Thursday, February 24, 2011

309 — Does “Christian” Mean “Naive”? - Patrick Mead

Below you will find a blog entry by Patrick Mead.  I know several of you already follow Patrick's blog(s), but this one struck a cord with me and I thought it was worth sharing.  Read it with an open mind, considering all sides, and take in the information.  As always, what he says (and why he says it) is exactly on point makes all of us think.

Tomorrow I will resume this blog with a new entry of my own.

February 17th, 2011 by patrickmead

I normally try to edit out material in questions that might conceivably identify a congregation, but I am not sure I succeeded this time. This is a question which, on first blush, might seem rather narrow but it is really a HUGE question that Christians need to discuss… before a tragedy strikes.
I have a question for you. At our church, we have a family with two older teenage (17 and 19, I believe) sons. The oldest one has some mental challenges. His parents allow him to wander around during Sunday school and during services. Several of us with children are uncomfortable letting our kids even go to the bathroom alone because of this. My husband raised the concern with our elders, but so far all they seem to know to do is to have someone “keep an eye on him” when he does leave services. Are we overreacting by being concerned? How do we as parents protect our children without making unfair judgments? His father does not have all his mental faculties, either, but should we have approached his parents directly? How would you suggest we and/or our elders handle the situation?
Some will knee jerk here and say in their hearts that this questioner is just being paranoid and that his/her attitude is unChristian. Everyone who reacts that way should first hit their knees and thank the Lord that they have been so blessed, so protected in their lives. You see, sometimes our version of Christianity places us in real danger for no Kingdom purpose at all.
I happen to live in the Detroit metro area. We know a little bit about crime here. We are not the worst place to live in the country. We know we share our lot with those in Camden, NJ or St. Louis and Houston. You learn things by living in these hot spots. People aren’t mugged in the choreographed way you see on TV. It usually goes this way: a man is walking toward you, not paying attention to you. And, ladies, most of you live in “condition white” where you are not paying attention to threats. Without warning, a word, or even a look the man throws his entire weight behind a punch into your gut or face. You will have broken muscles and bleeding, if in the gut. If in the face, your nose, teeth, cheek bone, and jaw are broken. You will probably have a concussion from the way your head struck the concrete. He’ll stomp on your stomach or head a couple of times, take your rings and purse, and walk off.
Sometimes, women are in “condition yellow.” That means they are watching where they are going and noticing who is around them, but they are not alarmed: they’ve walked through this parking lot or on this street a hundred times before without incident. Then, a man will say “Excuse me, can you help me?” while holding a map or shaking a presumably dead cell phone. The woman stops — because her innate Christian kindness tells her to help this person. And she is attacked.
Criminals have long known that you can use people’s Christian sensibilities against them. Knock on their door and they feel compelled to open it. Ask them for help and they feel compelled to stop and draw near to you. If you mumble, they will get closer so that they may understand how they can help you. And… boom. Sadly, I had to explain all of this to my wife and daughter so that they would fight their instinct to be nice. They wouldn’t be embarrassed to lock their car doors when they saw someone coming close. They would look at someone in the eye and cross the street, letting the person know they had been seen and creating distance between them — just in case. It was hard for them to do this… but on more than one occasion it turned out to be the smart move.
Churches are under pressure to let their guard down and “be good Christians” when they are really being asked to be naive. Some churches openly welcome those who have served time for sex crimes but most of them set in place restrictions on what those individuals may do, what places in the building they may enter, and the churches supply security to protect the little, innocent ones. We’ve looked at that in an earlier blog and seen that there are a variety of ways to do this intelligently. Do it in a naive manner and tragedy will result.
When it comes to the questioner’s situation, I would like to know more about it — and a bit more knowledge might change my answer — but my instinct is to say that the elders’ response has not been enough. No, we don’t want to offend anyone and we would absolutely not want to drive people off… but we also don’t want visitors scared, kids terrified, or parents made anxious. It seems that the possible needs of the two in this congregation outweigh not only the needs of the rest of the congregation but also blunt the mission of the church; for having people roam around during worship is a good way to scare visitors… at a minimum.
A special “class for one” could be created so that someone was always with this young man, keeping him busy, teaching him what he is able to learn while the others are in worship. If he needs to go to the restroom or water fountain, there needs to be someone who is with him. If the family gets offended, they need to be brought in and talked to about the need for security and peace. In our congregation you go through a background check before you can teach children. You cannot take a child to the restroom alone. You cannot just enter the children’s area — there is a tagging process done and access is strictly limited. And we have a team of men, most with military training, who take turns walking the halls and checking rooms that are supposed to be empty. When a mentally challenged individual wants to help pass out bulletins at the door or greet visitors, they are assigned a partner who makes sure that visitors aren’t frightened or confused.
Some parents quit coming to Rochester when we instituted the system whereby kids had to be signed into the children’s wing and parents had a tag allowing them to come get the child. As strange as it sounds, they felt this was an unnecessary hassle. And it is. Until the first child goes missing, is collected by a non-custodial relative, or is molested. THEN… all the security precautions in the world seem like too few, too little.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean that you check your brain at the door. Jesus said “watch and pray” and he also made sure some of his disciples were armed. (my pacifist friends hate it when I bring that up. They try to make Jesus’ statement metaphorical but when one apostle revealed that he had two swords Jesus didn’t say “Whoa, dude! I was being metaphorical!”)
So, I don’t pick up hitchhikers and I don’t stop for broken down cars. But I do get on my cell phone and alert emergency services that there is someone broken down or someone out there walking for gas. Sometimes I break that rule and stop for them, but only when I am alone or with another capable male. And it doesn’t hurt to have a sword or two along just in case.

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