I heard another one of the stories yesterday. A church in a property dispute. Yes, the resolution was one in which there was some reconciliation at the end, it was story of the surprising power of God showing up in an unexpected place.
But the story was still there. A congregation shut down from above. A building confiscated in the courts. Mounds of money spent on litigation. Oh yeah–and (sarcasm alert) all this happened so as to put the gospel on display for the Christian people of San Francisco who clearly don’t need a beautiful witness since they flock to church in droves every Sunday.
Court was the last straw in my decision not to join a church affiliated with a mainline denomination when we moved out to San Francisco 18 months ago.
I was having a conversation with a woman who wanted to appeal a decision of the local Presbytery. Fair enough. I get that.
And so she got together a cadre of like-minded wealthy churches who were going to help spring for the $100,000+ in legal bills the fight would cost.
Ok, I don’t get that anymore. And maybe I shouldn’t have gotten it in the first place.
I’ve been blogging this week about Sam Wells’ Improvisation, a book full of hope that a people deeply entrenched in their drama will be able to improvise faithfully in their ecclesial settings. The problem is, we can’t even play the story right when we’ve got the script right in front of us.
In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul chides the Corinthians for taking each other to court. The beginning of the chapter outlines a series of ways in which such action undermines the narrative of the gospel: the saints will participate in the final judgment, can’t we then judge matters of this world without taking it before the secular courts? we’re going to judge angels, how about matters of this life?
Actually, says Paul, how to deal with the lawsuits is secondary: it’s already a defeat for you that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? (1 Cor 6:7).
But no the story of the American dream is too powerful for our denominations. I have a right to stuff. Even if I didn’t put any money into it, it’s mine. Even if I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, it’s mine and I’ll take it.
I confess, that for all my delight in narrative theology, and resonance with Wells’ narrativally derived improvisational ethics, I often find it difficult to believe that much of it is true–because the church so rarely becomes a living witness to the story it claims as its own.