Malachi 2:10: Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?
“Why, then, are we faithless to one another?”
I’ve been writing these daily reflections straight from the fire hose of fury that’s filling my soul. It’s been 11 days’ worth of daily writing, and I still have not plumbed the depths of that anger.
I know (and my therapist reminds me!) that anger protects us from grief. Sometimes, this is good and healthy – it keeps us going when we have to carry on through chaos. And sometimes, anger prevents us from being honest about the more complicated feelings underneath it.
Yesterday, I sensed a shift away from the high-pressure rage. It was the slightest dip into sorrow. There is so much to grieve, now. Our faithlessness toward one another is at the top of my list.
The white American church at large is a dumpster fire, and my own Brethren tradition is no exception. We’re going through a divorce at the moment. I used that word publicly a few months ago and got in trouble for being so precise. It was not among the official “talking points” for how to speak about the current state of affairs. (Never mind that I had never been privy to any conversation about the current state of affairs or included in any discussion of the proper talking points – or what they might be…I still got reprimanded for speaking plainly.)
This chapter of Malachi is where we get that line about how “God hates divorce.” And I can tell you right now that God does not hate divorce between two modern-day humans when it ends abuse, when it frees Her beloved children to live fully into their created beauty, when it liberates captives and ends violence. God loves divorce when it frees us to be people of deeper justice and mercy.
The passage from Malachi is talking about church splits. The prophet is using divorce as a metaphor for what went down between the people of Israel and the people of Judah. It was nasty. The people profaned the ancient covenant and forgot that they were bound to one another as God’s people.
The divorce playing out in the Church of the Brethren is an example of being faithless toward one another. It’s easy for me to make assumptions about the motivations of the people who are leaving, but I will try not to do that, here. What I can say is that nobody trusts anybody, anymore. Part of that is because individuals and movements have manipulated polity, worked in secret and abused their power. Another part of that is because our systems and structures – every one of them – is built on groundwork that assumes trust in one another.
Our credentialing polity assumes trust in congregations and district ministry commissions. The process of making an ethics complaint assumes trust in district leadership. Annual Conference – the highest authority in the denomination – assumes trust in our Standing Committee and the delegate body. Our polity is loose and weak because it assumes that our commitment to one another will be the backbone of our life together.
This has always been a problem: for women seeking to follow a call to ministry, for non-white people seeking justice or accountability for our eye-popping racism, for LGBTQ siblings committed to claiming that this church belongs to them, too. The “trust” that existed was a white, male, heterosexual commodity. It still is. What’s happening is that the white, male, heterosexual power structure is starting to be held accountable to all the ways that they have misused that foundational assumption of trust…and they DO. NOT. LIKE. IT. ONE. BIT.
(Apologies, can’t help myself from making that one motivational assumption.)
Those of us who are not white, or male, or heterosexual have reason to question the assumptions of trust that keep our entire structure operating – we always have. The people who question, though, have been systematically dishonored, defrocked, disrespected and cast out. There was no space in the structure of “trust” for their questions, assertions, and critiques.
I believe that we are experiencing the result of all those people who asked and spoke up and lost their church because of it. I think that we are finding wiggle room. I think the assumptions of trust are being proved false – and since they are the bedrock of every process, procedure and practice, they are taking the institution down with them. I believe that this is holy destruction. I believe that death+resurrection is the way of Christ.
(this is part of the #unmuteyourself #advent2020 devotional)