Friday, August 30, 2013

A Dream Revived!

crime photo library
At 10 am today Episcopal Rector Daniel Rabayo, EMU counseling professor Cheree Hammond and other concerned citizens Rita Dunaway, Doris Pye, Sam Nickles and I met with Community Services Board Director Lacy Whitmore to discuss ways of improving mental health services at the local jail. This was a follow-up to a similar meeting some of us had with him a year ago.

Currently the CSB has a contract to provide a mere 2 1/2 hours of psychiatric services each week for a very crowded inmate population numbering from 350 to 400, plus leading some substance abuse classes and being on call for emergency services. Due to a lack of staff and other resources, suicidally depressed persons may spend hours confined to either a restraint chair or the padded isolation cell, the latter with the inmate having only a paper gown to wear and with their only amenity being a hole in the floor for a commode.

Here's a link to information about the uses of such restraints during the first six months of this year.

We made some good progress today. With Mr. Whitmore's support, we agreed to form a local planning group of concerned citizens to come up with a proposal to utilize professional mental health volunteers to provide surveillance and care for suicidal and other emotionally distressed inmates. Lacy will discuss this further with Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson and I will be gathering and circulating information from the Arlington Regional Jail, a facility that already has such a program in place. We hope to have our first planning meeting in four to six weeks.

For the long term, we strongly support a proposal Mr. Whitmore presented today for a full time "Jail Services Crisis Clinician". We recognize this may face major funding hurdles, but in the meantime believe we can do much more to improve mental health services at the jail with well supervised volunteer help and coordination. While safety and liability issues are always a concern, state regulations do allow for outside personnel to visit inmates at the discretion of the sheriff or other jail administrator, as follows:

Code section 53:1-127 "... the sheriff, jail administrator or other person in charge of the facility shall prescribe the time and conditions under which attorneys and other persons may enter the local correctional facility for which he is responsible."

We thank Mr. Whitmore for meeting with us today and for helping us gain some good traction for moving forward. If you would like to be a part of this community effort to help the jail become a better place for growth and rehabilitation, please get in touch. We'll keep you posted.

For more posts on criminal justice reform, check this link.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

JustLove: Christian Faith In Its Essence

I don’t claim to be a theologian, but if I could invent a term that would express the heart of what life and faith should be all about it would a coined, compound word, ‘JustLove'.

The word “just” here is intended to carry a dual meaning, first reflecting the fact that we are told in scripture that God isn’t only about demonstrating love, or teaching us to practice love, but that God is love, and that this love of God's is not only merciful but just. The entire Law and the Prophets, we are told, can be summed up in the well known first and greatest command to “Love the Lord your God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength.” And then to “Love your every neighbor as yourself.”

It's as simple--and as difficult--as that.

It is the apostle John who asserts that God is love, that the concept of love and God are inseparable and interchangeable. But it’s clear that this kind of love is far more than a sentimental warm feeling, but is about a tough and tender grace with justice and mercy for all. To be sure, God often demonstrates a tough love, but it is always just.

Not being a well trained or profound scholar, I’m sure I could err on the side of making things too elementary, but I also believe we can make things way too complicated. The JustLove of Jesus, the apostles and the Hebrew prophets is indeed simple, but it is far from easy.

Needless to say, it’s something I want to promote with all of my heart and strength.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Three Levels of Neediness

One of my most frequently visited posts has been the April, 2011, blog on “Two Levels of Poverty”, comparing the lifestyle of most of the world’s needy with the financially distressed poor often found in the U.S.

Last Saturday several of us met with Elroy Miller, social work prof at EMU, to discuss ways of helping people with chronic financial problems in a way that doesn’t create unhealthy dependency. As I’ve reflected on that meeting I’ve come up with the following three categories of neediness.

The Dysfunctionally Needy.
These most dependent and difficult cases involve people who lack the means and/or the motivation to do what is needed to survive without constant care. Many may be mentally or physically ill or disabled, or for a variety of reasons lack the capacity to take care of themselves. But lest we think only in “us” versus “them” categories, we could include young children and the incapacitated aged in this group as well. Certainly in the past, and likely sometime in the future, we have all been, or will be, unable to function on our own. In any case, every human being of whatever age or capacity is a precious child of God who is worthy of our concern and able to add value to our lives in spite of their state or condition. If people in this category have no close families or friends to care for them they must rely on help in the form of food from soup kitchens and food banks, on homeless shelters for housing and other social services assistance to survive.

The Mysfunctionally Needy. This group may experience constant financial distresses, but does manage to function by cobbling together whatever help they need from whatever sources available. Hopefully, this group is in transition from being largely dysfunctional to becoming optimally functional members of their communities. In this phase, they often remain dependent on a variety of social services like food stamps, subsidized housing, free clinics and other charitable or governmental assistance programs in order to survive. Unfortunately, if they do work, they often have menial jobs with low wages and few or no benefits, and may in fact have to hold down several part time jobs to make ends meet. Due to lack of skills, education, opportunity or motivation many may remain stuck in this category for most of their lives.

The Wellfunctionally Needy. Even the best of us will always be dependent on others in significant ways. There is no such thing as any of us being completely “self-sufficient”. But ideally members of this group are a part of communities in which they are giving and receiving in somewhat equal (though not identical) ways. They recognize that everyone has gifts and assets as well as needs and disabilities, and that each child of God is both worthy of care and capable of contributing to others interdependently and significantly. People in this group may continue to benefit from government programs and services in the form of schools, roads, mail delivery, social security and countless other government funded programs, but they are responsible in their payment of taxes and fees that substantially fund such benefits.

In summary, we are each somewhere on a continuum from lower to higher levels of functioning, and should all contribute as much as we can as active members of interdependent communities.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Combining Walking With Talking--A Modest September Experiment

A few facts:

I should exercise more, lose a few pounds and stay in better shape.

I like to walk, but my good wife prefers other forms of exercise, and I find it hard to stay motivated to walk alone.

I seem to have far too little time to spend with other friends and colleagues.

Trial September solution? Combine some walking with talking.

So if anyone out there is interested, let me know if you're up for a 7:30 or 8 am walk somewhere in the Park View area sometime in the coming month, or at some other place of your choice. I could even meet you for some rounds around the track at the EMU Commons, although I prefer the outdoors if the weather is nice.

It's an expression of my practical side, I guess, this experiment with multi-tasking. And I can think of any number of people I'd love to spend 30-45 minutes with in a brisk walk and for some good conversation.

Let me know if you're interested in accompanying me sometime in the coming month by emailing

First come, first converse.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Free Class on Marriage Maintenance

Question:  How long can a Mercedes-Benz run without an oil change?

Answer:  About 43,000 miles.

I'm told this actually happened.  A certain newlywed couple was given a new Mercedes as a wedding gift, then proceeded to drive it, year after year, without ever bothering to check or change the oil.

Finally one day while traveling north on I-95 the engine in this beautiful Benz just froze up and refused to go any further.  Wouldn’t budge.  The oil in the crankcase had become the consistency of a grimy, gooey mess.

Some couples start out with what looks like a Mercedes-Benz marriage.  A picture perfect wedding.  An ideally matched pair.  What could go wrong?

Sometimes what’s wrong is the maintenance.  Or lack of it.

Cars come with pages of instructions on what to do make your vehicle last.  And most of us figure that the older a vehicle gets, the more maintenance it will need.

But marriages don’t come with manuals.  And somewhere we’ve gotten the foolish idea that the older a relationship gets, the less maintenance it takes to keep it alive and thriving.

We need to reverse that thinking.  Every new bride or groom should come with one clear instruction: “Whatever wonderful and considerate things you did to win my love, you should do twice as regularly and just as creatively to keep it alive.”

Here is a sample of maintenance tips for couples:

DAILY:  1)  a warm, conversational chat of no less than ten minutes,  2)  at least one warm, prolonged hug,  3)  two or more compliments and/or I love yous,  4) a prayer or meditation time together.

WEEKLY:  1)  some kind of date for just the two of you,   2)  a couples’ meeting to review your past week and plan your next one,  3)  A love you note or card.

MONTHLY:  1)  a really special date or celebration. 

ANNUALLY:  1)  a weekend honeymoon getaway,  2)  a marriage enrichment seminar,  3)  A checkup of your marital health with a pastor, counselor or another mentor couple. 

All this may seem like a lot of work, but when you think of it, isn’t a great marriage worth even more than a good Mercedes?

Here's some information from the Family Life Resource Center about an upcoming class for couples:

MARRIAGE MAINTENANCE, a four-session seminar for couples that focuses on “Four Healthy Habits of Happily Married Couples,” will be led by Harvey Yoder and meet Mondays from 7-8:30 beginning September 9. A freewill offering is taken to benefit the Center in lieu of a fee for the class. The text, Lasting Marriage, the Owners’ Manual, is $10. Register at 434-8450 or

Monday, August 19, 2013

Should The Bible Be Tethered To Our Churches?

Of course not, we say. Everyone should have the right--and the responsibility--to read and interpret the scriptures for themselves, individually. And having any Bible literally tethered to something seems like a terrible idea.

Having said that, the real reason copies of the Bible were once kept chained at churches was not because some religious leaders wanted to keep lay people from having access to scripture. Rather, it was because hand written copies of the text were so rare and were prohibitively expensive prior to the invention of the printing press.

Of course, many lay people prior to Gutenberg were illiterate anyway, but because of the scarcity of available copies pretty much all Christians had to depend on the public reading and exposition of the Bible in their churches.

Needless to say, I really value having my own access to multiple versions of scripture, but I've also come to believe there is some merit to having more of our serious study and interpretation of the text done together, with fellow members of our congregations.


In the first place, the 66 books in the Protestant canon were almost all addressed to whole communities of faith rather than to single individuals. They were clearly intended for communal use. As one indication of this, the Bible's pronouns are predominantly plural rather than singular, which is abundantly clear in the King James version, where "ye", "you" or "your" are always plural, whereas "thee", "thou" or "thine" are used when addressing individuals. In good Southern form, the Bible is mostly addressed to "you all".

Of course this doesn't mean that the message of scripture isn't meant to be personal. But it is never intended to be private. It shouldn't be surprising that since the rise of individualism and the subsequent insistence on each person's "private interpretation" being just as valid as everyone else's, that we've experienced a distressing proliferation of thousands of sects, splits and splinter groups--each claiming they have the one true understanding of scripture. That is truly one of the travesties of our time.

We may not realize that the first Christian churches had no access to any written "Bible" except for copies of the Hebrew Pentateuch (the Law), the Writings, and the Prophets kept in local synagogues. The life and teachings of Jesus were preserved as an oral tradition well before they became written as the Gospels. The pastoral letters of the apostle Paul and others were at first circulated from church to church for public reading and only later became a part of the official canon. Clearly the Bible was, as it always should be, a book of and for the people of God, and not meant only for private study or devotions.

The wisdom that comes from groups of people prayerfully seeking to understand a text is always greater than that of any one person's alone. We need to pay attention to both the witness of past faith traditions and the Spirit-driven consensus of fellow believers as we seek to know more of God's will and way for our time. We will still never agree on all matters of faith, but we can experience a common bond in our search of the truths we need to live by.

Note this from J. B. Phillips rendering of the Apostle Paul's words in Romans 12:3-7 [brackets added]: 

Don’t let the world around you [the congregation at Rome] squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you [all] may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all God's demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

As your spiritual teacher I give this piece of advice to each one of you. Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you all. For just as you have many members in one physical body and those members differ in their functions, so we, though many in number, compose one body in Christ and are all members of one another. Through the grace of God we have different gifts. If our gift is preaching, let us preach to the limit of our vision. If it is serving others let us concentrate on our service; if it is teaching let us give all we have to our teaching; and if our gift be the stimulating of the faith of others let us set ourselves to it.

We need to bring all of the gifts and insights of the congregation together in our study of scripture.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Beloved Car Doctors Finally Retire

Michael Reilly photo courtesy of the Daily News-Record
Our favorite car mechanic, Sonny Taylor, has finally retired after 35 years of operating Sonny's Servicenter, just up the street from us. Along with his good wife Eileen, who answered the phone and worked the cash register, they have come to our aid countless times with our frequently ailing vehicles.We're going to miss them a lot.

One of eight in his family, Sonny was one of the hardest workers I've ever known. I remember when he kept the station open from before 6 am to 8 or 9 at night on a regular basis, six days a week, plus operating his tow truck at all hours as needed. Over time he began to close somewhat earlier in the day, and eventually cut back to half days on Saturday, and only recently went to a five day work week. But he still always came to work before six, rain or shine.

In spite of his exceptional work ethic, he always took time each morning to have conversations with some of the men who regularly stopped by on their way to work just to hang out. There were two groups of them, he told me, one he affectionately called the "Liars Club" and the other the "Mennonite Mafia". Sonny and Eileen always had time for people and never seemed to be in a hurry, and were legendary for the service they provided to the community.

As evidence of the affection the community had for them, on their last day of having their place open yesterday people stopped throughout the day to wish them well and to enjoy the refreshments provided by their son and their two daughters. There were dozens of cards displayed that were sent by well wishers from near and far, some of whom gave gift cards to area restaurants with a total value of over $600.

So far, no one has come forward to rent the garage that has served so many so well for so long. Even if they did, we fear they could never provide the good service the Taylors have.

Some people are just irreplaceable.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A WWKD Question: What Would Martin Luther King, Jr., Do?

MLK prison photo
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that really matter."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yes, Harrisonburg will finally have a street named after slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

I'm delighted, and applaud everyone who worked tirelessly to help make this possible.

I can't help wondering, though, if King were alive today, if he may have been less interested in attending the Tuesday evening rally and hearing on the street naming issue than he would have the Tuesday noon meeting at the library addressing civil rights and criminal justice reform, one led by the Mobile Justice Tour.

As it turned out, after a blitz of emails and other publicity, just over a dozen people attended the MJT meeting, one that focused on 1) restoring civil rights for non-violent offenders, 2) offering earned sentence credit for inmates who work at rehabilitating themselves (a system already in place in most states) and 3) reducing barriers to employment for deserving ex-offenders.

If we truly want to highlight Martin Luther King's civil rights legacy, we will not only honor him with street signs but emulate him by considering the WWKD question ("What Would King Do?").

Click here for more posts on criminal justice reform.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Virginia Candidates--Where Do You Stand on Prison Reform?

“Remember those in prison as if we were together with them in bonds, and those who are mistreated as if we ourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3

Here is a sample of some questions on prison reform you can send to current candidates for statewide offices. Feel free to select any of the italicized items below you want to copy and paste (and edit to your liking) and email to any or all of the following:

Candidates for Governor
Ken Cuccinelli
Terry McAuliffe

Candidates for Lieutenant Governor
Bishop E.W. Jackson, Sr.
Ralph Northam

Candidates for Attorney General
Mark Obenshain
Mark R. Herring

* * * * * * * *
Greetings ___________:

Here are some questions I would like your responses to as a candidate for the office of ____________:

• Do you support initiatives like that of Governor McDonnell's Task Force on Alternative Sentencing for Nonviolent Offenders?
• Do you support ongoing funding for re-entry and rehabilitation programs like the Harrisonburg Diversion Center, Gemeinschaft Home (Rockingham County) and Piedmont House (Albemarle County)?
• Would you support legislation banning the use of the restraint chair and the isolated padded cell for mentally ill and suicidally depressed inmates in our jails?
• Would you support a continued moratorium on new prison construction in favor of alternatives to incarceration like GPS monitoring technology for appropriate pretrial and post trial cases involving nonviolent offenders who could work to support their families and pay their court costs and fines?
• Do you support recent proposals to restore voting rights to rehabilitated offenders?
• Do you support greater utilization of Virginia’s Geriatric Parole Statute (Code § 53.1-40.01) as a way of reducing the growing cost of health care for aging inmates who no longer pose any danger to society?
• Do you favor reinstating parole in Virginia and offering reduced time for inmates who utilize every opportunity to rehabilitate themselves in prison and prepare for effective reentry?
• Would you support all inmates being supplied with the ID they need to be able to apply for jobs, driver's licenses, etc., upon release?

I look forward to your reply.



Click on this link for more of my posts on criminal justice.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

She Sowed Bountifully: June Marie Weaver 1930-2013

June Marie Weaver 1930-2013
Along with hundreds of other mourners, Alma Jean and I attended the memorial service of June Marie Weaver, 83, last Tuesday at the Harrisonburg Mennonite Church, where she had been a faithful member for 60 years.

Since neither of us knew this quiet, unassuming woman well (husband Ken was the more outgoing one), we were especially impressed by all we learned from those who paid their last tributes at the service.

For example, we hadn't known about the many people she corresponded with and prayed for on a regular basis. She not only remembered the anniversaries and birthdays of her many friends and family members, but for decades faithfully wrote or emailed members of her 400-member congregation who were away at college or in some service assignment. One of my colleagues at work told me she kept in touch with her brother from the time he left their congregation decades ago right up to the time of her illness, even though he had been abroad and not maintained any ties to HMC or to any church.

 A registered nurse and an avid reader, June kept a log of all the books she read in her retirement from 1998 to 2013, a total of nearly 600. Her goals for her senior years were: 1) To be remain optimistic, 2) to never complain, 3) to become a better person, and 4) to grow old gracefully.

She was remarkably successful in realizing those goals.

When June was diagnosed with acute leukemia, only weeks before she died, she emailed the following to the many people with whom she corresponded:

Dear Friends

Thinking of you today in your little corner of the world, and hoping that all is well.

I have enjoyed corresponding with you over the past year/s.

Just writing to let you know I was diagnosed with Acute Leukemia 
several weeks ago. It is an aggressive form. No standard intensive chemotherapy is recommended for my age. There are some lighter treatments which seem to add a few months to the average life of persons with this cancer, but come with serious side effects.

I have chosen to be treated with 'comfort care' measures to maintain 
as good a quality of life as long as possible.  I am not in pain or 
other discomfort, only very tired and weak. I am at home in our apartment, close to family and friends.

So the abrupt ending of my e-mails will not be because 
of my lack of love and interest.

Wish you the continued presence of the love of God in your work and lives.

  Love and prayers,

  June Marie

As one of her pastors noted, June Marie was someone who sowed bountifully and reaped bountifully. The following are just two of the many the notes she received after she sent her last email:

"I recall how much it meant to receive a letter from you across the seas and miles. You more than anyone have been the most faithful these 26 years in missions".

"We truly have been blessed beyond words the many times you have taken to write. You remembered our birthdays, anniversaries, and significant difficult times with your prayers and words of encouragement. Thanks for your inspiring, loving, and caring words over many years."

The words of Proverbs 31:28-31 come to mind:

Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

2013 Mobile Justice Tour Visits Harrisonburg

Lantern Books
The Virginia Alliance Against Mass Incarceration, along with four other state organizations, will conduct a forum at the Massanutten Regional Library from 1-3 pm Tuesday, August 13, as one of fourteen stops by the 2013 Mobile Justice Tour.

According to their flyer, among the issues highlighted will be legislation that restores the rights of qualified non-violent ex-offenders, fair hiring practices for those who have been incarcerated, earned sentence credits for prisoners who take advantage of therapeutic, educational and vocational class opportunities, and temporary public assistance for up to nine months for newly released persons.

According to a recent New York Times article, the number of people incarcerated in the US has actually begun to decline, not only because of the financial burden prisons place on state budgets, but because more and more people are seeing a need for alternatives to mass incarceration as a response to crime. While some people certainly may need some form of "time out" for their own or others' protection,  too often the prison system has become what author and 27-year inmate Jens Soering refers to as "An Expensive Way To Make Bad People Worse", the title of one of his books.

We need you to attend, and to help spread the word!

Click on this link for more posts on prison and criminal justice issues, including one on my brief meeting with author Jens Soering at the Buckingham Correctional Center.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Suggestions For My Favorite Local Newspaper

 Actually, the DNR is our area's only daily newspaper. But unlike some of my friends who no longer subscribe because of this Byrd-family-owned paper's editorial slant, I look forward to scanning the paper every morning. I not only check the headlines, letters to the editor, obituaries and other news features of community interest, but take time to check out the day's editorials and opinion columnists.

And I do appreciate the fact that even though the editors clearly don't share all of my views, they have always been willing to publish my occasional letters and op-ed pieces as well as those of local and national writers with diverse opinions. In my personal conversations with both the managing editor and the editorial page editor I have always been treated with the utmost respect.

For what it's worth, here are some of my suggestions for helping them get some of their former readers back:

1. Tone down the partisan rhetoric in your editorials. Every politician and political party represents a mix of both good and bad, and even people with whom we disagree occasionally deserve notice for things they do right. Constantly bashing Obama and demonizing Democrats feels neither fair nor balanced.

2. Do more editorials of local concern (about our schools, roads, social services and regional jail, for example), as well as highlight the good accomplishments of area individuals and organizations.

3. Add to the balance of columnists featured on the editorial page. Your newest addition, Patrick Buchanan, in his book, “Suicide of a Superpower”, concerns me in the open way he questions whether “the demographic change of the United States from a predominantly white, culturally European country to one in which whites are a minority, and multiculturalism rules, is a good idea.” I hope you agree that our being a good country has nothing to do with ethnicity or skin color. I also note with interest that Terence Jeffrey, another new columnist, was Buchanan's former campaign manager.

4. Give us the full story. Your editorial and other extensive coverage about the many good accomplishments of the late Harry F. Byrd, Jr. included only this mention, in the 28-page supplement devoted to him, about his role in opposing desegregation and civil rights legislation: “Throughout the agonizing times of the 1950’s Harry Jr. said little but stood firmly with his father on Massive Resistance, a policy of opposing school desegregation.”

All that said, I will likely continue to be a loyal subscriber to a paper that I find a little like the contrarian uncle you often find annoying but would genuinely miss if he weren't at the family reunion.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

An Author At Buckingham Correctional Center

Buckingham Correctional Center, Dillwyn, VA
Today I unexpectedly met Jens Söring, age 47, a Christian author of numerous books on prisons, while in the visitor area of the Buckingham Correctional Center. Söring has been held for 27 years for a crime he insists he did not commit.

My friend Pete Mahoney and I came to Buckingham to see Steve Colosi, Jr., a strong advocate for the parole option that was abolished in 1995 in Virginia and for the humane release of geriatric prisoners that is allowed by Virginia law but which is rarely utilized.

Steve, about whom I have written a 2/13/13 and a 7/15/13 blog, gave us some fascinating commentary on life inside his prison home. As a poignant example, he pointed out an aging couple at a nearby table. The wife, he said, has been faithfully meeting with her husband every week for over 26 years. He also told us about an invalid 74-year-old whose only family is in Israel, and who has one three-hour visit from them once a year, pretty much the only contact he has with anyone beyond the walls that have confined him for decades.

author Jens Söring
Steve then introduced us to Jens when he showed up at table near us to visit with two of his outside friends. A German citizen, Jens has a website maintained for him by some of his supporters and has become a well known author. His book, The Convict Christ: What the Gospel Says About Criminal Justice, was the first place winner of the Catholic Press Association's 2007 awards.

The following are his six published works in English (three are in his native German) as listed by Wikipedia:

The Way of the Prisoner: Breaking the Chains of Self Through Centering Prayer and Centering Practice. Lantern Books, New York 2003, ISBN 1-59056-055-8.
An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse: An Essay On Prison Reform from an Insider's Perspective.
Lantern Books, New York 2004, ISBN 1-59056-076-0.
The Convict Christ: What the Gospel Says About Criminal Justice.
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, N.Y. 2006, ISBN 1-57075-648-1.
The Church of the Second Chance: A Faith-Based Approach to Prison Reform.
Lantern Books, New York 2008, ISBN 1-59056-112-0.
One Day in the Life of 179212: Notes from an American Prison.
Lantern Books, New York 2012, ISBN 978-1-59056-345-8.

For other posts on prison issues click on

Also, check out this excellent Prisons and Punishment facebook page

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Some Of The Real Reasons Churches Break Up

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism
But about the feuds and struggles that exist among you—where do you suppose they come from? Can’t you see that they arise from conflicting passions within yourselves? You crave for something and don’t get it, you are jealous and envious of what others have got and you don’t possess it yourselves. Consequently in your exasperated frustration you struggle and fight with one another. You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And when you do ask he doesn’t give it to you, for you ask in quite the wrong spirit—you only want to satisfy your own desires.
James 4:1-3 (J.B. Phillips translation) 

What are some of the root causes of so many church "divorces" happening these days? Since I became a member of Virginia Mennonite Conference in 1965, the number of branches on this Anabaptist tree in Rockingham County alone has quadrupled.

If we assume these result only from differences in how we interpret the Bible, we may be only partly right.

The primary underlying needs, I've come to believe, are among those described in the passage above and by American psychiatrist and educator Rudolph Dreikers:

1. The need for love and belonging. Church groups that foster strong bonds among members, where each person and each congregation within a conference feels respected, appreciated and needed by others, tend to stay together in spite of their disagreements. Where such friendship-forming interactions are limited or neglected, however, and where people who differ from each other feel undervalued and alienated, it doesn't take much for them to separate.

2. The need for power and influence. By this we don't mean power over others, but power with them as equal players in the process of negotiating differences and effecting outcomes. If people's convictions are acknowledged, and their ideas taken seriously, they will seldom pull out to form their own separate entities. But if people feel powerless in their ability to influence others, they may feel separating is the only way to gain the kind of empowerment they feel they need.

3. The need for vindication and evening the score. If the above two primal needs are perceived as not being met (and perception is everything!), the need for getting back at others for the hurts they feel may come into play. Without being willing to openly acknowledge their anger, people and groups may act it out by withdrawing as an act of protest against the ways they feel they have been mistreated. This represents the "fight" part of the "fight or flight" response that comes when a group or an individual feels their legitimate needs are not acknowledged.

4. The need for withdrawal and retreat. When all efforts at redress, repair or respect seem to fail, conflict-weary individuals and groups tend to go into retreat mode, and may just give up, drop out and go their own way. This is the "flight" part of the "fight or flight" response.

Unless churches are willing and able to pay serious attention to such underlying unmet needs (felt by people on all sides), no amount of debating scripture texts will heal the rifts that are the likely to result.

Click here for more posts on church unity.