But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:14-15, NRSV)
Sometimes, those who are authorized and ordained to teach and lead in the name of the church make my jaw drop. And this is the little segment of scripture that comes to mind as a result. The discussion yesterday about ++Justin’s admission that he has doubts about God became nasty (yes, that’s a surprise). Quite apart from whether it is a “sin” to doubt–and a number of us believed that because Jesus welcomed Thomas’s “doubt”, Jesus is probably not terribly bothered–the way the “ordained” berated and bullied those mere lay people who dared to disagree with their “sound biblical teaching” was pretty appalling. Threatening people with hell is no way to make them want to go to heaven.
Then, when it got to where the “ordained” could no longer even pretend to make their case, it dissolved into ridicule. The kind of ridicule you expect on playgrounds, not in a discussion between supposed spiritual leaders. Because I dared to question the “authority” of a “priest” who would not state his credentials (his LinkedIn profile is a complete blank save for his name and the country in which he resides), and because I am not as threatened by the concept of doubt in the life of the spirit as some, I was treated to this little nicety:
I’ll say this about Wendy: She is SURE of her DOUBTS. Quite a feat!
And Wendy’s doubt as to XXX’s priesthood is the mark of a constant doubter of all things. I hope she is happy with that.
(Like Dragnet, this is a true story. The names have been changed to protect the idiots.)
Ah, would that we were back in about second grade, in the schoolyard at recess. The class bully would be pointing out the “weird kid”, grinning, getting people to laugh at the “weird kid” so the bully wouldn’t target them next. Accompanied by sticking the tongue out, inserting thumbs into ears and waggling palms and fingers like the sorry little faux reindeer antlers we often see attached to headbands and worn with ugly sweaters at Christmas parties.
Because, you see, bullies are afraid that they might be unmasked as something less than they want to believe themselves to be. They want a power they don’t deserve. And when they aren’t accorded the power and authority they want, they have to strong-arm other people.
Sorry, but that crap stopped working with me a long time ago. Fortunately, most of the group is on board with that. And the more reasonable the group is, the more strident these two “priests” get about their “authority”, “calling from God”, “sound teaching”, and a host of other puffed-up nonsense they would like to believe about themselves.
They’re pretty fit for hell, and I don’t intend to let them make me equally so, even though one of them insisting that “What you need is not any of those things, but God’s minister teaching you God’s word.”
I don’t accept the authority of this man as “God’s minister”, and I should run for the hills rather than allow him to force his twisted and hateful version of “God’s word” down my throat. I’m educated enough about the things of the church, its scripture and its teaching.
When you preach how much God “hates” people, and pretend that is the gospel of heaven, you can’t blame them for preferring hell.
I wonder how much of church decline has nothing to do with people “preferring” to sleep in, have coffee with a neighbor, attend a child’s sporting activity, shop, or go to the gym as opposed to spending it in a church where they get told God thinks they are a major screw-up. It’s really nice for the church to be able to blame its problems on “the world”, “the culture”, “secularism”, or, really, anything except its own attitudes and actions. Thirty years of “congregational development” programs, in which millions of dollars have been invested, has not stopped the hemorrhage of people leaving the church.
It may be time to look to other causes, other methods. It might be time to entertain the possibility that the church is, at lest in part, the author of its own misfortune. And expecting people to respond positively to the message that God hates them and doesn’t want them thinking (because thinking leads to doubt) is the stupid talk the churches need to abandon if they want to reverse the outward flow of bodies, hearts, minds–and the all important money.
All good prose begins from a standpoint of dissatisfaction. Jesus was outrageously dissatisfied with the religious leaders of his day. And if we believe (as Christians usually do) that Jesus is God, then we have to take seriously the possibility that God is sometimes massively pissed off with those in religious leadership. Or at least the author of Matthew’s gospel would like us to believe so.
That creates two sets of responsibilities. First, on the part of those in leadership, there is the responsibility not to preach and teach and guide in ways that make people prefer to risk hell than to aspire to enter a debased version of heaven. If your message is rejected, it is probably as much your fault as it is the shortcoming of those who hear your words and choose to ignore them.
The second set of responsibilities is with the laity. And in increasing numbers, it seems the laity are doing a very good job. Because their task is to evaluate the work and words of their leaders–in the light of scripture and tradition–and discern whether what those leaders are preaching and teaching is an authentic vision of God’s kingdom.
If yes, go with it. If no, head for the hills. Because an authentic hell may be a better bet than a false heaven.
And I’d rather be one of the weird kids than be bullied by those who think they know better.