Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"principles before personalities" meets reality

This morning I very serenely typed in my facebook status entry: I am placing principles before personalities.

Read: I am an idealistic person and intend to keep to those ideals even when you try to drag me side to side with your drama.

Enact: well, I just expected to get on with my day.
Whoops. God has a great sense of humor. "You really believe that, T? Let's see you apply it here." And whammo here comes a Situation. A Real Situation. A Real Complicated Situation.

Our church gets a request for help from someone who's in the hospital, uninsured, racking up bills, needs help. This person doesn't make a direct request that we pay his bills, but that we "organize a fundraiser" such as we have done for others in the past. Principle of the thing tells me, "go ahead and help." Also the fact that this person is appealing to the church makes it likely for us to help. If we were asked as private citizens we might weasel out of it, but the risk of being asked "in the name of God, please help" gives the situation gravity. It reminds me of Paul appealing to Caesar (presumed just), or the many people in the Old Testament who fled to "the horns of the altar" where YHWH (the very definition of just, even merciful) would protect them.

I do a little fact-checking first, at my supervisor's request, because we are not sure who he is or why he's asking us. We are, indeed, the only tall steeple in town, and so it's true that non-churchers still think of us as "their church." That's great... but we need to know more... is he someone's friend or relative?

Well in my fact-checking I ran into some problems... from an exaggerated claim of kinship to a reputable family in our church... to an exaggerated claim of employment by said family... to eviction notices from his landlord (a friend of mine)... to vicious dogs running loose, a confederate flag on his porch, and general reports of behavior that has offended many neighbors.
i.e. in my fact-checking I found myself tripped up by a Personality... a Strong Personality.

Principles are tricky things. When they are laid out simply, as in "help the needy," sure, fine. But when the scenario is "help the needy person who owes your friend money," really, you have to ask yourself if you help the debtor or the debtee. When the scenario is "help the needy person who has alienated all his neighbors" -- maybe, I might be able to help -- but when it is "help the needy person (in the name of the church), who has alienated all your church members," I'm not sure what the principle would even BE.

Well I'm invoking some "don't be stupid" principles... I am sticking to the "help the needy" principle but declawing it a little. I don't think we can help him directly. We can help him with referrals to other organizations. And we, the church, can have a little prayer time along with Jesus' horrifying suggestion that we "pray for our enemies."


  1. I would suggest that your principle has been compromised by your own personality on this. I think that if Jesus were in the same situation he would have helped the guy without prejudice and I think it is more in line with his teaches to us as Christians to do the same - despite how often we do not.

  2. thanks for the challenge Ray! You may be right... although Jesus would probably say "silver and gold have i none but such as i have give i thee" (or, that was peter, i suppose?). Also, Jesus does not give us direction on the line between helping and enabling but I do believe that line is there. Perhaps it is my personality reacting against my own bad history of enabling - but surely a common theme.

    As the situation develops, i'm trying to keep saying to parishioners (who are angry at him and want him to leave town) that we should pray for his highest good - however God has in mind to bless him.

    but thanks for your take on it...you may be right.