My St. Gertrude's God Question #1
Why is the church so mean?
I'm amused reading my Day One post from a week ago where I wondered how I could ever adjust to the slower pace of life at St. Gertrude's Monastery. I'm a very much living-in-the-moment girl and it appears I have adjusted. This isn't a lifestyle that I could do indefinitely, but for now it's a welcome change from my normal pace.
Neither is it my typical travel post, although I traveled to get here. I came to ask God some important questions. So far I'm doing well on the pace of life adjustment. I guess you could say I've quieted my soul. Almost.
I've fallen into a rhythm: wake early, read a little, eat Cheerios in the 5th floor kitchenette, write, join the sisters for lunch, write, join the sisters for dinner, do dishes, watch the news with the sisters, retire for the evening… Repeat. I have a room with a bed and bath, meals are available daily, I have whatever measure of solitude I desire. I don't worry about anything. Except writing.
I have a finite amount of time here, 22 more days to be exact, and I worry about writing every day. I've taken off on a number of false starts to a book I'm perpetually writing and blogged a bit, but so far my writing lacks the purpose and intent of a freight train, which is exactly what I expect of myself.
I came to St. Gertrude’s to separate myself from every distraction, to sort things out. To ask God questions. I've become very disillusioned - not with God - but with the church, with politics, and with man. But God questions haven't come. Or maybe they've started but I didn't recognize them.
Yesterday's question, my first, was "Why is the church so mean?" I wrestled with that all day and then put it away, thinking I'd not gotten an answer.
I wrote a list of grievances and started through them one by one. I searched the Internet to see what others have said, but at the heart of my inquiry was “why is the church so mean?” and its follow ons: how can people say they follow God and espouse hostile, ungodly behavior toward people they are commanded to love? How do churches not demonstrate the character of God as they seek to build the kingdom of God? How do they antagonize and exclude others? How do they justify winning at every cost?
Chuck Lawless, Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary argues that churches are full of people. He says that many are undisciplined, some carry burdens alone, some were give authority far too early, some are living in sin, some have anger issues, and the church lets them be mean.
Doug Murren, the Pastor of a 4,000 member church in Kirkland, Washington also focuses on the people in churches, saying Religious People are So Mean because it may be from fear that God’s love, blessings, and opportunities are limited and we need to protect what we have by driving others out, it may be from comparing ourselves to others rather than having a team collaboration attitude, it may be an overreaction to the fall of Christian leaders in our country who have tainted our message, so we reject anyone who is in the spotlight, and it may be that we have a fear that God doesn’t love us completely, and turn that fear into meanness.
But Thom Rainer, Founder and CEO of Church Answers writes in Nine Traits of Mean Churches: “I love local churches. But I have to admit, I am hearing more from long-term members who are quitting church life completely.”
He believes the nine traits of mean churches are: a lack of transparency (too many decisions made under the cloak of darkness); the pastor and/or staff are treated poorly, power groups tenaciously hold onto their power (deacons, elders, committees); the lack of accountability for major decisions and/or expenditures; leaders of the power groups have an acrimonious spirit; a number of members see those outside the church as “them” or “those people”; many have an inward focus, viewing church as a place to get their own preferences and wants fulfilled; many in the community view these churches negatively (referring to them as “fighting and firing” churches); and most members are silent when power plays and bad decisions take place. And finally, he observes that his “anecdotal information would indicate that mean churches are increasing in number” these days.
There's truth in most if not all of the above, I think. None of these are godly justifications for mean behavior and every last one detracts from the face (and heart) we’re to present to others. These are so off-putting that it's easy to justify throwing Jesus out with the bath water and everyday more of the churched and non-churched world does.
But as I considered that, I remembered that I know some godly men and women who belong to churches like these. People who believe in the Greatest Commandment and the Golden Rule. People who are not mean. Who follow after God, not the invective of religious, political, and partisan leaders. I was reminded that maybe they've not yet felt called-out of the church, that they may yet feel unable to separate themselves or may even believe that the way to effectuate change is to work within the toxic system. And then I realized that I can't judge them. If I say the church is mean, by association so are they. I can't say that. I won’t.
So, as I write this morning I think (remember, I write to think) that I have an answer to yesterday’s God Question #1: why is the church so mean? Though some are mean, not all of the church is mean. To say that the church is mean is a generalization. It may work for a Facebook post or a quick and dirty talking point, but that’s disingenuous at best. Much of the church these days is ungodly, misguided and so are church members. Churches are led by men and women who are highly fallible. But some of each are not. What is true, I think today, is that the church, all bazillion manifestations of it, tolerates bad behavior. Tolerates leadership with no moral character. Why?
Maybe that's Question #2.