Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Church Politics


The cartoon comes from the wonderful Dave Walker at CartoonChurch.com. And it expresses how I’m feeling this week.

I hate, despise, and loathe church politics.

Actually, that’s not even 100% true. I hate church politics a lot,  and I want to have a complete and utter hatred of church politics, because I believe infighting in the church is contrary to God’s will.  But there is a tiny, evil part of me that loves church politics, that raises its head like a racehorse at the starter’s pistol when controversy drifts my way.  The better part of me shrinks away, but there’s still that tiny part that loves a fight and wants to dive in to the fray.

I try to keep that part in check, and not listen to it.  In my younger days I was more willing to fight over issues, and it never made me feel better, happier, closer to my fellow Christians or closer to God.

In recent years I’ve tried to step back from such conflicts.  I try to make my church time more about worshipping God and trying to love others as best I can, rather than winning battles or scoring points. 

That’s not to say I always agree with my church as an organization (local or world-wide) or with the individuals in my local congregation.  But my disagreements tend to fall into one of two categories. 

First category: I disagree, but the issue is too trivial to be worth fighting over. Someone once said, “In the average church it is easier to introduce a fourth Person into the Trinity than a new colour of carpet in the church foyer,” and the sad truth is that many church fights fall into this category.  Case in point: our congregation wants to build a new church. I think this is A Bad Idea and a poor use of our resources.  I said so, once and with some conviction, at a business meeting called to discuss the issue, and when a vote was called I voted against it. I was one of a tiny minority to do so, and if the majority wants to go ahead, I’m going to put up and shut up and be as supportive as I can, because in the end it really doesn’t matter.

Second category: I disagree, but my views are so far from the mainstream of the church thinking and teaching that I will never effect change on this issue. Case in point: the fact that I accept gay marriage. I know I’m out of step with this, but I’m OK with being out of step.  When I’m involved in discussions I may try to nudge the church in the direction of more charity, less judgement, but I know realistically this is not a fight I could ever win in this church, so I have no intention of trying.

So when I find myself disagreeing with my church as a whole or with individuals in the church, I usually keep quiet. Which allows me to stay out of most church politics.

But there is a third category: issues where I disagree with individuals in my church, I believe I’m right, and I think it really matters.  When those issues arise, it’s time to speak up.  Even if that means playing the dirty, messy game of church politics, trying to define who’s on which “side” and rally support.  And I still hate it — I hate even thinking of my church in terms of “sides.”

But I hate even more the idea of allowing a small but vocal minority to dictate policy and move the church in a direction I believe is morally wrong, just because those who felt differently were too passive or apathetic to speak up. Case in point: the ordination of women as local church elders — approved by our world church, but sometimes still opposed by conservative factions within individual churches.  Frankly, it’s hard to believe in 2009 we’re even still having this debate (or rather, having it again) but my disbelief is not going to stop this from happening.

So I feel called, rightly or wrongly, to take up my over-ripe tomatoes and wade into the fray.  I try to pray that I can do it with the right spirit, that I can quell (or ask God to quell) that nasty little part of me that is actually spoiling for a fight, and to strengthen the side of me that is able to disagree with fellow Christians while still having a spirit of sisterly love towards them.  I’ll admit it’s not easy, with one part of me wanting to fight dirty and another part not wanting to fight at all.

But sometimes staying silent isn’t keeping the peace — it’s cowardice.  I pray for discernment, for the wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent.  And I can only hope I pick the right battles.


13 thoughts on “Church Politics

  1. I like your categories. It’s a nice rubric for picking battles. The thing is to make sure the first two are defined broadly and the last narrowly.

    That being said, here’s a little ammo for your skirmish.

    “All who wish an opportunity for true ministry, and who will give themselves unreservedly to God, will find in the canvassing work opportunities to speak upon many things pertaining to the future immortal life. The experience thus gained will be of the greatest value to those who are fitting themselves for the work of the ministry. It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God.” (RH, Jan 15, 1901, para 5)

    You can look it up here.

  2. David, I want to say that I hope we’re beyond the point of beating each other with proof-texts from the Bible or Ellen White … but … obviously I’m not quite beyond that point, because that is a great quote. Thanks!!

  3. Doesn’t it just kill you that there are people in the church who would prefer the least qualified man over the most qualified woman to hold the office of elder?

  4. I SO hate church politics, too. But you’ve thought about the categories well. And sometimes the issue is so important that you just have to get in, like the one you have on at the moment. And that should, I hope, be possible to “win”.

    Blessings to you and your church from a woman pastor (in ministry soon 20 years). 🙂

  5. God bless you, Ansku, and all those like you!!

    Yes, Aunt Ruth, that does make me crazy.

  6. I have long been disturbed by the rationale which starts a discussion or a rebuttal with “Sister White said…”—or the several equivalents of “we’ve always done it this way…”
    Our small local church has experienced a schism which led to two ridiculously small congregations meeting separately each week. Our local elder is currently trying to fire us up with the disput involving what kind of science will be taught at La Sierra College. Why do I think we don’t have an influence or maybe a real input there?
    Reading I’ve done in the past few years which includes historic documents, the Glacier View/Desmond Ford debacle/ Spectrum blog when I feel brave enough to wade through some of the acidic commentary—some of these things promote thought, perhaps a more balanced view–sometimes it merely results in discouragement. I’ve come to suspect that true spirituality and a resilent personal faith must trancend the denominational differences.

  7. So don’t leave us hanging. Tell us how it went! 😀

  8. I will provide updates as available…discreetly, of course!

  9. I was walking down the aisle at a store this afternoon and came across twoo older women getting caught up on gossip. “We’ve been through hell at our church recently, you know. Now we’re looking for a new pastor… .” It struck me as sad that they are still at it at this point in their lives. Hell? In church? Oh, the irony.

  10. The better part of valour…

  11. So are you saying that the gay marriage issue doesn’t really matter, or that the women’s elder issue is a winnable battle? As you know, I’ve stopped attending the local Adventist church because of both issues. I think extreme right-wing tendencies are inherent in reformation theology. While the SDA church doesn’t interpret the Bible literally, most congregations are dominated by people who do. Their faith is built on a shaky foundation of proof texts and a narrow world view, and they believe anything that challenges that is of the Devil. You may be able to outvote them at this point in time, but you will never convert them. Even entering the fray legitimizes their logic.

  12. The issue of women elders is not just a winnable battle, it’s a won battle … both on the denominational level, and in our local church, which (as you remember, Jennifer) voted more than 70% in favour of ordaining women elders nearly 15 years ago. I object to the idea that a group of 10-12 malcontents could hold a church of 120 people hostage and force them to revisit this issue simply because that small group is more vocal and passionate about their minority opinion.

    As for your saying that I think “the gay marriage issue doesn’t really matter,” that is far too big a topic for me to address in the comments section of a blog (I have blogged about it before and will again), but the short answer is that when my beliefs (or doubts, or questions) differ from the church’s official beliefs, I reserve the right to hold different opinions but I don’t think it’s my place to try to force the whole church to conform to how I think. Which is the difference between me and the same ultraconservative group I’m talking about — they, too, differ from the official church on many issues but believe it’s their job to constantly attempt to “reform” the church even if they have to be disruptive and offensive to do it. I have no desire to take on that role. I will speak out about what I believe in appropriate forums and try to work for whatever level of change I think is possible, but I don’t feel the need to make the church over in my image.

    If a gay Christian friend asks me about attending church, I would direct them (and have directed them) to the United Church or some other place that will be more welcoming and affirming than my church is. I believe strongly in everyone’s right to find a church home where they can feel spiritually blessed and challenged, just as you have done, Jennifer. But in return I expect others, at least my friends, to respect my choices too.

    The idea of leaving my church holds absolutely no appeal for me. For that reason, while you may believe that “even entering the fray legitimizes their logic,” that’s not the belief that directs my choices and actions. If my church is a part of who I am and I am a part of the church, then I have a responsibility to make my voice heard and be a part of deciding what direction it goes in — especially when a minority is trying to impose their views on the majority and attempting to create the impression that conservative Adventists are the only ones who are passionate about their faith and their church to the point of being willing to fight for what they believe.

  13. For those playing along at home, the political game in this instance proved unnecessary for the moment, as those on the other side did not make the expected moves, or indeed any moves at all. Which doesn’t mean I’m letting my guard down.

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