and blaming I’d like to address the way Apostolics use “bitter.”
Are there bitter people out there who can’t be pleased no matter what, who do nothing but find fault in whatever environment they’re in and who will continually buck whatever leadership is above them? Yes, absolutely. I am not, in any way whatsoever, excusing them or saying they don’t exist, because those kinds of bitter people do exist.
What I am saying is that disagreeing with your pastor does not mean you’re bitter. Expressing hurt does not equal expressing bitterness. Even if we think someone’s hurt is unjustified and overly dramatic. Complicated church drama is not necessarily full bitter people trying to get revenge. The word and concept of bitterness does not exist to absolve religious leaders of responsibility for the things they say and do. It is possible, and even acceptable, for ministers to be wrong sometimes. It’s fairly common in Christian counseling, as there is a pandemic of bad advice being given by people offering counsel without being credentialed to do so. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad pastor. It just means you made a mistake.
Where I see this word used the most is in cases of hurt people. They can’t be hurt because that means someone in leadership hurt them, and since we would never deliberately hurt someone and since the Holy Ghost prevents us from ever doing it inadvertently then we must conclude that the person wasn’t really hurt, thus they’re bitter and we remain innocent, if not even the victim here.
Hurt people rarely become bitter until their questions, concerns, and bad experiences are mishandled, ignored or worse; downplayed and condescended. Wounds heal, but only when cared for. When they go unattended to is when they rot, and decay, and begin to stink. It's then that the wounds become our identity, and the gangreen called 'bitterness' sets in.
Bitterness becomes not just the scapegoat, but also a script-flipper. It takes your hurt, pain, and angst, and then dwarf’s it. Your problems now become mitigated, and those who may have caused them label themselves the true victims. You’re no longer someone who’s been hurt and deserves an apology, because you’ve become someone ‘attacking the ministry’. Vicious circle right?
In summation, there are people improperly labeled bitter, there are people who are going to be bitter no matter what, and there are people who are hurt, abused or maligned who wind up bitter. Simply slapping that label on something does not vindicate the church and/or its leadership. Instead of saying “they’re just bitter,” try “why are they bitter,” and “what brought this person to this point," and "can we rectify this situation?" Try to root out these issues and address them instead of attacking those who experience them with acerbic epithets and accusations. Admitting a problem and working toward a solution does not damage the church or the leadership, only denying the problem does.
We shoot our wounded, and we should stop. We need to abandon the self-aggrandizing sermonizing. Remember, please, that, as the great John Kennedy said, “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal."
You’re a mortal. I am a mortal. We're a part of humanity whether we like it or not. You and I will make mistakes. Lots of them. It’s ok to make them as long as we own up to them. It takes a special kind of ego to look at the hurt, the wounded and the maimed and say “You brought it on yourself.” A common thread that's ran through all my posts lately is the lack of connection with humanity within the Apostolic movement. There's not humanity and then us. We're a part of it too. Dismissing other peoples hurt and angst robs them of some of the very things which makes them human. Their problems don't matter, thus they don't matter. Close the Strong’s, put down The Herald and repeat after me: “I am a human being and I am capable of being wrong.”
Good night, and good luck.
**There will be a post coming soon about the Good People in church that we still love, we respect, and we miss, and those people tend to buck the trends described in this post, so be looking for that.**