Wednesday, 7 October 2015

There's Something Terribly Wrong With Our 'Christian' Culture

A few years ago, as a church leader, I experienced bullying and spiritual abuse when one man wanted to 'lord it over' his peers. When the oversight board was called in to help mediate, those men simply took the side of the bully. After experiencing further abuse and an incredible miscarriage of justice, I ended up resigning from leadership and later leaving the institution.

Just a few weeks ago, as an office manager, I needed to deal with a situation where one staff member had been trying to 'lord it over' her peer. When the boss was called in to help effect justice, he simply took the side of the bully. After the victim was further traumatised, and she and I were treated with nothing but injustice, I ended up with no choice but to resign from my job.

Two separate situations - one a church and one a workplace. So what did they have in common? Well, both times pernicious behaviour was ignored; both times justice and integrity were lacking; and both times the events occurred in places which prided themselves on being 'christian' organisations!

Screen shot from The Princess Bride
But to misquote Inigo Montoya, "They keep using that word 'christian'. I do not think it means what they think it means!"

According to the online Oxford Dictionary the word christian, used as an adjective, means:
  • relating to or professing Christianity or its teachings: or
  • having qualities associated with Christians, especially those of decency, kindness, and fairness.
Now, there was precious little "decency, kindness, and fairness" on display in either of those situations. So I'm left with the question, "Does christian culture relate to demeaning and damaging others, and does it teach us to bully and abuse others?"

Whether you've encountered this reality personally or not, even a cursory glance online or through social media would certainly seem to indicate an affirmative answer is in order. There we find 'pastors' abusing people as well as their assumed positions of 'power'; churches ignoring or defending this behaviour; victims being blamed and shunned; countless blogs detailing injustices perpetrated by 'christian leaders'; and online 'christians' berating and belittling those whose beliefs differ from their own.

We have created a culture so toxic and so harmful that multitudes walk away from it each day - battered and bloodied - and yet we don't even blink an eyelid! We keep smiling and justifying our behaviour and telling ourselves how evil our victims must be. And we do it all in the name of our god!

Where did we get the idea that we are representing Jesus by beating up our brothers and sisters? Who in their right mind would think that treating others with contempt and injustice is a godly display? When will we open our eyes and realise that something is terribly wrong with us?

Why does 'christian' culture seem to create so much pain and hurt when its purported intention is to foster a community of Christ-followers who are known primarily for their love? If we are truly disciples of Jesus, why do we look (and act) so unlike him? 

I've said it before and I'll continue to say it - we've got something seriously wrong guys!

Worse still, our failure to love even our fellow believers (let alone our 'enemies') serves as a warning to those outside the family of God that our religion is dangerous - that instead of creating communities of love, compassion and justice, we generate a culture of anger, arrogance and abuse.

And it is true far too often. We are dangerous. Our culture is toxic. And we totally misrepresent the one whose name we bear!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Why Can't Christians Cope With Disagreement?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled Why Can't Churches Deal With Disagreement? I was discussing the fact that most of my experience with that particular institution has encompassed an enforced conformity to a single viewpoint (usually that of the leader/s) and a lack of willingness to have the difficult conversations which are needed for real unity to occur.

Yesterday, I had an experience which left me wondering (yet again) why it is that individual christians also fail so miserably at this necessary skill.

I had read an article suggesting ways in which christians fail to represent Jesus to the world, and I was engaged in an online discussion regarding it. In the midst of this, one woman had mis-quoted what was written in the author's bio as proof of his heretical tendencies. Knowing how easy it can be to read into the words of those with whom we disagree, I suggested she might have mis-read the original words, as the real quote spoke of something quite different. She quickly replied that she hadn't been referring to his bio at all, but another article entirely. When I quoted her words back to her - words which clearly indicated she had been referring to the author's bio - she became extremely agitated. I was accused of being passive-agressive and questioned about the validity of my faith. She then deleted not just her comments, but her entire profile as well.

Apart from the lack of honesty and integrity on this woman's part, her unwillingness to accept that I could legitimately agree with the author's article was stunning. She and another commenter seemed to think that if they only used enough words, I'd see the error of my ways and repent. Failing that, I'd need to provide concrete evidence, with plenty of biblical referencing, to show to their satisfaction that I was not just being bloody-minded. And even then I'd still be wrong!

Unfortunately, the inability of many christians to accept that anyone could legitimately hold a differing view to theirs is all too common. Common, too, are the displays of anger and the nasty belittling of the person they happily accuse of 'heresy'. It got me thinking about what it is that makes christians prone to display such unloving and ungracious behaviour.

And it occurred to me that the whole institutional church system all but guarantees this outcome. The message we are sold is that only we have the "truth", and that it is our holy duty to set everyone else straight - creating an incredibly arrogant attitude towards those outside our own little sect. On top of that we are trained to be passive receptacles of the preacher's wisdom - teaching us that thinking for ourselves is a dangerous pursuit. Questioning the dogma, or the one who preaches it, will quickly land you in serious trouble!

So we are left with thousands upon thousands of christians who are too arrogant to entertain the validity of any differing perspective, and too conditioned to question the dogma or to think for themselves. Naturally enough, when anyone who claims to follow Jesus but who fails to conform to the approved 'truth' comes on the scene, the only option open is to react in fear and anger.

The more convinced we are of our own correctness, the more tightly we hold to our own perspective. If I am certain that I am correct, then your differing view must inevitably be wrong! My superior understanding trumps yours... every time.

On the other hand, the more open we are to understand that our perspective might be simply one of many (or might even be wrong!) the likelier we are to welcome the input of others, and even benefit from their way of seeing things.

Why do we christians live in constant fear of heresy or error? Why do we insist on a standardised 'faith', refusing to engage with or validate the views of others? For myself, I trust in a God who is big enough to guide us and keep us safe in our faith journey.

Yet it seems we cling to our own pet dogmas like a life raft on a stormy sea, fearful of anything outside that space, and so we fail to be enriched by the wisdom others have to share - and God forbid that wisdom might come from a source outside our own religious enclave! It seems we'd rather destroy relationship and treat others as worthless than give up our own arrogant ignorance.

Maybe it's time we stopped shoving our 'truth' down people's necks and actually listened to what other people are seeing. Maybe it's time we started treating others (and their understandings) with the love and respect that Jesus modelled for all of us!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Hurting Others With The Hurt We Have Received!?

One of the things I am really struggling to comprehend right now is how someone who has suffered at the hands of a 'christian leader' can then turn around and treat a fellow believer exactly the same way. It's a bit like a variation on the parable of the unforgiving servant found in Matthew 18. In that story the servant who had been forgiven a huge debt by the king, refused to have mercy on a fellow servant who owed him a pittance in comparison.

In the story I've just encountered, a person who knew the pain and anguish of being treated badly by a 'king,' systematically subjected a peer to a campaign of such intimidating behaviour, that the victim's physical and emotional health broke down. Yet even when that person was made aware of the suffering they had inflicted on another soul, they refused to admit that they'd done anything wrong.

Now, unthinkable as it is, I've become accustomed to hearing about (and experiencing) christians in positions of power treating their brothers and sisters like dirt. But I just cannot fathom how someone who knows how devastating that behaviour is, could deliberately dish it out to others with an apparently clear conscience.

Maybe I'm naive, or maybe just plain weird, but I'd rather chew off my right arm than inflict on another soul the distress and devastation that I was subjected to. I thought that would have been a fairly normal response under those circumstances. But apparently I was wrong.

Apparently there are those who have no problem passing on the pain to others - despite constant protestations of their love for Jesus. I simply cannot wrap my head around that!

Is the lust for power and control so overwhelming that they would willingly sell their soul for it? Does the desire to manipulate people and circumstances simply subvert natural human decency? Can they be so driven to 'lord it over' others that they wilfully inflict pain on anyone who refuses to bow the knee to them? I won't even pretend to understand what goes on in the hearts and minds of those who could behave this way. I just don't get it!

But irrespective of the pain you've suffered in the past, I would suggest that when someone lets you know that your behaviour is hurting or even harming them, a normal person would stop and listen. Anyone with even a modicum of compassion and empathy would apologise and change their behaviour. You don't even have to be 'christian' to respond this way - it's just simple human decency.

Either way, it seems to me that if a person can inflict pain on others, and neither know nor care, there is something seriously wrong!