Why did we stay?
Why did we stay?Why do people stay in a congregation, when with hindsight we can see how manipulative it was? Mike and I talked about this, wondering about ourselves.
I went back to my old thinking about paradigms, and to a story a colleague told me about the Mormons. He was scathing about their theology and the manipulation he was seeing in his area. He talked to a young woman bringing up a child on her own who had joined their congregation. She said, "I know it is wrong what they teach and say, but they are looking after me." And that's the first reason we stay. They look after us, our friends are there. To leave is not just to make a judgment of theology or ethics, it is to leave our friends.
On reflection I think people are very able to make judgments about a church after they have left. Breaking the relationships enables us to open our eyes!
Of course what we say and do within a paradigm also makes it hard to leave. We paint the world outside as bad. We use the arguments of the "slippery slope" and the "whole deck of cards." Leaving one bit of the faith story as our group tells it, is to begin the slide to the loss of everything. If you abandon one piece of belief then the whole pack of cards will fall over.
As we talked about this I remembered two sermons preached by our minister at the time. They are instructive. In one he mentioned how he had been asked for counseling by a young doctor who, to use his words, basically wanted him to sanction leaving his wife. The wife had become socially unhelpful to have around for this young yuppie doctor.
What followed was a scathing criticism of a society that wants to treat human beings and relationships as a commodity of convenience. It was a profoundly compassionate sermon; pro-woman and solidly Christian in its Jesus-like condemnation of the divorce of convenience.
But by its very compassion, it's affirmation of women who were mothers at home, and its properly righteous indignation, it massively reinforced our sense of belonging and our sense of not being part of the world out there which sanctioned that sort of behaviour.
The second sermon was brave. Rod spoke of the falling apart of community. He said, "Do you know what people do when their suburb starts falling apart? They don't commit to it. They buy their way out of trouble and come up here to the hills to live, where it's nice and safe. And that's why communities die." He said it very quietly, with a sad smile, knowing how he was offending some of us. The proverbial pin would have rung out loud as the church bell. But again, the solidarity of our sin, and the true desire for real community somehow bound us together. How would you leave a church like this? I was enthralled by his courage and insight. Somehow, two sermons that actually attacked the middle-class, male-centric ethos of the place, bound us more to it!
Some one said once that a once you are in a paradigm everything is subverted to reinforce that paradigm's reality, even that which on the surface is contra or critical. The system always works to strengthen itself. I experienced it to be so.
So now, in a new church, we are faced with a question. What truth is being subverted by our "reality?" What is our system failing to see... no- determined not to see? How will we work against our own system?
All reformations have seen the failings of the old, but then quickly, or more slowly, fallen victim to their own. We are fools if we think we see faults in the old, but are not equally as crippled and narrow in our own view of reality and God.September 2002 Share