The Politics of Theology

A friend of mine recently told me that she homechurches.  It was a tongue and cheek response to a complaint I twittered during the latest church business meeting I attended. She also pointed out that being a homechurcher makes her statistically holier than thou. Also we can wear lingerie to mass.

That aside, she brings up an important point.  People experience both Church and God in different way.  It’s very hard to say that someones actions aren’t “Christian” or aren’t “holy” when what you’re really saying is “your view of theology differs from mine.”

Ultimately “Church” is an attempt to convince people that theology you practice is the “right” one.  Clearly we’ve been unsuccessful at it since we haven’t been able to create one “true” church.  So instead we find a church that suits our theology or is persuasive enough to overcome our disagreements.

Finding such a church proved increasingly difficult for my family at the turn of the century.  I didn’t feel a connection to the church I grew up in.  At the same time, I learned I didn’t make a good Methodist, and left the church I’d found a comfortable theology with after the Bishop moved the pastor that attracted us to the church. I intellectually understand the concept of changing the pastors to prevent a cult of personality, but ultimately it is the personality of a church that makes me want to attend.

Ultimately one woman showed my family where we connected the most, and that connection came about because of our similar theology and life situations.  While I no longer attended my home church, I did attend a special Christmas service every year.  It was at one of those services that a new pastor at the church grabbed me and my wife and basically talked us into giving the church another chance.  She managed to do this by connecting with us in a way that no pastor had since my childhood.

That woman is Jana Williams.  She understood the basic anger my wife and I had with God over our inability to conceive a child.  Jana had gone through the same issues and ended up adopting a wonderful girl prior to her arrival at the church.  She’s currently well along in adopting another child.  In that time my wife and I have adopted two children of our own, and so we have much in common personally and thankfully theologically with Jana.

Since I gave up on my childhood church the entire staff had changed.  None of the pastors of my youth still lead the church.  In fact, one of my youth group members is now on staff at the church as a minister.  So I’m happy to find that with the change of staff my old home has become my new church home.

I’ve gone into this detail for a reason.  It’s important to realize that I did search for a home.  While I may be in my childhood home, it isn’t out of habit or comfort.  Many of the same disconnect issues are there, but I ignore them because the theology and the people mean more to me.  And Jana and her husband, who is also a minister at the church, mean more to me.

As a rule, I don’t like politics.  I used to think politics was everything, but now I loath it.  Personally I think all politicians are crooked and worthless and I don’t care if they are elephants or asses.  This dislike extends all the way to church politics, a topic I’ve ignored for years.  Until recently.

I’d heard rumblings of dislike surrounding the politics of my church for a couple of years.  I didn’t pay much attention because I didn’t want to know.  I don’t know or care what cliques are present in the church.  I attend for the theology and the opportunity for my children to be exposed to what I think is a good and healthy view of church and Christ. But now I’m thinking I’m going to have to rethink my self imposed ignorance.

One of the ways I serve my church is to participate in duties as one of the sound techs for the services.  It’s a skill I have, so using it for the good of the church is easy.  This past week was my week for duty, and normally that is no problem.  Except that this Wednesday night was a business meeting.  Church business.  Which is really just another way of saying Church Politics.

Since I was not up to speed on the political maneuvers of the church, I wasn’t really prepared for the onslaught of new “policies” from the “personnel committee.”  I’m still unclear as to what prompted the four proposals for policy changes that were introduced.  At least one of them seemed to be specifically aimed at hurting the people who mean so much to me at the church.  The Williams.

I’m not going to pretend to understand exactly how the decisions of the personnel committee came to be.  What disturbs me is that they don’t seem to match what I view the church’s theology and tradition to be.

Jana had a brilliant and exciting study idea, and requested a study leave to pursue it.  I was to help her with it and had gotten quite excited about it and bombarded her with emails and suggestions on how to go about studying it.  Then she stopped asking me questions and stopped talking about it.  I just thought I’d come on to strong so I didn’t ask any questions, but it turned out the Personnel committee had denied her study leave.

They did, however, approve her husband’s leave.  Seems some on the committee didn’t like the idea that two pastors would take study leave at the same time.  Never mind that they are married.  Never mind that NOT taking the leave together increased the burden and difficulty of the leave and never mind that the study plan of one of them would really impact the church.  No, they just couldn’t possibly take leave at the same time, even though they planned the leave for the time when it would impact the church the least.

Whatever the reasoning behind this, I can not believe it is coincidental that the committee chose to propose a change to the leave policy of the church immediately following their denial of Jana’s study leave.  In the past the policy was at the discretion of the senior pastor.  But now, the personnel committee wanted to be involved in any decision regarding leave that would make two ministers have overlapping leave of more than a week.

This would mean any time Jana and her husband decided to take a vacation of more than a week they would have to justify and explain their plans to the approval of the personnel committee.  A cruise, to visit family, to go drink margaritas on the beach had to have the explicit approval of this committee.  (I’m not suggesting that Jana drinks.  She is a baptist preacher after all)

And I’m supposed to believe that they didn’t attempt to institute this policy immediatly following the denial of Jana’s request to take two months leave with her husband?

Now how fair would it be to you if you had to justify your leave request with your HR department every single time you wanted to leave?  Your supervisor would no longer be allowed to approve accrued leave that you had already earned, but instead had to pass on your request to the HR department.  Most of us would be quite upset with that kind of arrangement, but that is exactly what happened here.

Personally I found it a slap in the face to the senior pastor and an unfair burden to our only married staff members.  It was almost a vote of no confidence by the committee in our senior pastors ability to manage his staff.  Either that, or a slap in the face of the only married staffers.  Either way, it isn’t a nice way to run your business.  Your church business.

Thankfully the policy as written didn’t pass.  Instead, the policy was amended at the meeting to allow the senior pastor the authority to approve leave for up to three weeks of overlapping leave.  I’d rather have had the entire policy done away with, but at least it was significantly weakened prior to passing.

So now I’m at a crossroads.  I can no longer be blind to the politics at the church, nor can I assume that they aren’t intended to hurt someone.  Or at least, if not intended to hurt, then not enough thought went into them about how they would really effect real people.  And something in MY theology says that’s not right.  So now I’m left to decide if this church and my theology really do mesh.

I was happier when I was ignorant.  Isn’t there a saying about that?

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One thought on “The Politics of Theology

  1. I kid about homechurching because, really, it’s a very purposeful decision. When I was young, my mother found a Methodist church for us to attend. We went faithfully, and my mother volunteered every waking moment there. She lived for it.

    One day, my mother came to get me from the nursery. She was upset. Like, sobbing. Someone had said something horrible to her.. in a volunteer association.. and we never went back.

    Because I never felt GOOD in church, and that? That made me feel horribly bad.

    Since then, I’ve been paid to sing and teach in churches. I’ve done so because I loved what I did. I’ve rarely been caught up in the actual sermon. Hell, we only were married by a man of the cloth because he was a helluva storyteller.

    So I half-kid when I mention home-churching. We home-church because, at home, I can make sure that they worship God and his bounty in a way that is completely free of the crap and circumstance (I believe) organized religion comes wrapped in.

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