Last night we finished watching George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck. It's given me a lot to think about. If you don't already know, the film tells the true story of Edward R. Murrow and his colleagues at CBS, who were the only broadcast journalists to call into question the practices of Senator McCarthy. One of my favorite quotes is:
dies, I think the soul of America dies with it. -- Edward R. Murrow
This really struck me, because it is this distinction between dissent and disloyalty that was missing in our last church community. There was no such thing as loyal opposition to them--the clear message over all the years we were there was, "if you don't think the way we think, then you need to find another place to belong". Sadly, people there are still being told that.
The church over the years has supported things like anti-semitism in Germany and racism in America, along with many other wrongs I need not name here. If it weren't for dissidents like Frederick Bonhoeffer and every individual who lends his voice to the voiceless, the church would slow the movement of holy social change instead of advance it. It's funny, though, how church-goers tend to believe that they are more enlightened than the average citizen, less prone to be wrong.
This attitude is a natural fall-out of a sub-culture that centers around the existence of an absolute truth, and is puffed up by its belief in its own ability to know that truth absolutely. The attitude of infallibility starts with leadership, and thus leaves no room for questioning or for any other point-of-view.
I have friends who have had the courage to break a conspiracy of silence and to bring hidden acts of manipulation by people in power into the light. What was the first thing to be attacked? Their loyalty to the church. (Just as those who questioned McCarthy had their loyalty to America discredited.) Accusations included church-bashing, rebellion and negativity, to name a few. What their critics don't seem to understand is that it is their deep loyalty to God's dream for the church that causes them to oppose the darkness within it so vehemently.
I think people have forgotten that Jesus was one of the most extreme dissidents of all time. His dissent got him killed. He didn't try to reconcile with the Pharisees and the religious establishment of his day, and he didn't meet with them privately first to share his concerns before publicly confronting them. So much of the time, in the church we hardly remember who we follow.
There has to be room in every faith community for loyal opposition and dissent. Otherwise, you're left with something that isn't a community at all but rather a cult of personality. And as for me, if loyalty to the church ever means turning a blind eye to corruption and malice, then I will need to find a new allegiance.