Grace. It’s what’s for dinner. It must be chewed slowly and not just bolted down in a hurry. We have done a lot of snacking, a lot of chewing, a lot of spitting out, a lot of selective dieting but we have not digested it well enough to truly use it so that it is a part of us that gives us strength, energy, and stamina.
Many churches, denominations, etc. have a great theology of grace. We like to talk about it and convince ourselves that we are correct, thorough, and practicing it well. There is one problem………it really isn’t in our practices. I have witnessed a great deal of improvement in grace being exhibited in Christian practices and work; however, I also have witnessed that which is disturbing to me. Too many demand grace for themselves while not offering it to others, too many are codependent enablers and call it grace, and too many use it to escape accountability and responsibility.
You see, there are church folk who treat others terribly. They abuse each other, their communities, and their staff by malicious gossip, undermining, insisting on having their way – never mind that 30 different people want 30 different ways, they are not the outsiders so they will work with each other. They function on the critical water principle: constant hyper criticism with the intent to wear down and drive away those who are doing as they should and being authentic in their faith – the largest and most solid of rocks will eventually give way to the constant steady drip of water. They say and do cruel things and call it ‘just helping or just being honest. They maliciously inflict damage where it will hurt the most and make sure that no one gives credence to their victim.
They use the Bible to bludgeon, bully, and justify their behavior as righteous, concern and faithful devotion.
There is always a power group that is really just a group of bullies. These are the people that insist that they be given grace which really means no accountability or responsibility for what is wrong. If anyone tries to teach, lead another way, or question them the bullies accuse them of being unforgiving and un- grace-full so they can avoid taking responsibility for their actions. They are scary people because they convince themselves of their lies so they initially come across as authentic all while their victims are screaming the truth in agony and are being told they are wrong, unforgiving, can’t deal with difficult people, are poor leaders, can’t handle criticism, or are practicing poor self-care.
Sigh…….eye roll…….blood pressure spike……..deep breaths……..
Grace gets completely bungled in these scenarios. The bullies get all the attention, care, and pandering too because they are mean, persistent, insidiously evil and yet can come across like they are the most holy, devout, virtuous God-fearing people on the planet. They will pull out the lawyer card and threaten to sue because they are just so damaged…..poor babies…..bless their little pee pickin’ hearts. They have learned what to say and how to play the game so that they are helped, viewed as the victims, and in general get all the resources, attention, and grace-filled attempts by those who try to ‘make things right.’ Meanwhile, the victims are left to their own devices, not believed, not believed in, thought to be nothing but bitter and full of darkness because they are authentic enough to show how hurt and angry they feel instead of playing the grace game. You know, the game where excuses are made, bless their hearts are said, and NO ONE DOES ANYTHING TO STOP THE MADNESS!!!!!!!! …….and it’s passed off as grace because there were no raised voices, people were politically correct so no one felt bad……..and no accountability was put into place by those who are destroying the church and the Christian reputation.
The victims are not shown grace so they leave the church, they leave mission, they leave ministry, and many of them leave God. They are avoided because the truth is too uncomfortable – after all, it reminds us that we really do not have this church thing or this grace thing down after all.
Jesus did not play that game. He confronted with truth, demanded change, and over threw those in the ‘church’ who preyed upon others. He also told his disciples that if a people will not listen, to shake the dust from their sandals and move on to those who will listen. Bullies do not hear, cannot see, and are so self-centered that they part of the mob trying to throw Jesus off the cliff. Yes, Jesus was divine and we Christians believe he loved us enough to die for us; but here is the deal, the victims of bullies are not divine but are being emotionally, mentally, and spiritually crucified and their resurrection is often nonexistent because no one drew alongside them, affirmed them, and offered genuine grace by recognizing their pain, validating their humanity, and opening a path for God’s healing to begin.
So, we perpetuate this cycle, call it grace, and feel good about ourselves because we ‘did all we could.’ Did we really? Toxic churches should be shut down, toxic clergy should be held accountable and told to take a hike when they stick around and intentionally do damage so they can feel like they are important, and toxic Christians should be reminded of what grace is – that which is offered and freely given and is designed to heal and make whole. Healing and being whole cannot happen without the cancer being removed, the wound cleaned, the laceration sown shut, the weight lost, the heart being operated on, and the correct diet in all its fullness being consumed.
I remember one day, I was in the Narthex of the church and a staff member came up to me and questioned me about a decision I had made and how I had told someone, “no.” I let them express themselves and question my graciousness and then replied, “Sometimes grace is saying, ‘no’ and allowing someone to face the consequences of their actions. We can help, we can love them, we can be there for them, but there is a point in which grace is not a free ride, an easy choice, a magical rendering, an escape, a place where everything is the way they want it to be.” The bishop at that time was sitting nearby and after the person left, he looked at me and said, “You are right and I wish I had learned that at your age instead of at mine.”
Grace has become this fairy God-father magical event that removes all consequences, makes everyone feel good, while Cinderella never gets her chance to find love and the evil step family keeps getting what they want because they demand ‘grace.’ Jesus said, “repent and be healed.” He also told Peter to feed his lambs, not cater to the wolves. The Good Shepherd goes after the one sheep and does not waste his time placating the lions, the snakes, and the thieves and justifying it as grace. Let’s be real here – if Jesus walked into the homes and churches of many Christians today, he would not be welcomed, not helped, and not accepted. He would be judged, run off, and crucified all over again…….and, lest we forget, what we do to the least is what we do to Christ. We need to stop wasting time on the devil – who does his best work in the church- and start shepherding the sheep again.