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ruleBackground

Gospels

John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

Nov. 18, 2016

Everything is not OK

One of the most disturbing things since the election is how quickly many people seem to be trying to normalize things. You hear a lot of "Maybe it will be OK," and "Maybe he didn't mean everything he said," "I hope he has a successful presidency," and "Let's give him a chance." The media are trying to pivot to the usual changing of office stories... "What will the first lady's 'cause' be?" "Where will their son go to school?" "What will be the decorating scheme for the White House?" And the ever-popular, "Hey people who are going to be moving to Washington, here's where you should live and what to expect in the real estate market."

But things are not normal. This tendency to move on and pretend that "all is forgiven" and maybe the man will start to behave now is ridiculous.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who knew a thing or two about making tough choices in the face of dangerous people, must be rolling in his grave. I believe he would call what's going on a form of "cheap grace." To my mind, it is the same sort of problem as people being taught in Christian churches that forgiveness and reconciliation are not that hard and can be accomplished even when one side has behaved very, very badly. It skips over the need for that side to recognize its sin. It allows people who have acted, well, deplorably, to believe they did nothing wrong, that the ends justify the means, and that there is no need to be contrite, apologize, make amends, have a change of heart, or God forbid, repent and henceforth live in a different way.

None of this is happening, of course. Instead, the feeling in the air is that the aggrieved side should just forgive and forget, as if this were a normal election. Unspoken along with this is the idea that all the untruths that were spoken, all the inflammatory language, the baseless accusations, the threats, the petulance, and the sheer bizarreness should just be forgotten. Remaining unexamined and unacknowledged. A clean slate. Another chance.

That was said a lot during the campaign too, as those pushing for him or those who wanted to believe this was not happening kept waiting for him to “pivot” and become more presidential. It never happened, and by the end he was boasting of being “unshackled” from his advisors, fighting against a “rigged” and “unfair” election if he lost… and more than hinting that his followers should incite violence and revolution if he did not get his way. None of that now, of course. But I don’t believe that those threats—any of them—should be forgotten, dismissed, or downplayed.

A little while back, in Charleston, a 20-something white guy walked into a church and shot a bunch of black folks in their Bible study. It got the Confederate flag taken down from the state capitol, which is progress, I guess. What everyone remembers now, though, is the response of the family members of those who were shot. They almost immediately said they forgave the shooter—a man who had gone on a premeditated rampage against people who did not look like him, and who, it turned out, had gone out of their way to show kindness to him in the hours before he killed them.

Everyone said, “Oh, how Christian of them!” and marveled at their faith.

But it seems to me this was just America talking to itself again, reassuring itself about how it was just “this sick guy” in another “isolated incident.” Thank goodness those folks forgave him right away or we might have had to think more deeply about why it happened and actually start working on our racism problem.

Yes, the flag got taken down, finally, but there are plenty of people in South Carolina who are angry about that. The larger problem is allowed to continue. The forgiveness that immediately followed the atrocity did not do much to change the bigger picture, which keeps festering and occasionally bursts out again, as in the election we just experienced.

We’ve had a campaign and now a guy elected who orchestrated that campaign largely on his instinct for what incites people, playing to the worst of this country.

And where are the rest of us now?

Did the Democrats and what is left of actual journalism and liberals and minorities do everything they could to hold that campaign’s feet to the fire? Or were each of the thousands of lies, insults, behaviors and threats “forgiven away” as people tried to keep believing things were not this bad, surely? All the while he and his supporters were only tepidly called out for their actions and attitudes. And now, because of the results they feel vindicated in holding them.

I learned about this kind of evil behavior firsthand in my decades in the local organized church. I saw that the worst thing that could happen to a church was allowing very damaged, selfish, ignorant and sometimes mentally ill people to lead the church—whether they were clergy or laypeople. People whose addictions hurt the church. People who covered up for their friends’ deeds. People who held power and would not listen to anyone else’s point of view. People whose personal problems, whatever their source, made them unfit for leadership.

Maybe I was just very unlucky in my choice of churches, but I saw this happen over and over. People who had no business being in leadership were in leadership. People who, when confronted in even the most gentle, loving way, exploded in anger and went on campaigns to bring down the whole church. People whose mental illnesses also gave them the power to skillfully deceive others. People who listened to gossip and made-up stories rather than seeking out the truth. People who believed “mistakes were made on both sides,” rather than see that clearly, there was one side that was orchestrating chaos.

After decades of this, I came to the conclusion that while it was a good thing to have people like this in the church—it being a “hospital for sinners” and all that—they should be ministered to, and either helped to change their lives to be more like Christ and heal if that were possible or given palliative care if it were not. But in no circumstances should such people be put in leadership positions where they could bring down the church through their dysfunction.

For years I took the difficult road of trying to work with people, not letting sin and dysfunction prevail, speaking truth to power, and being as loving as possible to people perpetuating evil—while not allowing their actions to stand or become normalized. And when this failed in the face of evil, I have been willing to walk away and even help to close institutions rather than let them continue as places “that have the form of religion but deny its power.” (2 Tim. 3:5)

I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. I’ve paid the price for being on the side of truth. And I speak to you out of my experience: I still believe in the truth. I still believe following Christ does not mean “cheap grace,” pretending there is reconciliation when people who have done terrible things have not been called to account for them. Forgiveness, yes. But not reconciliation when evil is allowed to rampage unchecked.

We cannot forgive cheaply. We cannot reconcile without the other party acknowledging and repenting of its sins. Sadly, in my experience it is always up to the aggrieved party, and those who represent and side with them, to continue to fight for justice and truth. The folks perpetuating evil are not going to wake up to the error of their ways and come running to us.

Keep fighting the good fight. Do not give in to evil. Keep pointing to the truth in these coming years. There is no other way.

 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. —Matthew 5:6