Joel Johnson writes a familiar but sad story. Malfeasance from a pastor drove him out of Christianity. He’s not alone; writer Sue Monk Kidd tells a tragically similar story. I’m absolutely certain the two are not alone in their experience. And they pose a conundrum, to believers and to those who have left because of this sort of thing.
As believers these sort of stories should serve to remind us of the burden we bear. We know we’re far from perfect. We know we’ll do things that offend others, sometimes egregiously, and even sometimes intentionally. There’s always that possibility; it comes from being human. And the burden is that when we do so, the world around us will blame our church, our faith, our Lord, rather than put the blame where it belongs — on us.
It’s the fallen nature of humanity that wants to do this. We know that, but there’s no easy way past the world’s refusal to accept this. Instead the world rejoices in the knowledge that we’re no better than everyone else. Missing the point, of course, that the entire premise of Christianity is, in fact, that Christians aren’t any better than anyone else.
And we know we aren’t. The sad truth is that, since we aren’t, some of us also behave contrary to this realization. Just as others, some of us act as if our religion has somehow elevated us, the admonitions of Paul to the contrary, making us better than the rest. And why? Simply because we’ve been forgiven?
We have to realize that just as glory may come to Jesus through our actions, so may opprobrium. The door we open with one hand may get slammed shut by the other. While we pray to bring glory through our actions, we often omit to pray that our actions also not bring shame to our Leader. For, in the last analysis, the Jesus the world sees is the Jesus we put on display in our lives. That is our responsibility and our privilege. Please God, let us not abuse it.
There is also the conundrum on the other side of this. How does the non-Christian separate the actions of the follower from the leader? It’s not logical to blame Jesus, or Christianity, for the actions of those who claim to follow, but the urge is strong. Why should they resist? After all, to do so is to give themselves permission to follow their fallen nature, rather than struggle against it.
Aye, there’s the rub. I can’t really fault them for their choice, wrong though it may be, because I know from my own experience that to act any other way is difficult, and I couldn’t do it on my own, without divine intervention.
Mr Johnson claims to have made his “peace with the Prince of it.” It’s obvious from the note he hasn’t; he’s simply decided to accept his own decision to reject that Prince based solely on the actions of some of the followers. It’s tragic but as I said, understandable. And the sad truth about those burned in this way is they become even harder to reach a second time.
The lesson Mr Johnson intends to teach is valuable. Forgiveness is indeed essential to life. Ever tried to walk a straight line forward while looking backwards? It can’t be done. Holding on to grudges and past wrongs, imaginary or real, only impedes progress. It is essential for us to forgive. But that’s only half the story. It’s equally essential for us to be forgiven.
And the lesson Mr Johnson didn’t intend to teach us is just as important. We stand in the place of our King, representing Him to the world. Our actions bring not only praise and blame to ourselves, but they also reflect on Him. This is a fact of life, however unfair we may consider it, and we have to behave accordingly.
It’s our responsibility to minimize the “collateral damage” done by our own actions to the cause of our King. In these two named, and countless other unnamed, we have failed. We need to learn those lessons well, lest these tradegies proliferate.