The Church is known for what we hate. We often try to cover ourselves with a version of “but they don’t understand us.” It never works. We want to play the victim. And yet, like all families it only takes one member to define how others see us.
What We Love
I have served many churches that can be considered “family chapels.” Listening to the members of such congregations, one gets the impression that they can be friendly and loving even when they are neither. “We get along,” we claim. Up to a point, that is. It is important to note that we are loving, friendly, kind, and compassionate so long as there is no perceived threat. I want to enumerate here the things we love.
- Familiarity – This is the most comforting of positions. We like what we know. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” New conveniences are not convenient if we move out of this “comfort zone.” When we must learn something new, we feel vulnerable to the person who teaches it to us. We are known for not wanting changes.
- Power – Feeling powerful is the opposite of feeling vulnerable. We want to be “in charge” of everything so it continues to be familiar. The illusion of the familiar is feeling that we are in control. We are known for seeking power.
- Optimization- We believe that people must maximize efforts. We also believe we are doing that very thing. The truth is we are not supposed to be wearing ourselves out. The work of the Kin-dom of God is to have life abundantly not to take on abundant tasks. We are tempted to exaggerate what we do. Clergy are prone to claim an 80 hour work week. I suspect this is because we have a difficult time explaining to the lay leadership how study, prayer, and meditation is work. It is insane. But we are known to value wearing each other out.
Being Known For Greed
Churches are known for greed, avarice, and lust. The most salacious stories are told when these sins involve church leaders. Strangely enough, stories about a politician, media celebrity, or star athlete who is caught in these sins are not as scandalous as when church leaders do it. A murder mystery where the culprit is the local minister is common enough plot line. However, the most common complaint I hear against churches is we are after people’s money.
How did money become so precious? Our entire society treats the bank account as “the holy of holies.” John Steinbeck once said, “All Americans believe they are temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The word embarrassed catches my attention. Financial difficulties can be the bane of a person’s existence. Having more “month than money” is difficult. If a person has dependent children it is hard to think the children could go without.
The answer to the question above is simple. Money fulfills all of the previously stated loves. The church reflects society more than it ever challenges it. The truth is if we were known for hating greed and avarice as well as lust we would be consistent with our professed values. We aren’t.
I recently saw Inherit the Wind again. I am happy to report it is still good. I particularly enjoy the scene where Spencer Tracy puts Fredric March on the stand to discuss the Bible. March as the lawyer/politician Brady refers to sex as “original sin.” Now most fundamentalists I know reject that interpretation. But, strikingly, Brady says this just after making a joke about how enjoyable sex is (without using that word). All fundamentalists I know would appreciate that joke.
Churches strictly define acceptable sexual activity. What is acceptable tends to rule out all other forms of sexual activity. It is a curious problem. Is sexual activity a “necessary evil?” Is sex the most corrupting influence? Not likely. Here is the problem of consistency. Most people, even non-religious people, see a need to forbid some sexual practices. But not because it is a necessary evil.
We as a society see greed as a necessary evil. Profit-making, charging interest, and withholding surplus value of labor are seen as necessary for improving the human condition. The church has gotten comfortable with greed to the point of accepting the idea that human greed should be mostly unregulated. We accept greed is wrong if a person appears to be “too greedy” in much the same way as we view gluttony. We are okay with overindulging at certain times.
Why We Are Known Only By What We Hate
We are known by what we hate because the three things we love impede our love for other people. The stranger is unfamiliar. New ideas threaten our sense of powerfulness. New methods threaten our sense of what is optimal in our actions.
The church must repent of the sinful attitudes. I can hear the specious responses already. We should take Jesus and the Prophets seriously again. And begin to let the world know we truly love and have the best interests of its people in mind when we act as Christians.