Some may recall the story of Titus and Kari Benton who were in a defamation lawsuit by their former pastor, Steve Wingfield, of First Christian Church of Florissant. The case was later dismissed, but when you are sued by your former employer and pastor, your long-term church home, and experience spiritual abuse, it takes a long while to recover.
Kari recently posted the following note on her Facebook page and gave me permission to share it. I wanted to share it here because many times we don’t get to see follow-ups to the posts, and also because Kari describes some of her recovery process. Maybe some will be able to relate with her story in some ways. ~Julie Anne
Florissant church, pastor dismiss defamation lawsuit
A Youth Minister’s Downfall Is Tearing First Christian Church of Florissant Apart
Is it Enough – blog detailing the cover up at First Christian Church of Florissant
Real Talk, by Kari Benton
I had no idea how much I wanted my husband to quit doing full time ministry until he did. The sense of relief and freedom I have felt since he made that decision has been liberating and surprising.
More real talk: being a pastor’s wife used to make me feel special. Like somehow this position I held by association made me a little bit closer to Jesus. Or at least made my membership in the church club a little more secure. A deep need of mine is to feel like I belong. And I never had to question my longing in the church as long as my husband’s name was on the door of one of the offices.
But over the last 7-8 years some things have been shifting and changing – and I have found myself questioning whether or not I wanted to be a part of this club called the church anymore.
Things started to change when I began reading the New Testament literally and feeling like Jesus was telling me to spend my life out side the church building walls and in the world – getting my hands dirty. Things continued to change as I noticed I had to read books and listen to podcasts or online sermons in order to learn more about how to do this because it wasn’t being taught to me on Sunday morning.
Things changed still when I went through some conflict with the leadership at a church we formerly attended. I spoke up about some things that concerned me and the elders of that church disagreed with me. – and the way that this disagreement was handled knocked me completely off my feet. An entire board of elders made the decision to shut me out, refuse to dialogue with me respectfully, and were even willing to take our disagreement to court.
That conflict is mostly in the past now – but I’ve been cut off from that community, I’ve been told I’m no longer welcome in that community, and I’m treated like I no longer exist by the leaders in that community. Nothing about that situation looks like Jesus to me.
Part of me longs for reconciliation in that situation – mostly because I think it’s the right thing to do.
It’s confusing to me why the leaders of that church don’t also desire reconciliation. That situation made me question everything I thought I believed about the church. I thought that the church was a safe place where disagreements would certainly happen – but they could be handled with grace and mercy and reconciliation would always be the goal whenever possible.
Things changed yet again when I shockingly watched as Donald Trump was elected as president of the United States. It wasn’t just that he won the election- it was that I kept hearing the statistic that 81% of evangelicals supported him or voted for him. I still cannot get that fact to compute in my brain. I know it’s a complex issue – I know that people have their reasons for voting for him that have nothing to do with him as a person. I know all of that. It’s hard to explain – but watching evangelicals support Donald Trump makes me feel lost. Makes me feel like maybe I don’t quite belong in this category of “evangelicals”. Which then makes me wonder where I do belong.
After Titus announced his resignation publicly, I felt free. I felt like I now had the freedom to choose whether or not I wanted to repair my relationship with the church. You see I believe that the church is important, not only in the world as a whole, but in my own personal life. I believe that she is the bride of Christ – and that she is to be cared for, respected, and not given up on. Up until now I have felt like I was being forced to work things out with her – frankly because she paid my husbands’ salary. But now I feel like I have the freedom to work things out with her because I want to. And I really do want to. But I want to do it in my own way and in my own time.
So for right now that looks like attending a Baptist church on Sunday mornings because they have a Sunday School class for couples in their 20s and 30s. I am attending this class each week and a mid-week bible study with the ladies from this class. I am practicing just being me, being comfortable in my own skin, and learning how to build some community with other people my own age. It is uncomfortable for me at times, it is taking longer to get to know people than I would like, and it is really stretching the introverted parts of me. But this is what I need to do right now.
For right now it also looks like attending a church in the city on either Saturday or Sunday nights. This church follows the liturgical calendar, participates in liturgical readings together, and has sermons that are intellectually stimulating in a way that I didn’t even realize I was longing for. Sermons include topics such as The Enneagram and book recommendations such as “Nonviolent Communication”. The worship is simple and mostly hymns. It is absolutely feeding my soul right now in such a nourishing way that it makes me want to cry every time I am there.
Every weekend we have to have the conversation about when and where we will go to church.
I know for many people this is a normal conversation to have – but for us it has always been decided for us, we have never had the freedom to choose where we went to church or what service we attended. It’s a little overwhelming honestly.
Barbara Brown Taylor talks in her book “Leaving Church” about how once she left her position as priest in the Episcopal church she was able to learn about being fully human. And I completely resonate with this. In all our years in ministry in the local church – there have been many times when I have not felt fully human or I felt like other people didn’t see me as fully human. People assumed that because my husband was a pastor on staff that I had it all together, that I always knew the right answer, or that I was closer to God. I often struggled how to be authentically me and let people know that I did not have hardly anything together, felt like I didn’t have any answers but only questions, and often felt very far and disconnected from God.
A quote from “Leaving Church” says :
I thought that being faithful was about becoming someone other than who I was. It was not until this project failed that I began to wonder if my human wholeness might be more useful to God than my exhausting goodness.
So for right now we are spending our weekends at places where we have no title, we have no expectations. We are just showing up and trying to be fully human and learning how we can be fully human while engaging with the bride of Christ. She and I are going to work things out. It will take as long as it takes – but I believe we will figure it out.