Thursday, 22 October 2015

Of Con-Men and Religion

There's an old children's story called "The Emperor's New Clothes", which tells the tale of two con-men 'selling' the emperor a new set of clothes. It is said (by the con artists) that these clothes are woven from cloth so fine that only the truly discerning can even see them! Of course it's all a scam, but no-one wants to be thought undiscerning. So they all pretend that the clothes are there until one little boy, too innocent to play the game, actually tells the truth and points out that the emperor is, in fact, stark naked!

It seems to me that this happens in churches all the time. We 'sell' Jesus as the answer to all life's troubles. Come to church and everything will be ok. Say the magic words and you'll be transformed into a super-christian overnight.

The trouble is, it's not true. It's a religious con. Jesus actually promised trouble for those who truly followed him. He promised a sword, not a sofa-bed.

And the product that is sold in many churches doesn't transform people, it merely teaches them the need to perform and pretend. It polices morals, but leaves hearts untouched.

That's why I fought so long and so hard when everything started to go pear-shaped at my ex-church. We, the leadership, were saying that we had a better way - a higher way - but in reality, when the rubber hit the road, we had nothing better to offer at all. We squabbled amongst ourselves like children fighting over a coveted toy. We lashed out at each other and tried to lord it over each other, hoping that the other side would just give up and go away.

And eventually one side did exactly that, and nobody cared that we were wounded and bleeding. Nobody thought they'd done anything wrong. "Church leadership can be brutal," I was told. That's just the way it is. And nobody even questioned that!

Well, I'm calling bullish#t!

Just this week, I was passed on the school steps by the wife of my ex-friend from my ex-church. I spoke to her, but she continued to pretend I didn't exist... well... actually she looked like she really wished that I didn't exist.

Just like my sister-in-law, she has a way of looking at you that makes you grateful that looks can't really kill! Still, it's not for want of venom in her eyes.

The truly sad thing is that this woman is the "senior leader" (along with her husband) of her very own church! True! Their church even has its own website telling people about how much they value things like love and trust!

But I suspect that's only if you agree with everything they do and say...

Someone who cannot even bring herself to acknowledge my presence, let alone deal with our past issues, is selling herself as a leader - an example for others to follow. But when it comes to her dealings with me, she's not even acting like a grown-up, let alone a christian!

And if she wasn't refusing to have anything to do with me, this is what I'd like to say to her:

Sister, I actually don't care what you think of me, or whether you look maliciously at me every time you see me. It actually doesn't bother me any more, even though it used to tear me apart inside. I've finally found the freedom that Jesus was offering me all those years. And it's better than all the titles and 'authority' I lost when I walked away from the institution.

But here's the thing - when you publicly hold yourself up as a shining example of the "transforming power of Jesus", I will call BS! When I see people being sold a dud product, I will stand up and point it out.

And it's not because I hate you. Or that I want to hurt you. Actually... it's not about you at all.

I do it because I care about the people being conned into thinking they've got the real deal. And I don't want to see anyone else hurt or damaged or betrayed like I was.  And I care less about what people think of me, than I do about those who suffer at hands of religious leaders who are simply peddling snake oil. So when I see christians selling one thing, and living something so entirely different, I will shout a warning and tell the truth that the 'emperor' is absolutely stark naked!

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!