Many Churches have official position documents, where they ban such things absolutely. Some even go farther, and don't even allow Congregation members to even discuss such matters! Such Churches may not be entirely in touch with the modern real world!
A lot of Churches choose NOT to have such official position documents, but they present just as harsh a position. Apparently, they think that by not having a document, that somehow keeps them from getting negative press coverage.
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Yet other (very liberal) Churches also don't have official position documents, but they privately allow or even encourage such activities. Again, such Churches keep their actions private so they don't have to respond to difficult reporter's questions.
We are pretty sure that each of these positions is wrong! Does this mean that we encourage all manner of aberrant behavior? Not at all! What does it mean?
For example, say a 15 year old girl tells a Minister that she is pregnant, and that she's afraid of her parents. I'm sure you can guess how many Churches would respond. Maybe fire and brimstone and threats of Hell. Maybe stern lectures on sin. A bunch of methods. All very Draconian. The girl was distraught to start with. After many Churches are done demeaning her, she may be suicidal.
How would the Loving, Patient, Compassionate Jesus have dealt with her? We guess that He would take her somewhere private, maybe out in the country, all alone. He'd say, please sit down and let's talk. And then He'd listen to her story, with no interruptions and no judgment. At some point, she would be bound to say "I know I did wrong" (after all, she's talking to Jesus!). After she would make that admission, He would see no reason to damage her further. We think He would calmly point out that the past is the past and cannot be changed, and we think He would comment on her recognition of sin.
His Love would just be spilling out all over the place! She would come to be calmed by His Gentleness and His Compassion! The two of them would eventually walk back toward town and see if they could do damage control. At no point would He ever rail on her, and He would have been infinitely Patient with her, and she would absolutely know she was Loved. (Note that we are considering the situation where she ACKNOWLEDGES sinfulness. If she had a different attitude, Jesus would surely respond very differently.) And she would probably have Him near her when she confronted her parents, so she wouldn't have to face THAT experience alone.
OK. So she comes out of almost any Church and is thinking about suicide, because of the Church's reaction (which she expected). And she still has to face her parents, and she will feel mighty alone there, too. Pretty different from a smiling, confident girl who was counseled by Jesus. Seems to me that many Churches currently do a pretty poor job of (sometimes) representing Him. (a personal opinion.)
A Church either can or cannot justify its thoughts and actions, such as the example above. Denominational Churches often have to explain to a hierarchy up above, and that is unfortunate. And, we can all imagine the news reports that would arise if a Church gave that sort of counsel to a pregnant young girl! However, it would be so good if a member of the Clergy would rightfully have had to answer only to the Lord for the decisions made if offering such counsel.
Of course, none of us are actually Jesus, so a Church could sometimes foul things up. Churches are collections of human beings, who are capable of errors. The centrally important part we see is that each Church strive to do as that Church believes Jesus might have done in a similar situation. That almost never would involve quoting some generalized dogma. Sometimes, that period of introspection allows amazing clarity in murky situations, like with the pregnant girl. How would your Church have responded if a girl approached with that very traumatic situation? Certainly, a very tough question, as many personal situations are.
It is unfortunately very common for Churches to immediately respond in some legalistic, pre-programmed way. But that was a scared, hurting young person, in a life-changing crisis of a situation. Before jumping to any degrading response, just consider the thoughtful way Jesus might have handled it. Then say and do what is appropriate for that unique situation.
Actually, our approach is actually even MORE strict than that of many Churches, BEFORE the fact. There is no doubt that Jesus would have been very stern in His teaching of the Lessons of the Bible. For example, can you imagine His reaction to the large numbers of "lazy" Christians, who only go to Church and "waste" their time there, because it is supposed to be compliance with the "minimum requirements" expected of him/her. Such people's actions are empty, and virtually meaningless. The main hope for any Church is that, potentially, regular exposure to Christianity might some day get through to them. Just going through the motions won't cut it. Actual Faith and Passion are necessary!
Our significant variation demonstrated in the above scenario is in the dealing with a person who has already committed some sin, AND WHO SHOWS EVIDENCE OF REMORSE ABOUT IT. In such a case, there is no doubt that Jesus would have been Divinely Compassionate.
The result is that our approach is not necessarily any more "liberal" than other Churches in our Teaching. The difference is in applying Compassion in dealing with human situations, where Compassion is called for.
There have been many historic cases in other Churches, where such young girls had been raped, and the Church absolutely insisted that she not only have the baby but raise it as her own. There have been women whose entire lives have been destroyed as a result, and the resulting baby suffered as well. It is hard to imagine that every young girl forced into that situation would put a full effort into loving and mothering a baby symbolic of the most horrendous event of her life. What ultimate good could ever come from that? Both mother and child are irreparably damaged, and much of that damage came as a result of a Church expressing an absolute dogmatic position.
Now, it might happen that a thoughtful Clergyman, after listening to her whole story, might conclude that she had the strength of will, and sufficient self-image, and a limited memory of horror, might conclude that she should have the child, and possibly even raise it. However, if that thoughtful Clergyman realized that she was an ultra-sensitive child herself, where nightly nightmares kept her from ever sleeping, or that she had no functional parents or family of her own to help out, or if it was very clear that she would forever hate the baby as a symbol of her horror of rape, we think he should realistically consider the possibility of encouraging adoption or, extremely rarely, possibly even abortion.
This approach probably means that in 99.8% of cases, the Clergyman would deny support for her getting an abortion, because it represented a "convenient" solution for her after irresponsible activities. But in the remaining 0.2%, he would actively support her in proceeding along that path. We don't think he should get any more involved than in giving his Blessing and in regularly staying in contact with her so she knows she is never alone, and always Loved.
Just what that percentage might be is irrelevant. The point is that every individual situation should be considered separately, based on the merits and circumstances of the person and situation. A very strong Church position against abortion would be Preached, but the possibility of dealing with an "exception to the rule" should remain.
After that presentation, rather than then expressing some official position, we try to think of Socratic-type questions to ask. (This is often the toughest part!) The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates is described as a teacher, but he seldom taught anything! He generally asked insightful questions, where a companion would then need to think through some train of logic in order to formulate a response. In a case like the girl above, a few such questions are obvious: "Would you want to continue with High School?" "Will you be able to get an education and an eventual job to support the two of you?"
Depending on the personality of the person, it may not even be necessary at all to express disappointment, anger, or punishment. They may be able to work through all those things themselves, and then your responsibility is to be supportive, and Compassionate.
We have been concentrating on the "immediate" types of situations. The less immediate situations, like the possibility of a tattoo or conversations regarding gay life-styles or pressures toward pre-marital sex, should be handled in appropriate similar ways. Again, there can be very strong "standard" positions on such issues, but the positions should always have a small amount of flexibility for unique situations and/or unique individuals.
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C Johnson, Pastor,
A Christ Walk Church