Injustice in The Church audio (4MB)
I’m going to begin today with a short parable from the Old Testament. It comes from the second book of Samuel, ch12, and happens right after David has committed adultery with Bathsehba, and he has had her husband Uriah killed, and now taken her as his own wife.
A prophet called Nathan was sent by God to David and he tells him a parable: 2 Sam 12:1-7 – (who is the rich man?)
David doesn’t realise that he is the rich man in the story. He knows that he is guilty of adultery, but he doesn’t see how this particular sin is an act of injustice.
When I was a young teenager a Catholic priest came to my school to speak to us about injustice, and I will never forget the definition that he gave ... he said justice is the opposite of ‘just us’. Justice is what we do when we are thinking of others and not just ourselves. Injustice is what we do when we think only of ourselves or our group. Adultery is a very ‘just us’ thing to do. David was focussed on what he wanted, and had no thought of the trauma he was bringing to Bathsheba’s husband, a man less powerful than he.
The church is often a lot like David. To start with we are loved by God and chosen by God, but we are sinful. We are quick to condemn injustice. We see it as part of our mission to condemn the government, or the corporation or the big-business man who oppresses the poor. It doesn’t hurt for us to be reminded, every now and again, that we are that corporation, that rich man.
In many ways the church works tirelessly to bring love and dignity to others. But in many ways, the church has been a ‘just us’ church.
‘Just us’ - condones violence and war in the name of God
- leads to fanaticism and judgemental attitudes
- At its worst, it expresses itself in ‘just us’ groups like the KKK: ‘only we are pure in the eyes of God.’
- Then there are preachers who make millions of dollars selling miracles on pay-TV. It’s not just sin and hypocrisy that we see in the church - it’s injustice
- It’ the rich man exploiting the poor man
Are we prepared to admit that we are the rich man? That we often become the very thing that we say we stand against: that our church has been the oppressor, the colonialist, the state that has condoned violence and hatred?
My experience of the church, is that we are very ready to admit these things. As a people, I believe we do represent the heart of David who is repentant, and who prays in Psalm 51: “create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me”
- and yet, we are often challenged by the evidence against us:
- I find it curious to think of the success of the Da Vinci code
- the seriousness with which people have taken Dan Brown’s fictional work.
- It’s as though people just love a conspiracy theory – I meet so many people who want to treat that book as though it uncovers some great hidden secret that the church is corrupt. Well, yeah. We knew that, didn’t we?
- I remember when I was working as a chaplain at Griffith University, I once heard a Muslim speaker who had converted from Christianity to Islam,
- he made a public address against Christianity … and his evidence against the bible was that people like King David who were blessed by God were sinners, even adulterers.
But really as a church we have always said, we are chosen and loved by God, but not because we deserved it – it is only by God’s grace that we are saved, and not by our own merits.
I suspect that people – even people who haven’t heard the gospel - kind of know this about us …. I suspect that those who accuse the church of injustice are secretly worried about salvation by grace, because (I don’t know if you’ve noticed), but generally people don’t want to have a detailed conversation about this topic.
- It’s like when you get those annoying phone calls and people are trying to sell you a new phone or a new credit card. It’s too hard work trying to have a proper conversation about whether the deal they are offering is actually better than the plan you already have. So you just say, ‘I don’t have time’, or, ‘I’m not looking for a change at the moment’ or whatever.
So, people like to make throw away comments, that are actually designed to end the conversation. These are the accusations that have often been made to me:
- “I can’t believe how much land and property the church owns. Why don’t they just sell it all and give it to the poor.”
- “I’d rather actually do something to help people than just talk about it. Church people are all talk and no action.”
- “How are you supposed to trust your local parish priest paedophile?” – That’s a direct quote – many of my peers have been affected or have known people to be affected by sexual abuse within the church
- “Religion is the cause of most war in the world”
- “Why would I want to be a part of an organisation that discriminates against women?” (when I hear this I can’t believe it)
But there’s one question my friends and colleagues over the years never want to ask me. Never, never , never want to ask me … but I know they’re thinking about it. Because they’re thinking, hmmm, ‘Heather’s all about social justice, and she’s a lawyer, and she’s relatively normal’, and to all of their charges against the church I say: “Yes, these things are true. We do have a lot of history in the church to be ashamed of. We don’t always get it right.” And I know that the question beneath the throw comments is:
“Why are you still part of the church?”
Wow, that is a brave question to ask, because the answer just might mean that Christianity is a product worth looking into.
A man who was very good at selling the Christian product, so to speak, was Paul of Tarsus.
- Paul knew that he was like the rich man in Nathan’s parable.
- Because before he became a Christian he was killing Christians in the name of God – he was persecuting God in the name of his religion, in which he had very high standing as a very educated and righteous man
- So God takes this guy and aside, and turns him into one of the most effective Apostle the church has ever seen
- Paul is repentant and he knows that God didn’t choose him because he was a ‘good person’
He came to know Jesus Christ – who died not for the godly, but for the ungodly. As Paul writes in Romans 5:8 - “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
- the bottom line is – the world doesn’t like this kind of justice – what people really want is for God to be a little bit more like human beings. People who throw accusations at church people for being hypocritical – may be very accurate in what they say, but what they really want to believe is that in this world there are good people and bad people, and they are one of the good people. What they really want is for God to judge them by their works – because they believe their works to be good
- but Christians don’t say that there are good people and bad people
- Christians say that there are only saved people and unsaved people
- the world hates this teaching – hates it
- but frankly, it’s for God to decide how its gonna work – and God has decided to save us when we didn’t deserve it – and to be alive in a church full of hypocrites
- These days I often say to my non-Christian friends, “Yep, the church is full of hypocrites, and there’s always room for one more …”
How do we answer the accusations?
- first thing is, we don’t deny that we are the rich man – that we are guilty of injustice
- second, we tell people why we are still a part of the church
So let me ask you, what is your answer to the question: ‘Why are you still a part of the church?’ – Don’t worry about Romans or the technical answer for a minute – just straight from the heart – why are you still a part of the church?
Let me tell you what my answer is, straight from the heart. I am still here, because the church saved my life. Because, if it wasn’t for the church, I would never have known Jesus. And in the church, I don’t just know about Jesus or learn about Jesus, I can touch him. I’m like the woman in Mark’s gospel, with the 12 year haemorrhage, thinking, ‘If I could just touch the hem of his cloak, I would be well. If I could just touch him.’
We heard a great story at the clergy conference a couple of weeks ago about a little girl who woke up in the night, frightened by a storm. And her Mum comes in the room and gives her a hug and says, ‘Don’t be scared, it’s all right.’ And she tells her daughter, ‘And you know you always have God here to talk to if you ever feel scared, and you know that God loves you.’ And the daughter said, ‘Yes but Mummy, I need love with skin on it.’ How true is that? We need God’s love with skin on it. Well, I’m in the church because that’s where I get it.
I get to touch the hem of his cloak every time I come into contact with his believers, because you are all his flesh and blood in this world. His spirit is in you, and it is through you, that Jesus touches the world today.
And there’s one more reason.
I realised sometime in the last few years, that if I leave the church because it is unjust and hypocritical, then what I am really saying is that I am not guilty of injustice, and I am not a hypocrite, and by extension – I would then be judging myself to be better than all of you … and I would be left looking for the God who agrees with me – the God who says ‘you don’t have to be part of my people to share in my life.’
And I will never find that God because that God doesn’t exist. The God that does exist, is the one who is here with us and in us, who sets us apart, not because we’re better, but because we believe in him … and only because we can relate to David’s words in Psalm 51: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken heart, O God, you will not despise.”