Andrew Yang’s particularly interesting and engaging talk last night at the public meeting got me thinking about the church at large. Andrew was talking about why the church was a force that could resist and restore throughout the world, even if it is imperfect, and can fight the systems of oppression.
It got me thinking about why I love the church and why I am part of the church. Immediately what came to mind was my study of Murray Bowen’s family systems theory. In Ronald Richardson’s excellent book Becoming A Healthier Pastor, he makes the point that doing research into one’s own family is an important way to achieve the self-differentiation necessary for health. In other words, knowing more about where we came from and who we are helps us become our own persons. Sometimes in family systems the anxiety becomes so overwhelming that such objective research is impossible and it can lead to “cut-offs.”
I fear that in the church, we eventually get too anxiously disappointed that we “cut off.” We leave the family, we leave the system, we get over it. The United States specializes in this individualism. We don’t want to be a part of our own family, we want to go it alone. We are Lone Stars. We are Han Solo. We don’t need a savior, because we save ourselves, and we certainly don’t need a community.
Effective organizations (like the military or ISIS or Comcast) have figured out that doing something together with mutuality is often more effective than doing it alone. The church seems to be caught in its in-fighting so frequently that it can’t organize to change the world or transform people. We don’t include people into our family because we are ashamed of the insecurities. On the other hand, we could try to include someone and just cover up all of the problems, like my mother making sure the house is Spic-And-Span before company comes over. Part of that is hospitality, but the other part is trying to maintain an unreasonable sense of honor, really.
When we so often see evil working out in the collective, like the insurance companies, or a media conglomerate, or a police force, we tend to not burden individuals with their own sin. For example, we might not consider our insurance salesman to be responsible for enslaving us to these greedy, opportunistic corporations. Heck, we might not even burden Barack Obama for his deadly and immoral drone campaign! All of these people, we could say, are merely victims of a system.
Andrew was making the point that often people are involved in a sinful life without even knowing it. For example, a cop might not know that he is enforcing a racist policy when he profiles or stops-and-frisks. So merely calling him a racist or accusing him of something, while it could be true, might not be an effective way to help him change.
The big question for us is this: Does “institutional change” happen at a personal level?
On one hand, perhaps not: killing Hitler doesn’t end the Holocaust. On the other hand, if Jesus transforms the lives of enough people, real change can happen.
I suppose that is really why I love the church. It’s an incubator for transformation. People can be made new in Jesus through his Body. Killing Hitler may not have stopped the Holocaust, but what if he were a Christian?
Some of you are reading this and saying: Hitler claimed to be a Christian and look what happened. In fact, many evil people that made things worse claimed to be believers too. Are you saying there are “good” and “bad” versions of Christianity or even Christians? I’m not sure. And I really only want to speak for Circle of Hope right now, which I think is a good and transformative expression of the Body of Christ. Perhaps made better by you. Moreover, everyone “in the church” also needs to undergo transformation continually too. We are all being made better, not just by our own virtues and motivation, but the leader of the whole church, Jesus Christ. One of the reasons that postmodern relativism is subverted in the church is because we aren’t led by our own version of morality. Prejudicial cops and war hawks consider themselves “moral” too. To quote Walter Sobchak: “Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”
I suppose that’s why the church “works” or at least why it can, if it submits itself to Jesus and not its own agenda. If it includes others to transform them, not merely to tolerate them, then I think we can be effective at creating the alternative to the domination system, to those powers that Paul says, in Ephesians, that our fight is against.