Michael Rinehart is wise on how to handle ultimatums and on how not to read the Bible:
I have a letter from an angry member, who is threatening to leave the church if I don’t do this or that, or say this or that. I sit on the couch and smile, but it is a sad smile. In the light of Ultimate Things, this member’s petty manipulation seems so badly focused, his anger so misdirected, for a hundred reasons, I’m not sure what to say. Where do I begin?
Ultimatums are funny things. They are about control. I can control you if you are afraid of something. If you don’t do what I tell you, I will leave. If I am truly terrified at the prospect of your leaving, there’s no telling what I might do to appease you. Communities get messed up with this kind of stuff. I learned long ago that if I made my decisions by the polls, I made poor decisions. People think pastors are shaking in their boots at the prospect of someone getting mad and leaving. I suppose some pastors do worry. And then they’ll blow in the wind, doing whatever they’re told, for fear of declining membership and losing their job, when in reality the church needs strong self-defined leaders to grow. Not opinionated, my-way-or-the-highway pastors, but people who are gentle and kind, but won’t get pushed around. In the parish, whenever someone said, “Do this or I’m leaving,” I usually responded, “We are going to miss you so much.” The only way to create healthy community is to take the power out of the equation. Once people see that “I’m leaving” is a playing card that doesn’t work on you, they stop using it. And you really need them to stop using it. Congregations where people are constantly threatening to leave in order to get their way are not pleasant places to be. It’s like the spouse who threatens divorce in order to get his/her way. It’s an ugly, ugly way to be.
At the bottom of things, this conversation is about fear and manipulation, not sex. But I suppose it’s also about how we read the Bible, and this has been another disappointing realization for me. Biblical literacy seems so low in our church. We have work to do. When someone can quote Leviticus and assume that it’s binding, I marvel. The email writer points out that homosexuality is forbidden in the book of Leviticus as if that should settle things. But Leviticus also says you should stone your daughter to death if she has sex out of wedlock. Everyone knows this is absurd, and yet people continue to act as if everything in the Bible is binding on Christians. I find this astounding. We have so much work to do. Is anyone really proposing we follow all the laws in the Bible? I truly, truly don’t understand why this isn’t clear to people: The Bible says eating shrimp is an abomination. Do you believe this? Do you follow this law? The Bible forbids lending money at interest. Do you believe this? Do you follow this? Are you proposing a Bibliocracy?
(via Box Turtle Bulletin)