Letter to the Editor
March 13, 2023
In her book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, New York Times bestselling author Anne Lamott writes: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”
Although I had read the book more than 10 years earlier, these words really hit home when I received them, anonymously, from a member of First Baptist Church of Knoxville, Tenn., soon after I resigned as associate pastor in late 2008. (Two years later that member identified herself to me in a text message that shocked me as I had perceived she did not believe what I was reporting to church leadership at the time.)
My resignation was not something I wanted and, so I would come to find out much later, neither did a majority of the congregation. However, having experienced the same kinds of treatment reported by staff at Northern Seminary at the hands of their now former president, I can tell you I was not the only target of bullying, retaliation and other completely inappropriate treatment; and, yes, I witnessed misogyny — often cleverly veiled.
When First Baptist Church of Tallahassee’s leadership was struggling to understand if what was being reported by some staff was true, a deacon reached out to me, inquiring as to my experience while on staff at First Baptist Knoxville. I told the truth about my experience, and, for further inquiry, I provided names of former staff and church members. “Miraculously” within a few short months, a new “calling” resulted in a pastoral vacancy in Tallahassee and the new president at Northern Seminary in early 2016.
I say all that to say, please, leaders — boards, deacons, elders, others — for God’s sake, and for the sake of the church and institutions of the church, do not ignore and bury the truth about bad behavior when it occurs, lest it destroy peoples’ lives and the churches and institutions you lead.
Call it out. Force professional help. Tell the truth rather than defend bad behavior. And, most importantly, care for the victims.
Timothy A. Norton, Jasper, Ga.