Do you have a Constituency or a Community?

Following my recent blog in which I declared that I had fallen out of love with creationism (Creationism: A Bridge Too Far) I feel the need to write about my subsequent observations.

Having held this belief for the last couple of decades it seems strange that it should take me so long to write about it.
And yet deep down I think I know why.

It was interesting that following my blog a good friend, a great church pastor who I respect, should message me. In addition to appreciating my ideas he said that I was ‘brave’.

Wow! What an interesting word to use. I didn’t feel brave and he didn’t elaborate on his choice of words but deep down I knew what he meant.

The problem with saying what you really think, especially when what you really think goes against the perceived wisdom of your group, is that you take a risk that all too often you are not willing to consider.

You see we all have a constituency. And having one means that our behaviour will be affected.

For church leaders their initial constituency is the congregation. In this context it is often too costly to say what you really think. This is not all negative; sometimes the reticence to speak is a genuine pastoral concern for those who come to hear you speak. Other times it’s just easier to not rock the boat especially if your livelihood depends on it.

But there is another constituency that has a greater control over the leader than that of the congregation. Our pier group, denomination, church stream, or even the wider evangelical church can sometimes be our constituency.

There are many things I might like to say. Many questions I might like to ask. But I know to do so could risk losing face with this peir group.

Following some self reflection I have thought of a few things that might help me to judge when I have a constituency.

1) I am more likely to be political than principled.

2) I am more likely to distance myself from friends and colleagues who don’t tow the party line.

3) Even if I agree with what is being said I will only ever admit it in private.

To not follow the above is to risk losing friends. In fact I noted that in the few days after my creationism blog my twitter followers list yo-yo’d up and down in a way it had never done before.

I did, however, have quite a number of messages from people who felt the need to thank me for speaking out. Anyone would think I had fought against drug traffickers or something equally as inspiring.

All I did was say what I really thought. I wonder what would happen if I continued in this vain.

Of course the real goal of a church leader should be to serve a community rather than appeal to a constituency.

In a community one might be able to have the kind of honest conversation that doesn’t demand either perfection or certainty of belief all of the time.

In a community the leader might be able to create an environment where every person can be honest about their thoughts and feelings without having to look for the acceptable answers in order to feel accepted.

In a constituency, however, we will always be drawn towards saying the ‘right’ thing.

I am challenged by the thought of how many subjects I would be reluctant to write about in case I might find myself on the wrong side of the line of evangelical acceptability.

And if you think I am overstating the case think about what happened to Rob Bell when he dared to ask questions; when he dared to say what he really thought.

A prime example of having a constituency directly affecting behaviour is the recent arguments about Doug Wilson’s view of male/female relations.

I have been struck by how many of the voices who critiqued Rob Bell have remained silent about Doug Wilson.

Perhaps some constituencies are more comfortable with patriarchy than they are with questions.

It makes you think; in fact I almost wish I hadn’t written this blog – but then, as my friend said – I am brave.


Thanks to my good web friend, Al Molineaux for this challenging guest piece. Connect with him on Twitter.

We Can Be So Right and Still Be So Wrong: My Theological Journey from Certainty to Discovery
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Between 2 Gods: A Memoir of Abuse in the Mennonite Community
God is Waiting on the Outside: Moving Beyond our Theological Boundaries in Pursuit of Jesus
  • Matt O’Reilly

    Just wanted to point out that your link is not to an apology by DW but by JW. A public apology from DW would be surprising, to say the least.

    • Ryan Robinson

      Yes, sadly DW has stood quite firmly behind his very strong statements. Major points to JW for eventually apologizing, though.

    • Kurt Willems

      Editor’s mistake. Thanks!