The Church and the Experience of Evil

"Maybe the deepest tragedy of the Rwandan genocide is that Christianity didn't seem to make any difference"

"It's too easy for Christianity to have no consequence in our world."
 ~Emmanuel Katongole and Jonathan Hartgrove-Wilson in Mirror to the Church

When the foundations are being destroyed,cwhat can the righteous do?
Psalm 11:3

I have been reflecting on the dynamic between God and evil.  Specifically, the extension of God into this world: The Church and the manifestation of evil called suffering.  The question that continually comes into my mind in multiple different varieties is "Does the Authentic Church have redemptive influence on the world and its evil?".  Or sometimes I ask "just how much light is required to dispel darkness?"

I have struggled with these thoughts for many years as I thought about the Civil rights movement of the United States and although it had a wide variety of self-identified Christians as its adherents, it had many many more who opposed it. I think about it as I see the American faith community become co-oped by diverse political and economic forces as opposed to being a prophetic influence that seeks to usher  in the reality of God's will of human flourishing that Jesus himself calls the Kingdom of God.

Nine months ago, I traveled to Rwanda.  My few weeks there was one of my greatest seasons of learning.  Many of you know of the horrific genocide that culminated in 1994 with over 1 million people being brutally killed and maimed in 100 days.  Since that time, the people of Rwanda have sought grace, justice, and healing.  As I visited and saw tremendous acts of love and forgiveness, I could not help to ask with Rwandan Author Emmanuel Katongole, "Why didn't Christianity make a difference".  Why was Rwanda, which boasted as being 'the most Christian" of all African nations, unable to overcome the blood of hatred with the water of baptism?

The criticism is not just for Rwandan Churches, but for European Churches which used Christian teachings to divide and racialize the Rwandan society, as well as the American church which used its considerable resources and influence to prevent interventions in the massacre and promote isolation from the carnage.

One could argue, as those far away from Rwanda situation, that many of the Rwandan Christians were not really Christians at all, but just in name.  I think this is a cop-out that keeps us from critically reflecting upon what is wrong with the church of Rwanda, and the church within the US.

I believe that the answer is found not in analyzing the sincerity of the Rwandan and Western Church's faith, but interrogating its assumptions regarding identity and purpose.  I am suggesting several different models of Church that often have great intentions  and positive effects, but are impotent against the systemic realities of evil and suffering.

1. The Pious Church: The Pious church sees itself as a group of Godly individuals who seek to help other individuals have a relationship with Jesus.  The Pious Church seeks an evangelistic scorecard where the most important thing is how many people have developed a relationship with Jesus.  The context of their lives, their pains and sufferings are not addressed as these things are promised in the afterlife.  The Pious Church is interested in having people enter the Kingdom, but is intimidated to usher it in.

2. The Pastoral Church: The pastoral church is a person-centered community that seeks to give compassion and comfort to the suffering.  It provides for the needs of those in misfortune and suffering, but rarely has the courage to ask why or how they got there in the first place.  The Pastoral church feeds the hungry but never challenges the hunger.  It grieves with the victim but never stands against violence.  The Pastoral church is kind and compassionate but rarely courageous.

3. The Prosperity Church: The Prosperity church is a wealth-centered community that uses faith as a means to justify its own greed and lack of compassion (yup, I said it, go ahead read it again).  The prosperity church proclaim "blessings" and announces the "divine favor of God" upon its constituents and uses its resources to support its own programs as well as lavish lifestyles for its leaders.  The prosperity church rarely bothers to consider focusing on the most indigent communities except to exploit them for what few resources they have.

Each of these church models have sincere people of faith in them, but the consequences and ramifications of the faith expressed in these models is minimal when they are met with legitimate evil and suffering.

I believe that God is pointing out the ineptitude and impotence of these church models so that we have a hunger and a thirst to reclaim the patterns and ministry that Jesus initiated and invited his church to participate in:

The Proclaiming church: The Proclaiming church is focused on celebrating, demonstrating, and expressing the Kingdom of God as Jesus did.  It is not as concerned with defending the good news that the Kingdom of God is near (Mark 1:14) as it is with demonstrating it.  This demonstration or witness, is personal and public.  It focusing on individual righteousness and justice as well as community righteousness (right-relationships) and justice.  It is a sign as well as the reality of the presence of God whose love demands a response. It is identifying with the least in a way that is not simply charitable, but advocates for wholeness while standing in solidarity against systemic realities that often work to oppress, degrade, and persecute.  It is, in the word's of Brenda Salter-McNeil, the credible witness of God.

In the days when violence and evil literally rip the foundations out of our lives, we must ask ourselves whether we have learned from our recent past.  Will we dare to make a difference, or will we simply rehash the failures of the Pious, Pastoral, and Prosperity church?

I pray that you will be part of proclaiming movement of God that demonstrates the power and  presence of the Kingdom of God in a very tangible way!

May God bless you,

Pastor M Traylor