Personal Responsibility: 2 Acts

I was discussing with a friend today about some of the problems within mainstream church, or at least some of the problems we ran into. I also had a friend approach me today and tell me he converted to Islam while in jail, interesting. These 2 events threw me into a conundrum and I felt I needed to address an issue I see within the church that gets little press: personal responsibility.

I see personal responsibility as a huge issue that is under-addressed in the church. What exactly gets skipped over, well here is the process. The process of repentance means that as a person that serves God we will ask forgiveness of God (and we get it). What seems to be overlooked a lot of times is that person’s responsibility to the person they wronged. Why is the process of forgiveness ‘cut-short? We don’t address the issues of human to human, main focus is human and God.

1st Shortcoming: Person to Person

The church has a way of focusing on what they deem as ‘spirituality’ and that usually means anything about you and your relationship with God (ex: repentance, prayer, worship, etc). They miss a focus on person to person, namely in responsiblity. I think it’s grand that God forgives me but does my brother or sister forgive me? Are we helping people that have been wronged or wronged others to fix those problems? Is the church really that interested in personal responsibility? Here is my example.

Someone I know had an affair with another person in the church. The problem was presented to the pastor and church board and they decided to ex-communicate the girl. The guy just had to confess his wrong doings and that he admitted to. The girl did not do that, for what reason I am not sure so she was gonzo. I really felt the church glazed over what responsibility was in that situation for both parties. They never as so much as told the two of them to work this problem out amongst themselves or offered mediation. What happened is that girl never came back and that guy stayed…only to have the same situation occur again years later…again the situation unfolded the same way (this time with spouses and children involved). It really sucks that in both situations no help was really offered to give a chance for healing. The guy knew he was wrong but nothing was in place for both sides to deal with the scenario’s unfolding.

My problem with the scenario is no one really cared enough to give both sides the due attention they deserved to ‘deal’ with the problems they found themselves in. This could be due to the fact no one cared about person to person responsibility, as long as they found themselves alright with God then all was good. But all is not good. No one has ever accepted that ex-communicated girl back into the grace of God (she must think God is against her). The couple that left after the 2nd affair never had their problems, anger, jealousies, hurts, and whatever else dealt with. To be honest, these people involved can’t be in the same room together lest something dumb should happen. All I am asking is where was the church leadership and support from the church? It was not existent since they weren’t concerned with solving problems, just each person repenting to God and getting that right…they left out their responsibility to others. I know solving the problem will be rough but it’s a worthy endeavor nonetheless. Can’t have people hating each other forever.

I guess I want to see forgiveness/redemption/unity be a bigger event, something we do one with another also. We should also be placing some focus on what we do ‘one to another’, so as to teach youth and adults how to deal with problems they will face. I know we will do wrongs to each other but the key is ‘taking responsibility’ for our mistakes – to each other and not just to God. This would also teach people there are consequences to actions that we have to both bare and try to make right (that’s repentance). Not saying we will succeed in making things right but it’s worth a try; but that also needs to support of the community around them (the church – in a healing mode and not a gossip/judging mode). We need to place focus on personal responsibility more often in the churches any of us attend, if not for us at least to teach younger people this religion is not as irresponsible as some make it to seem.

2nd Short-coming: Responsibility in what we teach others

The church is filled with hypocrites and this is getting more obvious each year. All hypocrisy is is teaching people a value while you don’t live by it (quite common). If you tell people to not smoke or drink and you do both then don’t teach it (simple). There is also a problem with some of the other ethics the church teaches, I call them ‘lofty ideals’. If people are being taught God cares about everyone then shouldn’t we live that as if that is true? The church teaches things that are troublesome, at least to me. An example.

My friend is a muslim now and I grew up with the dude, I knew some aspects of his tough life…I had been there too. His mother and family attended church with me for years and they were rather devout (I guess). The family shared with my friend about church, in words more or less. He would be in out of prison but it seemed there was no due attention paid to his situation, or bettering that situation…he got words and words should suffice. Now he is a muslim, why? They gave him the due attention and structure he required…they gave him something bigger then words…action. Can’t say I blame him for the decision, at least he’s bettering his life. The problem really lies in what he was taught (and saw) from his family to what he saw (and was taught) in prison…basically someone went out of their way for my friend. I am happy for him and if you knew him you would be too. But where was the church in his time of need? He told me straight out they visited the prisons he was in but they came up indecisive and gave nothing (unless he needed a bible or prayer).

In the end we shrugged off our responsibility for what we teach. We teach a God that loves everyone and forgives everyone. We have a parable that mentions visiting the prisons (obviously to help in any way we can). We know the ‘Good Samaritan’ parable. We teach love God and love our neighbor as the 2 great commandments. Great ideals but some are so vague that we do nothing instead of something for others (ex: love your neighbor? How? Visit a prison? To give out a tract or a bible?). Where the hell is ‘us’ in those teachings? Spout them all you want but if you can’t live by what you believe or tell others, believe this…don’t say jack-sh*t, if only to save your breath.

That’s the big problem I see right now, where are ‘we’ in those scriptures? What is our role? How should we behave one to another? How can we take responsiblity for what we do and what we teach? I like the fact God loves me and forgives me, I find that such a ‘lofty’ idea. But if that can’t translate into the ‘real world’ with the people in our communities, then why teach it? What’s the use of knowing a God loves/forgives me if I can’t be loved/forgiven by others? It’s utterly useless. All I am asking is we need to check ourselves, are we being responsible in dealing with problems and in what we tell others? If so, we need to re-examine our focus and start looking at spiritualty as more horizontal and less vertical. Guess I just want some (a) structure and (b) honesty, and (c) reality.

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10 thoughts on “Personal Responsibility: 2 Acts

  1. I love your candor and true sense of questioning about your faith.

    I have three comments:

    1) You are assuming that the church is interested in doing more than obtaining believers. Unfortunately, that assumption isn’t true. The primary focus of the modern church is to evangelize (i.e., SELL).

    2) Doing the things that Jesus did or living the way the Bible teaches is admirable; however, it is our nature that prevents us from fulfilling that ideal. We may be forgiven but that doesn’t erase our nature. We still have to struggle with it (e.g., Paul struggles: the things I want to do, I do not do…).

    3) The danger in advocating for living according to this ideal is that people then equate the behavior as a sign of rightness with God. That is dangerous. Just because a person behaves in a manner that is consistent with this ideal does not secure one’s place in eternity or affiliation with God.

  2. Maybe we shouldn’t look to the “church” to do the things that Jesus taught.It is similar to expecting the government to take a personal interest in my family. It just isn’t going to happen! I beleive we, as Christians, should try to follow the teachings of Christ ourselves without the organized churches help. In the end it is our responsibility anyhow!

  3. Hi society
    Fascinating story. Regarding the first Shortcoming – person to person. If our relationship with God is first, Jesus’ First Command, the second Command becomes self-evident. We are all equal, therefore we should love our neighbor as much as ourselves. The right attitude for your church would have been, in the first instance, to find a way to turn this obstacle, the affair, into an opportunity to glorify God and bring both the offending man and woman back into the fold.

    Instead, it looks like your church simply dusted off their 1708 Geneva Confessional Orderbook and looked up No. 1613b, line 2c (ok, I made that up but you catch what I’m saying). They went to the Rule Book instead of, and at the expense of, the Good Book. Very common, as is the result, recidivism with a bang.

    Your church sounds like my church.

  4. Great post, but remember– we can only love because God first loved us! Knowing that the vertical plane relationship is solid leads to making solid relationships on the horizontal plane.

  5. First off, I want to thank everyone for their insightful comments, which I do like reading and further my understanding of this faith.

    But I have to answer some of Scott’s comments since I agree with him, but I also see some short-comings.

    “You are assuming that the church is interested in doing more than obtaining believers. Unfortunately, that assumption isn’t true. The primary focus of the modern church is to evangelize (i.e., SELL).” (Scott)

    I agree with this statement, that this is the status quo of the mainstream church at this point in time. However, just becasue it is doesn’t mean it is either right or can’t be challenged (or changed). The focus may be just that (sell/evangelize) but to sit back when you know that’s not enough is, for me, irresponsible.

    “Doing the things that Jesus did or living the way the Bible teaches is admirable; however, it is our nature that prevents us from fulfilling that ideal. We may be forgiven but that doesn’t erase our nature. We still have to struggle with it (e.g., Paul struggles: the things I want to do, I do not do…).” (Scott)

    I think are again right about our nature (in accordance with doing the wrong things) but again it’s limited. Just because we struggle with things doesn’t mean we can’t challenge ourselves to change. I am saying ‘be responsible’ as a church body and that’s not an impossible thing. I think we can struggle through it but it is accomplishable.

    “The danger in advocating for living according to this ideal is that people then equate the behavior as a sign of rightness with God. That is dangerous. Just because a person behaves in a manner that is consistent with this ideal does not secure one’s place in eternity or affiliation with God.” (Scott)

    This is where I might diverge. I have heard this line of thinking through-out my life and I find it ‘dangerous’. Am I to suppose because we do good deeds that we will fall into the trap of believing that’s our salvation? Hardly. Even if so, I’d rather we were helping others than buffeting God, who knows He has supplied us with everything we need…now to use it. The gospels are fairly clear on ‘helping others’ even to our loss (in some cases). I ask people in the church to do good and that alone, no harm to a single person, yet the church has at it’s whim a theology of how to scape-goat it…wonderful. Lest our deeds be mistaken for working out our salvation. I think it’s exactly that.

    Chris I also agree with you, in theory, that it is our responsibility (on a personal level)…100% true. But that doesn’t mean the church can’t become more well-rounded either, and that’s always going to be at the crux of my discussions…how do we move the church from ‘one state of mind’ to another?

  6. Great Post!!
    You left a comment on my blog that said “why did I get censored”. I didn’t delete any comments. My account has been acting weird lately. Could you send it again??I’m always enjoy getting feedback from you all.

  7. Thought I’d try to reconcile your divergence with Scott. The thing that can keep us from harming those we wish to help (we do that often) is to seek the mind of Christ on a daily basis for guidance. There are severe limitations to doing good for goodness’ sake.

    A good example is the problems caused by Non-governmental organizations in places like Africa. NGOs were providing impoverished tribes with sacks of rice, thousands of them. This free food convinced hundreds of farmers to let their land go unattended as it was easier to wait in line for free rice, and then RE-SELL it. When there was a cut-off in the flow of free rice and grain, they starved.

    The problem wasn’t just hunger now but infrastructure for the future. The farmers needed equipment, irrigation systems, and access to distribution so they could maximize their crop. The fatal flaw the NGOs made was to provide for the need now and leave when it was inconvenient. That’s ego-centric (story is from Thomas Sowell’s Applied Economics).

    We must be of one mind, Christ’s mind, if we are to help the poor in a meaningful way.

    In fact, love must be the driving force behind our motives. Otherwise we are left with the “I was just trying to help…” egg on our face. Where Christ is not the driving force, something else, usually the ego, takes His place. That’s why our reasons are at least as important as our deeds.

    1 Corinthians 13:8 – Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away

    Note: love does not pass away, knowledge does – and that includes all those good deeds. At the end of the day, God asks “how many of those gooey, useless souls that I love did you bring to me?” Charity all comes back to the original purpose – saving the soul, bringing the poor closer to Christ.

    1 John 4:18 – There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

    Therefore, if you’re motive is fear of any kind, including fear of not helping out when you should, all bets are off.

    As usual I thought I’d write a little but I’ve written a book…again. I don’t really see a great divergence between you and Scott. The purpose and the fruit of His purposes are interconnected.
    Your choice of topics is, as always, stimulating.

    There is a kind of overlapping between this debate and my last post, which is on the false self as explained by Thomas Merton. Let me know what you think of that.

  8. Societyvs, thanks for the directed response. I think, as Jim and you said, that our views are not as disparate as they may appear. In my effort to avoid the pitfall that Jim fell into, longer than expected post, I was less than precise.

    To be specific, I’d like to see the church change but my feelings are too hurt at this point to do anything about it. Perhaps that will change in the future.

    To challenge the self and struggle with the difficult questions is a part of my life. I long to be more like Christ; even more, I long to want to be like Christ. I desire the right motivation but that is the source of the struggle, the difference between doing and being.

    Finally, I think we’re in line on the last point too. I don’t want to insinuate that people will fall into some sort of trap, but working is easier than having faith. However, I long to be a functional part of the body, a part that works, and loves people the way Jesus did, that’s hard.

    Thanks for your blog. You always keep me thinking.

  9. Scott great comments and I can appeciate the honesty you shared…I have been burnt and that was a while back and I am still coming to terms with that. I think the church is such a useful vessel for changing communities to see it go unused is a rough thing to watch (for me). Scott I will tell you what I believe ‘I will stand by you no matter what happens in your life, why would I want to miss that?’.

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