You Need to Understand

Working for the church, first at the denominational level, then at the conference level, I am surprised at how often people will open their communication with me with the words, “You need to understand…”  A more narcissistic and ego-centric phrase may not exist, because the people who open with such a statement are not truly seeking understanding, but acquiescence.  Here is how the statement breaks down:

You — I am abdicating all responsibility for compromise or cooperation — the responsibility rests solely with “you”

Need to — must, should, ought to because I say so.  My wants, opinions, and desires must be the most important consideration, and the declarative indicates how important my position is

Understand — you surrender any opposition to my position and submit to my way of thinking.

Here are some examples from emails, letters, phone calls, and face-to-face encounters:

You must understand that if we let homosexuals in the church, I will leave!

You must understand that I left the church because of the way you treat gay and lesbian Christians.

You must understand that if you make political statements, you are violating your trust in the church.

You need to understand that people are tired of leaders who won’t take social stands and hide behind the Book of Discipline.

You need to understand that when you ordain women you are thumbing your nose at the Bible.

You need to understand that if you ordain gays, you will destroy the church.

You need to understand that if you support those liberals at Church and Society you leave us no choice but to withhold our apportionments.

You need to understand, if you keep wasting our money on stupid advertising campaigns we’re not going to keep sending in our apportionments.

You need to understand that real ministry happens at the local church level and we really don’t need you.

Okay, this tiny sample illustrates the problem: do what I think is right or I will take my ball and go home.  Church in no way is about “us,” it is simply about “me.”  I am not happy — you’re not doing what I think you ought to, therefore I will threaten to leave, withhold money, or I will work to split us up.  Real understanding…  (Contrast thesestatements with this note I received last week, “I struggle with some of the positions our church is taking.  I was distressed by news of an impending trial in our conference.  How can we work together to move forward?”  “I” and “Our” are much more accessible than “You!” offered in an accusing voice.)

Our self-centered entitlement culture, mistaking opinion for truth and personal preference for what is right and good, undermines everything noble in the church.  Unity and reconciliation are taken out of the equation.  My way or the highway defines a growing number of people’s attitudes in the church.  Either I receive everything exactly the way I want it, or else.

We all see this in little children.  It is essentially a maturity issue — which is what makes it so distressing in our adult church members.  Note I don’t say “Christians,” but church members.  Christianity, by definition, is a corporate and communal belief system.  We are the church.  Each individual is NOT a church unto him- or herself.  If there is no body, there is no Christ.  To be Christian means we must set aside childish ways and learn to play well with others — everyone on the playground.  So, Christians don’t behave this way, but church members — those who believe that they have joined a club and pay dues and are customers to be served — do.  We need to work on the transformation of church members into Christians (and Christians into disciples).

Churches for too long have lost their fundamental courage.  We are so scared that someone might leave that we tolerate horrendous behavior.  There is no accountability and widespread conflict avoidance.  We let everyone call their own shots.  Every member can decide for him-/herself what it means to be involved.  How many times do we witness a church ready to make a major decision and suddenly dozens of inactive members show up for the express purpose of voting against it?  Behaviors that would cause us to ground our own children run rampant throughout many congregations.  Passive-aggressive, aggressive-aggressive, and downright outrageous acting-out are normal.

Recently in the Wisconsin Annual Conference, a letter went out from our bishop in support of those families affected by action to eliminate collective bargaining at the state level.  All the letter did was remind our members and inform our communities that The United Methodist Church has long supported economic justice through collective bargaining.  It is part of our doctrine and polity.  It is in our Social Principles.  It is what The United Methodist Church believes and has adopted through its policy-making structures.  Oh, man, you should hear all the “you need to understand” responses to this letter!  Our bishop didn’t make this up — our whole denomination did.  The negative response to the position doesn’t indicate that there is anything wrong with the church, but that many of our members are fundamentally ignorant about what The United Methodist Church holds as basic doctrine and polity.  None of the critics feel that they “need to understand” anything beyond their own personal opinion.  They just feel that those in leadership “need to understand,” what they don’t like.

This is simply a cultural sign of the times.  Consumeristic, individualistic, materialistic, narcissistic, ego-centric “its-all-about-me-ism” dominates the scene.  There is never going to be a single church where everyone agrees and everyone believes the same things.  It is one of the defining features of Methodism — we make space at the table for the widest possible array of God’s children.  Ideally, we don’t threaten, we don’t judge, we don’t harass and harangue, and we don’t make the mistake of thinking that our faith is fundamentally “all about us” individually.  We strive to serve God.  I personally don’t care about conservative or liberal, straight or gay, married or divorced, male or female, biblical literalists or post-modern critics, ethnicity or maturity.  I didn’t sign on to serve a constituency or a caucus.  I signed on to serve God, and I believe God wants us all together, so I will continue to try my best to serve everyone.  Perhaps this means “I don’t understand…” or perhaps it does.

20 replies

  1. To speak so others can hear, and to listen so that others can be heard, requires lots of work, and some sacrifice. Not common these days. Thanks for your invitation Dan.

  2. Remedial Reading/Comprehension of the “WETHODIST” blog should be a prerequisite precluding ANY commentary on this Blog.

    And — as to maturity — remember — the vast majority of “we” Methodists stopped our Christian Education, learning, maturity, “&tc” — ) @ or before CONFIRMATION — which, in manuy cases, is DECADES ago.

    Time to “TUNE UP” — Study — MATURE

    “B4” it’s too late……….

    Blessings As We Journey The Great 50 Days

  3. By the way, I’m not UMC at all, and if I have said anything to offend you, please do not blame Daniel R. Dick as he and I are two different people.

    The church I attend strives to hate no sinner but hate all sin starting with ourselves. We believe God is very, very severe with sin, and it is not a matter of church discipline or church punishment or church rejection as such, but a matter of calling on God to search our hearts.

    We do not seek approval of man. If there is a controversy between scripture and a man with a dozen doctorates in theology, we would probably check to make sure the controversy is real and is not a mere mistake of our own understanding, and then if it is the intention of that doctor to denounce or renounce God’s Word, we would not consider it arrogance to say that this person is wrong and God is to be trusted instead. If we must offend man or God, then we must choose to offend man.

    And we believe in Revelations 21:8 as much as we do with the rest of scripture “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

    If that means preachers who defend homosexual behavior or who perform adulterous marriages or tell lies or cower under the threats of billionaires to remove their tithes will perish into hell, I would rather say so and offend you than be found guilty of being too cowardly to warn you.

    To be a real minister you have to be willing to walk directly into the criticism of man, to oppose sin, and call people to surrender to Jesus.

    Please do not think for a minute that it matters whether or not you agree with me personally. My hope, prayer, and desire is not that you will conform to my opinions on all matters as I am not qualified for that kind of respect, and I would not want to receive that level of compliance from anyone. But, my prayer, my hope, is that we would all grow a backbone and a sincerity of love that has the courage to surrender when we come into controversy with God, that we would not cause others to perish into hell whether by harsh judgments or by soft coddling.

    If our relationship with Christ is such that we can defend sin against the charges of God Almighty, then we can be sure God will say so on judgment day when He says, “Depart from me for I never knew you.” You know the passages. You know it will be futile to give a list of good deeds done. You know it will be useless to speak even of miracles done by you in the Name of Christ. It will not even matter whether you rattled off a sinner’s prayer and pretended it was faith. What will matter is whether we have truly trusted Christ for salvation, for wisdom, for truth, for being who He is, for being right in all things, for being honest, for being Almighty and for being just and merciful without losing either justice or mercy.

    As long as we contend for sin, we are on the path to hell whether we have no education or a thousand doctorates in Theology and Divinity from the most prestigious schools. Arrogance is a poor substitute for sincerity. Cowardice and dishonesty and immorality and excuse making are poor substitutes for love and faithfulness.

    Again, if I have offended you by saying these things, please don’t blame Daniel R. Dick or the UMC. They are not responsible for what I have said here.

  4. “We need to work on the transformation of church members into Christians (and Christians into disciples).”

    I believe you help this along. That is a good reason to read your posts.

    Do you see this “work” taking place elsewhere?

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