11 September 2014

Heroes, true and false

Poster by Sally Wern Comport; this copy
found at Friends Community Church in Fresno.
Read Micah Bales on "Who Are the Heroes?" Micah contrasts the world's expectations of a hero with the hallmarks of true heroism.

Micah's essay is positive and useful. Forgive me for presenting a slightly sour counterpoint: what are the hallmarks of false heroism? During my years as a denominational worker, I've seen perhaps more than my share of this phenomenon. True heroes motivate us to greater compassion and faithfulness, but the antics of false heroes can result in toxic church politics. Here are some of the signs:

False heroism points to danger and poses as our defender. The dangers are sometimes very real, but a false hero emphasizes fear. Radical Islam is taking over the world. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management agency knows something we don't!!! And there's the ever-popular whisper, "Our church's / denomination's / organization's leadership is taking us in the wrong direction."

False heroism demonstrates operational atheism. False heroes theoretically agree with established norms and processes in public, but behind the scenes they may be conspiring the same old way, talking with trusted allies, lining up all the ducks in a row to pre-empt the decision-making process, as if the Holy Spirit can't be trusted to work through the larger body. Among Friends, such heroes may support the classic disciplines of corporate prayer-based discernment for making decisions, but as one dear Friend told me, "Avoid calling meetings if you don't already know the outcome." (Another told me who is likely to get their way in his yearly meeting's committees: "It's the first one who quotes Scripture.")

False heroism builds community through shared enemy lists. You're considered "sound" if you say the right cliches and quotations, come from the right church or seminary, have the right friends, are the right sex / age / color. Others find that they may not be invited to those behind-the-scenes conferences.

In the short-term, false heroism may get results. The right people might be hired or removed, the scare-based fundraising campaign might succeed. But after a while, the false heroes may find themselves more and more alone as others leave that church or organization and choose a more trustworthy one, ... or none at all. This has been my bitter experience. Even if you can fool some of the people some of the time, you probably can't fool their children.

I once heard Os Guinness talk about the supposed "clash of civilizations" between Christians and Muslims. Instead of whipping his audience into a panic, Guinness presented a vision: let's strive to outdo one another in mercy. In a related, more recent comment, he said this:
The sad fact is, that while the Christian faith is the world’s first truly global faith today, Christians are the most numerous faith in the world, the church is the most diverse community on Planet Earth, and the Bible is the most translated and translatable book in history, Islam today is the strongest faith in the world in one crucial sense: What it requires and what it receives of its believers is beyond what most Christians are giving back to their faith. [source (pdf)]
We know that without a vision, the people perish. But a vision built on the Gospel rock has no shortcuts, no power cards to play, relying instead on honest, modest, courteous, full-time faithfulness. Are we willing to give what our faith requires? If not, don't blame the so-called enemy.

Friends of Jesus Fall Gathering, Barnesville, Ohio, October 10-12, 2014.

Christian student ministry leaders in the USA face a challenge: "Will InterVarsity Losing Cal State Standoff Be Tipping Point for Campus Ministries Nationwide?"

"How Corrupt Are Our Politics?" David Cole, reviewing Zephyr Teachout's new book, Corruption in America, comments,
In the end, there are no simple solutions. There is a genuine and inescapable tension between First Amendment values and representative democracy—between free speech, which guarantees everyone an equal opportunity to speak but not the right to equal influence in any particular debate, and the franchise, which guarantees each person one, and only one, vote.
Once again, a plea to teachers and students to help me with my research on cheating by completing the survey here (Russian version here).

Dessert from Anson Funderburgh, Charlie Baty, and Mark Hummel.


Wendy said...

One unnecessary influence that swayed power over my peers was the call to sensationalism. This seemingly innocent acceptance of pop culture actually had my peers proclaim that their idols were Gods. They worshiped those figures who they wanted to be themselves and gave no real credence to faith in scripture or testimony. I feel it is unfortunate how polluted their sense of belief became with no other alternative than to believe that super stars were their Gods. I will never forget how our false heroes appeared like prophets before the eyes of my peers only to distort and exploit their belief in mankind and themselves.

Anonymous said...

People don't typically fit into the boxes of true heroes or false heroes. Perhaps someone is getting the work done but they're petty, low energy or something.

The Old Testament prophets and kings weren't perfect either. Moses was a stutterer, and so God allowed Aaron to speak for Moses. God passed over all of the strongest men in Israel and chose little David.

--Paul Klinkman