The danger of disaffiliation is not smaller churches, budgets, and a smaller denomination. The danger is a littleness of souls that is more difficult to overcome. Problems that would not exist except for the actions of another person leads a person from immediate injury to resentment. Nurtured resentments lead to littleness of the soul in those who do not overcome them. I would even argue that resentments do not require injury merely the perception of injury to exist.
Feeding Souls Lies
Clergy people are often wounded healers who forget to heal themselves. I nurtured resentments for decades from wounds inflicted on me. However, I had a difficult time figuring out which wounds were real and which were all in my head. It was hard deciding which was which when it came time to sort them into the categories of real or imagined.
Many of my colleagues who joined the WCA did so, I believe, because of resentments over imagined injuries. In our appointment system, white male pastors often believe a woman or a pastor who was a person of color is “promoted over” them. The lie is the myth of affirmative action and reverse discrimination. Diversity training often meets with skepticism with a number of clergy.
Pastors who are resentful towards “the conference” find itching ears of congregants who resent “the conference.” The resentments are not required to be based on the same lie. They feed their own and the souls of others with lies.
People who exhibit littleness of soul tend to harm rather than heal. The remedy for their perceived injustice can cause harmful to other people. People wishing for retribution will nurture resentments until they get it. But what if retribution never comes? Is it justice denied? It probably is.
Let us assume before experiencing the Resurrection of Jesus, Simon the Zealot decided to extract revenge for the murder of Jesus. Who should pay the penalty for this sin? More to the point, who among the guilty can he and any co-conspirators reach? Maybe this is the reason Jesus called for his disciples to pray for their enemies. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 44-45) This statement is in the same chapter as “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Retribution can never be fully obtained.
The churches do harm to people. One can almost forgive other institutions in a society that do harm because there is little expectation from them other than an incomplete justice. The church makes a promise it does not fulfill. And there are times the church acts in complete opposition to what it is supposed to uphold. Yet, there is little done to confront the harms done by the church because of the resentments among the leaders. Churches, let’s face it, are among the people causing harm to the LGBTQ+ community. The churches are among the worst history deniers. So how can a flawed institution help others heal?
Often, we have harmed people to such a degree that they will never return or trust us. This makes those who try to bring the church back to the gospel of grace so difficult. Asking people and their institutions to acknowledge their historic sins is not easy when the narrative has been one of persecution against the church. Those who have been harmed yet want the gospel of grace cannot continue to nurture their resentments and still practice grace. It takes greatness of souls to offer grace and forgiveness to people and institutions that cause harm.
Nurturing resentment is a living death. For most of us the harm or the perceived harm is not impossible to overcome. There are people who have survived and overcome worse than I have ever lived through. In a few cases, I am sure I would have thrown in the towel. But they are not my experiences. I cannot be justified for having resentments over them.
Am I angry over the actions taken by those who seek to destroy the church? Yes. But I will not let it destroy me. I have stopped that from happening once in my life. Now I will not let it keep me from following the Way of Grace. As we move forward, we should expose the sins we have ignored and offer mutual healing to those who watched us swallow camels while gagging on gnats.