The Curious “Fundamentalism” of Church Critics: Disagreement is Good… Unless You Disagree With Them

Over a week ago, I wrote about the controversy regarding The Village Church and one of its ex-members, Karen Hinkley.  As I took in information, I placed responsibility both on The Village for some heavy-handed emphasis on church authority as well as Ms. Hinkley for communication breakdowns and assumptions, though I was and am sympathetic to her situation.  I also was pretty sharp towards many Christians who were gleefully jumping all over this so they could attack their favorite target: Organized church.  Or at least, churches that actually try to practice those hateful little things like church discipline and membership.

Last Sunday, Matt Chandler offered an apology to the members at The Village for the church’s mistakes, saying also that they had apologized to Ms. Hinkley.  They also sent an apology via email to their members.  They apologized for the things that I had pointed out seemed to be mistakes on their part (obviously not because of me, since I highly doubt they know this blog exists).  When I read the email online and I heard his apology, I appreciated Chandler’s humility and honesty… and I also knew that it wouldn’t be enough for his angriest critics.  It never is for such people.

Predictably, many of these folks rejected the apology (which wasn’t even to them), parsing through both the email and his sermon to proclaim that he wasn’t apologizing for the right things.  Evaluating an apology in itself is not wrong; after all, we know that apologies can be half-hearted, fake, or beside the point.  However, the interesting thing about these complaints was not just their tone but their specific demands.  These people claim that Chandler and The Village don’t understand the root problems, such as church discipline itself, membership covenants themselves, and their views on divorce and annulment.  THESE are what The Village need to apologize for and change immediately, or else they expose themselves as backwards.  The apology actually seemed to make many of these critics even angrier because Chandler specifically affirmed the church’s theology regarding discipline and membership, though he said they erred in their execution.  How dare they!  Cue personal anecdotes about how they or someone they know were spiritually abused by a church, which somehow grants them universal and unassailable knowledge on how churches should be run.

The ironic thing is this: These people blast The Village for allegedly disallowing dissent on certain stances (like on divorce) but then turn around and don’t tolerate disagreement themselves.  For example, multiple sites have criticized The Village for not accepting the difference between an annulment and divorce.  Matthew Paul Turner, for example, complains about the written apology: “How many times must one tell the elders at TVC that Karen wasn’t getting a divorce. She was getting an annulment. There’s a difference. A big difference” (in fairness, Turner has a much more thought-out and measured post on Chandler’s sermon here).  Likewise, those at The Wartburg Watch invoke the state of Texas to trump The Village and repeatedly assume that the difference between an annulment and divorce here is obvious.  The irony is rich, given that there is significant debate about the legitimacy of certain kinds of annulments (if any) from biblical principles.  Appealing to the government here is fantastically pitiful; after all, the government recognizes all sorts of reasons for divorce, including “no fault” divorce, but that does not mean that Christians simply accept that.  What ultimately matters is how Scripture applies to these situations and how God views things.  Asking for specific references from Scripture on modern annulments is also either naive or disingenuous.  It’s not like Scripture directly addresses pornography or dating either, but that does not mean that scriptural principles do not inform our opinions on such matters.  Thus, these critics have accused The Village of simplistically conflating divorce and annulment while they avoid biblical discussion and simplify things themselves.  Why can’t The Village legitimately disagree here, given the complex nature of the issue?  How does that automatically make them clueless and backwards?  If the answer here is so obvious, where are these people’s biblical case?

I myself criticized The Village for being wooden on their stance on divorce here and not recognizing that many Bible-believing Christians differ on how to view various kinds of annulments.  The vast majority of Christians would probably agree with an annulment if, say, one partner completely lied about who he or she was and had an earlier spouse under a different name.  Outside of such extreme situations of absolute deceit of identity, the issue gets murkier because everyone finds out new things about their spouse after they are married, and they are not always good things.  However, if The Village was guilty of being heavy-handed here on a legitimately tricky issue, their critics are equally guilty of their own heavy-handed approach that is based more on emotion than Scripture.  And as I said in the last post, even if The Village was not entirely clear on their stance in their membership covenant, it wouldn’t have been hard for Ms. Hinkley to find out, either off of their website or by simply talking to the elders.  At the end of the day, The Village as a local church has a right to make a theological decision on the matter.  Don’t agree with it?  State your biblical case, and nobody is forcing you to go there.  I don’t agree with them on several theological issues, and guess what?  I agree to disagree, and I don’t go there.

The distinction between divorce and annulment is only one example; many critics simply assume that The Village is wrong on membership and on church discipline, and most of the time, they either flat ignore the Bible or fail to discuss it in depth.  Also, anyone who disagrees with them and even attempts to try to speak on The Village’s behalf is often called a “sheep” or “brainwashed” in these website’s comments sections.  Wait, so nobody can disagree with you now?  You’re absolutely right on everything?  Isn’t that the arrogance you’re accusing The Village of having?  The hypocrisy would be entertaining if it wasn’t so sad and glaring.

For many of these people (though I wouldn’t say all), it is clear that they have axes to grind.  Nothing less than, “Oh you’re right about 100% of everything you criticize church for and I’m sorry and will never ever do it again and will credit you for my change” will be enough.  Behaving in the very close-minded way that they accuse church of behaving only exposes the fact that they would hardly be any better if they were placed in a position of authority.  Thank goodness they are not, for it is clear that they lack the grace and character that leaders of a church should have.

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