Saturday, 1 October 2011

Disingenuous Church?

I once read a story about a businessman who, down on his luck decided to do something pro-active to save his business. He was in particular danger of losing his business, then his home, and very probably his wife and family if all went as he had foreseen. He owned a company that supplied car tyres.

His solution was, during the night, to slash the tyres of some cars in his neighbourhood. The car owners would make a claim with their insurers and  the man's tyre-replacing business would become the nominated repairer. In short, he enhanced the need for his services. In the end, he got greedy, got caught and got himself slung in Stir for seven hundred million years, lost his business, his home, his wife and kids, his freedom and his dignity. It is naughty, so the Judge proclaimed, to create a need that only you can meet. 

That is an extreme example of something that troubles me in my Christian life. I read something during the week that triggered this in my mind:

It's the power of the love of Jesus Christ, the love that conquers sin and wipes out shame ... [Hybels, 2002]

Bill Hybels is right, of course. But then I think of the Church and how we are in terms of the lives of those around us. We scamper about 'saving' people, after having judged them ourselves as 'unsaved'. We forgive the sins of people whom we judge to be sinful. The "shame" that we are called to wipe away is the "shame" that we identify - and there are times when the Church can appear like the scrawny little kid who sneers from behind the school-bully. 

The church is, in many ways, a very judgmental organisation (with never fully sits right with God is Love Plc). I remember, in my undergraduate days, being told by some Smiler in the Christian Union that sex before marriage was a sin and that I (and the assembled throng) should feel jolly wretched if we had submitted to that urge. Maybe we had and maybe we hadn't, but I think all of us felt lower than a snake's belly. Do this, you are bad. Do that, you are wrong. Do the other and you are wretched. Do something else and you will, my dear friend, burn for an eternity with the fiery Imps of Hades. Why, cos we say so (or at least that is what we interpret the Bible as saying). But don't worry, meagre sinful worm - we can wipe your shame away; you know, the shame we just gave you. 

If only those who are without sin cast the first stone (those are Jesus' words), then why are we a church so hell-bent on labelling the world as sinful and providing the nominated cure? Are not sinful ourselves? If we are not careful, a pragmatic world will cotton on to the fact that if they bypass faith altogether, the measure of their sinfulness vanishes and they will never need darken our doorsteps again. I seem to remember Jesus distancing himself from the judgmental attitudes of his Disciples. 

Maybe we should stop saving a world that God saved already - and worry about how we might be worthy of that life-changing Grace. Charity, after all, begins at home. 


  1. It's a good point, but then compassion is telling uncomfortable truths. Sin and shame can be useful tools in bringing one back to the Lord and experiencing the healing power of his mercy. Nothing can beat that "just washed clean" feeling when you know you have been forgiven.

    Clergy need to avoid giving the impression that they or society are sitting in judgement upon souls and emphasise their own humanity and shortcomings. Sanctimoniousness never helps, it's about helping people to reinforce their personal relationship with God.

    I agree it's a fine line, the church needs to emphasize we are ALL sinners, but surely it is only by defining sin, that we help others to avoid it, whilst all the while being very clear that it is not we who are judging.

    I also think basic eschatology is helpful, hell is not the fiery furnace of medieval folk law, but a sense of desolation and loss. It is eternal separation from God which is painful.

    Though it is not nice to squirm and feel shame and though we should avoid over-scrupulosity, if that shame is born out of having offended God, whom we should love with all our heart and soul, and brings us to reconcile with him out of genuine caritas, which is the aim, then its no bad thing?

  2. The issue of sin and evil and the existence of a fallen Angel as the devil are deniable, they are hard words which when used against people are hurtful, shameful, judgemental and condemnatory - but we are wary of using them these days as they are regarded as fairy stories by some of the most devout Christians?

    I hesitate to call the church judgemental, but it does sometimes label people. Unchurched, never churched, single mothers, divorcee's, traditionalist, orthodox, extremist, Gay, etc.

    Labelling and grouping people seems to me to be the basis of a culture of discrimination, which is innately sinful in itself.

    Somewhere in this is a denial of our humanity, our unique identity and relationship in God through Jesus Christ and the free will we have for good or evil, which ultimately is a matter for individual conscience, if they have one.

  3. Jesus didn't go around asking people about their beliefs. He believed that all were the children of God and included in God's love and lived his life as if that was a reality. It is the walls we build that keep others out. We need to pull down those walls and stop worrying about who is in and who is out. Too often our mission is based on telling people they could be loved by God. We should follow the example of our Lord and tell people they are loved by God.



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