Looking out over the current political and cultural landscape is to be confronted with an increasingly balkanized world. Rather than a community united in common purpose, what we tend to see is identity politics, with one group pitted against the others.
This is compounded by our technological world. We can craft our own personal space without ever having to encounter someone who thinks or feels differently. We can choose which sources of information or media we wish to view, select our own music playlists, and interact only with “friends” on the web we find suitable.
Gone are the days when we actually considered the free exchange of ideas as a worthy enterprise.
One of our members, keen to this problem, offered the example of his debating class in college. There he was required to argue for a particular point of view and then later the same day to advocate from the exact opposite perspective. The result, he said, was that he learned something about all sides of the issue, even if it didn’t always alter his previously-held position.
What we see today is a new and troubling form of tribalism. In this exercise, we are not required to consider another’s point of view. Worse still, we are uninterested in any sort of objective reason or truth. In fact, one might argue that truth is irrelevant. All that matters is that our side wins.
Our political debates increasingly have this flavor. Self-referential talking points abound. He or she who talks the loudest, or last, wins. The sheer force of self-will prevails. But again, the point is winning, not allegiance to truth.
One of the basic foundations of any healthy society is its rule of law. And the law is, as has been said, “no respecter of persons.” This means the law does not favor one person or group. In theory at least, the law doesn’t care whether you’re a Silicon Valley billionaire or the pastor of a local church. The rule of law applies equally.
The human tendency, on the other hand, is to favor our friends or group. We’re willing to cut corners in order to take care of them. This is the kiss of death, not just for a nation, but for any human society, including the church.
If we humans were truly devoid of sin and partiality, there would be no reason for rules or laws, including church by-laws. Angels don’t require such things. But the reason we have them is that we’re not always impartial or selfless in our thinking and doing. We’re human.
That’s why the church has by-laws and why we should seek to make them not only as equitable and fair as possible, but why we all should be encouraged to follow them.
When I first came to First Church as settled pastor in 2006, I noticed there were a lot of well-meaning people running around doing what they thought needed to be done. The problem was that they didn’t always go through the proper channels.
Rather than taking their ideas or proposals to the appropriate board or committee, they would simply run with them. The effect, not surprisingly, was conflict. For when corners are cut and people are left out of the decision-making process, the perception, if not the reality, is one of unfairness.
So if we find fault in others for acting in such a way, we need to be careful we aren’t guilty of it either. Cutting corners is always a mistake. Oh, we may justify this by seeing the rules as “man-made” and thus arbitrary. We may even think that following them is a form of pharisaism (following rules for the sake of following rules). Yet they exist for a reason.
As we consider the proposed by-law changes at our upcoming Annual Meeting on June 4th, may we keep all of this in mind.
Grace and peace,
Thomas C. Leinbach, Pastor