As I was reeling in the wake of the news from South Carolina yesterday, this came into my in box. It is a reminder that violence takes many forms, and that the intent behind our acts have consequences. Major acts get media attention, but minor acts impact our lives in big and small ways every day.
“Dear Rev. Dick,
My friend said I should write to you to tell you about something that disturbed me a lot at conference. I am a young adult and it was my first time coming to conference. I will be honest and say it wasn’t what I expected, but in some ways it was better and other ways worse. I had hoped to meet and hang out with more young people, but that didn’t happen, and I was a little disappointed more young people weren’t there. But putting all that aside, I loved the music and I think our Bishop is funny and cute, and I was really impressed with worship and the positive energy. By Saturday, I was wondering if some kind of ministry might be what I should do with my life. That all changed on Sunday.
On Sunday afternoon I was in the entryway near the entrance to conference when this angry little man stomped into the area and began talking really nasty to the people behind the desk. It became obvious that he disagreed with something, but it was the way he was acting that was just awful. He snarled at people who were treating him respectfully and calmly, but he threw his name tag into one woman’s face and yelled that he would never come back again. I was stunned, as were all the people in the hallway. I couldn’t believe an adult would behave that way, and then I heard someone say he is a pastor! You have got to be kidding me. Are there really pastors who believe being rude, hostile, violent, and childish is okay? I go back and forth all the time on how I feel about the church, but I have to tell you, if that is how pastor’s act, I want no part of it. It is okay for people to get upset and to disagree. I get that. But what gives a pastor a right to mistreat people because he doesn’t get his own way? This is a church leader! This is someone who we should be able to look to to teach us how to be Christian. This man made me sorry that I came to conference. His selfish, rude behavior undid so much good that I felt until then. He threw something in someone’s face! I want to find a place that is better than that.”
There are almost two more pages, but this captures the heartbreak and disappointment of a young person looking for the church to be somehow better than the rest of the world. Sadly, it takes the actions of one infantile, self-centered, entitlement-minded bully to poison the whole well. I wrote back to this young person asking that she not judge the whole church on the misbehavior of one psychologically dysfunctional individual. I haven’t heard back.
We stand at a critical juncture as the body of Christ and stewards of the will of God. Hateful acts of violence, whether with guns or nametags, are purely and completely unacceptable. The church must take a stand. We must not allow our witness in the world to be one of selfish disregard, disrespect, aggression and attack. Where is the fruit of the Spirit manifest in such blatant violation of simple common decency? It is embarrassing to have to make excuses for intolerable bad behavior. The time has come to be peace-makers, peace-keepers, and peace-modelers — and to name unacceptable behavior wherever and whenever we see it.
The world is watching. Even when we don’t think “we’re on,” people see what we say and do. We are not part-time Christians, only “being good” when it suits us. Other people were unhappy that they didn’t “win” at annual conference. A couple left in disgust — who simply turned in their name tags and departed quietly. To my knowledge, only one chose violence against completely innocent people — but it only takes one. The beauty of Paul’s Body of Christ imagery is that concept that when one part succeeds all succeed, but when one falls or fails, the whole body falls with it.
I am hopeful that this person was just having an off day (a truly egregious, horrendous, temporary insanity, kind of off day…) and that this is truly an aberration. For the rest of us, I hope it is a wake up call. More and more South Carolina shootings are going to happen as long as we close our eyes to the small, random acts of violence that are quickly coming to define our society. Enough is enough. We need to start small and stand tall.