Today's reflections are probably more foundational than anything. They are more descriptive than prescriptive. I think it is worth sharing though, because many of our troubles in the church have to do with category errors. What I mean by that is there are people who think that truth is a function of democratic processes. If enough people agree with me, I can mistakenly think that I am right. Voting rights are good but elections are always flawed.
Some folks do not go to church because they do not like church conflict. I do not like them either, but we live in a world full of conflict and disagreement. The idea that churches should be exempt from human struggles is naive, though understandable. Having said that, I would add that many church conflicts are also non-productive. There are times when we create major battles over minor issues. So, where to you draw the line? How do you know when it is time to let go and back off? How can you be sure when it is time to engage enthusiastically and really stand for what you believe?
For me, I try to keep straight the three areas in church life. First, there is theology. This has to do with the doctrine, or teaching, of the church. I think that this area is foundational. Second, there is pastoral care, which is the realm of ministry and taking care of real people in real situations. Lastly, there is politics. This is the least attractive realm because it is the place where power is seen (and abused) in its most naked form. Politics is often the realm of bitter fights because it has the most practical impact (most of the time).
Theology is subtle. You rarely find theological positions which have no truth. Theology is often times a reflection on the unprovable. I do not argue with anyone about theories of inspiration. In the end, I listen to what they think, ponder it, and take what makes sense to me. I am not saying inspiration is not important. It is VERY important. Yet the best of friends can debate theology 24/7 and remain friends because each knows they may be wrong.
Pastoral care is tricky. Ideals are part of the picture, but many times we are not in ideal situations. How did Jesus deal with sinners? What is a pastor to do when leading a church where fully 100% of the members are sinners? Which sinners are welcome and which are cast out? One answer, 'the repentant' are welcome raises a corollary. Who is truly repentant and who isn't? How repentant do you have to be? 100%, 70%, 51% And how does one measure the degree of repentance? If you have ever vowed not to do something and done again (and again), then, like me, you know that repentance may be an ongoing struggle.
One pastoral solution is to see the difference between the private and public forum. There are things people may do in private which are scandalous in public. For the most part, I think, churches do best when they focus on public scandal. Otherwise, you have to create some sort of "police" who investigate everyone to see what their secrets are. Having said that, it is probably an error to call public sins an act of integrity. It may be hypocritical, but I still think it is better for someone to teach children correct morality and secretly break the rules. This is not the optimum, but we are talking about failure here.
The worst part of church is politics. In the Episcopal church we do the politics in a big way: conventions. For years different groups have found ways to "get things done" which may or may not reflect the desires of the people (or the Lord). Most people are not engaged in those processes. The people who are, run the show. Line drawing is impacted by this as well. What do you do when you see the majority taking a stand for something which you are very sure is wrong? Do you stand and fight or do you back away? Having fought and lost, is the only option to move on? If you do move, with whom do you align? If you stay, how do you do so faithfully?
I am close to sharing some very personal struggles here, which I will do in the days ahead. I share them in the hope that it is of value to others who find themselves struggling on the Journey of Faith.