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Why Communities (Especially Religious) Get Ugly Sometimes

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13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
                                                                        -Galatians 5:13-15
 
You’ve seen this before, haven’t you? This whole biting and devouring of each other thing? It happens all the time: families, workplaces, within movements that were fully unified in the heady start-up days but are headed towards utter disintegration as no one can seem to stand anyone else any more.
 
Nearly all human relationships devolve into biting and devouring and destroying each other unless there’s something introduced into the relationship that frees the parties up to serve one another humbly in love.
 
Churches and other religious institutions devolve into this pitfall all the time. Maybe you’ve been a part of a church community that was marked by biting and devouring and destroying each other, just like the Galatians were.
 
The environment is ripe for this to happen in religious contexts particularly when the focus is on the law and the rules.  Who checks the religious boxes off the best? I do, of course. Who gets to decide who’s doing enough religious stuff to be acceptable and who’s not doing enough religious stuff to be acceptable? I do, of course. And if you think the same thing, then we’re going to have a problem.  Or, conversely, we submit meekly, hoping that the powers that be will tell us that we’re okay.
 
Paul wants the Galatian church to be marked by a very distinctive characteristic—and it’s not biting and devouring and destroying one another. That kind of thing happens all the time and it’s not particularly newsworthy. But a community that served one another humbly in love? That’s spectacular. That’s distinctive. That’s worth being a part of. That’s work worth giving your life to.
 
How have you been damaged by and a participant in communities that devolve into biting and devouring and destroying one another? Ask God for healing and repent of any wrongdoing. What might it look like for you to help build a new kind of a community—one marked by serving one another in love? Pray that you’ll be an active partner in the Spirit’s work of doing that here in our church.

2 Comments

Ugh, so much pain, Jan! I think your experience of family and church being primary and secondary sources of pain are unfortunately not uncommon.
I think the greatest pain comes from the greatest intimacy, so I see families as being the scenes of the worst conflict. I worked as a family therapist for a number of years and saw incredibe damage. I think for me the greatest hardship came from family with church being a secondary source of pain. Only a willingness to forgive and reconnect through the love of Jesus can heal the damage.

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