I’ve attempted all week to find the words to explain what has happened in our little church. I guess I can’t explain it because I’m not sure I really know all of the facts. At this point what started this is unimportant anyway. What matters is that a conflict arose and has escalated to the point where our church is experiencing the religious equivalent of a “divorce”. We’ve had three services where people have tried to solve the situation and have only succeeded in making it worse. Now we face a special meeting tomorrow to decide who stays and who goes.
This is the first time in many years when I’ve dreaded going to church. I love church! Aside from being a place where I can worship God, church has always been a sanctuary from the ordinary problems and cares of the world. It’s been my security, my haven. And I refer to the body of believers, the people, not the building.
My church has always been like an extension of my own family. And that brings us to what we all know about families. There are family members we don’t like. There are even relatives who drive us crazy! However, the Bible says to love everyone, with a brotherly, Christian love. It doesn’t say we have to actually like them. Big difference. Huge difference! I often think Jesus told us to love everyone because He knew it would actually be easier for us to love them than to like them. To my way of thinking “brotherly love” is just another way of saying respect. It means that the other person has as much right to God’s love and attention as I do. It means that it takes all kinds of people to form a fellowship. It means I have to allow each individual in the church to be the person God wants them to be, even if that means I grit my teeth and keep my opinions to myself!
Think for a moment about the last funeral you went to for a family member. There was cousin Josh, the one you can’t stand, and yet you found yourself talking about old times and crying together. You felt a kinship- a relationship based on love- even though the guy drives you crazy and you’d never invite him to your house for dinner.
That’s how I’ve always felt about my church family. Sure there are members I don’t like. There are also members I’d like even if they didn’t attend the same church. There are members who actually are members of my family or married to someone in my family. However, my feelings about them, either way, are NOT important. People are in our church, in our building, in our service, because they share a belief in God and the Bible. They are in church to worship God, not to make me happy. Shared belief- that’s supposed to be the “tie that binds”. Our shared beliefs are supposed to create an atmosphere of respect and tolerance and understanding. Well…
That has all been forgotten in a storm of hurt feelings, angry words, and shouting. Our service last week was the most frightening thing I’ve ever experienced in a church. It made me distrust our pastor and our deacons. It made me question each and every relationship I have in our church. It made me wonder about our witness to the rest of the community. It made me doubt our future as a group of believers. It made me feel betrayed!
You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about doubting God. I think God allows us to exercise our “free will” and we abuse the privilege. I still trust God. These idiots haven’t caused me to doubt Him. But I hate confrontation. I hate anger and ugly words and misunderstandings. I recognize this as a test of faith, but this is not a test about doctrine or beliefs. It’s a test of relationships and forgiveness. It’s a test about human will versus obedience.
I feel God guiding me through this and giving me the words that will comfort me. Monday I was listening to Matthew on my way to work. The passage I heard happened to be chapter 18, verses 15-20 about dealing with a brother who sins against you. Then in a discussion with my colleague she said “this too shall pass”, which happened to be a favorite saying of my grandmother’s. Then I was watching a television show and a character quoted Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. I don’t think any of those events are coincidences.
So tomorrow my little world will change. Our church will change, and our community will change. As I said, this is like a divorce. People take sides and form alliances. Everyone gets hurt. I only hope that afterward the healing process is quick. I hope we all find the words to seek and bestow forgiveness. I hope this too shall pass.