It wasn’t until I became a Christian at the age of 17 did I realize the embedded license for others to know everything about my life, my thoughts, my hopes, and my dreams. If I wasn’t someone’s project I was participating with the ‘restoration’ of a ‘project’. It was expected that once you have made a decision for Christ and begin to participate with a local evangelical church that you give up all sense of privacy. To be private is not listed as a sin in the Bible but clearly it has been interpreted as one with the modernistic leaders of the church.
Therefore it stands to reason that such a thing as boundaries, whether personal or professional, has no translation into North American Christianity. Such a word – a concept – has no equivalent in the church and is probably frowned upon if any attempt is made to find one. So as people invariably get tangled up into other people’s lives in entirely inappropriate ways within the church there are no real world consequences other than the harm of another person, the inevitable departure of said person, and the defamation of their character as they leave. No big deal really. But outside of the church? Well, the law has some things to say about that.
So when I began to encounter a profound lack of personal, let alone professional boundaries within the Christian organization that I was a part of it became necessary for me to step in with a lot of education, a lot of training, and a hell of a lot of terminations of employment. Fortunately, although the previous executive director had no idea what boundaries were – still operating from the privilege of the church – the new executive director did, and supported me in cleaning house.
It is weird to me how a person’s actions are defined by them through Christianity. When someone would show up late for work or suddenly leave their shift or even bring their laundry to work, their reasons were very simple; I am a Christian, and because this is a Christian organization you will let me do this. Imagine their surprise when I would respond with a no, followed by their termination after repeated efforts to curb their behavior was in vain. It would seem that to say that they were a Christian was enough to allow them a pass card to do whatever the hell they wanted to do, whether it was rebuking demons that they felt were present in our guests or residents or even in the furniture or fixtures of any of our buildings. At the height of it all the leadership were even referred to as ‘spawns of the devil’. That last comment coming, ironically, from a business professional who had quit his job to suddenly set himself up to be a pastor for our organization only to be unceremoniously fired by the new executive director for over-stepping his boundaries.
The draw of this type of inner-city work is most often emotional. I get that. It makes sense to me and if it wasn’t emotional you are probably not a good fit for this type of work as it requires a great deal of emotion – empathy, to walk alongside a broken person, cast aside by society, and entrenched in their addiction problem, wounded by years of abuse and trauma. Yes, it is hard, emotional, work, and that either brings out the best in a person or the worst. Turns out, if you have never had previous experience working in a structured environment where boundaries are a real thing, then it will always bring out the worst in you. Consequently, if that happens, then chances are it is only a matter of weeks away from that person no longer being employed by our organization.
Over the years that I was involved in the Human Resource aspect of this organization I have had to make some unpopular calls in terms of the employment of the staff. One example was a very popular women’s supervisor in our women’s addiction program. Part of the residency program involved demerits if certain rules were not followed to which the resident would be provided certain chores to do in order to work off those demerits. However, in this particular case the supervisor in question would eliminate the demerits if the resident gave her back massages and feet massages. Once I found this out it was within a very short period of time before they were leaving our organization off to probably do the same somewhere else.
Now, the entire leadership team understands the various ideas around boundaries, including our management team. They are constantly on the look out for poor boundaries with our staff and our volunteers, offering coaching and training as necessary – or when that doesn’t work we help them leave our organization. We are still a Christian organization but one that understands the value of boundaries, which apparently, when stacked up against the churches in this community means that we are not very Christian after all.