Monday, June 01, 2009

Why nobody listens

There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Why is this not good news for anyone anymore? Why are we, at least in the Western Church losing generations?

Some of us are quick to point to moral relativism: nobody believes in Truth anymore, Right and Wrong are personal opinions, and the only people concerned about condemnation are those religious fanatics who would make themselves and the rest of us happier if they just stopped moralizing everything.

But very few people really believe in moral relativism. Anarchists, perhaps. But most of us do believe in right and wrong; most of us are outraged at evil, at corruption. What spurred the anger at AIG bonuses? What fueled the recent political protest against the California Supreme Court's decision to uphold the controversial Proposition 8? Why do courtroom dramas grab our attention? Why, in any movie or television series, do we savor the moment when the villian gets his comeuppance in the end? A sense of moral outrage.

So, in the context of all this outrage, why is the Church so laughably irrelevant to most people? Is it the scandal of Grace, where we offer forgiveness and love where everyone else demands blood? Where, against all other voices, we say "no offense is unpardonable?" Hardly. We're doing just fine demanding blood.

Instead, WE have become the outrage. The Guardian recently printed letters in reaction to another clergy abuse scandal. Line after line, the indictment of the Church's reaction to this, yet another scandal, shake with moral outrage. Outrage at the perpetrators of abuse, for certain. But more than that, outrage at the cover-up, the protection of the clergy at the expense of children, and outrage at a lack of "real contrition."

How can we witness to Grace, when we have committed the offense? Apparently, leaders in this case figure that "there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus" means "what I did wrong doesn't matter anymore to Jesus, so I shouldn't have to bother with real apologies to anyone else." This is a perversion, the complete opposite of what the presence of Grace means.

What Grace means is this: because of Jesus, we no longer have to protect our image. We protect our image because we fear condemnation, we fear what people will think of the church if they knew (we like to dress this notion up by talking about "preserving our witness"). But through Jesus, we encounter how fully and completely God loved us while we were still sinners and how he does not seek to condemn us, but to rescue us. If we truly believed that the love of God is eternal, unconditional, unwavering, and that that is enough--if we truly had surrendered our lives into his care--then we could admit to the worst of offenses without fear. There is no condemnation.

But we are still trying to prove ourselves. We are still trying to be Righteous. Don't we know that is impossible? Do we need yet another example of how Law leads to death? How long will we hang onto the impossible hope that we can justify ourselves?

Not that we would not grieve for the offense, or for the consequences, intended or otherwise. We know that since nothing can separate us from God's love, we can endure the worst humiliation, the most wretched rejection. God has already done this on our behalf (though in his case it was entirely unmerited).

So, because Christ has done the same for me, taken the condemnation on my behalf, I can say this: I am sorry. What we did and did not do was terrible, evil, and there is no excuse for it. I'm sorry for the abuse, for the cover-up, for the excuses, for the public shaming of abuse victims, for the incompetence and cruel indifference of church leaders. I am sorry for the spiritual abuse, the violation of a sacred and spiritual relationship, for the wounds we did not try to heal and the offenses we did not redress.

But I am one voice, and there are so many others in the Body of Christ that are quick to blame and slow to apologize, assign punishment and slow to accept penance. No wonder nobody listens to us. We do not really believe in Grace. Our actions say that we are not really forgiven, we are only under the Law, that there really is no good news. God help us.


Sarah said...

Wow good points. How much is our cover-up in the church really a denial of our very need for Christ. If we are too good for the Gospel do we just think the Gospel is good for sinners "like them, not us." Are we just righteous ambassadors to the heathen... who would want to listen to that?

You are brilliant, wish you had a larger pulpit to share this from.

joshua loveless said...

sorry to do this like this but i couldn't find contact info for you. can you send me your email? i'd like to have you write something for us at Neue. thanks.

my email is