The Top Ten Mistakes by the Church: 4-1
by Jonathan Wilson
Slavery, abuse and bigotry sum it up.
4. The defense of American Chattel Slavery.
The opposite lie: Any disparity at all in life is unfair.
The Bible describes many reasons why people enter slavery: As captives in war, to repay debts, because indolence has led to poverty and poverty has led to the desperate circumstances of enslavement. In our current economic system the "slave" does not exist: however, debt spending does continue as does indolence. The Book of Proverbs is quite clear that sometimes the economic disparity in life is an outcome that is both just and approved by God.
However, the trade in kidnapped humanity, and the exploitation of the poor or the weak (i.e., those not armed with rifles) is expressly forbidden by God in the words of scripture. This is precisely what characterized the trade that brought slaves to the United States. Furthermore, the American practice evolved into life-time, race-based, involunatry service, in which the human life was given no more dignity than other property, such as a cow or a plow. These conditions are alien to what God had in mind in the laws of Moses.
Yet Christian churches in the south were deeply vested by the profits of slavery. They looked to other Biblical justifications, twisting statements out of context, and naturally forbidding their slaves from learning to read and from obtaining Bibles themselves! The investment was so deep it caused splits in church denominations, leading to the Southern Methodists and the Southern Baptist Convention.
On the other hand, some Southern Christians took great risks in speaking out against the institution and in helping slaves escape to freedom, while American preachers took a leading role in the Abolition Movement. Furthermore, some denominations such as the Southern Baptists that formed in order to defend slavery have since apologized for their blunders.
Christian nations, congregations, and leaders have engaged in persecutions of every kind, from "Jew-baiting" at the pulpit to the Spanish Inquisition to the pogroms of the Czars, to the complicity of silence during the Holocaust. This is spawned in large part by the accusation that "Jews are Jesus-killers."
The opposite lie: The Sanhedrin of the Temple was not complicit at all in the death of Jesus.
It is very evident from the New Testament that Jesus was both supported by large numbers of his people, Jews, and that he was the victim of conspiracy by other Jews precisely because they feared his popularity. This is a very realistic depiction of what happens when Jesus enters a culture. Some people become his followers, some people hate him and his message. It is also a realistic depiction of the sociology and political reality of the time. A reading of Josephus, a Jewish historian one generation later than Jesus, makes it patently clear that the Sanhedrin at the time of Annas and Caiaphas had its hands full dealing with Pilate, and were at times unscrupulous themselves, as when they encouraged Pilate to strike rebelling Samaritan cities with troops. This fits quite well with the words of Caiaphas in expressing fear that a popular Jesus would inspire the wrath of Rome. It makes no sense to "blame the Jews" for the death of Jesus, it equally makes no sense to pretend that no Jew had a hand in making sure the Romans crucified him.
Jesus of Nazareth is a Jewish man. To be an Anti-Semite, is to be a bigot that automatically despises Jesus. How can this be possible among people who claim to be Christian? His first disciples were Jewish, his first missionaries were Jewish. Christians owe everything we believe to Jewish people. As the Apostle Paul, a Jew, writes in Romans 11, we Gentiles must not despise Jews, for we are wild branches grafted into the Jewish tree of salvation.
2. Abuse of power by Church leaders.
Where do we begin? Sexual abuse scandals? Pastors who loot their church's offering? Connivance artists investing parishoner money in scams? Gossip from the pulpit? Lawsuits? Fist-fights in church that result in police being called?
The opposite lie: The Church has forfeited its claim to be servants of God on Earth.
In so many ways the Church has spoiled and besmirched its witness. These are ways that have hurt you and turned you off from organized religion. And yet, it is the Church that needs you, too! For the Church is God's plan and design to show the world grace, hospitality and community. The Church is God's instrument to proclaim the gospel of God's love for the world through Jesus Christ. The Church is the vessel of the Holy Spirit.
For all the church's failures, if you take yourself out of the church, you remove a tool from God's hands to build the church. The church can be filled with people who are painful to be around, but that is why we need to remember:
1. That Church people are sinners just like you. 2. That you are a sinner just like the Church people. 3. That sometimes people do not know how to respond better to adversity or conflict until they are shown how. Maybe you are the person to show them how. 4. Jesus calls his disciples to "carry the cross." Following Jesus does not secure for any person a life of care-free individuality without community and without responsibility. Perhaps the cross Jesus calls you to carry is the cross of forgiveness for all those narrow-minded, bigoted Church people. What I do know is that Jesus calls you, who believe in him, to be part of his Church in this world.
The worst mistake made by the Church has been when its congregations have been so homogenous and so focussed inwardly rather than globally, that bigotry has been allowed to flourish in ignorance and fear. Bigotry stained the behavior of medieval Crusaders in several ways: First, in the idea that doing violence in the Holy Land was Godly, second, in the inability to distinguish Christian inhabitants in the Holy Land, and third, the bigoted predisposition toward indiscriminate violence led to outrages against noncombatants. Other errors of bigotry abound throughout the history of the Church: the harsh treatment of Arabs by the Christian soldiers of the Byzantine Empire seeded the resentment that led to Muhammed's meteoric rise in the first place.
The opposite lie: Everyone is the same on the inside.
Bigotry divides Christians along many lines: White versus Black, Protestant versus Catholic, male versus female, English speaker versus foreign speaker, elderly versus teen. Bigotry is where the soul retreats that is forgetting the greatest command and witness of Jesus Christ, that we love our neighbor as ourselves. As Jesus describes that neighbor in the "Good Samaritan" story in Luke 10, our neighbor is the very person against whom we hold our deepest bigotry.
We are not all the same on the inside. The biggest mistake we make when attempting to correct our sins of bigotry, is when we use the "rose-colored glasses" method of cross-cultural dialogue. In fact, different cultures produce different hierarchies of needs and different ways of relating. The essense of honoring our diversity is to look deeper than the skin or the language barrier or the generation gap in order to gain genuine understanding of the needs and aspirations and frustrations of our neighbors.
This is one of the most ingrained problems that many Church denominations and groups are now trying to address. Progress is slow because we are dealing with the Old Nature of sin in all its fears and insecurities. We are encouraged by Matthew Chapter 5 as we read the words of Jesus, "Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God." Bigotry, fear, and ignorance do not bring peace. Peace is upheld when neighbors love each other with the love of God.