Part 2 in the Series:
The Spirit of Jezebel
By Don Enevoldsen
I returned from lunch as I did every day. In one motion, I dropped into my chair while tapping the space bar on my keyboard to awaken my computer from its lunchtime slumber. Then I leaned back and waited for the monitor screen to light up so I could resume typing on the manuscript that had occupied my attention all morning.
Except nothing happened. The screen stared back at me, completely blank, slumbering peacefully in spite of my attention.
I clicked the mouse and rolled it around the mouse pad a few times, clicked a few more times, and with growing irritation, tapped the keyboard with increasing vehemence.
When in doubt, reboot. I reached under the desk to manually turn off the computer tower and power it back on again.
But, to my amazement, my hand pushed against nothing but air. The computer was not there.
Puzzled, I stared at the empty space. Somehow, during lunch, someone had entered a crowded office, walked to the most inaccessible cubicle in the back corner and walked off with a two-foot high computer tower. How was that possible?
At that moment, my bewilderment was interrupted by one of the church staff. “Pastor Tom wants to see you.”
Shaking my head, I stumbled off to the senior pastor’s office. The computer would have to wait.
The pastor, his son and one other staff pastor were waiting for me. I sat and they began an interrogation that took me completely by surprise. Apparently a leading personality in local Christian television had said something to Tom that revealed he knew a piece of information Tom didn’t want people to know. They were trying to find the leak. Since I knew that leader and had been around him recently, they suspected I might have talked.
I denied the accusation and eventually I was dismissed and returned to my desk—where my computer had miraculously reappeared. They had removed it while I was at lunch and returned it during the meeting, probably expecting that I would never notice it was missing, since they intended to call me into the meeting before I sat at my desk. Nothing was ever said about it, but presumably they had searched for incriminating evidence. I felt like I had somehow been sucked into a movie with the Gestapo.
Many years later, I don’t remember what the leaked information was, other than it was some sort of criticism of the senior pastor. At the time, I didn’t think it was anything all that important, but the pastor lived in tremendous fear that his reputation would be somehow diminished.
In spite of the lack of details in my recollection, a few things are indelibly impressed in my memory from that event.
First, I remember a feeling of terror far beyond what was warranted by the situation. When I left Tom’s office, my hands were shaking. The intimidation affected me in a way that puzzled me for a long time. For several months I carried around a palpable fear—mostly of losing my job or being pushed outside of the circle of pastoral approval. That day, for the first time, I consciously had to acknowledge just how much I valued my position in the church. I had the opportunity to teach every Wednesday night. I was highly respected by the congregation. I was trusted by the pastor and, to some degree, at least, included in the inner circle of leadership. The terror I felt in that meeting was a fear of losing approval and status. It was disconcerting to have to acknowledge that I felt it so strongly that the threat of losing it produced a visceral reaction.
Second, for a long time afterward, I was forced to wrestle with the lengths to which I would go to hang on to my position and my status. It’s one thing to enjoy status. It’s something else entirely to cling desperately to it as though your life will end if it disappears. I don’t remember what the leaked information was, but I do remember that I had met the leader for lunch some time earlier, and in casual conversation said things that were almost certainly the source of his information. There was little doubt I was the leak. And I lied to keep from being fired or ostracized or even trusted less. I prevaricated and pretended complete ignorance. I would do anything to keep from being labeled as critical of the current administration.
Third, I had witnessed for years the same kind of pressure directed at people in the church to keep them in line. (I hope some of them will use this venue to share their stories.) I never gave it much thought, believing that submission to my pastor meant ignoring everything that seemed suspicious, trusting God would take care of it. That day, however, I was the target of pressure, and it woke me up. There was something horribly wrong and for the first time I could not escape deep empathy for other victims, no matter how much I rationalized the spirituality of my choices.
Fourth, until that day, I had never consciously asked myself why a church that bragged about its transparency would go to such lengths to keep secrets. I had been aware for many years that they stretched the truth and even concocted lies for the congregation at large when it suited them. Most prominent was the handling of staff members who began to question them. They were fired, then statements were made to the rest of the staff and the congregation, giving completely fictitious information as the reason for the firing. Those people, we were told, were embezzling money from the church or engaged in immorality, or something of the sort, and even though the leadership prayed for their repentance and hoped they would change, there was no alternative but to fire them—and take steps that no one ever spoke to them again and learned the other side of the story. Again, ostensibly out of submission to my leaders, I largely ignored what I saw. That day, however, I was jolted into full appreciation for the magnitude of the lies.
At the time, I didn’t have a label for my reaction to the event. It has only been recently that I have understood exactly what was going on. The message of Jesus to Thyatira illustrates exactly this dynamic. The historical and cultural elements in that message are unfamiliar to us today, but as we look at them in detail, it will become clear that Jezebel represented leadership in the church that felt God-ordained entitlement to authority and were willing to perpetrate any unethical behavior—such as clandestine searches of computers and character assassination of former employees—to maintain control and subservience.
As I write this, I am flooded with memories of comments I heard Tom make that indicate how deliberate and methodical his manipulation was. For example, the time at lunch when he told me that he never returns phone calls right away. By delaying, he imposed a sense of hierarchical respect on the caller. The less powerful person had to wait on the more powerful. He thought he was mentoring me with such sage leadership advice.
More than that, the message to Thyatira depicts a system in which position and status are dangled in front of people to entice them to put up with the most unethical or illegal behavior in order to fit in. Loss of position and status are used as the most powerful threat to coerce behavior.
If you knew nothing else about Jezebel or the church in Thyatira, just reading my story would tell you how the spirit of Jezebel works and give you a sense of what Jesus said to the church.
I’m happy to say that I broke free of that spirit. But that freedom was preceded by a painful period during which I had to face the truth about myself—and my forefathers.
I was one of those who tolerated Jezebel.
Next, part three: That Woman Jezebel (The Woman in the Window)
Go to the beginning of the series, The Spirit of Jezebel: Part 1, A Jezebelian Kind of Thing
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