Friday, April 28, 2006

Failures of the Church Overcome

1968 was a tense year. The Vietnam War had deeply divided the nation. Americans spat on one another over a conflict that had consumed thousands of lives.

I recently had the opportunity to learn about one of those lives. And I learned a sad lesson about how some people in the church have used faith as a weapon.

I serve as an intern at a large, suburban church. One of the members told me about her faith journey. She grew up Methodist and married in college. Once married, she and her new husband, a C-130 pilot in the Air Force, moved to Okinawa, where he flew sorties during the Vietnam War.

One day, he didn’t come back. He was missing in action.

My sister in Christ was given the shocking news by the commanding officer and chaplain of the unit. The chaplain, who had obviously not received pastoral care training, told the parishioner that he "understood what she felt."

"No, you have no idea what I'm feeling,” she replied.

After a short period of time, my parishioner friend was sent home. Immediately, she began working with others organizing support for those with loved ones who were missing in action. One of her first tasks was to contact churches to pray for missing personnel and their families. The first church she called was her hometown Methodist church.

Her request for prayer was rejected. "Some people in this church disagree with the war," said the pastor, "So we cannot pray for your missing husband."

My friend went on, but I had a very difficult time listening. I was shocked at the pastor's remark. I finally regained my senses and rejoined the conversation. She was telling me about how she eventually made her way back to the church after feeling rejected for a long time.

A few years later my friend remarried, this time to a fighter pilot. The couple was stationed in Germany. While flying at high speed, a bird pierced her husband's canopy and struck him in the heart. He stayed alive long enough to eject himself and backseater.

The response of the church: "Because your husband is dead, you can no longer participate in the spouse's group. Please find another group." I continued to listen while seething.

That my friend came back to the church again is amazing. Even more amazing is the ministry to which she has been called - funeral support. "One of the most critical functions the church performs is being with those who are grieving." She transformed her earlier rejections into a power that now benefits the larger Church. Grace abounds.

1 comment:

  1. The fact that churches are run by humans has frustrated me for a long time. I do have to say that your friend seems to have picked a couple of churches whose leaders lacked basic human decency.

    Far too often in issues of war and peace, we lack the ability to discuss the nuances of an issue. People find it too difficult to have a discussion in which one might have favored the invasion of Iraq but is now dismayed with the manner in which the war was conducted. Or they find it difficult to hear someone say that they oppose the war but support our troops.

    We live in a society that prefers a debate of high contrast as opposed to a debate of nuances within a policy.

    The leading opponent of the war in Iraq in my church happens to also be the woman who organizes the monthly care packages put together by our church for the soldiers fighting that war. I greatly appreciate her efforts.