If you want to commit spiritual suicide, go to war against someone in your church. If you want to slowly destroy your family, just start lying and spreading rumors about your brother.
Slander and gossip, two sins which go hand in hand, are too often overlooked in the church as "minor" offenses. Other things such as profanity, alcoholism, extra-marital sex, and drug abuse rise to the top of our list of vices but perhaps none are more detrimental, none are more maliciously damaging to the body of Christ than those two unexamined horrors--gossip and slander. If the "body of Christ" theology sounds like a lofty abstract concept to you, not to be taken too seriously in reality, watch a church get torn apart by slander, by gossip, by what should have never become more than a simple disagreement between two brothers or sisters, and would not have if they shared any vision in their relationship. The body of Christ becomes a concrete reality when it gets torn apart like that... it also becomes concrete when it is re-membered as it should be, when we can watch restoration through community... we spend far too much time in that space between. We spend too much time in the space between community and disconnection. In that in between space, there is no antidote for slander and gossip.
The true antidote for the destructive power of slander and gossip is a shared eschatological vision, a Utopian end in sight which can only be shared in the context of intentional community. If we are not intentional in our relationships and if we do not have and end in sight which includes harmony and restoration then we will always be prone to wander toward destruction, we will always basically be ok with having enemies in our own churches. We must becomes people who never put up with having enemies and never settle for damaged relationships. We must become people who are guided by a vision which anticipates true harmony in the body of Christ.
Here's an example of how vision protects us:
There's a woman who goes to church but doesn't just see herself as just "going to church," she sees herself as being part of the church, part of a revolutionary movement toward restoration, and part of a story which says that all things are being made new. One day, her and a colleague at church share a disagreement. She feels quite patronized and frustrated about the disagreement. She would like to go to war with this person using her own "weapons of mass destruction," gossip and slander, but she is guided by a vision which does not put up with having enemies. She does all that she can to restore the relationship... accepting apologies, working to understand where the other person is coming from, going through the long and painful process of forgiveness, moving toward mutual understanding, and even seeking counseling if necessary. She would never dream of gathering people to "her side" or fabricating exaggerations to make the other person sound worse. Even if the issue is never resolved between them, the church never suffers the destructive power of slander and gossip. Her relationships are always moving, even if for eternity, toward wholeness.
There another guy, though. This guy goes to church, pretty much because he likes the pastor, has some friends there, and generally feels good about helping people through the ministry of the church. His vision doesn't really go much farther than that and he's ok with it. One day he has a pretty shocking disagreement with someone in the church over something basically administrative and minor. He is not guided by any larger vision which calls him to the difficult task of restoration so he takes the easy way out, he goes with his emotions. He begins mocking the other person's temper, telling others about their disagreement, even fabricating just a tad to shock more and more people and to gather more and more people to his side. He's basically ok with having enemies and wants oher people to share with him in his division. Other people begin to look skeptically upon the one with whom he had his disagreement. Other people exaggerate the man's experience even more in their own minds and even begin projecting the man's experience onto their own experiences. Others still, can't believe the shocking stories the man is telling and become more and more defensive. Sooner or later the low boiling of division permeates all throughout the church, from the mission board, to the worship team, to the men's fellowship... and so on until what should have never become anything more than a simple disagreement born in frustration becomes an eruption in the church. The church slowly becomes dysfunctional and eventually deteriorates into a band of frustrated individuals instead of a revolutionary movement gathered into one body. As the man watches his church, the body of Christ get ripped apart before his eyes, he realizes that in waging war against his enemy he was not just attacking his enemy he was attacking his brothers, his sisters, his very own body.
Let shared eschatological vision, let intentional community rescue you from your enemies by slowly turning them into your friends. Let the ends dictate the means and let that end be a world of harmony and renewal--the Kingdom of God.
Thanks Wes, that was good. Sometimes it seems like the only thing you can or want to do is retaliate, to defend yourself. However, you remind us that there are far worse consequences than just making someone dislike us more, it is detrimental to our local and broader church family.
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