by Ron Holland
Have you ever sat in church and felt like the target of your Pastor’s sermon, Deacon’s prayer or church mother’s scorn? Did you shrink in the pew as the words of condemnation bellowed from his/her mouth and blared from the speakers? Did you hang your head in shame as you reflected on your shortcomings and contradictions? Did you feel as if you were undergoing a divine lashing as those seemingly accusatory words swirled in the atmosphere of the sanctuary and penetrated the deepest parts of your heart? And depending on the gravity of your behavior, did you feel like packing up your bible and making a quick exit to the door?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, today I want to share something critically important to your mental and spiritual health: The LAST place you should feel condemned is inside church. The sanctuary is a place of restoration and forgiveness, not a place of scorn and condemnation. Sure, we all require correction when our personal and hidden behaviors contradict church appearance. But if bellowing someone’s shortcomings and proclivities from the pulpit is a measure by which we gauge divine chastisement, we’ve made a gross era in distinguishing GOD from man’s insatiable need to stand in judgment of others.
There’s a moral arc that humanity instinctively lean towards. That moral arc is buttressed by our social codes and interactions, environments, mores, our political ideologies and collective social assumptions. Human instinct drives most of us to strive to do better regardless of where we are physically, spiritually and morally. But when correction becomes condemnation and our personal failings become fodder for individuals bent on personal acclaim through your failures, we see why folks feel betrayed and beaten up in a place where grace and forgiveness should reign.
There’s a verse of scripture that is fundamental to Christian dogma, but its use in contemporary terms never quite sat well with me. It comes from Isaiah 64:6: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
I’m not going to minimize the important context undergirding this verse of scripture, especially given the critical words leading up to the verse, but I will suggest that it’s contemporary reference is problematic.
I’ve been in church all of my life. I didn’t arrive at the steps of the church broken and in need of restoration or to escape from an immoral lifestyle. I was raised Christian and was in a church setting practically all of my life. In all of those years, what I always found particularly distressing is how we stand in judgment of the spiritual sincerity of fellow believers. For example: When an offering of money or “tithe” doesn’t meet a standard that isn’t even biblical, your level of faith is publicly and privately questioned – almost to the point of embarrassment and humiliation.
When the authenticity of praise and physical expression of worship is deemed insufficient there is ridicule. When an interpretation of scripture contradicts weak hermeneutics and outmoded doctrine, the words: backsliding, heresy, lost or apostate are hurled. There’s something fundamentally wrong when disagreements can make you the subject of a sermon or a prop during bible study. Even your very presence in church can make you a target, especially when someone’s subjective feelings about your spiritual sincerity is given weight. It’s as if whatever you do, in the eyes of some church folk, it simply isn’t enough. Despite your time, sacrifice and the giving of your heart and resources, your righteousness amounts to nothing more than a filthy rag? In the absence of a contrite heart and humble attitude, I suppose it’s true. But are we really positioned to judge the righteousness or the spiritual sincerity of other people?
Addressing immoral behaviors and egregious acts is one thing. But when someone’s level of faith is questioned simply because they’re unable to give a certain amount of money in church or because their praise and worship is less or more expressive; or their attendance to service doesn’t meet a proscribed standard, it speaks to the type of spiritual abuse and exploitation that pervades many church settings. Let me be clear: The work you do for ministry, no matter the size, is greatly appreciated by GOD and the people you serve. Despite the subjective and ill-informed view of others, your relationship with the Creator is between he and you! Your prayer and devotion matters ONLY to GOD, not from others who are perched atop titles and influence.
Your monetary offerings, if it comes from a place of humility and sacrifice is sufficient. You ought not be badgered into giving more than you can, especially if the results are an inability to buy food for your family or keep the lights, water and heat on in your home. No one has the right to criticize you if your worship and praise is less or more expressive than others. Be who you are and don’t let folks shame you into contradicting your natural inclination. GOD knows your heart.
If you are the subject of ridicule from the pulpit, know that the boundaries between contrition, fidelity and trust are violated. If you feel scorned and targeted simply because you ask the tough questions, know that your inquiries have fallen on the insecurities of people who’d rather quiet you than to answer a simple question.
Lastly, the sanctuary is a place of restoration, forgiveness and worship; not ridicule, scorn and condemnation. If correction is required, let divine chastisement, if there really is such a thing, derive from GOD, not Man. And please know that your spiritual sincerity and righteousness doesn’t go unnoticed by your Creator. If all that you do in the execution of your faith comes from a place of sincerity, humbleness and love – you are not a filthy rag, nor is your righteousness. No human can stand perfect before GOD. But it doesn’t mean your sincere acts of kindness and love is dismissed by Him.
Ron Holland is the host of the Public Affairs show, ‘COMMUNITY VOICES’ on WPZS -100.9 & 92.7 FM, Charlotte. He’s also a Producer and Board Operator for WOSF – Old School 105.3 FM. Ron is also a Production Assistant with all three stations. Any thoughts on this week’s commentary send Ron an email: firstname.lastname@example.org