22 Is Evangelicalism to blame?

And more importantly is Liberalism the answer?

A Guest Blog By Dick Davies

I too suspect that the roots of abusive spiritual leadership are not so much linked to a particular theology such as evangelicalism (or for that matter liberalism). Rather they are in my opinion more linked to the way in which we hold to a particular “ism”, and use it to exert power.   I very much appreciate Stephen’s careful discrimination between the words “Evangelical” and “Fundamentalist”.

Generosity helps

I confess to be a U2 fan, and one of their songs has the lyric,  “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.  That makes sense to me.  If we worship an utterly transcendent being, then all theology should surely be provisional.  And if provisional, I would suggest also held to in a generous attitude.  And yes I am aware of the irony in saying this as an evangelical!

The idea of generosity came to me reading Brian Maclaren’s excellent book “A Generous Orthodoxy“. It is also reflected well by him in his blog at www.brianmclaren.net where many less “provisional”  evangelicals seem eager to pick fights!  Brian’s responses always seem to me to be most generous and gracious.

Is Liberalism the answer?

I have read a couple of books recently:  Stephen’s excellent “Ungodly Fear” and also Robin Meyers, “Saving Jesus from the Church”.  Both books come from (what looks to me as an evangelical) similar standpoints.  Both take a more classical “Liberal” approach to the Bible text.  Quite understandably both look at problems in the church, and seem to see the answers in their own theological context. But is there a bigger picture?  And if the whole answer to the abuse of spiritual power is not located in one particular theological stream, then where is it?

Philosphical changes

I think Stephen’s consideration of Psychology certainly merits further thought.  There is however another big dichotomy in the area of philosophy – in particular between the “modern”, and “post-modern”. This dichotomy is giving rise to a significant growth of evangelicals in the USA who are on the political left.  For me this movement gives great hope. These so called “red-letter Christians” emphasise a Jesus – centered orthopraxy (doing right) as distinct from orthodoxy (believing right).

More heroes less experts?

People such as Shane Claiborne are leaders of this new “red letter Christian” movement, politically & theologically radical, effectively saying not “believe what I believe” but “live like I live”.   Living with the poor, involved in their lives.

Maybe we need more discipleship and less emphasis on orthodoxy – from whichever theological standpoint?  I hate it when people use the Jesus “trump card”, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Isn’t that how he did it?

6 thoughts on “22 Is Evangelicalism to blame?

  1. Jesus did it a certain way but the Bible doesn’t finish with John 21. There’s Acts and the epistles. All books of the Apostles given to us to make sure we stick to orthodoxy, live out the Christian life to it’s fullest meaning and make sure we’re not led astray by false teaching (a problem in the 1st Century and the 21st century). According to the church in Acts 2 we see that their lifestyle was closely linked to their orthodoxy. Notice the context, they devoted themselves to the apostles (orthodox) teaching and see the next verses: miracles, compassion, church growth.

    And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe[e] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

    I use to base much of my theology and Christian living on the Jesus ‘trump’ card as you call it, and then I realized the importance of Christian orthodoxy in understanding the Bible in context of what all 66 books say, and not just the 4 books dedicated to Jesus’ life and ministry.

  2. Thank you T J for joining in the discussion on this blog. I am interested in your comment at the end about understanding the Bible in context of what all 66 books say. The trouble is that the vast majority of Christians do not read all 66 books. If they did they might be shocked at what they found. No, for most people the bible is filleted and censored of all parts that are sometimes deeply objectionable to modern sensitivities. In the book of Ezra for example there is a passage where Jewish males had to ditch their foreign wives and children for ever so that the racial purity of the nation might be preserved. There are other passages where women and children were slaughtered by the victorious Israelites because they believed it to be the will of Yahweh.

    I know that I come from the liberal wing of the Church and I am supposed not to respect the Bible. But as you will see the main reason I want issues to be raised about the Bible is to make sense of what it actually says. So often faithful fundamentalists are totally dependent what they hear from their leaders for their knowledge of what it contains. I do read the Bible- all of it- and that means I do not accept what I find to be glib misunderstandings by preachers of what it actually says, when sometimes it does not. If the Bible says something which is contradictory, let us try and discover why this is, rather than wanting to explain it away to protect ‘Biblical truth’. This blog will not be comfortable for people who have an agenda to ‘protect the Bible’ at all costs. Too often as Chris will testify the Bible has been used and abused to become a weapon of control and manipulation. That is the problem for me and that is the problem to which this blog will keep returning.

  3. TJ and Stephen Thank you both for demonstrating the generosity of which I wish we saw a lot more!! I do believe that that generosity – from all sides of the church could go a long way in preventing (and healing) a lot of the hurts of those damaged by abusive spiritual leadership.

    And TJ – whilst I take your point about there being more than the gospels, I for one like the hermeneutic that reads the Bible through the lens of what we see of Jesus in the Gospels. If we believe we see God revealed there in Jesus, then it is a logical basis. I was being too loose in my language there – so apologies.

  4. I think there may be many different reasons for abusive/controling behaviour. For example, I know a fair number of clergy who try to do everything themselves, and apparently don’t regard anyone else’s gifts and talents as having value. Hepsibah had an exaggerated sense of duty, she felt called, and as the incumbent, thought it was exclusively her responsibility. Simeon had an appalling memory, and generally did what he thought because he had forgotten what had been discussed at the meetings. Geraint did indeed have a complete disdain for the lay people in his team. You were lucky even to be invited to do a reading. “No thanks, I’d rather do it myself” was his mantra. Methusalah had a complete disdain for anyone else, but particularly those below him on the social scale, lay people again, obviously, unless titled! This guy could ignore you for months at a time, I kid you not. And Ruaridh who was simply obsessive, and went at everything full tilt until stopped by exhaustion. Hepsibah and Eudora deliberately chose as their associates people less able than themselves, thus ignoring (neglect is a form of bullying) anyone else. And Eudora, Jephtha and Marie-Antoinette, who didn’t care for other women on their patch. And two more Simeons, who both took over new parishes with female Readers, and simply announced he wouldn’t be using them in future, as he didn’t believe in women’s ministry. Hepsibah was middle of the road, the first Simeon mildly evangelical, Geraint and the two other Simeons very evangelical, Methusalah liberal anglo-catholic and Ruaridh only God knows! Oh, and not to forget Gillian, who was simply power mad! She did it because she could. I’ve seen a lot of bullying, in and out of the church. Yes, they are often inadequates, but in a feudal society like a church, a hospital or a shop, if they are the feudal overlord they wield real power. Who can afford to defy the boss if they need the job? Who can risk being treated steadily worse by a lord who will simply ratchet up the pressure until you leave? The real question is, what are you going to do about it? “Is it nothing to you all ye who pass by?” Which is what mostly happens. No-one says a word.

  5. I hope this doesn’t come across like a stilted overview of the above comments. I feel that I must keep pulling this discussion back to the issue of abuse. Forty years ago the Christian faith was a very different place. I can’t remember being being given a choice about fundamentalism or inerrancy? My back was pushed against the wall so much by evangelicals that it got stuck! I developed a personality disorder built on the expectations of my ‘Elders’. I literally became a walking vending machine. Back then inhuman ideologies were not only allowed but encouraged, the shepherding movement stands as a perfect example of this wickedness. During that period the ‘Evangelicals’ were very mush to blame. The principal of the Bible school I went to encouraged us to use a cheep psychological approach to our targeted potential converts (I say victims).
    We are still witnessing this mind control today. Dick and Stephen are sensitive people trying to see round these dark corners, I offer a bottom up view from the dread of memory. *’The heart burns- but has to keep out of face how heat burns’ If (Big If) we can’t stop this vicious destroying of people we will soon (Without any exaggeration)
    in five- ten years time be talking about **’Superhuman inhumanities’ >
    ? Men in white coats approaching folks!. Chris Pitts. * Ivor Gurney ‘Strange Hells’ ** Wilfred Owen ‘Spring Offensive’

  6. Yes, I do agree. Absolutely. And also with a later post that says that it is excessively simplistic interpretations of the Bible that give rise to the leaders beginning to believe they are right about everything. If you really study the Bible, you soon learn you can’t know everything, and you are much less likely to lay the law down. But bullying does have many sources. It is terribly common, outside the church too. It is these feudal power structures that allow it to continue. I think it’s harder for someone intelligent and well educated to be a bully, but as I know to my cost, it is not impossible.

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