Nearly 20 years ago, I was walking down the large hall of a Convention Center during a national church meeting when I heard him. "You!" "You!" I turned to see a man nearly running in my direction pointing a very accusatory finger. You might wonder why I didn't run. I can tell you that I felt no sense of physical fear. I said a breathe prayer as he approached, "God, whatever he has to say, let me really hear him."
I knew I was unpopular amidst the gathered crowd. I was holding to historically Christian positions on issues in direct contradiction to their currently felt needs and desired outcomes. Theological and policy positions were now viewed as personal, making my advocacy a form of personal animus in their minds. Those who knew me, knew this wasn't true. The man approaching me was convinced I was quite literally the enemy.
As he drew near, right hand forming the shape of a gun, his entire body aggressively surging with adrenaline, he repeated again and again, "It's all your fault! It's all your fault!" The rest of his speech was filth laden and is not worthy of repeating.
When I perceived the tirade was complete, I asked in reply, "All of it? It's all my fault? That covers a wide swath. What exactly is all my fault?"
Searching for words as he fumed, he finally said, "Those people didn't need to know what you told them. They only needed to hear my story and the stories of other people. You confused them. It's all your fault. It's all gone to hell and it's all your fault!"
(As a point of reference here let me acknowledge I had just successfully overseen a national referendum resulting in a better than 75% positive vote across 173 voting jurisdictions in the denomination to maintain language requiring ordained leaders to live in "fidelity in marriage between a man and woman or chastity in singleness." The fact of efforts existing to strip that requirement from the denomination's constitution is what was allegedly here "all my fault.")
By now, the cocked and pointed finger was less than an inch from the bridge of my nose. Closing my eyes now, I can still see it. I can also still smell his sweat and I can see his dilated eyes. This was rage. This was not a man in his right mind. Arguing with him would prove utterly fruitless and although I wanted to burst out laughing at the absurdity of his charge that everything, all of it, was my fault, I determined instead to simply stand there, silently – shoulder slack, facial muscles relaxed, looking him in the eye without judgement. That, by the way, was not me, that was the Spirit of God.
He made a few guttural sounds through a clenched jaw. His body was entirely tense and I got the sense that he really wanted to hit me, but he didn't. His arm was now shaking in fury as he continued to point at me. All he could say was "You! You" and then he paused as if he wanted to add words but could find none. I simply stood there. There was nothing to say that seemed worth saying at the time. Eventually he spun in the direction from which he had come, gave what I'll describe as a primal growl, and stormed off.
The most surprising thing to me was that no one, literally no one, in a crowded convention center corridor, stepped in, stopped him, nor approached me after he left. No one.
Leadership is lonely business and Christian leaders must stand and speak truth and engage the mania of our current cultural moment with the confidence that we are not alone even when, to all the world, it sure looks like we're all alone. We have to know, in the depths of our being, we abide in Christ, we are filled with His Spirit, we exist for His use and we are used in any given moment for His glory.
As I turned to continue walking in the direction I had been headed when I heard the angry man yelling in the corridor behind me, I felt a mixture of physical pain for the man's anguish, a reasonable self-doubt about the future of the effort in which I was engaged, and deep grief over the status of things in what was supposed to be an expression of the Church. I was forced to consider my responsibility in the conversation of the day. Not just the content of the arguments being made, but the tone and the tenor and the way in which the Truth was being brought to bear on a process ultimately dominated by personal experience, feelings and narrative.