Baptist News Global today is taking the rare step of publishing an anonymous Op-Ed essay. We have done so at the request of the author, a senior official in a church whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers.
The church is facing a test unlike any faced in the modern era. It’s not just that the church is bitterly divided over politics. The dilemma is that not nearly enough of the church’s leadership is working diligently from within to frustrate the church’s worst inclinations.
I would know. I am one of them.
To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of those who are leaving the church. We want the church to succeed and think that in many ways the church has shared the love of God. But we believe our first duty is to God, and the church continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of God’s people. That is why many ministers have vowed to do what we can to preserve the church from the church’s more misguided impulses.
The root of the problem is the church’s lack of love. Anyone who works in the church knows the church is not always moored to the discernible first principle that should guide decision making. Although the church is meant to be Christ to the world, the church has often shown little affinity for the ideals espoused by Christ – feeding the hungry, welcoming immigrants, loving your enemies, praying with humility, and caring for the poor.
“Although the church is meant to be Christ to the world, the church has often shown little affinity for the ideals espoused by Christ.”
At best, the church has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, the church has attacked them outright.
In addition to the mass-marketing of the notion that God’s world is the “enemy of the church,” the impulses are generally anti-love.
Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the church fails to capture – openness to faith, acts of kindness and concern for the hurting. But these successes have come despite – not because of – most of the church’s leadership, which is often adversarial, petty, and ineffective.
From the pulpit to the pew, churchgoers will privately admit their disbelief at the ways the church focuses on buildings, bylaws and budgets to the neglect of those the church is meant to serve. Many are working to insulate their spirituality from the narrowness of much of the church.
Church meetings veer off the topic of God’s love, get consumed by repetitive complaints, and end up with policy discussions that have little to do with sharing hope.
A church member complained to me recently, exasperated by a church meeting, “There was no mention of God after the opening prayer.”
The erratic behavior of the church would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in the church. Some of these people seem unimportant, but they go to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained in the institution of the church, though they are clearly not always successful.
It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are followers of Christ in the church. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when the church won’t.
The result is a two-track church.
Take foreign policy: In public and in private, much of the church shows a preference for an autocratic president, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us all as children of God. Astute observers have noted, though, that much of the church is operating on another track, one where God’s love is the guiding principle, and where broken people are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.
“It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are followers of Christ in the church.”
This isn’t the work of the deep church. It’s the work of the real church.
Given the inauthenticity they have witnessed, many have left the church. But many others have stayed to steer the church in the right direction until – one way or another – it’s over.
The bigger concern is not what church leadership has done to the church but rather what we as church members have allowed them to do to us. We have sunk low with them and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.
The church can, as Senator John McCain put it his farewell letter, “break free of the tribalism trap,” with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of God.
There is a quiet resistance within the church of people choosing to put God first. But the real difference will be made by everyday church members rising above politics, reaching across the aisle, and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: God’s people.
– The writer is a senior official in the church.
Editor’s note: This “anonymous Op-Ed” is wholly dependent on “I Am Part of the Resistance inside the Trump Administration,” published Sept. 5, 2018, by The New York Times. For discerning readers who think this essay may be the work of one of our regular opinion contributors, you could be right.