Several weeks ago, I learned that a lawsuit had been filed against Tyrone Gordon, a gifted and respected pastor, against the church where he served, St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas, and against the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, our connectional body, similar to a diocese or parish.
A few days before news of the lawsuit broke, we United Methodist clergy were informed that Gordon had relinquished his credentials and would be leaving his prestigious pulpit as of Feb. 15.
When a United Methodist clergy chooses to relinquish credentials, something usually has gone very wrong. Although it is a piece of cake (and a bit of money) to get clergy “credentials” from online sources, such is not the case with the United Methodist Church.
We probably have the longest, most convoluted, most challenging path to ordination of any denominational body. On average, it takes eight to 10 years to complete the process. Upon ordination, we enter into a covenant relationship with all other clergy in the connection.
When I first heard rumors of difficulties at St. Luke, my sympathies were with Gordon. Serving as pastor is a lonely job, and often, very often, what we do is seriously misunderstood by many.
Attacks almost always come from well-meaning people who also love God and the church, but who find themselves unhappy with the pastor. Had Gordon, even with the seriousness of the charges filed against him, chosen to remain within this covenant connection, he would have been given counsel, a right to a fair trial before a church court, confidentiality and a lot of support.
We clergy do help our own. No one wants to see a brother or sister go down.
But Gordon walked away from that trust relationship. He walked away from an inquiry that might have been painful to him, but that also includes a way to bring restoration and reconciliation. He walked away from any sense of accountability to a larger connection.
Then, a few days ago, I received confirmed information that Gordon is starting a new church, starting this Sunday, March 4.
Two important points:
n First, anyone can begin a church. Unlike, for example, the medical profession, there are no national standards or credentials for clergy to hang out a shingle.
n Second, Gordon has a lawsuit filed against him but no judgment. There are only allegations of significantly improper behavior and abuse of trust, but no court-tested proof. He is, in the sight of the law, innocent until proven guilty.
That aside, I find the timing problematic. Gordon is a gifted preacher and musician. He will find a following, and they will honor and revere him. Any suggestion of character flaws that would preclude him from serving in such a trust position will quickly be swept aside in favor of his talent and charisma.
We’re a nation of shallow thinkers and ostrich-like followers where our religious leaders are concerned. Anyone who asks people to use good critical thinking skills, to dig into doubts, and to engage in reflective faith practices is generally swept aside by the far more powerful leader who says, “Just trust me. I’ll make you feel good.”
I’ve had people tell me, “The job of the pastor is to make me feel good.” No, it’s not. My job is to encourage you to enter fully into the revealing light of God — and that doesn’t always feel very good. That penetrating light reveals our own darkness with painful revelation.
People, including pastors, make mistakes — all the time. But anyone in a leadership position of trust must pay special attention to patterns and habits that reveal inner character.
I don’t know if Tyrone Gordon violated the trust given to him. I do think those issues should be addressed before beginning another church, especially as he will now be in an environment without any accountability.
May God have mercy upon us all.
THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. Reach her by calling 940-482-3482 or by e-mail at email@example.com . More writings can be found on her blog, http://thoughtfulpastor.wordpress.com .