“I just want to remain neutral.”

Speaking of leaving community, about a year and a half ago, a mere four months after our wedding, my husband and I had to leave our church abruptly.  It was not our choice and we had very little power over the situation.  Many folks did not handle this well initially – in fact, I’m not particularly proud of my own first response: shock does funny things to people.  Anyway, many relationships got broken; only a few are even in the beginning stages of repair right now.  I’m grateful for those.  While we may not be a part of their church communnetneutralit_1yity currently, we are all part of the body of Christ, this
communion of saints (more on that next week) and it’s really refreshing to see that lived out.  A common response among our friends who attend this church, however, was a bit disconcerting and honestly, quite hurtful.  It was this idea, as one couple even stated as they told us they did not want to hear our story, of “remaining neutral.”

I totally understand the desire not to be divisive.  Scripture calls for unity among believers.  I remember times in my life where I have felt the pull towards neutrality as a way of keeping fellowship and not causing dissension or factions.  Indeed, the high calling of love demands unity.  But what you are doing when you attempt to remain neutral is not supporting the cause of unity; you are opting out of community altogether and very often, neutrality is used as the guise for self protection.  Moreover, remaining neutral isn’t actually possible; you are abandoning both “sides” and letting the division between them stand.

But what’s the alternative?  What are folks who can either see both sides or love people on both sides of an issue, especially in the context of the Church, to do?  In the words of Auchswitz, Buna and Buchenwald survivor and professor Elie Weisel, “Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”  In his setting, the “neutrality” – in other words, the silence – of the German Church in the face of unimaginable evil gave permission for death, destruction and division of families to reign.  Could the German Church have stopped Hitler if only they hadn’t capitulated or could only a war have done that?  We’ll never know, but, as Irish statesmen Edmund Burke rightly asserted some 200 years before the crisis in Germany, “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Of course, our church situation was nothing like the Holocaust.  But the point still stands that neutrality, were it possible, never helps the victim, only the oppressor.  In that precise way, neutrality is anything but.  It is the assent to brokenness and serves to aid the forces that would cause it.  The wisdom in Weisel’s words are that they do not advise the taking of sides against people.  Weisel would have us take sides against oppression, victimization and the isolation that so often accompanies them.  We as the Church are called to love and love can never be neutral: love is always for the beloved and against that which would harm the beloved.

Beloved of God, if we are truly to live up and into our calling of love, as a signpost to the coming reconciliation of God, the only answer in times of brokenness is to take sides.  We are exhorted to care for the least, the last and the lost, which is basically what our culture turns victims into.  We are commanded to take the side of love, which in the case of my church situation looks like hearing both sides (as opposed to neither), not remaining silent (or drifting away from relationship with us as many have done), naming wrong and sin for what it is while holding out faith and hope for healing in the name and under the direction of Jesus Christ.

Comments

KennyH
May 15, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Well said! While I hope the side I took in this instance was helpful, I don’t think the term “oppressor” is very appropriate in this story — maybe “rather unthoughtful person” (perhaps putting it on an opposite extreme) is a more fair designation considering this is a public post, even with the disclaimer from comparing the situation to the Holocaust. Still, the point is well taken.



    May 15, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    To both your helpfulness and your caution about using words precisely: for sure, Kenny. “Oppressor” is definitely too strong a word to accuse anyone in this situation of being and am grateful you pointed out how my words/lack of carefulness could be understood. While I don’t think it’s too dramatic to say that the isolation wrought by “neutrality” of friends was for us rather oppressive, we are clear that such was *no one’s* intention: the “oppressor” is the sense of isolation and feeling trapped, not any *person* here.



KennyH
May 15, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Well said! While I hope the side I took in this instance was helpful, I don’t think the term “oppressor” is very appropriate in this story — maybe “rather unthoughtful person” (perhaps putting it on an opposite extreme) is a more fair designation considering this is a public post, even with the disclaimer from comparing the situation to the Holocaust. Still, the point is well taken.



    May 15, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    To both your helpfulness and your caution about using words precisely: for sure, Kenny. “Oppressor” is definitely too strong a word to accuse anyone in this situation of being and am grateful you pointed out how my words/lack of carefulness could be understood. While I don’t think it’s too dramatic to say that the isolation wrought by “neutrality” of friends was for us rather oppressive, we are clear that such was *no one’s* intention: the “oppressor” is the sense of isolation and feeling trapped, not any *person* here.



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"Community is Messy."

May 13, 2014