Friday, August 29, 2008

What are we to do with our stories of pain and mistreatment by other Christians?

Its no revelation that Christians hurt each other in some very serious ways. While I believe that more people have been loved by Christians than hurt, the painful reality is that we can do so much damage. Hence we have books such as Dwight Carlson’s, Why do Christians shoot their wounded. Here’s what often happens. We tell the stories to others. There is something good and something bad about our telling of our stories.

What do telling our stories of being hurt, wronged, misunderstood, misrepresented, oppressed, rejected, etc. do for us? What does it do to our listeners? These are important questions. Here are some bullet responses by me:

1. Telling the truth to another and being heard and understood on top of that provides healing. When the body of Christ attends to the wounds of its members, there are wonderful opportunities for healing, forgiveness, repentance, justice, reconciliation.

2. But why am I telling THIS person. Am I looking for a healing response or for someone to validate my bitterness, to encourage my sinful anger and my unwillingness to confront the wounder? Is it gossip? What do I want/desire/expect from this person who has just heard my story?

3. Do I tell the story in a way that colors all those who might think similarly to the person who has wounded me. Example, not all of those who value postmodern challenges to modernity are on a slippery slope to relativism. Not all of those who believe that women should not be in pastoral ministry are wife beaters. But do we tell stories that castigate all?

4. How do I respond to these stories from others? Do I undermine by minimizing the pain? Do I counter it with my own story that shows that my own wounds are worse? Do I say nothing? Do I see overgeneralizations and ignore the parts that are true about me or at least gives the impression of truth? Can I own what I need to own without being overly concerned about being misunderstood myself? Or do I get defensive?

Stories of being victimized help others to understand our experiences and to enter our world. But stories also can function like agent orange and burn everything in sight. How do we know what to do for our own best health and the consideration of those around us?

What about the offender? What’s the difference between a prophet and a slanderer? In the mind of the offender, he/she is a prophet, God's representative espousing God's words.

A prophet names things and people (especially opponents) in a way that they would agree or approve. A slanderer uses names to disparage and to smear opponents, even those who might barely be related to the issues at hand. (Scot McKnight, in a recent presentation at Westminster Seminary, offers some good advice in this area when talking about emerging/missional church authors and their critics. When you describe your opponents, you ought to do so in a way that the opponents says, “that’s me.”). A prophet does not stoop to build straw men.

A prophet highlights viewpoints in order to point out their possible logical conclusions while a slanderer takes another’s position to an extreme and paints the person as intending the outcome or so foolish not to see the result.

While pointing out possible outcomes, a prophet is still able to describe these outcomes with complexity and shading while the slanderer merely paints everything in black and white.

A prophet points to a better way, creative solutions, risky but realistic options while a slanderer wastes no effort trying to provide solutions, but is satisfied with producing only criticisms and tired stereotypes.

[Phil Monroe]

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