Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Upon Criticism of the Church

Our problems and issues fall into two categories;  Private and public.  No matter what our problem is, it will fall into either of those categories.  Private means exactly that.  It is something between you and those who it directly effects(spouse, friend, co-worker).  Public problems are those that are visible to many and effect many in one way or the other.  Dealing with either category of problem requires addressing it in its appropriate context.

If you and your spouse have an argument, or, if you say something hurtful, it is unhelpful to go blast them to your friends and family.  Taking a private matter public can exponentially increase the original problem. 

When dealing with a public problem, it is necessary to deal with it publicly.  Or, at least, showing clearly the resolution publicly.  If your spouse demeans you and ridicules you in a public way(blogging, telling everyone in their life, etc) then there has to be public reconciliation.  If you only deal with it privately and never publicly own up to the behavior, all those who became involved are left in the lurch and are left assuming either; A) you are still a big jerk, or, B) Your spouse is still an idiot.  And those who were hurt by your public behavior never get to experience real resolution themselves. 

In the Church at large we have real problem with dealing with "problems".  The advent of mass media, internet, social sites, etc, have blurred greatly this line between public and private.  Things that used to be "private"(sermons, teachings, dealing with someone in your church's sin, etc) are now viewed as public.  And all of us "watch dogs" now know something that happened on the other side of the country. This leads us to make bold pronouncements about what we think really happened, whether or not we have any ability to know the full context of what actually happened.

To illustrate;  Say I publicly, on my wildly well read blog, took my wife to task for some failing.  I go on and on about her failure and refusal to change.  Then the thousands and thousands of you who read it will then feel compelled to publicly(because I made it public) chime in and criticize my wife.  But maybe you don't know the whole story.  Perhaps I have been verbally and physically abusing my wife for years.  But all you know is my side of the story. 

This is so often what I observe in Church and pastor criticism today.  As a pastor myself I run into stories all the time from people about how bad their "old" church and pastor were.  I may know absolutely nothing about their situation, they just want me to say, "man, you are so right, they are a bunch of jerky jerks!!"  Here is the fun part...Later I discover that this person who had all the complaints is a real pain in the neck.  Not that I don't love them and want the Gospel to work in their lives.  But I suddenly "get" why they had some issues with their old church and pastor.

On a larger scale, you can't read much in the Christian blogosphere without bumping into all sorts of accusations thrown around about "this" denomination, "that" church, or, "these" theologian/pastors.  Countless words and internet traffic are consumed by creating "safe places" for people to unaccountably brandish their criticisms of others. 

The vast majority that I have read and followed over the years have two things in common; 1) Completely one sided(aka, my wife is bad, but I didn't tell you about how I beat her), or, 2) There are no facts, just inferences.(aka, I can't see his financial accounting, which must mean he is stealing money from the church/ministry). 

What is also quite obvious about these public criticisms is that they are often sourced in strong doctrinal and theological differences.  If you read an "attack" on a Reformed Complimentarian leader, 9 times out of 10 it was written by an Egalitarian Arminian.  And vice versa.  We can become so "tribal" in our own little pet theologies and doctrines that we are pre-emptively looking for the boogeyman to jump out when we look at those who don't agree with us. 

He is a reformed complimentarian, then any problems a woman has ever had at his church is because he clearly abuses women!  She is a Arminian egalitarian, you just know she conducts gay weddings and is a universalist!  We take our public theological differences and assume private sin and publicly insinuate it. 

Most "normal" Christians are tragically untrained in these weighty issues, and so they don't even realize when the accusations they are reading are sourced in these differences, and, not necessarily definitive actual proof of sin and malfeasance. 

So, with all of that in mind, here are my guide lines for public criticism of the Church and leaders within it(celebrity or otherwise)

You can publicly criticize/discuss if:

1)  You are discussing theological and doctrinal differences.  BUT, you must stick to the known issues.  For instance, I don't agree with your publicly stated "Calvinist" position, and here are my reasons why I disagree, BIBLICALLY, with your position and am advocating for "Arminianism". 

And we must stick to what that person actually said, not what someone else once said they think a particular position means.  For example, there are people who are 3 point Calvinists.  So, don't criticize them for their support of points 4 and 5....because they actually AGREE with you on that point.  Mischaracterizing their position doesn't help anyone.

2)  You are sharing public FACTS.  Meaning, here in these publicly available court documents is the verification that this person did indeed embezzle money.  Or, we have a video of him hitting his wife.  No he said/she said baloney.  Stick to the facts, if you don't have verifiable facts, you are publicly defaming someone for your own "enjoyment".  Even if you are pretty sure you are right, don't do it! 

3)  It doesn't matter how many "coincidences" and "related issues" there are.  One of the great tricks that gets played on us is overwhelming our thinking process with a bunch of mostly true information followed by a strong conclusion.  If you have a church with 15k people, just because you can find 20 people from the last 20 years who have a "similar" issue doesn't prove anything.  You go deal with tens of thousands of people for decades and you will have at least that many people who felt you did them wrong. 

4)  Just because you made public a private problem they might have, doesn't mean that they owe you a public apology.  So, don't keep asking for it.  If they privately hurt you, go to them privately.  If they refuse to listen, bring in leadership.  If they refuse to listen to leadership, move on with a clear conscience.  If they publicly hurt you, then you AND ONLY YOU, have the right to publicly defend yourself and ask for public repentance. 

If you can't follow these 4 simple guidelines, then please stay away from the interwebs.  If someone you read/talk to, can't follow these guidelines, quit encouraging them! 

Nor should you Lucille!!

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