We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
–12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous–
So far, the 12 steps have asked us to admit that we are powerless to effect change and manage our churches and denominations. But the 12 step model goes even further, suggesting that our problems are not simply a lack of power, but rather a pathological mental break that keeps us from doing what we need to do. We may be willing to admit that the problems that face us are beyond our control and understanding, but it’s another thing entirely to say that we are corporately insane.
Of course, part of our problem is that we don’t fully understand what it means to be “sane.” The English word “sane” is derived from the Latin adjective sanus which means “healthy.” From this perspective “insanity” basically means “poor health of the mind,” that is, a defective ability to reason clearly.
Susannah Wesley, the mother of our founder John, believed she could identify the source of this insanity. She would tell John as a boy that, “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, and takes off the relish of spiritual things — that to you is sin.”
We are insane as congregations and as a denomination because sin continues to run rampant among us. We are, after all, broken people in need of God’s grace who have all fallen short of God’s glory. It’s to be expected that sin would rear its ugly head to be present in our communal life. It’s seen in the abusive power relationships so often seen in congregations — places where power is held tightly by the few and where change is resisted at all costs. In one of the churches that I served several of the matriarchs and patriarchs were derisively identified (behind closed doors of course) as “the owners” of the church by younger members who felt no sense of shared leadership of valuing of their ideas. But that description in and of itself opened the door to another sin that undermined the community — gossip and slander. Most important, both sides of that debate were not able to be open and honest with each other, choosing instead to maintain secrets which would eventually fester into bitterness and hatred. This rampant sin of the community made everyone involved insane, unable to reason and talk about the stuff of God.
That same insanity was seen at the denominational level in the various signs that demonstrated the depth of the lack of trust in the denomination. It happened when litmus tests overruled the ability to talk, reason, and listen for God’s presence in the guidance of the church. It showed up when groups on both sides dug in their heals and become more enamored with political wrangling than listening to the Holy Spirit.
Our insanity is killing us. Like the alcoholic who is out of control in regards to drinking, we are out of control in our relationship to power and authority, and as the General Conference of 2012 demonstrated that insanity is keeping us from honestly evaluating who and whose we are, and doing things that will bring forth health in our communal life.
The good news is that we believe in a God who is far greater than us, and who can bring about the needed change . . . right?
We do believe in a God that can transform us and make us new, don’t we?
There’s more to be said on this in the next post.