The Macarthurites Took Over a Church in Italy
by Deborah Gilmore
I have been thinking lately that I want my children to remember me as a woman who did not let herself be silenced and stood for what she believed in. Over the years I have seen a lot of disrespect in the world for human life. At times this occurs in the church as well. I am no perfect person, far from it. I am a broken person and this is a small part of my story. If what I have written can serve to comfort just one single person, clarify someone’s mind, answer one person’s question, give a little hope it will all have been worth the tears, pain and confusion I have experienced, and no doubt will still experience, throughout the years.
My parents were missionaries in Italy for over 50 years (John and Maureen Gilmore). As far as I was concerned the church they pastored was a second home and most of the people in it were my second family. I can truly say I loved that church and its congregation. I think this made things more complex when the story I am about to tell began.
The beginning of something strange
My dad was nearing 80 and he was realizing the time for him acting as full-time pastor was probably coming to an end. His idea was basically to remain in Italy and act as mentor to a new pastor (to be chosen and appointed by my dad, the church and of course the mission through prayer) in order to help him wisely lead the church he had before him. I remember there were two or three “candidates”. I had already moved away but I was in touch daily with both my parents and followed the situation from afar and also from a different perspective. At a certain point something undefined, to my mind, began to take place. I can’t put my finger on it. But it began. The situation became unclear, complex and totally out of hand. The final choice was made without my dad’s approval or opinion really – I think the Mission discussed things with some of the men in the church: in a way my father was cast to one side. I felt I was an insider looking on from outside. It was a very strange feeling. There was one candidate left I guess. I don't know what happened exactly to the others.
The Mission, with which Daddy and Mummy served, had always stated, verbally, they could remain in the flat, the Mission’s property, for as long as they needed and wanted. My parents did not have another house. They had given all their lives, as well as money, to the church and for the spreading of the Word. Daddy had never received support from the church itself. The Mission paid a minimum wage on a monthly basis. I know we lacked nothing but did not navigate in gold. A rather different scenario from other 'missionaries' today. The Mission owned the house they lived in as well as the church property. Although my parents did not pay rent they covered all expenses of the flat they lived in, such as light, gas and so on by themselves. The church looked after its own administrative expenses through the collection: tithing was encouraged but not forced.
Near Christmas 2009 (I believe that to be the year) daddy received an e-mail informing him that as from January 2010 his role as pastor would terminate and the house would be put for sale. There were financial difficulties in the Mission.That was what he was told particularly with regard to the house. A new pastor would take his place.The only candidate left of course!
I think this was one of the biggest blows my parents had ever had: basically they had nowhere to go. The Mission had no pension scheme for its missionaries, so they basically lost everything. Just like that. The emotional blow was the strongest. It left us all speechless. Helpless, I sought for help in my church family back in my home town; amongst those people I had known for years and who had known me in the good as well as in the bad days. I wrote to quite a few of them asking them what was going on, what they thought about if and so on. It was so strange. It was as though I could not communicate with them. If I had to represent that phase I would describe it as trying to make my way through a very thick fog while wading through a muddy swamp. It’s hard to explain.
My parents became isolated. When the new pastor was appointed my father was not even invited to the induction service, although he was living a 5-minute walk away from the church itself. It just went that way. I could no longer recognize people and a ‘system’ I had known for years.
Mummy and Daddy left alone one night by car. They had thrown most of their belongings away not knowing exactly what was going to happen next. They came to live with us for a while and then rented a small apartment.
In the midst of all this I can really say there were and are some wonderful people. During the last, complex months in Italy some people in the congregation attempted to find accommodation for my parents, however at the time we did not know that my mother, in particular, was having severe health problems and the whole situation of stress and hurt was too much for her to bear. I guess for some she was being unreasonable, but as the years have gone by it has become clear to me that if they had remained in Italy their psychological suffering would have been too much for them to cope with. I want to acknowledge this because I am grateful of the support they received at the time and do not want it to go unnoticed. The financial support of two sisters in Christ also allowed them to live independently for a short time since these lovely ladies paid my parents’ monthly rent whilst they lived in the same city as myself and my family. To these people goes my gratitude.
Sadly my mother’s health had a rapid decline and this affected my father too. When we were no longer able to look after them in our home nor were they able to live in their flat, they had to move into sheltered care. Their conditions are worsening. The Mission never got in contact with them again. Erased.
Taking one step back. I had heard of John Mac Arthur and of his ministry, his organization, his literary works. The new pastor had been one of his students in The Master's Seminary. He had followed his teachings. He was already located in Italy working with Mac Arthur's Theological School.
Having come from a family where I had been taught to respect others, to communicate with others, to not do evil, I thought I would be able to openly communicate and thus possibly find some answers to clarify points that to me were totally unclear. I thought I would be helped to understand. Of course I wrote to the Mission, I wrote to Mac Arthur himself, to the new pastor… I wrote quite a lot! Initially I attempted to express my feelings but was ignored. Totally. I tried to get some reaction by stating that such treatment of people is shameful. The only answers I got were basically to keep quiet. And these were usually either from people I did not know or else from people I knew who possibly felt guilty? I was never abusive. Blunt yes, but verbally abusive never. Looking back only one or two felt my pain.
I used my Facebook page as well as snail mail and e-mail. Of course I was criticized by many and supported by few. I never received any answers from the Mission, nor from Mac Arthur and other people linked to him. I really wanted to know how you can reach the point of leaving two elderly people with nothing on the basis of what? I don’t even think some of them even knew of the existence of my parents! I wrote to the church back in my home city. I got an answer. The new pastor sent me a letter signed by himself and some men in my dad’s ex-church who had known me since I was a child, telling me basically they wanted to live in peace but have nothing else to do with me. The letter also blamed my father for not having been available for a meeting on request. The reasons for this format of taking over a pre-existent church in this way are unknown to me. I do not even find it humanly acceptable let alone under a 'religious' point of view. To my mind there are no valid excuses either.
The congregation was told to have nothing to do with me and although some tried to stand up for me they were verbally silenced. Of course I could not be present since I live kilometres away. I was given the information in bits and pieces - the people who did so were very scared of what might happen to them if they were discovered!
It was as though fear had taken over. People were scared and aggressive, they had changed.
All this was puzzling. I could not put my finger on what was wrong but I knew I was missing an important piece in the puzzle. This was not a regular Christian scenario: it was a big mess. I could perceive fear, rebellion, confusion. I myself was confused.
Once I read that sometimes our pain and sufferings are so great that we are unable to pray; that is when God reads our hearts and hears the words that not even we can say. I reached that stage. I have reached it many times. I shall no doubt reach it again in my life.
A glimmer of light
One day I sat at the computer as I had done so many times before. I had searched for that missing piece in so many ways, certain that it was out there somewhere. I googled: John MacArthur Sect.
I don’t know why I actually typed that last word, but I did. I still remember that moment: pages opened before my eyes! (Macarthurism) That doesn’t happen with all Christian organizations you type, thank God. Some of them have been mysteriously taken down.
In that very dark moment of my life I received an answer. It was a painful, unexpected answer, but it was the start of an important part of my life: a decision to take a stand which I knew would be more than hard but which I must take.
I was able to see certain kinds of things that would happen in the future to the church which my parents had lovingly pastored: the whole Mission was absorbed by MacArthur’s organization; the name of the church was changed slightly; many of the old members either left or were sent away; the Sunday School was taken over with the use of MacArthur materials. And the list could go on endlessly.
To this day….
I have been accused of being judgmental, of being vindictive. I have obviously been put on the black list and written off by many. I have heard so many pathetic excuses concerning my parents’ last days in Italy like “They didn’t answer the phone.” Or “They didn’t answer the doorbell.” No one thought of slipping a loving note in the letterbox! Or of asking themselves how they may have been feeling. Where was the empathy, the love, the understanding?
I have found that in life we tend to make excuses especially when we know we are at fault. Compassion and humility go together. They are not easy to nurture. I have had different people tell me that we must leave everything in God’s hands. I fully agree with this last statement, but I have also been taught that God uses his people to do His works and when we can no longer do anything, He steps in. This is what I believe: active Christianity not passive.
So why am I writing this? Is it to pay someone back? To make personal events public?
Not at all. I have been very careful in being respectful and not breach anyone’s privacy.
However, I do not want anyone to be treated like my parents were treated. I do not want this to happen again to anyone in the Christian world. That is the first point.
Secondly, I think that Christians should be aware of many of the dangers in MacArthur’s organization. There is a lot of material available on the internet (certainly not written by me!). You may agree with it or disagree but it is there and and you are free to weigh everything personally.
Pay heed to what your children are seeing, what they are learning: they are our Christian future! Pay heed to what you are being taught and learning too. This of course goes for me as well!
Thirdly I am sure there will be “victims”, if there are not already, in the future. People who will be confused, who will have been shunned, who will have a broken spirit and suffer psychologically, who will not agree with all that is taught and will try to take a stand. To those of you who may be in this position I just want to say that there are people who want to help you, listen to you and understand you to the best of their ability.
People who have truly suffered are not out to hurt others. Be aware of what is happening in the country of Italy. Ask yourself if you are happy to be part of a group/church/organization in which people are allowed to be treated in such a way. Do not be passive. Choose knowingly.
And in closing…
Lastly, I want to say that in this long journey I am meeting and have met so many amazing people who have uplifted my spirit. I have not lost my faith in God. In fact as the years go by I have come to understand and see how we are placed in the right place at the right time for the right purpose. It’s up to us to make it worthwhile or not.
I have tried to write facts. There are of course many other things which I have not said. All I want is for people to stop and think if all this is good. There are so many broken people out there and I am amongst them. Through our brokenness I pray God can bring some Light. This is my story.
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