Are Christians naïve? In many instances, yes and here’s why.
The Christian gospel presents Jesus as the way, truth, and life. Jesus transforms people. Jesus takes vile sinners and makes them saints. No matter the sin, Jesus not only forgives sins but he casts it into the sea of God’s forgetfulness. Once confessed, God no longer “remembers” the sin.
Christianity speaks a lot about grace and forgiveness. If God has forgiven them then shouldn’t they forgive others? If God “forgets” their sin shouldn’t they “forget” the sins of others?
This kind of thinking, while noble and appealing, is a denial of a few basic facts about human nature.
Obrion, a regular commenter on this blog wrote:
The lesson I get from this is that Christians are exactly the same as the outsiders they preach so strongly against. However, what the church lacks is a reality check– just because someone believes, that belief does not really change their behavior.
This comment pretty well hits the proverbial nail on the head. A year ago, in a post titled a Do People Change, I wrote:
The short answer is rarely or never.
However it is not that simple.
If I make an honest assessment of my life I must conclude that, in many ways, I am no different today than I was 10, 20, or 30 years ago.
Let me explain.
We all have certain character traits that play a large part in defining who we are. Each of us have experienced life in a certain way and our experiences have shaped us in ways we can not even imagine. Our successes and failures, our hurts and our pain, have all helped to make us who we are.
There are many factors that come into play when determining “how” we became what we are and “how” we got to where we are.
Each of us has a story to tell. It is unique to us.There is no greater offense than for a person to discount or dismiss another person’s story. I find as I get older that I am more willing to listen to the stories of others. I am fascinated by the life stories that people tell.
I have made many changes in my life. I went from an independent, fundamentalist Baptist to an atheist. I started out adult life as a right-wing John Bircher and now I find myself a liberal on the the other end of the spectrum. For the past ten years my life has been all about change, change, change.
Over the past ten years I have lived in Ohio, Michigan, and Arizona. I have moved 8 times. My children have all grown up, with my youngest son graduating from high school in a few weeks. I have five grandchildren and another one on the way.
My health has been on a steady, but slow, decline. Life is now measured by “I can’t do that any more.” Physically, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for me. I know that. My family knows that. And my doctor knows that even though he fights like hell to find a better outcome for me.
My circumstances have changed but have I changed?
I want to think I have. I hope I am a kinder, gentler man. I hope that the seeds of racism and homophobia in my being have died. I hope I am a better husband and father. I will leave it to others to decide whether or not I have changed.
But, I also know, that, in many ways, I am the same Bruce Gerencser today that I was in 1975. I am temperamental. (I do have red hair, a perfect excuse) I am a pessimist. I have battled depression my entire life. Dark days come and no matter what I do it seems I can not outrun the darkness.
I have always been a person that likes order. I like to be in charge, to control things I think this is why my physical debility bothers me so much. It is beyond my ability to control it.
My counselor warned me of my penchant for wanting certainty, for wanting to see things in a black and white way. Just because I left Christianity and left the ministry does not mean I have abandoned fundamentalist thinking. (in fact this is one of the biggest problems I face) I am having to learn, or should I say re-learn how to think.
I spent decades in a system that valued fidelity to a belief far more than it did rational thought. For most of my life decisions about morality and ethics were decided for me according to what the Bible said. I didn’t matter. All that mattered is what God said. Now I find myself having to decide for myself what my moral and ethical values are. (much to the consternation of fundamentalist family)
The passion I’ve had most of my life still burns in my being. I am always looking for the next cause. Granted the focus of my passion has moved from trying to get people to heaven to telling people heaven and hell does not exist. Where you stand on these issues determines whether or not you like my passion. Is there such a thing as being an atheistic soulwinner?
I remain a hardheaded, dry humored person. I am, in many ways, the same old Bruce, but how I look at life and how I determine what matters in life has changed greatly.
How is it for you?
Are you a Jesus? The same yesterday, today,and forever?
Maybe you are a Bob Dylan? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind?
Do people change? Sure, but change is hard, requires great sacrifice, and most people simply don’t want to invest the time and energy necessary to effect lasting change. Change is painful. Change requires an honest, open accounting of our lives. All of it. Even the dark, deep secrets we hold on to. We know ourselves better than anyone else and true, effective change only happens when we come to terms with who we are. Sometimes this means we can’t do certain things, go certain places, etc.
Let me use an illustration (spoken like a preacher, yes) I have used numerous times on this blog. Each of us must draw a circle on the ground, stand in that circle, and judge every person in the circle. Far too often we focus our judgment on others rather than self. We can’t change others.
For many years I thought I could “change” my wife Polly. She has some character traits that annoy me. Surely if she would just “change” all would be well. Of course, thinking like this allowed me to ignore my own character flaws. Somewhere along the marriage path I finally decided that we needed to accept each other as we are. I can’t change my wife and now I don’t want to. I ignore the things that annoy the hell out of me and she does the same. Every once in awhile we will fight over these things but post-fight we always come to the conclusion that we are idiots for fighting over such trivial things.
Now, let me pull this all together.
When a person first converts to Christianity they are excited. Everything is new. Perhaps their lives were all messed up before they found Jesus and now everything is changed and new. After all the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
New converts can be spotted a mile away. They have that, Oh how I love Jesus glow about them. Over the years I pastored hundreds of new converts, and I know first hand about the zeal and passion new converts have.
Over time the newness wears off. All of a sudden the not-so-new convert begins to battle with what they “used” to be. At this juncture the not-so-new convert is encouraged to pray more, read the Bible more, and to make sure they attend church every time the doors are open. Their problem is they need a constant infusion of Jesus and this infusion comes through prayer, Bible study, and Church attendance. (or the anointing, filling, or baptism of the spirit)
Often the not-so-new convert is told that the struggle they are facing is one EVERY Christian faces. At its root is Satan, who likes nothing more than to destroy Christians. Since he can’t take their soul to hell he does his best to make their life a mess and he does all he can to ruin their testimony.
I contend there is another reason for all this. Over time the not-so-new convert reverts to who he really is. His religious change was temporary. Over time he becomes the every day, normal or not so normal, human being he was before. No matter how much he prays, reads the Bible, or goes to church, he can not shake WHO and WHAT he is.
I know this sounds quite cynical but the facts are on my side. While I think people can and do change, for the most part they don’t. (for the reasons I mentioned above) This does not necessarily make them bad people. They are human just like the rest of us.
Christians are naïve if they think they should give a person a clean slate just because they found Jesus or they confessed their sins and got right with God.
Evangelicals have an altar ritual in which a Christian can go to the altar, confess their sins, and start life anew. This is the Evangelical version of the Catholic confessional. No matter how often the Christian commits a sin, if they just ask for forgiveness, all is forgiven. (and yes, I know all about forsaking sin but reality tells me that there is a lot of forgiving going on and not much forsaking)
There are some behaviors that can not be fixed by the blood of Jesus. Sorry, my Christian friend, but that’s just how it is. I am of the opinion that rarely are child molesters or pedophiles delivered of their demons. Unless they are closely monitored they will commit heinous acts again. That’s why I support lifetime incarceration for many child molesters and pedophiles.
I need to be careful here because I don’t think that just because someone’s name is on the Sex Offender Registry that they are a pervert who should be locked up for life. Every case must be examined carefully. Some of the people on Sex Offender Registry are teens that had consensual sex with someone outside the age minimum/maximum of a particular state’s law. However, for those who molest and abuse children I think society MUST be protected from them.
Since we don’t incarcerate such people for life we must deal with them in society. Often these kind of people know they have a problem so they seek solace in religion. They find Jesus. Surely Jesus will fix their life.
What do they find? People who love them and accept them. People who believe Jesus can change the hardest of hearts and the vilest of sinners.
However, the child molester and pedophile is like the leopard mentioned in the Bible. Can the leopard change its spots? No. So what happens. The child molester and pedophile begins to have “those” bad thoughts again. No! No! No! but no matter what they do the thoughts remain and here they are in the midst of a people who trust them, people who have now given them access to their children and teenagers.
Churches should not be surprised when one of their members commits heinous crimes. It is their fault because they naïvely believed that a leopard can change their spots, that a person who has aberrant thoughts about children can change their ways. (and in some cases I am sure change is possible)
Look at all the stories of fallen pastors and church leaders that make the front page of the our newspapers. Does anyone think Ted Haggard just up and decided one day to use crack and seek out male prostitutes for sex? Does anyone really think Eddie Long just up and decided one day that he wanted to have sex with under age boys? (and both of these men are STILL pastors)
Take the case of deceased Pastor Bob Gray, long time pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. This is what Conservative Babylon had to say about Gray,
Claims to fame: 80-year-old pastor of Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Trinity Baptist Church (Jacksonville, Florida) for 38 years; co-founder and president, Trinity Baptist College; gay-hater; accused molester of little girls
Moral apex: Allegedly, french-kissing six-year-olds.
“Basically it was a make out session,” one victim told First Coast News about “a french kissing ritual with her that lasted for three years,” beginning when she was about eight. “Sitting on his lap. Hugging. But he never put his hands where you would consider you shouldn’t put your hands.”
What’s worse: A number of Gray’s other accusers say he touched them down there.
What’s worse: It wasn’t just one, or two, or three kids… As of early June, 2006, some 17 women stepped forward to tell essentially the same story of childhood molestation by Gray.
What’s worse yet: It appears the current pastor of Trinity Baptist, Tom Messer, tried to cover up at least two incidents, and — far worse — one father tried to cover up the abuse of his own child.
At one time Bob Gray was one of my favorite preachers. He was a Holy Spirit powered man-of-God. A man worth emulating. Yet, best I can tell, he spent his entire 50 years in the ministry as a child molester and sexual pervert.
Gray didn’t just decide one day to become a pervert. He had these proclivities most of his life. Certainly we can debate how and why he had these proclivities but the fact is HE HAD THEM!
Churches have no excuse. We have the internet. We have Sex Offender databases and access to 50 state criminal background checks. No person should have access to church children and teenagers before being thoroughly vetted and that INCLUDES the pastor.
This vetting should be done annually. Vetting someone once is not enough. Arrests without convictions often don’t appear on criminal background checks. Michael Pitts, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Toledo, years ago was arrested several times for indecent exposure. He was able to wiggle his way out of the arrests both times and he remains a pastor to this day.
Here is what one website said in 2003:
You see, Pastor Michael Pitts was charged with several counts of exposing himself to strangers. I should make it clear that he was never convicted of any of these charges. (I want to make sure that his lawyers, wherever they may be, see I am making this clear.) But there was a significant amount of evidence that many people found quite convincing.
In 1995, he was stopped by police after allegedly being spotted masturbating in front of two young boys hitting golf balls at a local baseball diamond. Officials did not press charges after Pastor Pitts agreed to seek counseling with a psychologist who sees sex offenders, they said. (The Pitts camp claims the officials are lying.)
In 1997, he faced eight counts of public indecency and seven counts of criminal trespass, linked to a series of incidents in which a man matching Pastor Pitts’ description was reported exposing himself to people in places like a local park and a Wal-Mart parking lot. His car was spotted near where several of the incidents occurred.
Pastor Pitts hired some very fine attorneys and, in the end, all charges except for two criminal trespass misdemeanors were suddenly dropped. His final punishment: 14 days of house arrest with an ankle bracelet and a $500 fine. As part of the unusual plea agreement, both prosecution and defense agreed that neither side would be allowed to discuss the reasons for the sudden deal.
His public acts of perversion would not likely show on a criminal background check. Does anyone think he has stopped having desires to expose himself to strangers in public places? Perhaps his family and handlers have been able to manage his perversion BUT I have no doubt the desire is still there. The most amazing thing in this story is that the Church ignored his behavior, accepted that it was a Satanic attack, and Pitts remains their pastor.
Sadly, I think Christians will continue to be naïve about these things. Their theology requires them to be forgivers and forgetters. They just need to understand that the rest of us are not so forgiving and forgetting. Acts of child abuse and sexual molestation of children and teenagers should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Religious beliefs should NOT be allowed to muddy the water. Churches that knowingly allow perverts access to the children and teenagers of the church should be held criminally liable. Again, religious beliefs should not be part of the discussion. All that matters is protecting the children from predators. If a church’s naïve blindness keeps them them acting responsibly then they have no one to blame but themselves when their leaders are arrested and their good name is ruined.
Why are there still Catholics sitting in the pew on Sunday? Naïveté. How many boys and girls must have their lives ruined before the people say enough is enough? Evidently, more than the thousands of cases already known. I simply do not understand this. The Catholic Church hierarchy and leaders have forfeited their right to be the spiritual guides of anyone.
What is your thought on this subject? Do you have any stories you would like to share?