The subject of this post was triggered by what seems to be a flood of news stories in recent years about scandals in Christian organizations related to abusive church leaders, sexual misconduct among clergy, and financial malfeasance.
While scandal is nothing new to Christianity, any more than among politicians or any other group in society, subjectively it seems that public disclosure of bad behavior has become more common. I see that as a good thing. Not the scandals, but the disclosures.
I often hear among Christian groups that airing the dirty laundry of the Church to the “secular” world is shameful and that we should resolve these issues (at least in a public relations sense) within the faith community. Baloney! God intended for disclosure of shameful activities to cause SHAME as a deterrent and indication that justice will be served, whether inside or outside the community of believers!
The very fact that these issues are not dealt with effectively at the root cause level within religious institutions is EXACTLY why they end up as published news stories! Christians first and foremost ought to be among those who champion truth, justice, and openness within society. What is truly shameful is that the Christian communities have to be held accountable by “secular media” news reports about misconduct rather than aggressive internal monitoring of misconduct, moral failures, and fraud. Where is the religious equivalent of transparent governance that is expected of businesses and government agencies to assure ethical conduct and avoidance of blatant conflicts of interest? Why has the collective body of believers not been leading the charge in truth-telling, starting within their own ranks?
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
(1 Peter 4:17 – ISV)
To my simple mind, that appears to be a very straightforward statement of caution!
It seems blatantly disingenuous for Christian leaders to call for accountability by our government while strenuously avoiding scrutiny of their own actions. This is behavior we might expect of sociopaths who find no fault in themselves when they wrong others, yet play the victim and accuse others when called to account for their own actions. The loud accusations by preachers against others in the public eye gives the appearance of a diversion tactic or smokescreen to cover for their own conspiracy of silence about the failings of their own kind. The defensive cries rallied by ministers as they circle the wagons are predictable and well-worn: “all have sinned”, ” he who is without sin, cast the first stone”, “grace and mercy”, and “remove the beam from you own eye before you remove the speck from your brother’s eye”… Sounds like the alternating accusations and self-justifications that we expect of politicians, doesn’t it?
The “secular world” is less likely to fall for this duplicitous nonsense than the faithful flock – should that be a lesson for Christians? Jesus Christ Himself pointed out to his followers, with sly irony perhaps, that children of this age are wiser in dealing with their own kind than children of light. (This is found in Luke 16:8 in different context, but consider the underlying similarity in principle.) That Christian people are so trusting that they cannot quickly discern the errors of their leaders might be a sign of hopeful naiveté stemming from their own innocence and purity of heart. Or, it might be that they are so conditioned by their own leaders to overlook the sins in their midst that they dare not point out contradictions in the lives of their shepherds. Thus it falls to the outside observers to protect the flock from their own wicked shepherds. God moves in mysterious ways…but maybe His ways are mysterious to us only when we overlook the pragmatic approach to dealing with obvious problems!
What is most disturbing for me is that a large sector of modern American-style Christianity seems to be systematically programming its members to NOT think critically or develop keen discernment of motives from actions at the organization level. Preachers routinely lecture on “fruits and roots” – that we are to examine the fruit in someone’s life to assess the status of their heart. Yet as we assess the result of Christendom’s impact on society at large, and among a growing percentage of Christian-bred youth, there seems to be a lot of spoiled fruit to be found. Much of this rotting fruit seems to be falling out of the lives of the most visible leaders, who ought to be tending the orchard, the vineyard, and the flock.
Now this rant is as much an admission as an admonition, since I was snookered by ridiculously hypocritical beliefs and practices for years. Ironically, I was awakened by the realization that an expectation of continually elevated ethical standards is becoming normative in business and other arenas of life, while many religious institutions are sliding back toward something closer to quid-quo-pro practices of dirty politicians in the bad old days! Who should be examining whose fruit now?
I don’t want to be guilty of a drive-by character assassination of the whole of the body of Christ, so future posts will point out where there are optimistic signs and good practices worthy of emulation, in both secular and religious worlds.
Peace to all!