Recently, the church my family goes to has been on the search for a new pastor. The congregation is a member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), which has a standard process for churches to get new clergy. This system is a “call process,” where the congregation goes and interviews pastors (among other things, like praying about it). Since the congregation had a bad pastor a few years back, going through this process is a stressful experience, involving a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of indirect griping.
It’s a great example of how churches don’t encourage healthy interpersonal relationships.
Authority is key in a church. Spiritually, a pastor is supposed to be the head of this entity, followed by support clergy, then church elders (lay clergy), and finally the congregation. Women have their own hierarchy in women’s groups, but they’re not technically allowed to have any direct authority over men. Yes, this is 2016, and this is an organization in the United States. I’m not making this up.
Back to the point, authority is this thing that’s granted by their deity. Thus, having authority means that one has a deity on his or her side. Still, this can be ignored when someone in authority is rushing the process to get a new pastor while everyone else just bickers to everyone but the person in charge. This is how things usually get done, and it’s been true since I started going there in 1991 as a kid.
The reason I’m bringing this up is because I get to be a witness to the complaints my family has about all of this. I get to watch as they stress out over complete and utter bullshit. I’m a spectator to a process that is inefficient, silly, and inspirational in the most ironic sense of the word. As they get more stressed, I feel like I’m in greater danger, because these people don’t handle stress very well (another side-effect of their faith, but that’s a different post entirely).
Mostly, I’ve been seeing how just simple assertiveness and healthy conversation would cure all the problems that church has. There’s a lot of hurt feelings over the pettiest of reasons, and nobody is actually resolving issues. Granted, there are a lot of relocated people from the Midwest there, and this is a staple construct of how Midwesterners do things. Still, the local culture is also there to serve a deity, and the rule there is to not question people above you.
This kind of thought gets applied to non-believers as well, whether we like it or not. Continuing the pecking order from above, it goes from their deity, to the church, to the pastor, to the other clergy, to lay clergy, to Christians, and then to every other godless heathen that isn’t saved. Regardless of the church, this system is in place in many other churches. In effect, it creates an automatic implied belief that non-saved people are beneath you.
Switching gears, I’ve also been thinking a lot of how I describe my non-belief.
The reason I think about it is because challenging this implied notion is something I’m confronted with on an almost daily basis. Personally, I can’t talk about my non-belief around everyone because I know some people will handle it poorly. Even when I can talk about it, sometimes it feels like I have to do it in hushed tones to make sure nobody else is listening in. I am tired of being around people who talk about how nice they are while being the world’s biggest assholes.
And it’s not even stuff that’s mostly directed at me, either. Improving this would help Christians actually be nicer to each other. In other words, encouraging Christians to have healthier relationships with people would benefit everyone and not just the people asking for it.
More tragically, I do obsess about this because it affects my health directly. If I’m afraid my family is stressed out, they have taken it out on me in the past. Even anticipating it can prompt panic attacks and subsequent depressive episodes. If it does actually happen, I can expect worse episodes.
The only consolation I can give myself right now is that I have many more reasons to share why if you can escape Christianity, don’t go back. It’s not worth the trouble.