Well sure enough, we got a call from the assistant pastor to come into his office before church the following Sunday night. The pastor was out of town but was grooming his son to take over the church and since he came on board, the church took on a stricter tone. One night, he was preaching and began boasting about measuring his wife’s hair and how long it was. I remember being sickened by this talk. I knew God was bigger than the length of my hair! We went in to see him that evening and he told us due to the fact that I had cut my daughter’s hair, my husband would have to step down from his position in the church leadership and I could no longer teach Sunday school. You can call me naïve or stupid, yes, I admit to being both concerning what would happen if I broke the rules or maybe, by this time, I just didn’t care.
Now, during this period of my life, I was just beginning to hear the message of God’s grace. I heard the story of the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus told her “to go and sin no more!” One of the grace filled preachers I was listening to on the radio put it like this “the only one worthy to condemn you, won’t.” I was not stepping down without speaking my mind, so I pulled out some of my new found grace speak. I told the assistant pastor that I felt like the woman caught in adultery except instead of “saying, go and sin no more, you are saying pick up the stones and throw them.” He did not like my protests and insubordination, it was plain to see. To reinforce his position of dismissal, he told me that he knew of my past experience with scissors in cutting my oldest daughter’s hair. Then he proceeded to tell me that cutting my suffering baby’s (not even two years old) hair was just as bad as if I had given her alcohol and cigarettes! (In a works based church, alcohol and cigarettes rank right up there with lying, cheating, and stealing.) Yes, that I had harmed her in the same way as if I had given her abusive substances! It is interesting to note here: the senior pastor called me when he got back in town and told me that he would never have done what his son did!?!
We left church after the meeting, not staying for the service, went home, and went to bed. While lying there in the dark, a certain kind of death like silence fell between my husband and me that would affect us for the next two years that we stayed in this church. We could never tell our family members who did not go to a United Pentecostal Church what happened. To verbalize such a trivial thing as cutting a baby’s hair to cause such a reaction was unthinkable and would have made our church look bad to those unfamiliar with the rules. We did not get support from our relatives or friends in the church either. I remember one family member, who is a pastor’s wife saying, “We would have done the same thing.” Other friends said, “They knew the rules.”
To stay in this church for two more years was one of our biggest mistakes. I bravely wore the scarlet letter on my chest and grew further and further away from this ideology and these people, as they drew away from me. I wasn’t cutting hair and I still looked the part but inwardly I came to see that there was no love in this church. By the end of these two years, my depression over my baby’s illness and the death of all that we had lived for up to that point caused me to want out of my marriage and out of life as I knew it. The pain my husband and I were going through kept the veil of silence over our marriage; we were just going through the motions. If we hadn’t left when we did, I firmly believe our marriage would have ended as did the marriages of many of the couples we knew in this church, including the assistant pastor; who eventually took over the church.
Later, I would learn what church discipline should look like. Jesus didn’t leave us clueless about how to handle discipline for believers who were truly sinning. It was so important that He gives us step by step instructions. Reflecting back on the teachings of the United Pentecostal Church and all the things I have learned since leaving makes me realize that they never really emphasized Jesus that much. Oh, they loved His name for distinction purposes but His death on the cross or any of the words He spoke, not so much.
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Matthew 18:15-17 NKJV