We’ve all heard the saying, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?” Actually, some people fuse those two words together and come up with “frenemies.” It can be quite distressing how those who are the closest to us do us the most damage. Unfortunately, the church is not immune to that.
Henri Nouwen, a beloved spiritual leader who died sixteen years ago, had many thoughts on this very issue. “When we have been wounded by the Church,” he says, “our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ. When we say, ‘I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,’ we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially.”
I definitely agree with him on that. And worse than that, far from asking our forgiveness, sometimes the church reprimands those who point out its errors. Often it does that in ways (using intimidation, shame, and even physical violence) that must leave Jesus weeping tears of sorrow.
Nouwen also says, “Loving the Church often seems close to impossible. Still, we must keep reminding ourselves that all people in the Church—whether powerful or powerless, conservative or progressive, tolerant or fanatic—belong to that long line of witnesses moving through this valley of tears, singing songs of praise and thanksgiving, listening to the voice of their Lord, and eating together from the bread that keeps multiplying as it is shared.”
What are some ways in which we can act—and not for the sake of appearance? Where are we on that strange continuum of “frenemy”? No doubt, sometimes we’re more “friend,” and other times, we’re more “enemy.”
As those who Jesus calls friends, may we be there for others who have been hurt by the church. Let us be a living example of God’s love, grace, and peace.
(These are extracts from my sermon, “Church as Frenemy.” Quotes from Henri Nouwen come from his Daily Meditations at www.henrinouwen.org, 27 Oct 12 and 24 Oct 12, respectively.)