I recognize that it’s a rather cryptic title. And some folk won’t bother to read it because, frankly, it makes little sense. There is a real art to headline writing. This post doesn’t reflect that.
The title is a reference to a post from Todd Heistand that I linked to last week, Congregations Aren’t Stupid. This post keeps popping up in my Feed Reader for reasons I won’t bore you with. (I’ll bore you with other stuff, instead.) And after writing a post that suggested I agreed with the statement, the RSS repetition got me thinking. (Lord knows something had to.)
I truly would love to believe, as Todd quotes Eugene Peterson writing, “the congregation is not stupid and lumpish, waiting for pastoral enlightenment“. But on pondering that statement and Todd’s post, my experience suggests otherwise.
My buddy, Brother Maynard talks about leaders, the people in the pews and the Stockholm Syndrome,
…yesterday I was driving along and thinking about past (bad) church experiences, and what causes us to stay in those situations, even thinking that they are normal or acceptable. We feel affection for or affinity with the leader, we’re “in it together,” and we’re “on the same team” and all that. Then suddenly — sparked by a news story on the radio I think — I found myself thinking about Stockholm Syndrome.
Not to be too harsh or to put too fine a spin on it… but isn’t that essentially what we’re talking about here? Perfectly normal people suspending their better judgment on many issues based on identification with the perpetrators (or ringleaders, or whatever) of some, let’s say “unhealthy” system.
I’d probably say perfectly normal and intelligent people suspend their judgment and reasoning abilities and buy into just about any kind of nonsense. This Juanita Bynum clip (via Jared @ The Thinklings) would be an extreme case in point.
But there are congregations throughout the world that are, for want of a better word, stupid. For, as Forrest Gump is wont to say, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
Rather than exhibiting the power of collective intelligence*, they reflect the swamp of collective stupidity. Their senior pastors operate like potentates with management skills worthy of inclusion in Bob Sutton’s book or possibly one of Robert Hare’s – whilst these so-called leaders are busy self-identifying as Level 5 leaders. Yet the pew people stay loyal followers.
If you dare to suggest their pastors are a little less than the biblical model for leadership, you find yourself being threatened with Old Testament plagues as you’ve dared to “touch the Lord’s anointed.” (If you dug through the comment archives on this blog, you’d find that very thing there.)
I have sat with people who have told me horror stories (and yes, I could tell some of my own) about the disastrous impact of certain church leaders on their lives and/or those of their families. And yet most of those storytellers still attend the same churches. “All our friends are there.” “We just ignore the bad stuff.” “Yah, I know he/she/it is not a very nice person, but people are still getting saved, right!?” “Actually, I really didn’t need my left arm. I am right-handed after all. And the limp? Didn’t Jacob walk with a limp.”
Brother Maynard’s concept of this being like the Stockholm Syndrome is helpful – at least for those of us outside the swamp.
ADDENDUM: I think it’s important to note that I think the vast majority of people in church leadership are not psychopaths or sociopaths – in fact, most are good people trying to do what they believe God has called them to do. However, there are enough “perpetrators (or ringleaders, or whatever)” to cause great concern. And I am truly shocked by the number of pew people who know full well what is going on…but do nothing other than show up faithfully and give liberally of their time and money.
UPDATE: Rainer Halonen and Greg Laughery join the conversation in the comments – but both have written good posts on their own blogs.
Rainer, who works as a “missional missionary” in the Ukraine points to
…visiting pastors, mission teams, etc… coming to this country, who, even after seeing the problems, recognizing that all is not right, continue to support the system without confronting the issues.”
Greg has continued in his Exodus series with Part 5, where he says,
We are experiencing the deep psychosis of cultural despotism that is thoroughly soaked into our Christian flesh and blood, leaving us with empty imaginations. Our bones are disintegrating before our eyes, our bowels are exploding, and there is no strength left in our guts. Too much fast food spirituality. Are we stupid or what?
UPDATE 2: My friend Sonja @ Calacirian responds to both Brother Maynard and me in her very good (as usual) post, On Breathing, Painting and Sweden. Where we normally see eye to eye on topics, Sonja disagrees with me here.
Sorry, Bill, I need to part ways with you on this. I don’t believe in collective stupidity. I do, however, believe in a state of collective fear. Or should I say … pack behavior. We are, after all, dogs. Or, in the words of Handel, sheep. No one wants to be excluded from the pack (herd). May I refer you to my (not so wonderful) post on the topic? The people in a church know exactly what happens to those who step out of line. The leadership make sure of it.
Please read her entire post.