A 'Goliath' in our naves: the Christian cruelty of wounding, rather than welcoming lost souls.
“Be kinder than necessary because everyone is fighting their war or battle and suffering losses. Live simply, love generously, care deeply for the needs of your neighbor, speak softly, and leave the rest to the Lord. It is not faith, nor dogmatics, nor mysticism, nor asceticism, nor fasting, nor long prayers, but love that makes one a true Christian. Everything becomes pointless without this fundamental thing -
love for our neighbor.”
St. Luke, Bishop of Simferopol and Crimea, the Blessed Surgeon
The Church belongs to all people, yet far too often we become far too comfortable and develop a sense of entitlement. When this happens, we have a tendency to think of the Church as 'ours.' Perhaps we consider it 'ours' because of our ethic heritage, which might mistake the Church as our birthright. Sometimes we consider the Church 'ours' because we are part of a founding family. Occasionally, we consider it 'ours' because of the money we contribute.
The fact, however, remains: the Church does not belong to any of us. Rather, it is a gift from God. A gift that is offered to all people regardless of their heritage, their arrival date, or their wallet.
Indeed, at the table of Christ Jesus, all are welcome regardless of 'our' opinion or preference.
St. Theophan the Recluse tells us, "The feeling of self-importance is deeply hidden, but it controls the whole of our life. Its first demand is that everything should be as we wish it, and as soon as this is not so, we complain to God and are annoyed with people."
How often has our sense of entitlement wounded a lost soul?
The Church is often referred to as a spiritual hospital. Those not born into the faith tend to find Her in their darkest hour, desperately seeking the soothing balm offered exclusively by the Divine Physician. St. Paisios said, “Those who come close to people in pain naturally draw near to God, because God is always by the side of His children who are in pain.”
Yet sometimes we tend to treat the narthex as a triage of sorts, picking and choosing the spiritually wounded who should be permitted to encounter the Divine Physician according to 'our' standards.
While this might be 'our' way, it is not the way prescribed by Christ in the gospels. I know way too many people who will never darken the doorstep of a church again because of the cruel way they were treated. Most of those souls wander in pain.
The Archpriest John Mironov wisely noted:
"We have forgotten the word ‘tenderness.’ This is a special word. Kindness is inseparable from love. When a wounded, repentant human soul is imposed a spiritual balm - this is called tenderness. When we, with a kind, warm and gentle word, give the grieving person strength for life, for faith, for love - this is exactly tenderness. It's a pity we forgot this word, this concept, unloved, not sorry, not caring for one another.”
Yes, we must strive to offer the spiritual balm of tenderness. Instead, when a wounded soul leaves our flock, we tend to offer excuses for our behavior. Time and again, the same brush off is given to the wounded when they cry out for help: “You go to Church for Jesus, not for the people.”
Yes, that’s true.
But by the same token, a student goes to the cafeteria for nourishment. However, if their classmates are cruel, it can make lunchtime miserable. Likewise, a patient goes to the hospital for healing, but if their roommate is a jerk, the experience can be painful.
Both leadership and example flow from the top down.
Thus, when the age-old brush off is given by pastors and other church leadership, it is nothing more than a deflection from their cowardice and inability to authentically lead according to the standards laid out in the gospel. If a pastor is allowing a congregation to be cruel, one can preach all they want from the pulpit, but clearly the gospel is falling on deaf ears.
That’s when ‘faith in action’ is required.
Safe to say that David prayed, but at some point, he had to pick up the rock God laid in front of him and knock out Goliath.
Christian cruelty is a Goliath in nave of far too many churches.
To walk in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, those who are authentically called to any form of church leadership must lead courageously, by example, and without excuses. They must never be afraid to leave the 99 (regardless of the size of pocketbooks or social influences) and go after that lost sheep. The salvation of souls is imperative and takes precedence over the preservation of cliques.
As for the lay faithful, well ... if people hate you because of Jesus that's to be expected. If people hate Jesus because of you, that's a problem.
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