When Christians attack each other, that makes me sad; we’re supposed to be a unified body.
When Christian leaders publically fire accusations of heresy at each other of heresy first and Matthew 18:15-16 be damned, that makes me sad; we’re supposed to bear with one another in love.
But when Christian leaders unfairly abuse their authority to baselessly and unfairly attack others, throwing in accusations of heresy just to make a point, that makes me angry. And I’ve just read something that made me really, really angry.
I’m not going to call out the leader in question or their article in question because that isn’t the point that I’m making. The point that I’m making is that unfair criticism, playing the man not the ball, and use of spiritual authority to bully and intimidate, really is not the sort of thing that leaders should be doing. It’s just wrong and unjust, and I get angry about injustice.
It was a rant by the leader of a denomination, about some book, which apparently is dangerous liberal heresy. (I bet you can guess who the book’s author is.)
The rant started badly, as the person in question detailed their “spiritual concern” as the leader of a large network of churches. That is a calculated power play; it is argument from authority writ large. Sorry, but if your points were valid, they would stand up on their own merits. Instead, you bring your power into it and use that as a megaphone. Or a cudgel. That’s bullying.
Then there followed a whole host of irrelevant, sneering jibes which were just there purely to discredit the book’s author: talking about the style of the book and not its substance. There were logical fallacies - and I happen to know that the leader is an intelligent and careful man, so I think these were deliberate.
The leader quoted sentences from the book (out of context, needless to say) but did not specify what they thought was wrong with the arguments that the author made; the tone, of course, is that any reasonable person would agree that there’s a problem with them.
The whole piece was carefully calculated to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt.
I’ve seen this style of argumentation before from evangelical leaders, especially when Steve Chalke’s book came out (“Did you hear what he said? I can’t believe he would have said that! Of course I haven’t read it - why should I, it’s heretical nonsense?”) and so I should not be surprised that we treat each other like this.
But we still do. It’s wrong. It’s unjust, it’s unfair, it’s unbiblical. It makes me angry that we do each another such disservices.
And worse, these are our leaders? Have mercy on us, O Lord.
I want to call out one particular point. The church leader was particularly exercised about the author’s use of the postmodern paradigm.
Postmodernism, we are told, denies absolute truth. (which it doesn’t, it just says that absolute truth is impossible for us mere mortals to grasp - which is also, coincidentally, what the Bible says. This proves again, if proof were needed, that the leader actually didn’t understand what he was raving against.) Because it denies absolute truth, it is therefore an evil liberal plot; unlike good old modernism which, as everyone knows, is Biblical through and through.
The lack of self-awareness of these people is astounding to me even now. We could do some reflection on the epistemological basis of the modernist worldview, but why bother? There’s a simpler way to deal with this.
If nothing else, culture is like language. It changes. Resisting postmodernism is like resisting change in the English language; you can try, but the change is going to happen anyway. If you continue to fight against it, you just end up sounding stupid and people stop listening.
If you can’t express your message in a language, don’t blame the speakers for not understanding you; blame yourself.
Learn, adapt, change.
And if you can’t play fair to those with whom you disagree, you have no business leading a church. None.