I am away venerating the Holy shrines. No, really. In the meantime I have asked my good friend Don Profondo Basso to fill in for me. Considering the state of general kerfuffle and brouhaha in which we find ourselves in the world and the Church, this is one of the most insightful things I have read recently. My only regret in publishing it is that I don’t hold a candle to both the content and style of the article. Don’t get used to it.
The Rev. Know-it-all
Speaking truth to power, is it revival, revolution or rebellion?
The Church is a family. Every family has the same problem. When do the children need to repent and submit to the parents and when do the parents need to repent and submit to God? The worst conflict usually arises when the child seeks to point out the parent’s shortcomings, ESPECIALLY when the parent has something real that they ought to repent of. Not only does this put the parent’s authority into question, it also threatens to stir up a rebellious spirit in the child.
How do you draw the line between respectful and disrespectful rebuke? Does the child ever have the role of rebuking the parent? We have all seen the worst of both; the parent who is out of control, mistreating the child because of their own insecurities and anger and the child who is constantly disobedient and disrespectful, despite the parent’s best intentions.
So, in the Church, a similar issue exists. When do the laity have the right to criticize the clergy and should they do so publicly? When do priests have the right to criticize the bishops and should they do so publicly?
There is always a two-headed problem with speaking uncomfortable truths publicly to authority. There is the issue itself and then the issue that one usually does not have permission to criticize authority openly.
Often, the apostle Paul is used as an example for publicly rebuking authority. He made no secret of his dislike of the so-called “super apostles” and makes specific mention of not being considered as their equal in Church authority. He goes on in Galatians 2:11 to detail his open rebuke of several leaders that he opposed.
In contrast is Nathan’s rebuke of David, where he uses a clever approach to heap burning coals on David’s head with David’s own words, leading to David’s repentance.
The Bible teaches in Matthew 18, one must first confront the person in error privately. If that fails, take several more people with you for further private confrontation before a public statement gets made. It would seem that the first step in confronting authority is to speak to them privately. It is also the most intimidating and sometimes dangerous. To ask a child to privately confront their abuser is quite dangerous. Often the public option is safer, speaking to another authority who has the power to protect, such as teachers and police. In the Church, the court of public opinion seems to be the only power equal to the task of holding the leadership accountable, but is it a real authority?
The spirit of rebellion is dangerous. It is intoxicating to be the one who is part of the pure remnant, purging a corrupt system. It becomes easier to overlook one’s own mistakes and become obsessed with the “cause”, corrupting one’s own spirit in the process.
Therefore, there are two dangerous things about nailing one’s complaints to the door. One is the threat of punishment and further conflict. The other is the unwitting example that all rebels are saints. On the one hand, should any child be asked to endure the abuse of a bad parent? On the other, should any parent be asked to endure the abuse of a rebellious child? Analysis of almost every major social upheaval is marred by this two-headed dilemma. No matter the purity of its beginnings, almost every movement veers into the territory of overreach, becoming as power hungry and as stubborn as those it was fighting. But, does that necessarily negate the just cause for rebuke and revolution, or should it simply inform our methods?
Is it better to endure an injustice than to fight against it and become rebellious as a result? If we look at Jesus’ teachings on enduring injustice, they are interesting. He personally refused to use earthly power to fight the corruption of his day, but he often spoke publicly against it, which directly led to his execution. He repeatedly warns his followers, however, to not become like those that they criticize. In fact, there are several places where he advises to put up with injustice, walking the extra mile, and giving away the cloak as well as the shirt. He doesn’t advise against paying taxes to the empire, or the military role of the centurion. It seems that Jesus is much more concerned with the heart than the circumstance. The motive of the rebuke is as important as the rebuke itself.
So, before we engage in public criticism, maybe we should ask several questions. Have I followed Matthew 18, confronting privately and then taking several with me to confront privately again, followed by an appeal to the highest possible arbiter? Am I sure that my actions will not teach rebellious behavior in those that follow my example? Am I acting in a manner that I would want used against me in a future conflict where I am at fault? And finally, is there any other approach that might produce the desired affect without breaking fellowship and peace?
Should I be Paul or Nathan?