Archive for July, 2016

Do we really believe all lives matter?

I can’t say that I’ve invested a lot of time researching the imbalanced treatment of minorities by US law enforcement. In the few articles I’ve read it seems as though police killings are relatively balanced by race but other things like getting pulled over aren’t. I have a local friend whose parents came from Sri Lanka (south of India). He is just brown enough that in the dark he was accosted three times by local police in one night. It was immensely frustrating for my friend. It seemed very dehumanizing. I’ve never experienced anything like that.

I don’t think “black lives matter” precludes the notion that “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter.” Deep down we believe in conditional humanity. We value you if you meet certain conditions and if you don’t meet them you are lesser. The most obvious condition is incarceration. As soon as you are in jail in most places you are less than human and should be treated as such. The problem with this approach is that if you treat people like animals they are more likely to act like them when you let them out of their cage. They are much more likely to victimize someone else. I don’t know that we’ve fully grasped the reality that there is a direct connection between how we treat offenders and continuing crime. If we treat people in a way that makes them much more likely to reoffend do we not share responsibility for that crime?

At least with the dehumanizing of criminals we have an understandable reason for doing so. We want retribution. We need a deterrent. We have much less reason to dehumanize people because they are too young, too old, too poor, the wrong race, the wrong colour, the wrong religion, from the wrong town or live in the wrong part of town, or had the wrong parents. As soon we believe in conditional humanity we open ourselves to all sorts of prejudice.

I believe in something even more profound than all lives matter. I believe in grace. Grace is the English rendering of the greek word charis, which means unmerited favour. You’ll find it over 100 times in the New Testament. “The law came through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 NIV). The very definition of this word changed my faith forever. Not only do all lives matter, all lives are favoured by God. In fact, God deemed all lives so valuable that he would suffer to heal and restore all of them.

How does this translate in everyday life? We treat people with dignity, respect and compassion regardless of whether they can do anything for us. I think it also means we take difficult measures to ensure people are safe from those who would exploit or victimize them. In some cases people are victimized by criminal activity, and sometimes it is unfair treatment from people in power in society.

No Comments

Biblical values or tribalism

Just the other day I was having a long talk with a good friend. While we both have identified ourselves as evangelicals, we both felt increasingly uncomfortable in the evangelical culture. For myself I think part of it is theological. Depending on your definition I’d still call myself an evangelical, even if I’d call myself a moderate one. I still love the bible and view it as authoritative. Like many other Anabaptists I see the life and teachings of Jesus as the focal point of scripture. So I’ve studied, and I’ve invested in my education and resources in order to better understand God, the Christian faith and my world. So much of my participation in the evangelical world was based on the assumption that others in this movement had similar values.

In the last few years I’ve come to realize, that just isn’t true. It is a really, really difficult realization to come to.

While I readily acknowledge there are lots of people who do deeply care about biblical values and just interpret the bible differently…with those types of people I love to engage, discuss and debate and learn things from.

I think the heart of Christianity is Christ, but following Jesus requires the following:

A fearless devotion to the truth

Unselfish love

Following Jesus required people put their ingrained knowledge and values to side to fully consider what he was saying. When Jesus told everyone they would have to eat his body and drink his blood only those fearlessly devoted to following the truth at any cost continued to follow him.

The human mind can only handle so much connection, so when we hit a certain point we simplify things by interpreting people through stereotypes or other models. Some of these types and models are developed in community. We tend absorb our perspective from our community. When the assumptions and expectations of that community become the dominant lens by which truth and situations are judged regardless of evidence that is tribalism.

What has frustrated me is that when an issue comes along that calls for a fearless devotion to the truth or unselfish love I see evangelicals holding fast to the tribal value rather than reconsidering things from a biblical perspective. In fact, evangelicals assume their tribal values are biblical values. In that we are not so different from the religious leaders of Jesus day who persecuted him.

I’ll give you an example: assisted dying. There are some who work in the field of social work or health care that actively affirm the biblical value of the sanctity of all life. I don’t begrudge these fine people as they attempt to shape the laws and policies of our governments. Assisted dying at this point only impacts people who are so incapacitated that they can’t end their own life. These people are generally older, are suffering from a chronic or terminal condition and are therefore a relatively small contingent of people. There is a much larger contingent of people who commit suicide because they have lost hope, are mired with addictions or are afflicted with mental illness. The church has very little leverage to shape the outcome of the legal changes forced by the supreme court of Canada. We could make a huge difference by advocating for social justice for the vulnerable sectors of society with high rates of suicide. We could help fund addictions and mental health programs. Aside from 12 step programs evangelicals don’t do much on this front.

The reason is we don’t really care about people. We just get upset when people violate the rules of our tribe.

1 Comment

Moral failure in Christian leadership

In the aftermath of another high profile Christian leader stepping down to a moral failure there are the usual comments about accountability, moral failure and the difficulties of pastoral leadership. Last winter my annual seasonal mood issues began but unlike other years they did not recede with the end of winter. I relieved myself of any ministry and community obligations that I felt too heavy to bear. Since May I’ve felt significantly better, but I’m still very tentative and wary of taking on more burden than I can handle. It has been great, letting myself off the hook. It took until my summer vacation, where I finally go to the point where I felt blissfully bored. No immediate anxieties, no urgent projects, and nothing but my role as a father, husband and friend. The time has given me some perspective.

I think a lot of people in church leadership turn to a vice like booze, drugs or sex because of a conflict between their subconscious and conscious selves. The primary driver is not the “temptation.” The sinful activity is an escape channel. At one level there is the commitments to position, colleagues and church community. There are the self-assigned burdens and expectations. These are prioritized above personal needs which results an ever depending mental and emotional health deficit. Inside this cocoon of pressure something has to give. Without even fully understanding it people make drastic choices masked under the impulse of vice. In the moment it is just a fling with the secretary but deep down underneath it is all is a desperate psyche that wants to be free. It happens to lots of people, not just pastors.

Sadly, most people who to travel this path are shamed and discarded despite the carefully crafted public announcements of ongoing encouragement and support. It seems odd, the very community or organisation that watched the leader spiral out of control thinks they can now navigate a delicate restoration process. What I’ve observed too many times is that Christian leaders are valued for what they bring to the life the organization. When they become a liability they become effectively worthless and are treated as such. Fortunately, this isn’t always the case. Some leaders have real friends who will value them regardless of their perceived or real failures. Some leaders don’t travel the path of moral failure they just burn out, and the long term disability insurance contract forces the organization to try to reintegrate them.

I’ve been part of and had friends in many Christian organizations. I’ve never observed the kind of support, community and acceptance I’ve experience in simple church ministry whether it be a small group or a house church. This winter and spring I leaned on a lot of people for support. I am thankful for the rich friendships that have been mutually cultivated inside and outside my core community. I have a web of relationships that helped me immensely. Without the pressure of position, I could step back without shame, and it was easy to turn to people to help.

Most of the purposed for solutions for pastoral burnout are ineffective or obviously too hard to follow. I think more than anything we need real community and solid relationships with people that you know will accept you in your failings. Sadly, in most ministry situations this notion is unrealistic.

I’m better. I feel tentative though. It is kind of like that point after you sprain your ankle, the pain is gone but you don’t want risk anything more than a slow sure walk until you know the healing is solid. I can’t say I’m eager to rush back in and try to change the world. In fact, I’m learning how my life’s desire, my life ethos to change the world has hurt me. That subject will have to wait for another post.

No Comments