I don’t get angry very often, but when I do I do. What made me want to post this cartoon today was this article by Richard Clark, “Stop Hate-Watching the Church”. This article made me angry.
People are angry with the church. This is a fact. A reality. And some have been angry for years. To pretend it’s not there or to insist that it shouldn’t be doesn’t change the fact that it is. Clark reflects the typical church attitude towards suffering: get over it already will you please so we can get on with the program?!
I want to critique Clark’s post.
- Clark says he used to critique a TV show and felt bad about it. Then he compares it to the church. Wait! We’re talking about a TV show that doesn’t harm anybody. The church harms people. There’s a big difference. Clark must realize that. So what he is really saying is that since he felt bad critiquing a TV show, we should feel bad critiquing a church. The sin of the TV show… bad writing… and the sin of the church… abuse… it doesn’t matter. No difference. The problem is criticizing. We shouldn’t criticize. That’s the message.
- He complains that Facebook pages like Stuff Christian Culture Likes “devote themselves entirely to delivering the latest missteps of evangelicalism straight to our newsfeeds”. What? Why do you like that page Mr. Clark? Why are you following it? If you didn’t follow it, it wouldn’t come up in your newsfeeds. Just like your TV, you can turn it off. They aren’t forcing themselves on anyone. It’s up to the reader to like the page. The fact that these sites are growing, as Clark acknowledges, is because nothing it being done about the abuse and the voice of the abused is not being heard. I have a novel idea: stop the abuse and the complaints will stop. But no, let’s continue blaming the victim because that’s far easier.
- Clark charges such sites with feeding their readers “disgust and frustration with the church”. My immediate response is, “So what is wrong with that?” What’s wrong with being disgusted with the church? What’s wrong with being frustrated with it? What are we supposed to do with these strong feelings that really do exist? Obviously the church doesn’t have a complaint department to process critique. So where else are people supposed to process it? Where else are people supposed to vent? Surely Clark isn’t suggesting that there should never be any disgust or frustration with the church. So what he must be suggesting is that these cannot be expressed. Anger is ugly but necessary and the church can’t handle it. I suggest, like any good government, that the church embrace these sites as a part of a healthy opposition that can provide a prophetic correction to the church’s abuses.
- In a typical church maneuver, Clark pulls out the scriptures, specifically Ephesians 4:29, that we should only speak words that are edifying, fitting and gracious. I get this all the time too. For some reason he, like the church in general, thinks building up only happens with compliments. When such people pull out such scriptures, I like to pull out my own, like Jeremiah for instance. He spent his entire life complaining with tears, railing against the powers that be. He was not a happy camper. There are a lot of people, in my opinion, who hold the same awareness of injustice in their chest and won’t shut up until something is done about it. Would Clark like to send them into exile like Jeremiah was?: If you don’t like it, move to Babylon!
- Clark expresses some sympathy for those who have been abused by the church, having been abused himself. But then, as is typical of the church, he basically says, “Time’s up!” on the suffering. He finally concludes that these online communities aren’t about healing, but about malice and mockery. He implies that even though he was really hurt by the church, he’s finally gotten over it and you should too. He could go back there, but he won’t. I suggest it’s because he’s under the employ of the church and it wouldn’t be in his best career interest to start critiquing the hand that feeds him again. I know what it’s like. I was accused of that all the time. To be employed by the church and to critique it at the same time is an impossible position to stay in. I struggled internally with biting the hand that fed me, but I also got a lot of people telling me the same thing. Impossible! I really don’t know how he is handling this difficult position he’s in, but the constant temptation to compromise in the interests of the organization are at times irresistible. Could that be happening here?
- Clark calls for “biblical healing”. What is that? We are supposed to heal like the bible tells us to? What does the bible know about my particular hurt and my particular need? I will heal in my own way, not as some old book tells me I should, thank you very much. He says that hate doesn’t solve problems. He says mocking doesn’t help. He says that what these people are criticizing are real people. Well… ya! These are real people, not imaginary characters inflicting imaginary wounds. They should be held accountable for what they’ve done. These institutions are creatures that must submit to our dominion. Our organizations should serve us, and those working for the organizations should be serving us as well. When they rule over us and abuse us, we should call them on it until they change. Of course!
- In a bold move, Clark says that those who have left the church actually “despise” the church and are “giving up”. In answer to that I often compare one’s relationship with the church to a marriage. Clark seems to believe that, sure, you were beaten and abused and your life may have been totally messed up, but to despise your spouse and to give up on your marriage is not an option. I don’t think he has totally taken in just how serious this issue is. People are leaving the church in droves because they will no longer put up with the abuse, control, manipulation and coercion. People have the right to be free and independent and they’re using that right. Spouses are walking out of abusive relationships. Church members are walking out of abusive churches. People are protesting abusive governments and crooked banks. There is a vocal revolt happening right now and it’s messing up the status quo. Remember: the bank of frustration with the church has been building up for centuries. It’s not just me with my anger, but the anger against the pervasive and long-term abuse that seems to imply that things are never going to change.
- Clark pretends to care. But he doesn’t. Not really. He says, “I wouldn’t want to make any claims about how you deal with your struggles. You may do whatever you want.” But he doesn’t mean this. The whole post is about how we have to deal with our pain. The whole post is that we shouldn’t do what we want, but what the bible says and in the best interest of the church and its leaders. It’s the typical passive-aggressive crap the church is expert in and people smell a mile away. He has a condescending and patronizing tone always recognized by those who have been abused and are angry as a result.
- Clark finally and clearly lays it out there: “But we, with all our flaws and frailty, were never meant to be God’s instruments of justice. We are to be instruments of God’s incredible redemptive grace.” What he means by this, I think, is that it is not our job to challenge authority. It is not our job to change things. It is not our responsibility to call out injustice and demand immediate change. We are to just be nice, get people saved, and keep the church alive and prospering. At least I think that’s what he means.
- As a pastor offline and online, I have seen the opposite to be true. Sure, some people might choose to be angry their whole lives. It’s their right to be. They can be angry for as long as they feel they need. But I have also seen, when people are given the right, the space and the opportunity to vent, that in time they find room to forgive and move on. And by moving on it could mean leaving the relationship altogether. They have that right as well. I’ve seen people take years to process stuff. Myself included. But eventually, if we are allowed to find our own way, we pass through the anger stage and move on to other stages on our way to healing and wholeness. To attempt to control or correct peoples’ feelings is doomed for failure and will only perpetuate the system’s evils and those who work for them.
So Clark’s post, rather than help me process my anger, only made me angrier.
Why is the church so excellent at this?