Updated: Feb 5
I read our local paper this morn and felt very grieved over what I assume was supposed to be an uplifting christian article by a writer (I had thought for years that he was a pastor, but now I'm unsure) whose work is included in many papers around GA. I often find his messages to be narrow, theologically thin, and just simply not aligned with what gospel messages should be, but this week I was moved to a response by his outright meanness. I am not one to smile at sin or say "amen" to a fluffy feel good church service. (If you read any of my books or blogs, you are familiar with my own brand of imperfect boldness and honesty.) I find bold, legalistic shaming just as unpalatable as soft motivational speeches packaged as sermons.
The columnist wrote about an interaction he had where he spoke to a woman wearing a mask, and told her he was not smiling at her because he could not see her smile behind her mask, and "God was unhappy" as well. Then he wrote about not elbow bumping when a friend he'd known for 40 yrs had offered to greet him, and instead of talking a moment, walked off without the simple gesture of a smile. I quote him: " I said without a smile, 'Don't even start with that mess period'... I said to myself, 'Lord help that back-slidden sinner". From the article I glean that the sin of these neighbors was that of being so "faithless" in God's protection by wearing a mask. That sentiment treads down a false doctrine of health and wealth and declaring blessings, which I address often in my writing, but here I focus on witness, kindness, and spiritual abuse.
The Bible mentions a time when good will be called evil and evil called good. When a person who represents the teachings and good news of the Bible is generously sharing his opinion in a way to evoke guilt and shame, we are seeing those days of the gospel of resurrection and restoration being over-shadowed by opinion and pride. Not only did he choose to be rude to this woman and his longtime friend, he choose to write about it (and possibly, I assume he felt he should be honored for his "boldness" instead of convicted by his rudeness).
I know our government gives the freedom to say whatever we want to say to anyone, but our Savior doesn't. Jesus said it would be better to tie a stone around your neck and drown than to mislead one of His own. (Mat 18:6) The words of that contributor in person and print are harmful to the church and to those looking on into the church's witness and outreach.
Please understand, it does not please me to call out others. Some of you may be thinking I am hypocritical for judging the man. I know from the Bible that Jesus did not judge "the world" (He came to SAVE it), but He did not spare cracking the whip on abusive religious leadership. It is the church's job to judge the church and be on guard for spiritual abuses by people of influence. We know how important this is as we read news headlines of abusive leadership within congregations that was unchallenged and carried on for decades. A voice for the followers of Jesus who is giving unwise advice, and placing the guilt of the Lord as the authority for his bad advice, is spiritual/emotional abuse at work. Even though he sought opportunities to rebuke people, I do not find pleasure rebuking him. It wounds me. It should always wound the body of Christ when one member is harming the rest. I will not even write his name here. I only hope that if you recognize the pen I am referring too, that you do not heed his advice. You will end up sick - sick with anti-christian shame and guilt.
Reading on in his article, I read his words: " How can you even start to witness if you can't shake folk's hand ...", yet he had the opportunity to witness and he scolded instead.
"Nobody speaks anymore and nobody smiles..." and yet he also did not speak kindly or even smile when it would have been easy to.
It is heartbreaking when a person is so wrapped up in their own opinion that they've labeled it as gospel law, and are more than willing to preach that personal message as if it is divinely inspired. He cannot see that he had blown the opportunity to disciple or fellowship with these people who hadn't wronged him in the least. God is so good, so testify to that! His own personal opinion puts him above the command to love his neighbors and share good news with them. He doesn't see that he is abusing the expected (and I assume declared) protection of Jesus like a magic charm, the same way he described people's faith in mask wearing as idolatrous magic protection.
Masks are not marks of doubt or faith, but love is the mark of Jesus. How can we say we belong to His kingdom, and shame our neighbors who may need the hope of Jesus when we have the chance to love?
I'll conclude with a story I (partly) remember about one of our American heroes. I can't remember if it was Abe Lincoln or not, in a movie or in a book. Forgive my faulty details, but the message is clear. At a dinner, a guest of the honorable man was not of a higher pedigree, and did not know the table customs of hand-washing in a bowl of lemon water before eating. So when the lemon water was brought out for hand washing, the course man began to ladle into it like soup. Abe (?) also began to ladle it, to the astonishment of his guests who knew better. They all followed Abe's lead, instead of embarrassing the man.
It is so easy to be kind. It takes more energy to be rude. Does the Holy Spirit fill us up with that energy?
Return the elbow bump, the masked smile, respond kindly to others, and do not bear fruits of personal opinions, but be filled with God's Holy Spirit that relates to others in love, patience, kindness, gentleness, and humility.