Overturning tables: taking on abuse in Churches & religious organisations
This morning I read Nancy Beach’s description of the final outcome at Willow Creek Church: “Nancy Beach: A Voice of Wisdom”. I found myself, once again, facing the anger at the injustices that happen within churches and missions! I wrote about this in February of this year, when NBC had a segment dealing with the abuse that happened in New Tribes Mission: Shadows of the Past.
The thought that came to me this morning as I read Nancy’s article was
This is a moment for overturning tables and complete disruption!
Why does it continue to be more important to protect “the church” than it is to protect the victims? For example, in the Willow Creek case, one of the complaints by leadership (towards the victims), even in their apologies was:
her difficulty with people going to the news media and social media instead of privately to Willow leadership (behind closed doors).
It doesn’t matter how small or large the institution is — the knee-jerk reaction appears to be to protect the institution!
Apparently, it’s not a new problem.
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”
18 And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.
Mark 11:15–18 (NRSV)
In some depictions — Jesus even uses a whip (at least to get the sheep and oxen out of the temple!).
And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
John 2: 13–14
Social injustice had become normal in the temple — the part of the temple where the sales were being made was the Court of the Gentiles. This means that the Gentiles no longer had a place within the temple to gather and worship! Their part of the temple had been replaced with money making!
A place that should have stood as a symbol for the freedom of access of all nations in prayer to God, had become a place associated with sordid pecuniary interests.
There is also historical evidence that points to collusion between the temple and the rich, who allowed lending to the poor to take place within the temple. This involved the poor losing their land to the rich! There was both economic and religious business taking place in the temple grounds.
What does this have to do with “overturning tables”?
Jesus came into the courtyard and upset the status quo — changed the balance of power and the attention of the people. He obviously questions the authority of those in power within “the church” — questioning their motives and the outcomes.
What was the power structure in Jewish society at the time — especially as it involved the temple? How did the overturning of the tables impact this power structure?
Jesus’ teachings were mostly and consistently about social justice. They strongly opposed the domination system of the time and thereby probably any system that creates an elite and powerful class that keeps the masses poor and powerless — for whatever reason.
So — what tables need turning now within our churches?
For starters — the tables on which it’s more important to hide the truth than it is to admit that people (pastors, elders or other members) have used the church and their positions of power to do wrong!
Why is it that we are protecting men in power against women and children who have been victimised?
How is this any different from what God calls for in Isaiah 58?
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation (CHURCH) that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter —
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
What are the chains of injustice that need to be loosed today in our churches? How do we set free the oppressed — those who have been abused, harassed and then scorned by their very congregations because they dared to say “this is wrong”?
Which children and women have been left naked by the investigations that failed to clothe them?
How many more church members will be turned away?
The Truth will set you free!
Our churches need to be rebuilt!
Jesus said that he would tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days — maybe that needs to happen again within churches! Tear down the concern about preserving the financial viability of the church and start to really feel compassion for others!
Compassion for those who have been victimised by those in powerful places.
Victimised by the very structure of the church that allowed it to happen and then failed to respond when it was reported!
It saddens me to think that Christians are still more concerned with the financial ramifications of accepting the truth (the threat of lawsuits) than they are about the truth setting everyone free!
It becomes obvious when the lawyers have written the statements and press releases! Carefully couched language and failure to admit any wrongdoing that might have economic repercussions.
Is this really serving God?
Or does it simply serve human ends?
Perhaps it’s time to tear those buildings down and return to the grassroots of Christianity!
Perhaps we need Jesus to overturn the tables and upset the status quo.