Couldn’t Care Less

So many times, people tell me how amazing and wonderful worship is. Oftentimes, I wonder if they’d be as enthusiastic about the worship in my church. The sanctuary was built a few years ago, it’s a fairly standard and simple design, like most churches I’ve attended, there are two rows of pews arranged in two vertical rectangles that are longer than they are wide. The rows themselves are on a diagonal. The walls are a clean white with the occasional large window, there is light-colored stained wood for the pews (with pink or purple cushions that match the carpet, I forget which), for the pulpit, for the rail along the stairs, for the altar. That’s a pretty thorough description of the location. The atmosphere is generally one of family, friends, and neighbors catching up with each other. They certainly do talk to each other.

When it comes time for the music to start, things change. Like on Sunday; while the lyrics for the hymn were being displayed on the screen, I couldn’t help but notice that there was quite a few disinterested parties in the building. Perhaps it was the conversations in the midst of the music or playing with their hair, it seemed like people were finding other things to do than to sing along with the worship music.Singing ceases to be the priority.

I think that’s something that people aren’t always anxious to talk about. How no matter what you do and no matter what you don’t do, there will always be disinterested parties. I think that for a lot of young people in this area, going to church is expected of them and so they show up, but they don’t have to like it. The disinterested parties just check out and don’t bother to sing at all. Sometimes I’m one of them – I just do a better job of hiding it by lip-syncing. I can only imagine how churches in regions with better internet might have a number of youth texting each other, oblivious to what’s going on, be it music or preaching. Is that the case? I don’t know. As to the older ones who are disinterested, it can be for a variety of reasons: the stale routine has gotten old, they passionately dislike the music, they have a lot on their minds, anything really.

They’re not the only ones though. Every time the choir is tasked with a contemporary song, they don’t do it justice. It’s not that they don’t sing the sheet music flawlessly, they do, but they sing contemporary music in a different way than they sing hymns. It’s the difference between having to sing a song you can’t stand and getting to sing a song you absolutely love.

Next Sunday, take a look around. Whatever worship ‘does’ for you, it doesn’t do for the disinterested. And there’s no guarantee that changing worship so that it ‘does’ something for others won’t turn you into a disinterested party in the process. It’s like worship these days is a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to the other, but never really able to stay in that sweet spot. For those of you whose worship “works” and “does” for you, it’s probably difficult to imagine what it is to be in a church with uninteresting worship that doesn’t work and doesn’t do anything for you. It’s a lot like having to watch that movie you can’t stand because somebody you love adores it. It’s a lot like having to read that book you despise because somebody you love admires it. It’s a lot like having to do that dance you hate because somebody you love enjoys it.

I know – I’ve been told, if you can’t stand the church go somewhere else. That only works then there is somewhere else to go. Virtual worship, watching sermons and worship sets over the internet is just somehow not the same. It certainly wouldn’t be for our traditional church – just imagine it!

“Welcome brothers and sisters, and everyone else watching us over the internet! First, let’s take a moment to meet’n’greet one another, be sure to make everyone feel welcome. Then we’ll sing hymn 724, verses 1 and 4.”

The person at home has no one to meet and greet, no one to ask about their health or family, and no one to ask them how their day has been. When it comes time to sing, the echo of a lone voice from four nearby walls serves as a reminder of what isn’t there – dozens of other voices that fill up the air, altogether rising and falling in unison. The feel of worship just isn’t there when it doesn’t feel like worship or even remotely resemble it. That’s why it doesn’t work – traditional or contemporary – over the television, over the computer, over the radio.

All it really does is turn the watcher / listener into a spectator who can see and/or hear what others are doing, but cannot interact with the others that are doing whatever they’re doing. Like my church, it broadcasts it’s services over the radio – somebody at home can listen in, but they cannot become part of the broadcast itself, singing for everyone to hear, meeting and greeting one another. Worshiping at home very much becomes like being the person who worships outside of the church doors, but can bring himself or herself to join everyone else – knowing that ‘where two or three are gathered, I am there” it’s basically a church service of one.

I just can’t think of any good solutions – what works for you is what works for you, and what works for another might not be something that works for you. I think when it comes down to it, you just can’t make somebody else interested in something that interests you because they aren’t you. The problem with church worship service is that they’re pretty unchanging. It’s all about doing things they way they’ve always been done, in the order they’ve always been done, and not deviating from that as much as humanly possible. But if you aren’t going to be able to make changes happen, then you shouldn’t be surprised when one by one, disinterested parties begin to disappear. If there’s nothing for them in the church service, there’s nothing for them to stick around for and no reason for them to show up at all.

And it’s not enough to do an occasional contemporary song if it sounds like you’d rather be anywhere else doing anything else – but at least the shoe would be on the other foot for a little while and it would give you a context as to how others feel. It just makes me wonder if there was the same tug-of-war worship experience decades ago and centuries ago, as people became polarized over the subject. I know that when I read about the Great Awakening, part of the conflict was that the New Lights were getting into more emotional worship and had stepped away from the more stoic worship favored by the Old Lights. Even Martin Luther felt that music should be emotionally moving. And yet for all these swings toward allowing emotion, tradition swings back to the other extreme …

“You can’t rely on you what you feel!” “If you don’t feel God, does that mean that God has forsaken you?” “God wants you to worship him whether you feel like it or not!” “How can you be sure that Satan isn’t the one playing on your emotions right now and not God?” “What you’re really worshiping is emotions, not God.” … I’ve heard it all, and then some.

It’s worthwhile to not that some people believe that feeling any hint of emotion during worship cheapens it, so the disinterested attendees are actually offering true worship in that they are not emotional, not sentimental, and not swept up by the music (or at least, they would be if they were singing along with the rest) – at least, according to some. Whereas those who participate and are emotional, sentimental, and caught up by the music are actually worshiping their own feelings. Fortunately, the idea that “emotion cheapens the experience” didn’t really catch on. Because to anybody else, having a conversation with somebody else or playing with one’s hair when you’re supposed to be singing really wouldn’t be worshiping, it would be boredom.

Another consideration is that in this region, churches in the same denomination are just like the one down the street from it. Our church is actually two, the same people sing the same songs, one at ten at location a, the other at eleven at location b. If one person felt that the o’clock church was the right denomination but wasn’t their cup of tea, they could go to the o’clock that’s pretty much exactly like it. Why is it that churches in the same denomination do not offer a variety of services particularly when they’re in the same area?

But when you say that your worship is great and excellent, is that an empirical fact or a statement of emotion? If every ounce of joy, every drop of delight, every gram of happiness and all other emotions were zapped out of existence for the duration of worship music – what do you get? Songs with no resonance or bounce, just words sung to a tune as correctly and as unemotionally as possible. That just doesn’t sound like worship to me. I just can’t help but wonder – if some of the regulars are disinterested now, then what will worship become in the years to come? It probably won’t be much different, just as empty with just as many people not interested in what’s going on. The former solution – separate and form different services for different people works only as long as the congregation can support it (both put up with it and finance it.) But to do that, they would have to be interested in it in the first place.

 

The State of Belonging

Church membership is probably one of the oddest innovations in Scripture. I just saw some blogger talking about how he spent a year at a church waiting to be moved from the regular list to the member list. In that time, he felt isolated, unprotected, vulnerable, like an outsider or an outcast – and that’s all the while he was attending church, small group meetings, conferences, prayer breakfasts, and who knows what else. I was thinking what a terrible church that must be – to create this rift where regulars just aren’t part of the family. Regulars just don’t get a say. Regulars just are excluded. Until they qualify for their sainted membership and the floodgates of perks, rewards, and acceptance are showered upon them like the grace of God itself.

It’s been years since I was member of a church. It was the church that I was baptized into and baptism is automatic membership for that denomination. I remember that towards the end, we had a theological disagreement and I realized that the church had disqualified itself from being my church family. So I consider my membership invalid and they considered me a heretic. It also didn’t hurt that we moved to another state. Getting away from it all helped me to heal and begin to get ready to find myself a new church family.

In all the time since, I’ve always been a regular but never a member. Sometimes it comes up: “Hey, when are you going to formally join the choice?” and I answer: “It’s scheduled for the 3rd of Never.” Usually I don’t feel like I need membership because most churches are decent enough to treat regulars with the same courtesy and respect as members; especially regulars who have attended so long that the church can’t remember whether or not they’re members in the first place.

Which is why it worries me that some churches are what the other guy described – they teach some strange idea that without their covering and protection, even regulars will find themselves getting wet when members stay nice and dry when the showers of spiritual adversity strike suddenly. They’ve got this whole vocabulary and theology to it that is probably as Biblical as anything out there, but not everything in the Bible ought to be taken literally as a prescription for what ails you. Just because Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine, it doesn’t mean it’s good medicine for what health concerns we have today.

It’s not as if the idea of membership is clearly laid down in 3rd Corinthians 4:1-28 – that describes what it is, what it ought to be like, how to qualify for it, how to be disqualified, how to discern whether a member is in good standing or not when it’s not obvious or easy to tell the difference, how to discipline him back into his senses, and finally restore him into the truth as they know it. If there ever was a church where such a text would have been needed, I bet it would have been for the Corinthians if God ever felt the need to zap it into existence, but He didn’t. No, like most teachings these days, it’s patch-work quilt sewn from various passages and proof-texted into some semi-comprehensible ideology.

I guess I can kind of see their point. Back in the day, roughly two thousand years ago – being the right kind of member opened up doors. Cults and temples were a dime a dozen. In some, it would have been somewhat easy to join, rise up the ranks, become a high priest or a high priestess. And if it no longer suited people to believe in a particular god or goddess, they could tear up their membership card and try their luck at some other cult or temple. Each one represented a new batch of friends, you could worship at the same place as the captain of the guard, or a state official, or some wealthy merchant – make the right friends, marry off your daughters to their sons and strengthen your family through religious membership as well as familial membership. Yep, if it works for ancient pagan societies, then it has to be the Biblical ideal for all of humanity in all the churches, cathedrals, chapels, temples, and worship centers until the end of time. If your membership no longer suits, why there are plenty of other churches out there to try your luck. Same deal, make new friends, marry off your daughters to their sons, and the cycle continues.

This idea of membership is just the church’s way of excluding perfectly good believers. It requires you to be a theological clone of the church in which you are a member in good standing. If your theology changes or your church changes it’s theology and you no longer match – then you have to be brought in line via discipline or disfellowshipped as the unrepentant theological rebel you are (may the force be with you!). Technically, discipline is supposed to be reserved for the really tough cases – unrepentant and blatant commandment-breaking sin, but that doesn’t stop elders from using it beyond the prescribed limits. After all, if they say that questioning a doctrinal statement is the equivalent of a rebellious attitude, then what they say goes and all those rebellious people who ask too many questions have to be disciplined so that they restore harmony and peace.

It’s a sad testament to misinterpretation and misapplication of Scripture. Making believers feel that they’re outsiders who are not supposed to be embraced by the insiders lest some spiritual contagion eats away at the purity of the insiders’ faith, to be cut off from the protection of spiritual blessings and open to the elements of curses, to be made to feel that any church that would take you as you are isn’t a real, true church, but some evil shadow of one, a deception designed to pull you away from true spirituality.

Reading about the relief that the guy felt after a year was just as saddening. It sounds so much to me like being put through an initiation rite – and once you’re in, you’re on the other side. You get to do to other people what those people did to you. After feeling the sting of exclusion for a year, you get to exclude your fellow outcasts who were there for you when you were one of them. But now you’re not so it’s okay to walk into the inner door while they’re not allowed in. I guess being an insider means you have no guilt about turning your back on those other people.

Let’s not forget this is a high-commitment country club, I mean, one true church. Not only must everything be done one way, you have responsibilities to see to it that everyone you bring in with you falls in line. When they say “show up” you have no excuse for not being there. When they say “pay up” all you have to do is ask “how much?” You now go where they send you and do what they tell you. You’re not really allowed to make mistakes. Yep, that’s the perks of membership.

Take it from this outsider, there’s plenty of great people out here who would be thrilled to get to know you – the thing is, your church would never accept us. Some of us have tried and failed to meet the laundry list of qualifications to join it, some of us know not to bother with the attempt. We even have this really amazing teacher – you might have heard of him – his name is Jesus. He works with us and through us all of the time. He’s there welcoming the unwelcomed, qualifying the unqualified, befriending the friendless, protecting the vulnerable, and so much more. When membership doesn’t satisfy you, you might want to give Him a try, I hear that there’s no membership required.

Refocus

Refocus is not a word that has a positive connotation for me. At some point in Middle School, it was decided that the best way to improve an errant child’s behavior was to ‘issue a refocus’. It was a red folder with a simple form:
What I did wrong:
What I ought to have done:
Why I didn’t do the right thing:
What I will do the next time:
Students who completed one was supposed to sign it and it would end up in their permanent folders. Once three refocuses had been issued, the parents would be brought in and shown the file to talk about appropriate courses of action to correct chronic misbehavior.

I still remembered the lesson I learned the first and only time I was issued one … It was lunchtime for the students in my grade, one of the few times that students could interact with other classes which was usually a good thing for friends who could sit by each other. Not so much for me. I had just gotten my tray and sat down in my usual spot at my usual table with my back turned to the two trouble-makers so I had no way of seeing the grapes that they were throwing at me coming but I felt them hit me and I turned around to see the two guilty-looking trouble-makers who didn’t have any grapes left on their trays because they had thrown them all at me. Being a devout Christian who had just learned about the Golden Rule at church, I reciprocated – throwing the grapes right back at them. The two trouble-makers had the good fortune of initiating the grape-throwing when the lunch monitor’s back was turned; I, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky and was immediately caught.
“You mustn’t be hungry if you’re throwing food around like that. I’m taking away your tray and issuing you a Refocus.” The lunch monitor said, handing me a red folder. I opened it and took out a form, in the other pocket was a red pencil.

“What I did wrong.” The first line read. I was a little puzzled. The Golden Rule was pretty clear – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. They threw grapes at me, which was not nice, so they must have wanted me to throw grapes back at them and not be nice about it. There really wasn’t a lot of room on the form to explain the whole story, so I wrote ‘threw grapes’.

“What I ought to have done.” Now I was confused. What ought one to do when somebody throws something at them? Usually if somebody sees it coming they can duck or get out of the way of the thing that is being thrown at them. But what ought somebody to do if they were hit by something they didn’t see coming? Just let people throw things at me all day long? I could just imagine walking down the hallway and these two trouble-makers stopping to say, ‘hey isn’t that the kid that doesn’t mind if you throw stuff? Let’s throw a book – ten points if you hit the stomach and fifty points for the head.’ A stand-by option was to tell the teacher or lunch monitor, but this was B.C. – before Columbine – so the only thing that results from that is a ‘tattle-tale’ reputation which I really didn’t need at the time, so I wrote ‘not throw grapes’.

“Why I didn’t do the right thing.” That was an easy one; I wrote ‘I don’t know’. I just hoped that the lunch monitor didn’t ask for clarification.
“What I will do the next time.” I didn’t relish that though, that this would happen again. If it did, all I could say is that I would not throw grapes again – so that’s what I wrote. I made no promises about not throwing food or anything else in general; it’s best not to volunteer information or make a promise that can’t be kept.

Now that I was done with the Refocus Form, had thought about what I did wrong and what the right thing to do was, why I didn’t do the right thing and what I would do next time, there wasn’t anything left to do but to wait for my fifteen minutes of detention to be up so that I could go to recess. Once my time was up the lunch monitor collected the Red Folder and said, “I hope you’ve learned your lesson. You may go now.” On my way to the playground I stopped by my locker and took a snack out of my bag to tide me over until I got home.

The lesson I had learned was not to not throw grapes, it was not to count on adults to tell the difference between two bullies and a kid who was tired of being bullied. It was that it was pointless to stand up for myself because I’d get in trouble for it. It was that the safest course of action was avoidance. Which is probably why I was a mite sensitive about objects being thrown at me. The next time it happened it was also in a cafeteria and it was a carrot. I froze – not knowing what course of action to take other than to not throw it back. I was older, so I was able to bottle up my emotions for the next few hours until I got home where it was safe to be upset that it had happened again. This time it was A.C. – after Columbine – but schools really hadn’t figured out how deal with the micro-aggressions of everyday bullying but they had finally begun to take it seriously. Better late than never, I guess.

Membership Isn’t Everything

On Sunday, I overheard that some new people were interested in membership with the church. “Good for them!” I thought; “but I’m pretty sure membership just isn’t for me.” I’ve attended the Methodist church for about a year now and the subject just hasn’t come up nor do I have any idea what I’d tell them. I don’t understand what membership does for me that being a regular attender cannot do. Perhaps I’m less than thrilled with the idea of membership because the church that holds my original membership one day declared that anyone that wasn’t in complete and total agreement with their teachings were heretics in the pastor’s book and I realized that because of a difference of opinion, I wasn’t one of them anymore but something of a heretic.

Now some churches are really into membership and what comes with that is a whole new vocabulary where the words we think might say one thing are meant to indicate something entirely different. It comes with strings attached and protocols to which we must adhere to by going along to get along well with everyone. To them few things are more of a big deal than membership. It’s the equivalent of adoption papers as proof that you are a part of their family. It’s just like a passport issued by their embassy which protects you as a citizen of their country in a foreign land. It’s just like an engagement ring as proof of your upcoming marriage. If you lose it – then you’re a runway from the family of God and an expatriate from the kingdom of God and an ex-fiance who told God ‘no’.

Membership, they say, is being a part of a local church. A local church is a group of baptized believers who meet regularly to study the Bible and take communion under the guidance of appointed leaders – meaning that believers must submit to and honor the elders. This includes being disciplined; A vague concept which means that ‘letting elders tell you what to do, accepting corrective punishment, and repent of whatever wrongdoing they accuse you of’. You’ve giving them permission to kick you out of the club if you fail to meet their expectations. In return for all of this, they tell you that you’ll grow in spiritual maturity and godliness. The idea is that the purpose of membership is to ‘regenerate’ believers into a higher standard of behavior and spirituality. Membership is sometimes a prerequisite to serve the church in a teaching capacity, so it’s a handy way to segregate believers into ‘full’ and ‘limited’ groups.

Perhaps it’s how many stories I’ve heard about discipline being misapplied that makes me leery of membership. Some of the more famous ones were instances where 100+ year old grandmothers were forced out of their churches for questioning the changes taking place, punishing a woman for getting an annulment from her husband without consulting the elders of the church, questioning if a book should be sold for the duration that it’s author was on a very public trial, and countless of other examples ranging from bad to worse about how discipline was used the wrong way against the wrong person.

I know enough to know that I don’t want any part in churches like that – the ones that silence victims from speaking out and stand beside the perpetrators. I don’t want to be a part of a church that sees me as ‘less’ than a member because I’m not one. I don’t want to be in a church that plays favorites with some and has no love for others. If that means that I won’t rise to the challenge of being as spiritually mature and godly as they are – then I can live with that. I don’t really believe that following a church’s teaching is a sure recipe for moral superiority – I’ve seen loads of members who aren’t much different from or better than a regular person. Seems to me that membership involves a lot of false advertising.

I guess when it comes right down to it – I just don’t believe in membership because it seems to be more about power and control and less about belonging as a part of a group of people who really care about you. It seems that it’s more about making a vow of commitment to the church or signing an official covenant pledge and less about being believed that you are a committed follower of Jesus alone. It seems that it’s more about securing an inner-circle position and less about being included in everything. Since I don’t know what they mean by ‘membership’ I can only assume it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

I suppose I’d tell my church that membership isn’t everything and that it just isn’t right for me.

 

Conflict of Emotions

Christianity has issues with emotion. This is, of course, nothing new. Church Fathers might not have fully agreed with Stoicism’s particular teachings, but they borrowed some of it’s central philosophical concepts, it’s terminology, a beliefs of humanity’s depravity and sin nature, and the futility of worldly possessions and attachments. Both pointed toward Asceticism’s teaching that it’s followers ought to abstain from worldly pleasures in order to pursue spiritual goals. Christians could do this by going to the desert communities of Kellia, Scetis, and Nitria, giving up their worldly possessions, and living as simply as possible in communion with each other while focusing on the teachings of Jesus and other spiritual thinkers. Ascetics usually tried either to escape from their emotions (by removing themselves from things that might make them emotional) or to suppress their emotions (think of Star Trek’s Vulcans, creating a theology that made the lack of emotions to be spiritually superior to one fettered with those annoying emotions.) Stoics believed that there were ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ emotions, and it was the lower emotions that had to be reigned in by abstaining from them. The theological opposite of the Stoics were the Epicureans, who believed that pleasure was the ultimate good and delighted in emotions as well as anything that could produce them. They were viewed as heretics by many early Christians who viewed them as pleasure-seeking sinners who put themselves first.

On one hand, we have inherited the ’emotions are bad vs emotions are good’ conflict from the influence that Stoicism had on Christianity, but we have another teaching that doesn’t help matters. Women are emotional, therefore emotions are feminine. Feminized churches are a failure partially because of the touchy-feely ‘Jesus is my Boyfriend’ emotionally-driven worship services. Small groups are all about being emotionally vulnerable, confessing sins, and crying. Men are not emotional, therefore being unemotional is masculine. Masculine churches ruled Christianity successfully for millennia partially because they didn’t give into the whims and fancies of emotions. Small groups are all about knowledge and facts, sharing truth, and such things keep one free from displays of emotions. It is, therefore, a failing of women to be so emotional and why they cannot be pastors or teachers because they might so fervently believe something to be so and not realize they’re teaching heresy. Or so the argument tends to go. Now that Christianity is emphasizing gender roles, it’s creating a theology where not just one’s gender is a factor, but anything associated with that gender get’s emphasized as being good or bad, or better or worse, too. So not only are women subordinate to men, but emotions are subordinate and inferior to being unemotional. An emotional man would be considered less than an unemotional man, would he not?

One would think that in two thousand years enough thinkers would have come to realize the value in emotions being acceptable and a healthy part of being human. Jesus himself displayed a fair number of them: sadness upon Lazarus’ death, disappointment and anger at the corrupt temple system, annoyance with the religious leaders, and being a human being, he must have been delighted, happy, thrilled, amazed, surprised, and all of the other emotions that make us who and what we are at some point. Nowhere does he affirm that emotions ought to be suppressed so that we can become more spiritually aware believers. All he asked was that we be responsible with our emotions; mourn with those who mourn, celebrate with those who celebrate, don’t be afraid, don’t let your hearts be troubled (cheer up!); but somehow Christianity lost the message along the way and created a theology that has issues with emotion.

One of the members of one of my churches was one of the sort of people who took to drama class when he was young and he never lost his love of acting. On occasion, he would perform a short play for the church, sometimes enlisting others to take up a part or two. He was entirely in control of his emotions and able to display them as the play demanded. On the ones where crying was a part of the play, I could look around and see the other men in the church physically tense up and shift around awkwardly. Even if the reason for crying in the play was perfectly reasonable, like the loss of a relative, the other men viewed it as inappropriate for him to do. On occasion, they would tease him for it. Later on, they might watch one of their favorite action movies, watch the hero of that movie tearfully vow vengeance for the death of his one true love, and praise the actor for a masterful performance as he kills dozens of bad guys without remorse, pity, or mercy.

I happen to believe that there’s a very good reason why we have emotions – we need them. Look again at the Bible and it’s full of emotion, from God’s wrath and anger to his mercy and sorrow. Everyone in the Bible has an emotional element to their stories, from shame and fear and worry to honor and boldness and confidence. While we might see black and white and red words on a page, we have to use our imagination to add in the emotional context to what’s going on. How might Abraham have been feeling when he heard that Lot’s family had been captured or the city in which he lived was about to be destroyed? How might Esther have been feeling when she was asked to go before the king un-summoned knowing that he could very easily have her put to death for doing so? How might Ruth have felt as a foreigner in a foreign land? How might David have been feeling when he was fleeing Saul? Actually, we can know that – because the Psalms are full of emotions as well, delight in the Lord, doubt and questioning, fierce anger at God’s enemies. Could part of the reason why David was a ‘man after God’s own heart’ was that he himself was something of an emotional guy? Does that make him less than any of the less-emotional prophets? I don’t think so.

I just hope that we happen to realize that not all our teachings are helpful before it’s too late. As it is, too many people feel ostracized because Christianity thinks of them as ‘too emotional’ but they’re in good company with King David, so I think it’s the rest of us who needs to learn how to follow their example.

In a Fix

You can’t always fix people.

Those five words play through my head as I read up on stories about nightmare abusive experiences during stays at Christian half-way homes where people thought that some combination of excessive exercise, lots of Bible memorization, lots of Bible study, lots of prayer, a whole lot of cleaning, a whole lot of work, and extreme strictness combined with very harsh discipline could restore prodigal sons and daughters to be as good as new. Those five words echo in my ears as I hear accounts of nouthetic counseling where every disorder is rooted in sin and every depression the result of not nearly enough prayer. Where the Bible was the only permitted medication to resolve absolutely everything. When people kept on praying and their problems kept on persisting.

You can’t always fix people when you’re the one breaking them and blaming them.
Some people have this notion that Christian resources are just as good as secular resources. This is true. They’re just as good as secular resources at creating abusive environments and sometimes they’re even better at it. The difference is that secular places have to answer to the government to secure it’s funding. They are not allowed to keep secrets. Christian half-way homes hide behind the church. They do not answer to the state. They do not have to be inspected. They do not have to have licenses. They do not have to share their secrets. This is what allows them to get away with terrible things. Fenced in buildings, bars on windows, locked doors – that’s all that outsiders will ever know of such places.

But thankfully there are men and women, boys and girls who leave these places and they don’t remain silent. The talk about what happened to them. They talk about what they saw. They talk about what they heard. That’s how we know about the abuse and punishment that they endured year after year during the decades that such schools remained opened.
Are every single one of them a haven for abuse? Probably not. Are only a few of them centers of abuse? We don’t know. It’s not like you can walk into a Christian ministry and interview every boy and girl about what’s going on. Some places will be honest and they’ll all tell you that everything is fine. Some places tell the kids to tell strangers that everything is fine most especially when it is not or else they risk punishment. There’s no way to keep statistics so long as keeping secrets is acceptable in Christian ministries.

Look, if you’re considering sending a relative to such a place – do your homework. Don’t just read the brochure and assume that the smiling faces means that the place is as wonderful as it looks. Talk to people. Ask the people who reccomended the place to you if they recieved a lot of letters from the family members that went there. Ask them if they think the letters were censored. Ask them if they were allowed to visit. Ask people who went there what they saw, heard, and thought about what was going on around them. Don’t just assume that just because something is Christian means that it’s better than the alternative. Sometimes the alternative is far better than getting Christian help.

Just remember – you can’t always fix people. Some kids go through traumatic experiences and need real liscensed professional help them to put the pieces back together. In such cases, the most Christian thing you can do is to keep them very far away from such ‘Christian’ help. You can’t always fix people – you’re not supposed to. There are some things you can do – support people, stand by people, and encourage people. Being on their side is being there for them in a way that does them far more good than sending them away.

On Christian Moralism

“Moralism is killing us!” The pastor bemoaned during his recent sermon (the subject of which was homosexuality – the sermon in and of itself was extremely Southern Baptist in style and content and while Biblical, it was filled with more judgement and condemnation than I thought necessary and had very little love, empathy, or compassion.)

I wasn’t certain how moralism could be bad. After all, grew up fairy tales that always ended with: “… and the moral of the story is …” Morals have always helped me to understand write from wrong, good from bad, and about consequences for my actions. So I wrote down ‘moralism’ as a reminder to look into what he might have meant.

Moralism: the practice of moralizing, especially showing a tendency to make judgements about others’ morality.

This is the main definition that appeared when I searched for the word. I could see how this kind of moralism could prove dangerous – believers constantly pointing fingers at each other like referees at a game throwing flags: “That’s sinful!” “That’s wrong!” “That’s down-right immoral!”

Moralism: the practice of achieving perfection through behavior modification. The moralist risk self-righteously looking down on unbelievers by putting their supposed morality in a comparison of theirs.

I think this is a more accurate way of looking at it when used in the context of Christianity. The moralist would see themselves as doing the right thing by pointing out other’s wrong-doing so that they could repent of their sins and the moralist would have the pride of being a key component in bringing back a wayward sister or brother. But it comes with a big list of rules – the moralist is no hypocrite. Therefore not only is he or she against the sins of others, their life is spent avoding every sort of wrong-doing. They hang their hats on John 14:15-21, saying to themselves: “I love Jesus, therefore I must keep his commands.” and “If I keep his commands, then I prove my love for Jesus.” Of course, this puts the moralist in a constant fear: “Have I kept all the commands?” “Have I sinned today?” “Have I approved of the sins of others today?” “Did I tolerate sin in my presence, where I could see it, where I could hear it, where I could perceive it?” A good comparison is that the Moralist is to the commands of the New Testament is as the Legalist is to the Law of the Old Testament.

Grace, mercy, humility, forgiveness, peace, and love are among the fruit of the Spirit for all believers. Yet a great many moralists are judgmental, condemning, arrogant, prideful, and can come across as hateful even depending on how much sin they can point out in others. I don’t think that most moralists even see it – to them, they love their brothers and sisters enough to point out each and every perceived sin while maintaining their own freedom from sin because of their obedience to Scripture in some way.

One good way to reverse the problem of Christian Moralism is to teach Scripture in context. It’s difficult to moralize a verse from a passage on false teachers with a verse from a passage on dealing with unbelievers if you realize that they cannot be combined to form one coherent idea about judgement and sinfulness. Another good way is to teach the meaning of grace – that no matter how moral we are, how righteous we are, how sinless we are, and how little sin we accept in those around us, it’ll never be enough to keep the commandments or earn us a better spot in heaven. When it comes to sins, the ones we do are no better and no worse than those of others. It’s in our nature to sin. It’s in Jesus’ nature to forgive us for our sins.