It’s become more and more popular: a group of disgruntled church members set up a website to “protest” the church leadership of a big and established congregation. In the last two years, there have been protest sites set up against prominent megachurches like Bellevue Baptist Church in Tennessee (Adrian Roger’s old church), Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (once pastored by the late Dr. James Kennedy and now pastored by Tullian Tchivigian), The Crystal Cathedral (Robert Schuler), and Covenant Life Church (Josh Harris/CJ. Mahaney). I’m sure there are other situations that I’m not aware of.
My question is this. Is it biblically ethical to publicly post complaints about your experiences at another church? It may be your “right” as an American, but as a follower of Christ, can you justify putting the dirty laundry of the family of God online for all to consume? I’m not so sure it is.
We all know that churches will have, from time to time, conflicts. Some are major that rip asunder an entire congregation. When this happens, it is tragic. Suddenly God’s people are less worried about engaging the enemy in the battle for lost souls and more concerned with engaging each other. And it happens across theological and denominational lines. There are a variety of reasons for church conflicts: bad leadership, rampant gossip, moral failure, bad theology. But ultimately, it boils down to sin and pride. James 4:1 nails it. Conflict comes from the old nature, that sinful flesh within us that likes to battle for supremacy.
Today church fights are going public. New and easy forms of technology make it easy to take your “cause” online and attract a following. It’s too easy for disgruntled church members to forget the New Testament’s commands to love and forbear and forgive and turn their lives into a giant crusade against what they perceive to be failed leadership. And to be fair, there are examples of failed, often sinful leadership in churches. At times this needs to be exposed, but how should this be handled?
I think Matthew 18 seems to suggest that these matters are first handled privately and then if those concerns are not addressed, they should be brought into the full life of the members of the church.But a website? A blog? A public shaming of someone? This may be the way things are done in this generation of Wikileaks and citizen journalism, but it doesn’t seem to fit the mature, spiritual behavior of a follower of Christ. Of course, I’m not talking about cases of abuse or moral failure that are continually being covered up. I’m talking about the typical disagreements, the petty squabbles that hobble a church’s ministry.
Perhaps I’m biased because I’m a pastor and I’d hate to see it done to me. But I would never want to be a part of an online group seeking to defame or hurt another ministry. I may have had differences, at times, with brothers or sisters in Christ, but to let temporary hurts turn into a bitter public crusade is a bridge too far, in my book. Simply because you have some juicy “dirt” on someone, doesn’t mean you should post it. And those who run these protest sites might consider their own hearts, that perhaps they are guilty of the very same offenses of which they accuse others.
There are very legitimate reasons to leave a church and at times there are times when the Scriptures call for spiritually mature members to affect change in a church’s direction. There are times when abusive leadership needs to be exposed. But each situation should be taken prayerfully, carefully, and with much soul-searching and counsel from others.
In a world of wikileaks and Drudge and gossip, followers of Christ are called upon to act differently than the world.