If the story of Easter teaches Easter people anything, it is that what happens in darkness will come to light.
We learn songs as children about little lights that cannot be stomped out, blown out or put out by Satan – songs about God being bigger than darkness and the boogeyman.
Shining light into the depths of secrets and cruelty is at the center of the good news. However, there is a practice happening in the shadowy sides of church that has almost become as synonymous with church as the benediction.
One day a pastor is posting a selfie from a church event they’re attending in support of their people; the next, a letter goes out in a church-wide email or shared on Facebook that the same pastor has stepped down.
Not knowing what happened, we run to the “grapevine,” searching for who knows what. And more times than not, what truly took place is hidden behind a non-disclosure agreement.
Truth sealed tight by a document that holds the lifeline for maybe six to nine months of income – a year if the pastor is lucky – with severance, health benefits and assurance that said pastor or minister stays quiet about their plight in ministry.
In the months and years following the onset of the pandemic, there has been an uptick in pastors resigning and leaving the church abruptly.
Pam Durso, president of Central Seminary and Carol McEntyre, pastor of First Baptist Church in Columbia, Missouri, noticed a shift in the field of Baptist ministry in mid 2021 and decided to conduct a survey to understand what was happening.
Within days of opening the survey, it was shared around social media over 80 times and by its closing 100 ministers responded to the survey.
Their findings were not a shock to many, as they reported that much of the distress and tension came from the growing pressure of high demand and availability in church work since the genesis of Covid-19, the rise of anti-racism advocacy in the church, and political tension.
If there was any time for prophetic voices reminding us that Jesus was a truth teller, it was the last two years. Instead, churches chose silence, and pastors chose – or were pressured into – “taking a step back” from their roles and callings.
But before they could leave and begin the work of discerning “what’s next?”, the business of an agreement not to tell anyone what had happened or not to disparage the church had to be signed.
Has the non-disclosure agreement become the new “love offering” of the North American church? Have people of faith forgotten that truth does not kill or destroy but sets us free?
Churches use words like authenticity and transparency when explaining how we conduct ourselves to people walking through the doors for the first time. Yet, we rush to solve the church’s problems with a legal document that is used in business agreements and mergers.
Say what you will about how our siblings of the broader church of Jesus Christ conduct their own issues, but perhaps my Protestant siblings should ponder the NDA-sized beam in our eye before we judge the speck in others.
For anyone who grew up in church or as the child of church leaders and pastors, you know that church trauma and hurt are part of the territory.
Maybe a parent was kicked out after a vote at deacon’s meeting, or perhaps you were the target of passive aggression from disgruntled members who didn’t like the way your parent or partner did ministry.
It pains me to admit that this part of church and ministry is just as common and accepted as a walk down the aisle to salvation.
How would the season of Easter change for the North American church if it was not only a reminder that death could not and will not win, but also that darkness, secret hurtful deeds and grabs for powers will also not win?
What if after flowering a cross and hunting for eggs, we opened a space for people hurt by church and NDAs to tell their truth?
What if Easter became a season of jubilee, bringing forth the wrongs and hurts of church and reconciling the schisms we’ve created?
I imagine some chaos would ensue, and some churches might implode and secrets might be exposed. But at the very least, we would begin to do the hard, overdue work of bringing to light the transgressions of the institution that has been held together by tithes and NDAs in many cases.
Every Easter, I am reminded that death cannot contain God or the church.
In the Easter passage this year, the man in dazzling clothes asks the women why they look for the living among the dead. Perhaps it is time we ask the same question of ourselves.
Why look for life among death and despair? After all, we are Easter people, are we not?