So, as a preliminary comment here, this is the weekly reflection I most worried about posting when I started posting these each week. I didn’t know how I would edit the original text to fit into this format and still seem fairly friendly. I ended up just removing about a paragraph worth of stuff. Congregational politics are tough. Sadly, I think many church goers are apt to blame the victim when he or she stops attending church rather than taking a long look in the mirror and asking what caused them to leave. People, generally, don’t leave church for no reason. Some people find information about a church’s history and that causes them to leave; those are difficult situations. Some are wronged by other members of the congregation, yet we choose to blame the person who stops attending for being offended by the comments. “Well, he/she chose to be offended” some might say. And while that is true to a certain degree, there must still be some hard looking in the mirror to determine what went wrong. In this particular case below, a person was wronged in ways I won’t mention, he was shunned, and stopped attending. Yet many want to place blame on him for leaving even though he was wronged by a huge portion of the congregation. The details don’t really matter. It’s the concept. Ask why people leave the church…I just deleted a sentence…I was going to say, again, that “you” should look in the mirror to determine if you did anything to cause this person to leave, but then I remembered that you’re perfect and that you’d never under any circumstances do anything that would cause a person to leave church. So, don’t worry about looking in the mirror, just point some fingers and find out how everyone else caused this person to leave, and then make sure to place the blame back on the person who left because he dared by offended by your perfection.
OK, on to the original text…
I read some interesting passages in different books. The first passage was in James Cone’s Black Liberation Theology. I got a very strong through the chapter that I read that Cone was doing everything he could to change God into a 1970’s African-American. To me he was walking a very, very fine line of molding God into his own image rather than working to mold himself in God’s image. When we do that in our own lives, I feel like we start walking a dangerous path. I also suppose this is why there are so many different denominations out in the world. Each group interprets God just a little differently. The question, however, is whether or not denominations or individuals are trying to mold God into their personal theological image or if they are molding into His? I have to remind myself of this. God is not necessarily who I want Him to be. He is who He is and has always been. I have also had to try to separate my own personal views from my theological views.
Second, in my Christian Ethics class, we read about genetic embryo modification, in vitro fertilization, and other forms of “unnatural” pregnancy. One of the questions our professor asked was how would we deal with a person in our congregation or our lives who came to a different moral/ethical conclusion than we hold? This question is very relevant for me given that my goal is chaplaincy. I may have individuals come into my office seeking council who have very different ideas of what is moral or immoral. Within this context, I think I will have to recognize that my moral/ethical opinion really does not matter. It does not matter if I think a particular situation a person is going through fits into my definition of what is moral or immoral, so long as it does not violate any regulations or laws, of course. My job will be to make sure each person gets the help that he or she needs regardless of whether or not that persons moral/ethical standards line up with mine. That was the comment I made in the discussion online with the semi-humorous side comment about asking me in ten years how this approach has worked for me as a chaplain. I really hope that this is one of those ideal views I can hold onto and remember as I go about ministry. It doesn’t matter what I think is moral, it matters that I can give a person the help that he or she needs at a given time.
Keeping in line with this, I made another comment in that same class about how we must simply be someone who facilitates the Spirit guiding others. We are not able to cause a real conversion in someone, we simply have to give them the “water” so that they can drink it. But if they decide not to drink it, we simply have to keep providing for them until they make the decision to change. We have to show each person that we are there for them and care about them unconditionally.
Beyond this reading, I met with a man this week who has not been to church in several years. His reason for not coming is that he was driven off several years ago by a particular family in the congregation and how they treated him. [comments removed] This is really my first experience with how congregation politics can damage others. It really is quite sad to have to sit and listen to a story like the one I heard and not be able to do anything to change the local culture going forward. I wish there was more a I could do to change things.
It was very interesting how the different readings came together for me this week and how I can see how relevant those readings and principles will be for me in my ministry. I certainly think the ministry involves much more gray area than I had originally anticipated.