I wonder when church becomes a sanctuary for the self righteousness of the insecure?
For some reason I have been reflecting on particular people I have encountered in church leadership positions ever since I was in junior high. I just finished a Jack London short story called “The House of Pride.” Maybe that’s what triggered it. Anyway, among them were always a few for whom life in the congregation was an arena in which to display their superior religiosity, which often came in the form of greater faith than anyone else, more pious devotion to tradition and ritual than anyone else, more moral righteousness than anyone else, and,most of all, more assumption of the right to influence decisions than anyone else.
It took time, but it finally dawned on me that they also were often more insecure than anyone else. It’s hard to say exactly what that means, but, just from remembered observation, it seemed that they were uncomfortable in their own skins, uncertain of their place in secular society, and envious of those who appeared to be humbly self confident in a wider variety of situations and conditions. Church was a place where they could achieve the illusion of superiority, and exert a greater degree of control over others. I’ve often wondered what that might have to say about their family lives as well.
It reminds me of why I’m not very fond of the theology of an old hymn that reads in part, “Rock of ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in thee.” I do not believe that Christ, and by extension the church, is a place in which to hide, there to feel secure in one’s insecurity, rubbing it with religious salve that can make it very hard for others to find their own place of blessing.
Church is sanctuary, but it is sanctuary for the purpose of offering rest, restoration, healing and nourishment to be sent back out to do the work we have been given to do. It is not supposed to be an emotional hidey-hole or a platform for the emotional abuse of others.
Healthy congregations require effective pastoral leadership that is aware of the presence of such persons, makes room for them as beloved of Christ, but does not give them room to act out to the detriment of others.