taking the words of Jesus seriously

It is probably no coincidence that A Few Good Men is one of my favourite movies. I think the twin competing narratives of legal justice and moral choices make it somewhat compelling.

In the film two marines fulfil an order to enact a Code Red on a substandard colleague in order to provide him with discipline. The marine dies and so the two participants are taken through the court Marshall process.

It is important to note that Code Reds are not an official navy practice and had been discouraged by the highest offices. In practice though the base commander sees them as an important tool in keeping order.

Even though the film is over twenty years old I have no wish to spoil the end for anyone who has not watched it yet (what have you been doing with your life), needless to say that the story presents the complexity of both moral/ethical issues and the nature of community hierarchies.

The issues portrayed in the film are not just relevant to the armed forces but have the potential to be found in all organisations: including the church.

Related: Mark Driscoll’s Plagiarism Witch Hunt

The recent Mark Driscoll episode in which he has been accused of pastoral bullying by former members and leaders at Mars Hill reminded me somewhat of the storyline of the film. In essence the key leader is the culture maker and often rightly seen as the main protagonist but is supported by a whole cast of ‘enablers’.

I am not unsympathetic towards these people; I too have been part of church cultures where my support for leadership could be seen as enabling. I wonder whether the following categories might be helpful in determining whether we might be part of the problem:

1) The Enabling Leaders
As we have seen several ex-leaders of Mars Hill have offered apologies for the part they played in members being hurt. I am sure that it could be true that they themselves did not perpetrate the acts of bullying but they more than likely looked the other way when such incidents happened. Sometimes it is easier to believe the prevailing rhetoric than to take a stand.

We need to remember that bad leaders do not work in isolation. I wonder whether the often found kindness of the second in command acts as a smoothing device against the abrasiveness of the key leader, thus encouraging people to work through the hurt they feel for periods longer than would be healthy. It only takes a few good men to do nothing for a problematic leader to create an unhealthy culture.

2) The Enabling Staff
In larger churches not all staff are considered leaders in an ecclesiological sense. They may be technicians or have administrative functions. I am aware of churches where staff operate in a culture of fear: where they are reprimanded (even shouted at) for the smallest of errors.

Part of the problem here is that so much is wrapped up together for someone employed by the church that it becomes almost impossible for them to take a stand. For these people there lively hood, friendships, spiritual life, and social standing can be so intertwined that it is difficult to see where one ends and another starts.

3) The Enabling Enthusiast
These people so want to believe in the vision, the church, and the senior leader, that they are willing to overlook all manner of issues. Often they have been vocal in their communities and families; inviting others to attend church. After such support it is very difficult for this group to accept that the church is unhealthy.

4) The Enabling Peer-group
Everybody has a constituency and church leaders are particularly susceptible to the need of remaining ‘in’ the prevailing group. It never ceases to amaze me how easy it seems for other church leaders to remain silent on some of these important issues. Their silence is their complicity in the unhealthy nature of such churches. It is all the more shocking when you consider that many of these same leaders are very vocal when it comes to critiquing those in other groups.

5) The Enabling Peace Proclaimers
These people seem to pop up in every debate I have had on issues worth engaging with. They often sound very spiritual as they call for unity rather than division. They use phrases like ‘it is more important to be for something than against something’. These conversation stopping statements sound like wisdom but are nothing more than out of context demands for people to support the status quo. Part of the problem is that the logic is flawed because the binary position they suggest does not exist. In fact as soon as you speak in favour of a particular position your are by implication standing against its opposite. In addition the gospel demands that we are to take a stand against some things. Where would we be if people had listened to such voices with issues of race and gender. They cry peace peace when there is no peace!

Also by Alan: The Emergent Conversation has failed…or has it?

Now having said all of that I warmly welcome the self reflection and apologies made by the former leaders of Mars Hill. My reason for writing is that the above categories are not confined to the very distinct cases of mega church bullying. This can happen in any community. It can happen anytime good people do nothing when they see bad things happen.

It might be that a few good men can allow for churches to become unhealthy but it only takes a few brave women and men to call people into account for their behaviour.

Can you handle the truth?

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