“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?”
“You should Love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and you should love your meighbor as you love yourself.”
I have been around church folk for quite a while now. It started in my early teen years, hanging around a big Southern Baptist church, new to faith but with a deep family connection to that congregation. I spent some time in the charismanic realm, among some Free Methodists and Presbyterians, and as a denominational employee of both the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church. After marrying my preacher wife, I went even deeper, being the “preacher’s wife” in a couple of congregations before I decided to follow my own call and move into pastoral ministry myself.
Throughout that long journey I have been amazed at the deep and abiding faith of the saints. I have seen persons treat one another with the utmost respect and dignity. I have seen persons dig deep inside their souls to spread the love and grace of God.
And then there are the threats.
You know what they are. They come in e-mails, on notecards, in phone calls in the middle of the night while you are trying to put the children to bed. “I don’t like what our church is doing Preacher,” they say. “If things don’t change I’m going to leave the church and find another church that isn’t so misguided.” Or there are the financial threats. “We’re big givers and if you don’t straighten up we’re going to hold back our pledge.” Often times, these folks aren’t nearly as big a givers as they think they are, but they believe that the church can be held hostage by their decision to give or not to give.
Now let me say that I understand that the church, any church, is not perfect, and those of us who put on the robes and claim to lead a congregation are even more fallible. We screw up all the time. We make mistakes that need to be accounted for. Churches are made of of frail and broken people and bad decisions are made, decisions which persons should challenge.
Yet, threats don’t challenge, they accuse. They are the act of a selfish child who isn’t getting his or her way. “If you don’t do what I want, then I’m going to take my toys and go home.” Threats basically offer one solution to the problem, that of the threatmaker, and any other solutions that might occur are off the table. Trying to effect change through threatmaking immediately shuts down the possibility of conversation and reconciliation. It is a one-sided communication that is never helpful.
Life in the kingdom of God has little room for threats. Jesus never preached “Blessed are the threatmakers, for they shall get their way.” Instead it was the meek and the peacemakers, the poor in spirit and the humble who were lifted up for praise.
There is a part of me (the impatient, less than perfect part) that wants to say, “Watch out for the door on your way out.” Like most of us, I don’t want to give in to threats. Yet, I recognize that threatmaking is the symptom of something far deeper than their initial concern. So I take a deep breath, count to ten, and think about a pastoral response.
It would be easy to denigrate the threatmakers, but then I remember that I’m one too. “Go to your bed right now or I’ll throw the TV away!” “If you don’t eat your dinner you can just starve tonight!” I, of all people, should know the effect that these threats has on my chldren, but sometimes threats seem easier than actual confrontation and conversation.
Maybe threats are the realm of children. Parents use them. Peers use them. Threats are a common weapon in the quiver of both child and parent.
But then we grow up.