Responses to the June “Pressure Points” column have been energetic and clearly not of one mind or heart. That column addressed what its questioner — a first-time delegate to a Synod convention — described as “communications I get that are negative, attacking and belittling.”
The bulk of the responses to the column — at least so far — share the pain of readers who have experienced such attacking and destructive communications and behavior — either as delegates to a convention or, more often, as members or leaders of congregations.
Following are responses from five readers of last month’s column. The first three basically agree that such negative communication must stop or be avoided. The last two speak more to the need to point out error, when such error needs to be communicated.
R: I, too, have been dismayed and disgusted at being inundated with “yellow journalism.” As a pastoral delegate, I have struggled with even going to the convention because of the anticipation of being verbally attacked by attendees with differing viewpoints. I realized that by backing out and quitting, this would not honor God, who desires us to stand up for truth and harmony.
R: Your [statement that] “The effect of all this on folks like you is potentially damaging” misses the mark by miles. In fact, I believe, the effect is the continued “back door” losses that our church body has experienced. My family and I are among the losses.
R: Please know that we are very much at peace with our Lord. We are just so sad that many churches have become battlefields instead of havens and we will have no part of those that have. We have never given up on God, only the LCMS.
R: There are many within the LCMS [who] do not see the dangerous forces at work and are naive to think that we don’t have pastors in our Synod [who] are heterodox. … It is easy to point out the errors of the pagans like the Jews, Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but when it comes to sins in the LCMS, many lips are sealed because they are uninformed, naive or are just apathetic. In all that I have read and heard in public, I have yet to hear or read any personal attacks, but I’m sure it happens.
R: I do agree that we should not engage in personal attacks. But, let us make sure that we condemn only the personal attack, and not the truth the person is trying to defend. … Let us not beat up the messengers of the Word of God or the Word of God. Let us realize that sin and Satan abound more than ever.
Most writers about conflict point to the movement from discussing differences at the level of the differences to personal attacks as the watershed place where conflict turns destructive.
Many authors who study congregational and denominational life point out that the loss of civility and the rise of personal attack in the late 20th and early 21st century are mirrored in the church. Such attitudes and behavior also are evident in the rise of the “attack ad” in American political life. Their prevalence in the church may come as a surprise to some, although not if we believe what Lutherans teach concerning the sinfulness of the human condition.
I am convinced of these three things:
We all need our own honest places of spiritual reflection, vulnerability and confession. The place to begin in all conflict is with oneself. This means having a spiritual director, confessor or counselor — someone who can walk with us “just as I am, without one plea.” In these places we will also explore the spiritual and emotional effect of this kind of conflict.
Our focus needs to be much more on behavior. Much spiritual damage is done when even the truth is spoken in destructive and demeaning ways. In fact, such behavior puts barriers in place between people and the Truth (Christ).
Christ forgives His people, loves His children with an everlasting love and will never take His presence from us.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted July 1, 2010