Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Church's Response to Criticism and Why We Won't Police Ourselves

I had a blog comment of mine deleted by the administrator of the blog, not a problem that's his right I moderate comments here myself but I strongly suspect due to the nature of the comment and the fact that his blog is linked to the website of the church through which he is employed that my comment was deleted because it was critical of the way that church does things. It got me to thinking about how the Church responds to criticism and how that ties into our seeming inability to police ourselves as an organization. When people like Anne Rice (and others, myself included most days) feel the need to distance themselves from the title Christian in order to avoid being associated with the abuses and excesses of the institutional church perhaps there is a call being sounded to the Church that it is time to take an objective look at itself and evaluate the message it is sending to the world by the things it seems to value. And by how it handles, or avoids handling, criticism.

In the specific case I am thinking of the issue is one of the role/purpose of "worship" (which in this case is defined as music/media/technical production) and I commented on the danger of viewing worship as performance. I will freely admit that my views are colored by a decade of watching the worship in this particular church devolve from something led of the spirit and participatory into a slick, over produced performance that chewed up and spit out anyone who wasn't sufficiently perfect in the execution of their gifts of service. At least one of my co-authors here is intimately aware of what a refer to, although she never experienced it before it became theater rather than worship. I brought the point to the table that worship is harmed by a performance mentality and I gave specific examples, including the habit of certain children's choir directors to instruct the children to "perform well for mom and dad" rather than to exhort them that they were being given the task of helping lead the congregation into worship. I also mentioned the destruction of the technical support ministry and its impact on the youth who were involved. Very few of whom attend church anywhere anymore largely because of that very situation. The response? Delete the comment and pretend it wasn't said. Typical.

This is how the church too often responds to criticism. By ignoring it. It is actually somewhat preferable to the other way the church to often responds to criticism which is by going on the attack. Both responses are unhealthy and un-Biblical. In this case the impact of this lack of healthy responses is minor. The damage has already been done and if performance based worship is what they are trying to achieve then they need different people in place to make that happen. People who don't believe that worship isn't theater. The bigger problem comes in the fact that this is how all issues seem to be dealt with inside this particular organization. Ignore it and maybe it will go away.

When the issue is inappropriate behavior with a minor that is a completely unacceptable tactic to take. Yet I witnessed it happen. I believe it is the emphasis of this church on the performance that enabled them to put the perpetrator back into leadership in the worship band after just six weeks of counseling. They needed him for the performance to be as polished as the audience had come to expect. When excellence in performance becomes the standard it is easy to overlook all kinds of things. I recall a long time soloist in that same congregation that everyone knew was living with a man she was not married to but who was called upon anyway every time they needed her voice. It can be argued what behaviors constitute serious enough issues to preclude someone for leading in worship but I think we all have to agree that both open adultery and inappropriate behavior with a minor would be on the list somewhere. At least all of us who live in the real world can.

The church that refuses to hear criticism removes itself from any obligation to deal with the wolves in sheep's clothing that lurk wherever any flock of believers gather. This church is a mild example of the phenomenon that produces things like Ted Haggard and the Catholic Priest scandals. I cannot believe that there was not someone who was seeing what was happening. Someone who was crying out the warning and being dismissed or ignored. We are so concerned about not "tarnishing the image of the church" that we completely ignore and discount the pain of the victims of the things we sweep under the rug.

Witness the response of the church in dealing with predators in their midst. In my experience the first priority is cover it up. If that is unsuccessful then send the predator off to counseling (or set him up in an accountability group) but do nothing for the victim. Do nothing that could imply that the church is liable in any way. When confronted by the victim hide behind confidentiality rules. When questioned by the victim about his brief "treatment" and lack of real consequences blow her off and/or guilt her into believing she is being "unforgiving". Then wonder why the world looks at the church and sees nothing worth wanting to be a part of, nothing worth desiring to emulate.

The church needs to wake up and HEAR the voices, from within and from without, that are crying for justice and for reform. The habit of dismissing critics or worse going on the offensive is serving no one. Least of all the church herself.

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