Policing the Flock

After decades of being involved in and observing organized religion in action, I have noticed various attempts by clergy and congregates alike to police their respective flock for sin. These attempts at governing the worthiness of souls who have gathered to seek, worship and serve the living God are typically justified in one or more of the following general ways, including,
• It was a New Testament practice.
• It is necessary to keep the flock safe from wolves in sheep’s clothing.
• Bad influences easily corrupt good people, and/or
• God expects His children to actively monitor the lives of others for the well-being and safety of those who cannot protect themselves.
Some of these reasons make good sense but they have always rubbed me the wrong way and I have sought to understand why. I had my first taste of religious policing when I was a teenager active in the LDS Church in Southern California. I had gotten into a fist-fight on a Saturday night when out with friends and came to church the following day with a bruised and swollen face. One of the more devout girls in our congregation excitedly questioned me about it before turning away unexpectedly and hurrying down the hall out of sight. Within minutes our Bishop (who is like a Pastor in Mormonism) rounded the corner and bee-lined toward my person. When he was within arms distance he reached up, took my chin in his hand, turned my face from one side to the other then shook his head in disgust and walked away leaving only obvious ecclesiastical rejection in my heart. The member ratted me out to a leader and the leader, assuming the role of God Himself, chose to breath-out his ecclesiastical rejection of me in response. Nothing was asked about what started the fight nor was any effort made to discover how and why I appeared in such a state or how I was feeling in the face of it all. Worse yet, I was not greeted with open loving arms for even being at church that day! No, in this instance of church policing, the mere fact that I did not appear respectable or in accordance with what that church upheld as good, I was accused and charged accordingly and invited, so to speak, to either refrain from further Saturday night engagements or to not attend that church if I refused.
Years later, after establishing a church of my own (which is really not a church but a study group) I was able to begin to see how church policing is utterly unnecessary and frankly, unbiblical. Let me give you an anecdotal insight.
Years ago we had a homosexual couple (males) attend our study. They announced themselves as such and were warmly greeted by those who regularly attended. The following week they returned, but they were more interested in talking about homosexuality and its associated lifestyle but they found that most people naturally gravitated away from the conversation. Same thing the following week. Then the couple disappeared. I called one of the pair a few weeks later and asked where they had been, and he sort-of said in more words or less that our group was not open to homosexuals. I was stunned. One of our group had a gay son and another a daughter and I ask, “Did someone say something offensive to you?” His response was something to the effect that it was “just the vibe they got.” I decided to pin the man down to make sure I really understood what he was talking about.
I said, “vibe?”
He said, “you can tell when you are accepted or not in certain churches. I responded that I was not so sure that was true unless someone deliberately said something rude, snarky or offensive – or a least gave them looks.”
“No,” the man said, my partner and I just didn’t feel like our life-choice was appreciated. I explained that from my understanding, there was no body present who opposed them or their lifestyle and that perhaps the people were just more interested in the study of scripture – which was why they attended. This angered the man.
“That’s my point. Nobody seemed interested in us.”
“Nobody asked your names? Or asked about your jobs or families?”
“No, no no,” he admitted, “all the superficial stuff happened but we just couldn’t really connect to the vibe.” He used the word again.
“You mean that people were sort of focused on why they had gathered together than who was gathered there with them?”
“Yes. That’s it. We just felt the need to try places we feel are more “accepting.”
“Wait,” I said. “We are all very accepting. But it sounds like, and correct me if I’m wrong, you want our attentions to be more about being gay?”
“If the shoe fits,” he quipped.
And I replied, “yeah, our group gathers to learn. We don’t really get involved with each other interpersonally.
“Obviously,” he replied. I wished him well and never saw them again. They had not found what they desired in this group of souls dedicated to the scripture and moved along to another home. No rules needed to be imposed. No judgement. No condemnation. Just allowing people to do what people desire to do and letting the cards land where they may.
Over the years we have had atheists, antagonists, King Jame’s Onliests, Latter-Day Saints, Baptists, Universalists, and Reincarnationists stop in, attend, and sample what we offer relative to study. Those who remain do so freely and those who leave do the same. We don’t need to fear what someone believes, teaches, or suggests because all people are either led of the Spirit or they are not. We cannot determine who is who nor are we in a place to monitor it all. He monitors it all. He always has – by and through His Spirit.
Church-policing was necessary in the former nascent Church when Christ had His apostles, equipped with a super-abundance of the Holy Spirit, governing and overseeing His Bride. After His return to take and save her the world has been left in the hands of the Holy Spirit who works on individuals through their minds and hearts. That does the policing and it does a far better job of it than humans ever have or will.

Shawn McCraney
Shawn McCraney
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