A Church Called TOV: Reflections

Posted: October 17, 2020 by Ty in Spirituality
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As I am more in the quiet during c-tine, what has always been laid on my heart by the Holy Mystery continues to bubble to the surface even more. Healthy and whole communities that allow for authentic connection and belonging, for no other reason than simply, we are created in the Imageo Dei, and as such have inherent worth and are called to love and be loved. It is a mouth full I know, and definitely bucks the trend of the quick and pithy vision/mission leadership mantras of our time. Truly though if we are called to be in community, called to holy interdependence, then idea of celebrity and cult of leadership need to break down (points from Barringer and Mcknight’s new book, A Church Called Tov (2020)).

When do barriers and labels break down?? When we break bread and share life together.
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The new book opens up sharing, something I had sadly pointed out to many non-Roman Catholic Churches, during my time in bible college and seminary–that crisis and abuse will exist, so will cover up–for it is about the positions of power that attract the monsters. Many balked, the work walks through what creates toxic cultures using real time examples from Willow Creek, Harvest Bible Chapel, Sovereign Grace Ministries and the Southern Baptist Convention. It works around the fear culture these spaces cultivate, the ones that discourage and disparage the abused. The same tactics of silence and spiritual abuse overlaying the sexual abuse, as witnessed within Roman Catholicism, Jehovah Witness, and other religious movements.

It is laying the ground work, so if one does not understand they can begin to see how the church has strayed. Long time readers are familiar with my own lived stories, and sadly how different theologies have gone after my children and others. It is what happens when the purpose of the gathering shifts from healthy community and family, to the numbers game of tithing, attendance, how many conversions? baptisms? confirmations? All these types of reports in my time as a pastor I did have to file. The next step, is also having the abused needing to face 1 to 1 the abuser by misusing the Christian Testament Matthew 18, which adds more layers to the silence.

Follow that up, with non-disclosure agreements for staff (oh how those have been used to silence the struggling, with a survival pittance to go away) to the rationale in American civil court (with duty to report in Canada, and other judicial changes I do not think they hold the same wallop, sadly though does the average person in the pew know that?).

The membership covenant that literally grooms (yes I am using those words) church members, whether the bullied/abused or the bystander to keep it behind and underneath the thin crucifix line, not to take it to the proper authorities.

The work takes one through a helpful 8 point false narrative that perpetuates suppression: discredit the critics, demonize the critics, spin the story, gaslight the critics, make the perpetrator the victim, silence the truth, suppress the truth, and issue a fake apology. Does it sound like an abusive spouse? Or how about political or religious zealots/extremists or white supremacists? Yup, hate and abuse take the same form when boiled down. Ever experienced any of these things in the workplace? Your place of worship? What have or were the ripple effects in your own life?

Note, it was not your fault. Stand in the truth, and reconcile to move forward in your own life. Get the health supports you need to heal. The book then shifts to the concept of Tov, and this cultivation of a culture of goodness within the church family. Which is nothing new, in fact it has been laid out many places over the last 6,000 years- the Hebrew Bible, Christian Testament …and many that have come since. It is the heart of Jesus life.

It is the cultivation of an interdependent and healthy community. The TOV has points as well. The writers use the concept of church (obviously), but it speaks to community as well in what needs to be nurtured: empathy, grace, people first culture, truth, justice and Christlikeness. For those going–whoa–that is an awfully religious end one to say that all communities should nurture, keep it simple, what did Brother Jesus live and teach? Love, acceptance, connection and belonging.

What ends most of societies ills?

Connection, belonging, acceptance and love.

If you want to explore more around the ideas this book presented read the full book, but I also would suggest exploring others. St. Basil the Great, St. Francis & Clare of Assisi, Dorothy Day & the Catholic Worker’s Movement, Jim Wallis and the Sojourners, Tommy Douglas’ writings, Larry Crabb, William Aberhart’s writings, Pierre Trudeau’s writings, Desmond Tutu, Rowan Williams, Saint John Paul the Great, Tony Campolo & Red Letter Christians, Eugene Peterson, the Emergent Christianity writers, writings on missional living, J.S. Woodsworth, Matthew Fox (and Creation Spirituality), John Shelby Spong, Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Henri Nouwen to name but a few that speak into this idea of community of all.

But don’t just read, and contemplate- that is the starting point.

The next step is what next?

What is one tangible thing you are going to do to build a community of caring and goodness in your community? Your home?

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