As I write this post, there’s a full blown crisis exploding across my denomination.
It’s one of integrity and transparency.
Of who we are and we who we are going to be.
From the murky (near) closing of our publishing house and a federal investigation into the finances of one of our universities to the demotion of a chaplain for preaching the gospel and the firing of a professor for teaching things his president doesn’t want to hear, my beloved Church of the Nazarene is really struggling right now.
But, of course, we’re not the only ones riddled with problems.
From the Southern Baptists to the Roman Catholics and the non-denoms in-between(?), we all have our fair share of problems that seem to be constantly ripping us apart at the seams and snuffing out our future. Perhaps some of them need legal representation similar to what the office of Dan Beirute (https://uschurchlaw.com) can provide to help them through it. In the midst our shared struggles we also share a common chorus I hear ring out any time scandal or conflict or controversy brews in the corridors of the Church and then spills out into the street.
We’re hurting the Church’s witness, they say. We must protect our witness, they tell us whenever the Church’s dirty laundry is hanging out in the open for all to see.
The idea, obviously, is that “the world” will see our imperfections, realize we’re not perfect, that we fight sometimes and screw up a lot, then they’ll reject the gospel, never to darken the doors of our churches ever again.
All because Christians talked openly about our problems on Facebook.
It’s completely absurd when you really think about it.
I mean, do we really think that “the world” is under the delusion that the Church is perfect and if they find out otherwise then the jig is up and we’ll have to close up shop? Do we really believe that there are legions of people out there staying home on Sunday mornings because they saw Christians arguing about something on the internet?
Because if we really are that insecure and delusional, then we’ve got much bigger problems Facebook and Twitter.
To be fair, I think a big part of the problem today is a radical disconnect between older and younger generations when it comes to social media. Younger folks (and some of the older crowd too) take it for granted that social media is where debate and discussion take place no matter how contentious the debate or unsavory the scandal. Because of moments like the Arab Spring and the tragedy in Ferguson and every political, church, and celebrity scandal in-between, younger folks today see social media as a powerful agent of change, transparency, and accountability – even if some of us still haven’t clued into the fact that our tweets and Facebook posts can be seen by our employers.
Older folks, on the other hand, remember a world in which people didn’t Instagram their lunch and where a problem in one small corner of America could be easily and quickly dealt with privately…or swept under the rug if need be. So, naturally, it’s jarring to suddenly wake up one day and discover that privacy has gone the way of the 8-track and that handy rug is no more.
In this scary new world of social media, where everyone’s laundry is hanging out to dry for the world to see, “we’re hurting the church’s witness” has become a new weapon in the fight to hold on to privacy and regain control over situations we don’t want “the world” to know about.
However, the cries of protecting the Church’s witness are often little more than a shaming tactic used to silence dissent and sustain the fantasy of perfection. It’s a battle cry employed in hopes of keeping our sins hidden in the dark and a last ditch effort to keep up the illusion of perfection in the Church.
But, look, if you don’t like confrontation, I get it.
If it pains you to see the Church you love being exposed to the world, I sympathize. But you must remember that the reason most of those folks you want to keep quiet get so hurt and upset at things that unfold in the Church is not because they’re troublemakers or malcontents just looking to stir up trouble. Most of those folks get hurt and upset because of how much they too love the Church and because of how much they too want to see it thrive. They speak out and demand change because they want to see the Church get better, not because they want to see it die.
Yes, there is frustration and anger too, but most of that anger and frustration stems from how frustrated those folks are by their fellow Christians who refuse to admit our imperfections and seem to only ever want to shame those who “complain” and “criticize” and refuse to tow the party line.
The truth of the matter is protecting the Church’s witness by silencing public criticism and hiding problems behind closed doors is nothing more than a coverup.
It’s an effort to present to the world a false image of who we really are.
It’s a lie.
Simply put, we can’t make claims about the Church being stewards of the Truth when we lack transparency and integrity. Not only does that lack of transparency and integrity makes us hypocrites, it also reveals a deep and tragic irony. For how can we work so hard to try and keep people from looking behind the curtain at our flaws when our faith is grounded in a veil being torn?
Moreover, it is radically unbiblical to be so obsessed with PR. The Bible is, if nothing else, open and transparent about the flaws and failings of the people of God. Or to put it another way, the Bible has no problem being terrible PR for God’s people. It’s full of stories of murderers and adulterers, of thieves and terrorists, of cheats and liars who all somehow ended up becoming heroes of the faith.
But without those stories we have no way of talking about grace and forgiveness.
Our story is and always will be until our Lord returns, one of flaws and failure. We cannot and must not hide them. The world needs to hear them. And we need to hear them because we need to understand the cost of grace and because we need a constant reminder of who we really are. We need to be continually reminded that we can’t claim to be a people of the Book when we go out of our way to create an environment in which that Book could never be written.
But what really hurts the Church’s witness the most is not our narrative inconsistency or our public feuding or even our unholy efforts to protect the powerful and keep secrets hidden behind closed doors.
What really hurts the witness of the Church the most is claiming that all lives are sacred while refusing to fight to ensure basic healthcare for our neighbors.
What really hurts the Church’s witness is beating the drums of war overseas while ignoring the minorities being massacred in our own streets.
What really hurts the Church’s witness is proclaiming that all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord while working hard to pass laws that exist for the sole purpose of discrimination.
What really hurts the Church’s witness is pastors living in million dollar homes while preaching about a homeless Savior.
What really hurts the Church’s witness is singing about amazing grace while refusing to extend it to those in need.
What really hurts the Church’s witness the most isn’t our digital debating and public infighting.
It’s the way we live our lives.