I suppose my biggest question is how did the church become a place not of healing for the weak and the outcast and instead become a place where the cruel could not just find a safe place but a place that elevates and enables them?
The answer is probably impossible to find because, let’s face it, the church has been this way for over a millennia. Over here on the Protestant side, we like to think we are so much better than the Catholics. In the more conservative branches of Protestantism, Catholics are still derided and looked down on as idolators. 15 years ago, when The Boston Globe broke the story of the priest sex-abuse scandal, conservative Protestants squealed “I told you so” with glee.
But between Protestant and Catholic, it’s always been a matter of ignoring our own mote. Neither side has the corner on evil, we both have done more than our fair share to abuse the weak and the least of these.
The world is right to look at us like we’re all a bunch of hypocrites, because that’s exactly how we behave. But it’s also how we speak, even if we are trying to be what we think is kind.
A few days ago a woman uttered the common words of Christianity to a local newspaper, and the world saw just how cruel we can be. In her case, it looks like a matter of defending her son for the negligent homicide of five children in a school bus accident. But her words “This accident was God’s will” are words the suffering are burdened with on a daily basis.
As I have tried to understand Christian thought on this matter I have been confronted with the “it’s your fault” words many times, but I’ve also been hit with the whole “God’s will” thing as well.
I’m sure that you might have some cherry-picked Scripture that will prove that even rape is God’s will, that the death of over 10,000 children each day is somehow God’s will. Because that’s how we interpret it.
In Judaism there is a belief in Maktoob, that God is the author of everything. That everything that happens is God’s will, even what we call evil. In Protestantism, this is called Calvinism. For most of my life this is what I believed. But to believe it I had to deny the evil that had happened. I couldn’t call it evil, because if the abuse my parents heaped on me was evil, that made God the author of evil, and the church, even the ones that teach Calvinism, claims God can’t do anything evil. That everything is beautiful because God has ordained it to happen. It’s kind of a twisted version of looking for the silver lining.
The strangest thing to me is that this belief also resides in the minds of people who believe that God has given us Free Will. People who believe that we choose to do evil or good. Yet, when something evil happens to us we are told it is God’s will and we just have to wait and see how God works it out.
When a victim walks into a church and hears the sermons and the casual conversations about bad things being God’s will, let’s face it, that’s re-victimization. Was the woman’s rape actually God’s will? Was the murder of that couple’s child really God’s will? Was the abuse of that child really God’s will? People who say ‘yes’ claim that this doesn’t actually make God the author of evil. But they can only do this if they in turn claim that evil is good. Oh, they won’t come out and say it that way, but they will say things like, “in the end it was the best thing that could have happened because…”
What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Were you raped? Molested? Beaten? Assaulted? Do you consider those things God’s will? Do you tell others you consider these evil things God’s will? Do you realize how this belief enables the evil people within your church to continue in their evil?
Even in churches that preach against sin, it is usually just the sins the pastor doesn’t like. Some pastors don’t like LGBT+ folks, so that’s the sin that’s truly evil. Some pastors don’t like the teachings in a different denomination, so those “false teachings” are the things that are truly evil. Everything else is God’s will, even up to and including rape and murder.
So the sins that are actually occurring in the church, the proud being promoted to places of authority, pastors who speak in openly abusive tones, etc, are tolerated.
Was it God’s will for Mark Driscoll to lie and cheat and steal?
Was it God’s will for a woman to be beaten so her husband could be supposedly saved?
Was it God’s will for Tullian Tchividjian to cheat on his wife multiple times?
Was it God’s will that ISIS should rise to power and kill thousands of Christians, beheading their small children in front of them?
Was it God’s will that Hitler rise to power and kill millions of people?
Or did these things happen because we who claim the name of Christ sit back and do nothing? Do these things continue to happen because we who claim the name of Christ are perfectly comfortable in our cozy homes and clean churches where nobody swears or sins “like that?” In short, does evil occur because we who claim the name of Christ have completely and wholeheartedly rejected what God has called us to do in favor of supposedly doing, well, whatever we’ve substituted it with?
Look, Jesus was pretty blatant about what we are to do. But we sit around and pray and hope God will do something miraculous. The truth is terrifying. The truth is…we are God’s miracle. We are the ones who are supposed to be out there stopping these evil things from happening. The story of the Good Samaritan was more than just a story against the religious leaders of the time. It was Jesus openly and clearly telling us what we are supposed to be doing.
But we are content to tell the victims of life’s violence that it was somehow God’s will, because to actually go out and take a stand against the evil, to actually stand with the victim and help carry their burden (as Scripture demands, btw) is a whole lot more difficult than just sitting in our closet praying for a miracle.
If it hadn’t been for the few Christians who stood with me, I hate to think of where I’d be right now. And that was just a few people. Imagine what would happen if everyone who claimed Christ did so? The truly evil would not feel comfortable in our churches but their victims would be healed and be able in turn to help others heal. And we would reverse nearly two thousand years worth of error.