Almost my last post here before going on holiday related to events in Seattle around Mars Hill Church and the challenge of lead pastor Mark Driscoll.

In that post I included a number of disturbing quotations from Mr. Driscoll’s writings. I then said,

The question that troubles me is how a church whose pastor uttered sentiments like those below, even if it was twelve years ago, could ever survive let alone experience spectacular growth in the sophisticated, enlightened, liberal city of Seattle.

I remain disturbed by this question and have yet to find a good answer, or even much interest in the question itself, until this morning I came across my question asked, in of all places “The American Conservative,” by Rod Dreher who writes:

We all understand, I think, the problem with leaders not wanting to lose what they have: power, wealth, fame, etc. The more difficult problem is explaining why people much farther down the power structure — specifically, those who are being exploited by the leadership — are willing to cooperate in their own exploitation. They too are unwilling to risk what they have — but what do they have, really?

Dreher suggests that the answer to why people acquiesce to abuse from people in power is that the discomfort of acknowledging reality feels more painful than living with the discomfort of the reality they are unwilling to see. The pain of losing a bright shiny charismatic presence in their lives is so great that, those who have given unconditional allegiance to a flawed leader, refuse to see the flaws in the broken human being they follow.

In his post Rod Dreher cites a justifiably famous and disturbing piece by William Lobdell in which the Times Staff writer recounts the painful story of his own gradual loss of faith when confronted by the inexcusable conduct of church leaders:

In the most stark manner imaginable Lobdell confronted the challenge that troubles me in the Driscoll affair. In covering the sex-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, Lobdell observed:

I saw parishioners reflexively support priests who had molested children by writing glowing letters to bishops and judges, offering them jobs or even raising their bail while cursing the victims, often to their faces.

Lobdell’s piece should be required reading for every person in leadership in the church. We all need to ask ourselves the troubling question that, in the end, caused Lobdell to lose his faith, not just in the church, but in the God he believed the church exists to serve:

Shouldn’t religious organizations, if they were God-inspired and -driven, reflect higher standards than government, corporations and other groups in society?

The sad truth is, we in the church often do not “reflect higher standards” than other human organizations. Like all human organizations, the church is populated by flawed, broken, imperfect people.

For me, the brokenness of the church, while enormously painful, has not undermined my faith in God. I continue to be able to maintain a distinction between the beauty and truth that transcends all material manifestations, and the organizations that exist to point towards and seek to manifest that ineffable Presence.

It is not always an easy distinction to sustain. But, for all its imperfections, I experience enough light and goodness in the church to make bearing with its brokenness a worthwhile transaction. My faith is not confined to or defined by the church. The church remains, in my experience, an adequate instrument to ease open human hearts to embrace the possibility of a love that calls us into light, honesty, truth, and deep accountability for our attitudes, words, and actions.

Where I and the church fail I hope to be honest and clear-sighted. I trust that our shortcomings will draw me closer to God and to living more authentically and vulnerably rather than driving me away from that light and truth we exist to serve.