Monday, January 27, 2014

Devastated Christians

(Photo by Reuters)

Today, I picked up the Korean version of "Letters to a devastated Christian" by Gene Edwards and skimmed the book in 30 minutes. I may have missed important parts of the book and I may have not interpreted the message entirely correctly, but here are my impressions on the book as well as the very topic itself. 

Edwards indeed does us a favor by boldly pointing out the "evil" and wrongdoings of oppressive and authoritative church leaders. Many long-term Christians would agree that at one point in their lives, they have been personally hurt by peers and leaders to the extent that they have seriously considered leaving the church, or worst case scenario tempted to abandon their faith in God altogether. Sadly this is quite common as the book points out. 

It is true that individuals need to be treated with respect and should be granted their personal space. It is also true that leaders need more conviction in their ministry. If their ways are challenged, or if they see a non-biblical behavior happen at church, they should not be hasty or feel the urge to solve this problem by direct confrontation that involves warning or reprimanding. If someone has conviction or calling to the ministry, he or she should surely know that it is God's doing and He is in control.  It is not about me but Him. All I need to do is to treat the person with grace and communicate the problem with delicacy. If the problem still doesn't resolve, as Edwards describes, leaders should be praying about it. But never act in an oppressive way. 

These are all valid points I agree with the author. However, as someone who experienced "devastation" from a very hierarchical church first-hand, and at the same time who served as a leader, I can tell you that when you are in the midst of such happenings, it is not as simple as Edwards might describe. 

My biggest complaint about the book is that we do not know if the victim of oppression was the actual source of problem (I may be totally wrong here from skimming the book. Let me know). I am aware that even if the victim was the source of the problem, he or she should not be treated with hostility. However, the victim should be doing some serious reflection in humility and seek wisdom from trusted peers. The author seems to give us a one-dimensional solution by telling the readers to leave the church! Leaving is fine, but does your hurt become resolved by this? No. Even if you decide to leave, your devastation will linger and the fire you once had is certain to diminish... for a very very long time. You will not find that perfect church but I believe there is one thing that will help you. That is to seek understanding of the situation. This understanding may come after 10 years, but I suggest that you never give up seeking understanding through patience and diligent prayer. Again, leaving the church is not the matter of importance here. It is your heart, and the revival of your passion. 

However, if the problem is really 100% church's fault (which is quite rare because I believe conflicts aren't caused exclusively by one party), then fleeing might indeed be the best choice as Edwards describes.

To be honest, I did feel some guilt when I read this book because I felt like I was the one described in the book: someone who lacked conviction, forgiveness, and grace. Someone who wanted order in church. Someone who probably resembled a Saul, not a David. I do not regret for who I was and who I am, because I believe I am still being molded by God, forever in His likeness. However, I am sad. I was truly passionate, and inside me wanted happiness for everyone. However this yearn for "achieving" such a Utopian environment may have made me more sensitive or impulsive to adverse situations. These were my flaws.

If you are reading this as a victim, I hope some of my explanations have provided you with understanding. You may be in need of being owed an apology, but would you have the courage to forgive the unspoken but dearly intended apology that past leaders like myself failed to deliver?

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