In a development that mirrors the decline of courtesy and community-mindedness in society generally, one of the disturbing trends in society is the increasing weaponization of faith. By this I mean the use of a person’s faith to gain power over him–a trend I see at all levels of church.
In my own experience, I have seen members of local churches who, when they disagree with someone or something, will use groups within the church to bully the person responsible. In my own parish, groups that deploy these tactics include the altar guild and the choir. And, my priest instructed parish staff and clergy to shun me and my family. While these situations are, from my perspective, resolved, they underscore the larger question, which is, “When did it become okay to use a person’s faith against him or her?”
Unfortunately, my experience is more common than I would like to admit. When I wrote an article about shunning for Episcopal Cafe, dozens of commenters shared similar stories.
A similar experience pertained when my story ran on The Wartburg Watch. Many recounted being pushed out of their church homes by bullying priests, pastors, and lay leaders.
We see common elements in the absolutely sordid chain of events leading up to +Bruno’s efforts to sell the church building in the case of St. James the Great. There, it turns out that he allegedly took a number of steps to marginalize Cindy Vorhees and her congregation in the runup to the sale.
That begs the question: How can The Episcopal Church claim to be inclusive and welcoming, when nonsense like this happens? Many parishes now embrace the, “All are Welcome. No exceptions.” motto, but the reality is there are plenty of exceptions.
Weaponizing one’s faith also is a stupid move. Most Americans values their individual freedoms, so the notion that they will give another power over them by participating in a faith community is improbable at best. This, at a time when attending church is no longer normative.
I also believe that this tactic disincentivizes otherwise faithful church members. I mean, do you really want to give sacrificially of your time, treasure and talent when your investment could go down the drain, just like that? If one dispute with your rector can result in your being shown the door, you are well-advised to limit your giving and participation. That way, if worst comes to worst, you can live with the consequences.
My strategy, of course, has been to find other places to worship, bouncing through my home parish for weddings, funerals, and the occaisional service where I know I will like the music or readings. My time and resources go to building up other churches, and my will no longer leaves everything to my church; indeed, it leaves nothing at all to the parish.
Why do I share those details? Because it’s the only situation where I can truly map out the real-life consequences for a church that weaponizes members’ faith.
That said, my guess is that many others have quietly responded in similar fashion. In my experience, that’s normative in progressive denominations–people just quietly walk away when faced with bad behavior or conflict.
My suggestion is that The Episcopal Church — and other denominations — make clear that, absent criminal activity or a restraining order, all are welcome, and there is no room for bullying, shunning, or the other stupid antics that cause people to leave church. Further, there is a tremendous need to teach laity and clergy alike how to wage peace and engage in positive conflict resolution. Not study the problem. Not pass resolutions.
Just do it.