I’m struck by the fear with which churches greet new ideas. No, I think I should make it more direct than that. I’m struck by the fear with which churches greet ideas. Any type of ideas. The type of people who manifest this sort of fear are generally those who are either unable to support what they believe or perhaps simply don’t want to be bothered with the necessity.
My parents were life-long missionaries for their denomination, but after they retired they were suspected of some form of dissident theological beliefs. The fact is that I have a hard time really defining the difference between their beliefs and those of their denomination. They certainly remained loyal to the denomination, including supporting it financially even through all of this.
They were visiting one local church for a period of time and considering joining. One of their lifelong practices was hospitality. If you were visiting their church they didn’t just welcome you, they offered you an invitation to come home to lunch. They did so one day, and a couple of the elders showed up as well to make sure they weren’t misleading the visitors. As I said, my parents remained loyal to their denomination, but my mother straightened those folks out in a hurry!
All of this, and much more, came back to me when I read Shame Is a Prison, And I’m Breaking Out (HT: Rachel Held Evans). The author writes of being called with her husband to meet with her pastor who felt that her views as expressed on Facebook and her blog were inappropriate. She tells of the shame that was involved and that made it hard to break free. I needed to read her post, because my immediate mental response was “why didn’t she tell him where to go, get up, walk out, and never darken the door of his church again?” It’s just not that easy.
And in spite of my mental reaction, it’s not that easy for me either. I like to get along. I like to be part of the team and work together with a church. But there are points of conscience that I will not surrender to the group. I do understand churches wanting to make sure their official pronouncements are compatible with their statements of faith, though I advocate keeping the list of essential doctrines as short as possible. When protecting the church’s doctrines lead to spying on members, I think it has gone too far.
When I was single, I didn’t realize how much more this sort of thing impacts women. After I got married, I was approached by people who wanted me to explain things my wife said or to “correct” her in some way. I made an early rule and shared it with my wife. I would not even defend her in these types of conversations. Whenever someone was talking to me about something my wife said I would immediately suggest that they talk directly to her. “She’s perfectly capable of explaining this herself,” I would say. The interesting thing is that while this statement would cut off the discussion with me, I am not aware of anyone who actually went to talk to her. That suggests to me that I was 100% right about whether they were trying to criticize her, or actually interested in learning more about the subject. They hoped I would be the sensible one and straighten her out without their having to display the courage and courtesy of actually talking to her.
The motivation here is fear, I believe, and the result is weaker church members. I would suggest instead openly encouraging both questioning and suggesting answers by every member of the church. This will create stronger Christian communities.
(I’m currently editing a book to be released early next year, So Much Older Then … by Bob LaRochelle. In it he describes a process of offering time for a congregational response to the sermon. I think it’s a wonderful idea. When I’ve experienced such a time as a speaker it has always been positive.)