Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why is it So Hard?

First a bit of background, then a quick story, and then to the question, "Why is it so doggone hard for a church to follow Jesus??"

My wife and I (Kendra & Joe B) have gotten deeply inolved in sharing Jesus with internet sex-performers in Eastern Europe. Pretty simple really, it's like God just shows us a person, we make friends with them, and we call them to join Jesus in his kingdom movement. In the last year we have gathered, I dunno, maybe a dozen Saints in two cities and about a dozen more curious hangers-on. Twice (Sep '10 & Jan '11) we have traveled to meet these kids face to face and to confirm them in their faith.

The Story:
Part of our work is to conect these kingdom-kids with solid believers and/or churches in their local area. I contacted the leaders of two very good churches I try to partner with in a particular city. I informed them that, for that particular week, I would be traveling without Kendra, but that I would have the assistance of Isabela, a girl who met Jesus during our travels last September. From both churches I received the helpful warning that (a) I imperil my soul by keeping company with Isabela absent my wife, and that (b) it would be frowned on in their communities if we had no chaperon. Naturally, I thanked them and made this request: "Since I am an alien and I cannot bring a chaperon, can you supply a person to accompany us? After all, it's a great opportunity to introduce Isabela to a lady who can shepherd her soul, right?"

So, what was the response? If you guessed "total silence" you guessed right! Now, let me underscore, these are fine people whom I admire and respect. I do not mock them.

Let me summarize this in an unflattering way: They all have time to condemn the mere appearance of a possible, theoretical impropriety. But, among 200 people, they could not muster a single one to satisfy their own mandate, let alone to exploit this juicy ministry opportunity. In contrast, Isabela said "Even if they must imagine I am your 'toy', I will not let you wander around my city without a translator. I am responsible for you." In essence, the pastors demonstrated they cared neither for my peril, nor for our reputation--they did their duty merely by voicing their disapproval. In American we would say  "Their asses were covered."

It was not complicated for Isabela and me...we simply resolved and agreed not to get sexual, and we did not. I didn't go in her apartment. Isa didn't go beyond the hotel lobby. No problems. Maybe it was not we who were in peril of temptation, but someone else after all?

The Question:
So help me out here...why is it so easy for churches, represented by their leaders, to gulp down camels while straining out gnats? What is the root of this deep moral confusion that infects us after we organize ourselves into church communities? In other words, why is it so difficult for churches to follow Jesus?
Joe B


Scott said...

I think this is pretty common thinking, in churches everywhere. Because of how prevalent adultery and "sex-scandals" are, there is the thought that if you put an unmarried man and woman together in close proximity, either they'll be tempted to have sex, or everyone will evidently THINK that they're having sex ("It looks bad to outsiders"), which they perceive as almost as bad as actually having The Sex.

It seems to be a pretty common (if unwritten) rule, I think, that male preachers and ministry staff can't even be alone with women.

I suppose in most of these cases, it IS just as you wrote -- "covering their asses." And perhaps many people truly don't believe that men and women can spend much time in close proximity without major temptation happening. In many cases, that may be true.

Of course, I think in many cases, these people just don't know Joe B.

Your question though mostly leads us back to the bureaucracy and politics of church. It's the nature of the beast -- a group gets big, we organize committees, we have meetings, we put down rules and guidelines, and things quickly devolve into something less personal.

This isn't to say that all groups become evil as they get bigger. It just means they have to work harder to love, and to consciously avoid the pitfalls of organizations.

Joe B said...

Great conclusion, Scott: "[They don't become evil] as they get bigger, they [just] have to work harder to love."

Let me save somebody the trouble here: I agree it's perilous to be out trekking with a cute chick and her sexual baggage. Gotta face up, Izzy is a little hottie, and stranger things have happened.

What I reject is that there is this "inevitability of sin"; I believe instead in an "inevitability of righteousness". But that doesn't mean I'll do just any old thing; I'd never go trekking with Julia or Monica or even with Blondu, a man who could get me in a world of trouble.

"Joe B" has no unique gift for resisting temptation. But, I will not be controlled by the fear of something within my own control. I have work to do.

"The righteous are as bold as a lion, but the fool says what if there's a lion out in the street!'"

Matt said...

Been thinking alot about this since yesterday.

I was thinking about how painful it was to be accused of something I did not do, and how that has driven me in the past to do such things that might look like "covering my ass."

But it's beyond painful to be charged by a community of believers things you did not do b/c one or two believe, lie, or declare that you did and the rest don't know you well enough to stand with you. Like stated, "I think in many cases, these people just don't know Joe B."

But, to cover our asses is also to try to eliminate the reality that when we follow Jesus, there is no method, rule, organization, guidelines, etc that will keep evil from accusing us.

It is the nature of following Jesus and advancing His kingdom to have our faith that Jesus is sufficient to save and sanctify be doubted, accused, and minimized. We can expect at some point to be charged with sin of some kind when we faithfully follow. It is inevitable.

Meaning... we follow Jesus and we will be called what He was...

What did we expect? Do we think we can do what Jesus could not? Keep from being charged as chief sinners consorting with the unrighteous!

Joe B said...

Important thoughts there, Matt. Blessedly, I fall in the category of "people not worth accusing of anything". It's kind of funny to note that these are people who have affirmed our ministry (after lengthy scrutiny.) But I can't help wondering whether scrutinizing is easier than loving or serving, and whether it becomes an endless loop. Behold how the seeds of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil take root in the garden of Grace.

Craig said...

First of all, I suppose it's worth saying that all of those fusty old 'rules of sexual propriety' didn't come from no place. I've come to understand that they're meant as a hedge to keep us well away from the 'edge of the cliff', where it gets real dangerous. When unmarried Christian men and women get tossed into close proximity with each other, they do well to recognize their moral peril. It would be one thing if sexual temptation were easy to resist, but that hasn't been the common experience (And I don't know Joe B nearly as well as you do, Scott, but I've known men whose character I'd have vouched for to the sky, who've been unable to resist sexual temptation, given enough of it, over a long enough time. None of us should ever regard ourselves, or our brothers, as immune. . .)

OK, that was really meant as a preliminary comment to what I really wanted to say. . .

I certainly understand your frustration, Joe. And I wonder, along with you, why they couldn't/wouldn't provide you with chaperones. Doesn't seem like it would've been too terribly hard to do. (Of course, I've only got your story to go by; it's not like I've got any independent knowledge of the situation; just sayin'. . .)

I'm glad that you took pains to underscore your respect for these fine people, and that you don't mock them. Because my head is full of questions about what's going on 'behind the scenes' that would lead them to such behavior which, at least as I get the story, seems so hypocritical. I forget who it was who said, "Be kind to everyone you meet, because everyone is carrying a great burden." And I wonder what their 'burdens' might be. . .

I'm also thinking of a situation that occurred in the early Church, around the 3rd century or so, during the Diocletian persecution, involving those who refused to renounce their Christianity under threat of death/torture, and those who did. When the dust cleared, and the persecution was over, there was a 'hard line' group in the Church who wanted to treat the 'renouncers' as irrevocably apostate, with no possibility of restoration. But it was the 'Confessors', those who had stood firm in the faith, in the face of terrible persecution, who were the most vocal advocates of generosity toward the 'apostates' - they had been where the 'renouncers' had been, and they knew the agony of the choice they'd faced. And their moral authority turned out to be decisive.

Now, that's probably a bit over-dramatic, and it's doubtful that many of the pastors would face death or torture for their actions, one way or another. But it wasn't that long ago, that some of them might have. . .

Did you ever raise the question with any of them directly, as to why they acted as they did?

Craig said...

I also think of poor Ananias in Acts 9, who was understandably nervous about going to meet Saul/Paul in Damascus. . . Of course, it was hugely beneficial for the Church that Ananias did what God asked of him, but it would've been natural enough for him to question whether he was really 'hearing the Lord' or not. . .

Joe B said...

It seems I was not nearly as offended by Romani-Bros as my readers are. I didn't tell this story because I think it is terrible...I told it because I think it's typical. The "burden they are under" was simply normal, busy life. Not too busy for a stern word about their standards, but too busy to help.

Anonymous said...

the picture is HILARIOUS!

Joe B said...

"Joe B" has no unique resistance to temptation. I LOVE hot girls. But I say this in all sincerity: the temptations of my 4 days in a 1 room, 1 bed house with 3 very sexy kids (who adore me) AND their hormones AND their mega-baggage was nothing, NOTHING compared to an average AT&T sales meeting. Not even on the same chart!

Yet I know that ALL of us endure such things routinely without even blinking. We all "risk" it every day...for the money!! But, whenever there is ministry involved everybody has a heart attack about temptations. Totally different standards are applied. It's all part of a syndrome I can describe, but I cannot explain. Or maybe I can explain it. Idolatry.

Some idolaters bow in reverence before a false god, but others simply cower in fear of it. Those who fear it are every bit as much under its spell. I resolve to do neither. It's no wonder people "fall" to sex -- it is because they are halfway down, bowed in its hideous thrall. Gross superstition.

If you have no faith, you have no power. Let's learn a lesson from Jesus: There is no safety to be found in safety. Walk circumspectly, but not in superstitious fear. Live big, Jesus style.

Matt said...

Do u know about

Joe B said...

I have to confess I see these campaigns and I wonder what they actually do. Note how little ACTUAL information is on the a21 site, and all the other such sites. What, they researched? They had meetings with people whose sole occupation is having meetings? They established a "center"? You and I could do all that in a week. In other words, I fear it makes a great cause celebre, but it is extremely difficult to actually DO anything about it. A "raid" is rare, and it is basically where a big pimp sends his cops to arrest a small pimp; one girl is rescued and 10 girls just have a new pimp, and new cops. Raising awareness is good, and this is one of those rare problems best addressed at the government level, namely the US state department and the EU.
The truth is that 99% of these situations are very, very ambiguous. Women in cages is the rare exception. There is this incredible article from the UK Telegraph where a journalist went to Bucharest and in only 36 hours managed to purchase a girl. First try, first buy. She had truly been forced into prostitution, But as it turns out, she goes home for Christmas and Easter, and goes to the sea with her friends. That's the challenge, and that's the tragedy. The sex business steals your soul, and it changes who you are. What begins as a Hollywood movie crime fades quickly into business as usual. Just like in the USA, it is a slippery problem where pimps informally coerce people into sex work, and nobody gives a rats a_s about it.
Raising awareness is good, and this is one of those rare problems best addressed at the government level, namely the US state department and the EU. US wars and EU open borders are the impetus for much of the traffic.

Joe B said...

I Google mapped the a21 project US office. It appears to be a strip mall mail drop place called "Mail to Go".
a21 Project USA
427E 17th Street # F223
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Mail to Go
427E 17th Street, #F
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
I'm not trying to scandalize, I am only saying that things are not always exactly as they appear.

Under the "governance" link, not a single name. But the graphics and feel are great.

Anyway, I always wonder about these groups, because i know realistically, short of going out and capping pimps, there is virtually nothing they can do.

What keeps girls safe? Food, shelter, jobs, honest local authorities, and an absence of armed conflicts. Otherwise, good luck, planet Earth.