Monday, February 06, 2012

"They" Might Just be Sitting Next to You

I'm going to be very honest here for a moment in the hopes that this might be helpful to other pastors and/or future pastors. Know that I say this because I love my fellow ministers, students, teachers, etc and I want to share a perspective that could be vitally helpful someday. I'll be as gentle as I know how.  

I almost walked out of a chapel service today.

I felt like women "like me" were being portrayed as some poor lower class that the Great White Hope should to "reach out to" and pray for in order to do their compassionate Christian duty. 

I know that the intention and the heart behind the service was in the right place, but the way the service went down in the long run felt patronizing. 

Chapel today focused on violence against women.  Obviously, given my past (whole story here in case you are new around here), this is a cause I think is kept far too quiet in our culture-especially in the church.  My beef is that even when the church decides to talk about it, they keep it on such a clinical, academic level that it just winds up feeling like empty words.  This lip-service is exactly the kind of hot air that has earned the church as an institution a reputation for being hypocritical and uncaring.

Instead of cheesy slideshows of "diverse women" from around the world, how about encouraging our congregations to get to know the "victims" (of whatever social injustice we're ranting about that day) and inviting them into our churches and making them feel welcome rather than feeling like a pet project?  Instead of just talking about how terrible it is that (XYZ people) are being treated the way they are, how about taking a group to volunteer at a women's shelter? Instead of talking about the statistics to shock people, what about starting a small group for victims and/or survivors of abuse in our own congregations? What about asking for some testimonies from survivors so the abused know they are not alone in the church? When all we do is talk about it and pray in confession for not doing more about it (and then walk out feeling better), we don't actually change anything for the better.

In all likelihood, statistically speaking (since we are so fond of statistics in our culture), there are abused women and survivors of abuse in your midst, no matter how pretty your church is.  If we are to be a unified front, a family, one body, we cannot keep creating (albeit generally inadvertently) these segregated groups of "we the holy saviors" and "they who need saving/those who have been rescued from their terrible place" We are all just people.  We are all just screwed up people with screwed up pasts who all need to be saved.  And the only one who can do that saving is Jesus. No person on the planet can fix the enormous sociological disaster that is gender-based inequality and victimization.

The church talks a nice talk, but the church had not a scrap of anything to do with my getting out of my abusive first marriage.  The church knew it was going on and allowed it by ignoring for whatever reason they had.  It was a faithful friend who didn't put me in a new, lower class because I was a "victim" who has everything to do with my getting out.  It was because she knew how to listen to the Holy Spirit, remain obedient to the Father and show the love of Christ. 

We run a huge risk when we talk about how we can help people we know little or nothing about. I don't pretend to know how to solve problems of homelessness because I only know a couple of homeless people and I don't know them very well.  I don't know what will solve the water problem in any given developing country because I haven't been to very many of them (one to be exact) and I don't know the people and the culture that well.  If you want to know how you and your congregation can "solve" violence against women, get to know some women who have been at the receiving end of it and get to know the local organizations who DO know the victims and survivors. I know that "black spirituality" week at chapel was full of black men and women standing up front, leading the charge because it would have been ludicrous to have a bunch of white or Asian people running the show (great week, in my pasty opinion.) 

Obviously, I believe in the value of academia and good Biblical education for pastors.  I have a big problem with the lax ordination processes some churches have.  That said, when it comes to figuring out how to practically minister to people, step away from the books and the internet research and the pretty pictures of smiling Guatemalan women with babies on their backs. Those things aren't making those of us who have been (or even worse: are) on the business end of "injustice" feel any better.  Step out into a "bad" neighborhood or a shelter or a foster facility for abused kids or anywhere other than your pretty little bubble and get to know the people that are "less fortunate."

I'm fully aware that this could turn out to be one of my more unpopular posts, and I quite frankly hope it makes a few people squirm.  If the service about injustice/violence/abuse/racism/etc doesn't make at least a few people uncomfortable, it's probably not going to change much of anything. A "nice service" about an ugly topic like violence is a bit of an oxymoron, don't you think?

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