"Peace if possible, truth at all costs." Martin Luther
Last week, my husband and I took a boat from Key West and did some snorkeling out at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. It was awesome, combining history with outstanding waters. On the way back, we sat with a couple from north Florida who were visiting the area to celebrate the wife’s 50th birthday. She had requested to stay in a historic bed and breakfast on the beach. The husband found a mansion with loads of history and a supposed Jimmy Buffet ambience.
Poor guy. He didn’t read the fine print. Upon arriving, he and his wife were handed a key to the mansion and were told that the manager leaves at 7 PM. There were approximately 10 couples in residence. So, off they went to the pool overlooking the ocean. What immediately struck them was that all of the folks were sunning themselves sans clothing!!!
Attempting to look inconspicuous (in a sort of reverse Adam and Eve story), they hid in two chairs behind a palm tree. However, this was a friendly group of nudists. One man came over and leaned down to shake their hands. Can you picture it? As he reached down, his "equipment" was in close proximity to the couples’ faces. They were mortified, especially after the gentleman explained how much they would enjoy shedding their clothes, which they had absolutely no intention of doing.
They had prepaid for this “experience” and would lose a great deal of cash if they checked out early, so they decided to stay. While in the mansion, they kept the door to their room locked at all times. In order to escape during the day, they found other beaches and activities off the grounds, which explains why we met them. When the manager left at 7 PM, the mansion erupted with raucous laughter, footsteps and thuds which occurred at a furious rate. Said couple then barricaded themselves in their room by placing a chair under the doorknob for further security. They spent their evenings drinking Margaritas to ease their emotional distress.
I have to admit, the story was funny, especially the way the husband told it. I mentioned that if it was O.K. with them I might use it on my blog to which he laughed and said, “Go at it!”
So what do a bunch of boisterous nudists have to do with evangelicalism? Well, this is TWW, and we can find meaning in just about anything!
My able counterpart has been discussing the issues surrounding toxic faith. Both of us have MBAs. In business school, the concept of the “rules of the game” are spelled out. All companies have well-articulated contracts. But there are unwritten rules that may have even more of an impact on the functioning of said company.
For example, the boss’ daughter is a dingbat but she is the CFO. It is an unwritten rule that those who function under her command need to spruce up the financial reports and pretend it is her “brilliant” financial acumen that is behind the report.
Or, the owner of a small business is an alcoholic. His subordinates are expected to cover for him or they will be fired.
Our business professors said it was up to us to discover these unwritten rules of the game and then decide if we wanted to function in such an environment. Yes, these things are unfair and wrong. One might attempt to rectify the problems, but there is always the inherent risk of getting fired. Life is series of tradeoffs, and one does not have to work at a particular company.
The following is a true story that I have mentioned before on this blog. Yours truly and her husband, along with another man, were teaching an adult Sunday school class on systematic theology in a conservative Southern Baptist church. Believing vigorously in the concept of “A” and “B” issues, we decided to present two sides of the creation conundrum. We arranged to have folks from each side of the debate (old and young earth creationism) come and present their views to the class. Thankfully, we didn’t add theistic evolution to the mix. We would have been tried and shot at dawn.
When the young earth cavalry rode to the rescue, creating a melee because they actually believed we were leading the folks into Biblical heresy. So, we decided to have a tête-à-tête with the lead pastor. You see, there was nothing in the statement of faith of this church on this matter nor is there a side taken by the SBC. Surely, we thought, this is all a big misunderstanding by some of the congregants (along with some of their nonmember troops since this group travels in herds).
Well, lo and behold, the pastor told us that young earth creationism is part of the “framework” of the church. When we asked where said “framework” was elucidated, he said that “they” didn’t write it down because they didn’t want to prevent people from coming to the church because of this issue.
This “secretive” command was applied in strange ways. They made the children go through a 6-week “creation” course every year. They even had a course for adults. Of course, they only presented material from the rather suspect Answers in Genesis crowd. Kids and adults alike were summarily evicted from the course if they raised legitimate questions about the “scientific” evidence. Unfortunately, those teaching the “official” course were indoctrinated and poorly trained which led them to become uncomfortable if a differing perspective was offered.
Now here is the problem. My husband and I would never have joined such a church if we knew this “rule” up front. We believe the earth is very, very old. But perhaps this is what they wanted. They got money and labor out of us for several years until we started raising questions. Then, the cost outweighed the benefit and we, along with some friends, became church pariahs. One can be absolutely sure that if there is one unspoken rule there are many, many others. And so it was with this church.
We became like that couple who barricaded themselves in their room in the out-of-control nudist mansion. At least this couple had overlooked some fine print. There was absolutely no fine print, no verbal record, no “new members” warning, etc., for us to overlook. We realized that we had been purposely deceived and the unveiled church that we were attending was very different than the church we thought we were attending. It appears that the nudist mansion folks have better morals in this area of honest disclosure (or better attorneys) than those in our former church.
Although I was initially angry about this deception, I realized that God meant the experience for a greater cause. These incidents only served to help me to understand another aspect of toxic faith. It also brought me into a deeper understanding of the depths of sin that can be present in those in leadership. I used to think that I was the sinner and that the pastors were the example of righteousness. No more!
The saddest part of this saga is that the world is watching us and our hypocrisy shines brighter than our love and good works. On the New Ex Christians.Net site they do an unfortunately darn good job of publishing all of the sexual peccadilloes and embezzlement charges of church leaders that are publicized in the news. What is discouraging is that these stories are numerous, often appearing at a rate of 4-5 times a week. Here is one example.
One might say that atheists are no better than Christians in the sin department. That’s true, but they don’t pretend to be. We do. And it is time for a whole lot more humility by those in leadership and a whole lot less of preening authoritarianism.
One way to start is to spell out exactly what is being “pushed” as vital in any church. A note to pastors: if you believe it; own it and stop this nonsense of hiding your little rules! If you hide them, methinks you are just a teensy bit embarrassed by them. Or perhaps you are afraid that potential contributors could take their money elsewhere. Are you really willing to sacrifice honesty for numbers and bucks? How terribly mundane!
Oh, and if carefully spelled out mandates are just too hard for you, perhaps you can get some attorneys to put it in small print so you can at least pretend you are being honest. Until then, the nudist mansion has a leg up on you.
Tune in on Thursday when we look how legalism is related to NASCAR-Vroom, Vroom