Instruments in Need of Tuning

stfrancisofassisiLord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.
Okay, churches are full of normal, ordinary human beings.  We can’t expect too much from, well, any of us.  But, you know what?  We can do a whole lot better.  Surveying recent articles about Christians in the United States it is interesting to note that, as a breed, followers of Jesus are stronger advocates of war, guns, capital punishment, corporal punishment, and killing abortion doctors than non-Christians.  A sheriff in Arkansas noted that Christians are much more likely to take the law into their own hands than non-Christians.  Two of the more brutal road rage incidents of the past few months were perpetrated by faithful church goers.  Arson attacks on mosques, synagogues, temples, and ashrams are most frequently attempted by Christians.  Across the country, Christians are no less likely to engage in violent crime than non-Christians.  And we can’t equivocate on “real” vs. “fake” Christians.  It is scary to read the profiles of some of these guys (yes, mostly guys) who kill doctors, beat bad motorists, and set fire to other people’s sacred space.  Most are educated, middle class, long time church members who pray regularly and read the Bible religiously.  Some teach Sunday school and work with children and youth.

So, what is our witness?  I’m not talking about the lunatic fringe that commit these atrocities.  I’m talking about those of us (including myself) who stand by mute, not taking a stand against such acts of violence and attitudes of destruction.  Where is our outrage when others dirty the reputation of Christian disciples everywhere?  How do we provide a counter-cultural alternative when we live by baser, competitive, violent instincts — or at least look the other way when Christian brothers and sisters choose to sow hate and destruction in the name of God.

A few years ago I was involved in a conflict situation in a United Methodist Church where pillars of the church sought to “fix” their problem (i.e., get rid of a woman pastor) by driving by the parsonage at 3:00 in the morning shooting out windows with shotguns.  In another situation, one long-time family from a church vandalized the sanctuary in protest over being outvoted by the rest of the congregation.  I knew another counselor who was working with a church whose youth group was setting fires to area businesses they deemed “sinful.”  I was talking to a pastor recently who told me of a recent Sunday morning where he shared worship leadership in the morning with a layman, then spent Sunday evening in the emergency room with the man’s wife whom the man had brutally beaten in the afternoon.  These situations are aberrations, 1-in-10,000 exceptions to the rule of kindness, caring and love.  But they do a lot of damage.  We are guilty by association.  We may not suffer such extreme examples in our own churches, but most of us do put up with a lot of bad behavior.  Maybe we don’t face physical violence, but there is certainly quite a bit of psychological and emotional violence.

Sins of omission are as devastating as sins of commission.  Tolerating violence perpetuates cycles of destruction and harm.  When we allow our rhetoric to devolve to hateful attack — whether about politics, sexual orientation, right to life, or right to end it — we cease being a faithful witness to Christ.  St. Francis’ prayer should be more than a sweet sentiment or a precious thought.  It should become a sacred mantra — describing not only who we wish we could be, but defining for the world who we are trying to be.  We need to paint a picture of what it means to be Christian — loving, compassionate, kind, patient, just, merciful, humble, generous, forgiving, peaceful, and in control of our lowest emotions.  And we also need to speak out against those who would sully and besmirch (when was the last time you saw those words used in a sentence?) the good name and reputation of Jesus Christ.

4 replies

  1. Blessings be upon you for this latest post, Brother Dan. Would that it could be read from every Christian pulpit in the land!

    May all go forth to spread the fruits of the Spirit as you commend.

  2. Dan,

    Your article describes at least three kinds of behavioral observation.

    1) Surveys of opinions on a variety of matters related to violence and hate tracked by the religious community these folks identify with
    2) Specific examples of horrible behavior by specific people with some leadership in congregations
    3) A general awareness of the level of “unprofitable conversation” that Christians also participate in as part of the larger “blogosphere” culture in the US

    It seems to me that the first and third of these may be simply predictable, and nearly uncheckable, given that our congregations, and if we’re honest, our professing memberships and our leadership in many instances, are in fact open to all regardless of how they actually conduct their lives– well, all at least that there is not sufficient cultural warrant that may agree with certain parts of scripture to find some justification for banning. Short of removing these people from office, if they hold office, or following civil restraining orders, there may be little “hold” we have on folks either to restrain such behaviors and attitudes or re-train them for better ones.

    In short, we have very little discipline in our congregations. I do not mean this simply in a punitive way (i.e., a process to remove people from leadership or professing membership if they cross certain lines or fail or refuse to achieve any measurable progress toward holiness of heart and life). I mean in it an active way– the realistic expectation that we will watch over one another in love in concrete, real ways to ensure that we really are living out our baptismal vows.

    Where there is more of this happening– where there is intentionality about promoting real growth in holiness– atrocities can and do still happen. People snap. But at least in these cases, there is are also forms of community– both small group and congregation– with the capacity and the commitment to help them and other wounded recover.

  3. Dan – Thanks for the reflection – and also Taylor. However I disagree with Taylor on there’s not much we can do about the problems of bad behavior. We can encourage – dare I say, demand that our clergy leaders be knowledgable and practice healthy behavior – i.e. as alluded to in Peter Steinke’s work: Your congregation as a system, Healthy Congregations etc. Exposing our church leaders to these norms and holding them as norms for our congregation’s behavior not only increases accountability, it may actually set us on a road to oholiness. Too many of Us (the clergy), them (the DS’s or bishops) are unaware of such thinking, don’t bother to apply it and don’t learn how to apply family systems to institutions – instead of individuals. Let’s get learning!

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