on a Ministry Principle: Transparency
In Boston, most recent new
churches have been planted by denominations and men who do not believe
in women in church leadership, as
this July 2016 article discusses.
If you care about leadership opportunities for women, wouldn't you like to be told that sooner rather than later?
In the Southern Baptist
Convention (SBC), how much money for church planting comes from
slavery and segregation? How about in
the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), considering stories like
this? If you're thinking about
receiving funding for church planting, or wondering how your church is
funded, wouldn't you like to learn
these things sooner rather than later?
(Mako) know of several women who were not told up front by their church leaders
that they would be asked to stay or reconcile with husbands who were
physically abusive (see
this). Not only did they have to go through attempts
at getting help and then a messy divorce, navigating child custody
issues. They were later effectively excommunicated for
not continuing to pursue marital reconciliation with their ex-husbands.
Now it's one thing for church
leaders to hold a contested position about marriage and divorce, with
which I and many others disagree. It's another thing for them to not
disclose it far in advance. If that is the position the church
believes is faithful and leads to spiritual life, then they should
happily feature it on the church's website, on some printed literature,
or in a membership exploration class. It really hurts to find out
about a position like that when your marriage is in crisis, divorce is
immanent, and maybe you feel like your life is in jeopardy.
Here's another example:
A college freshman looking for community finds a Christian fellowship.
Unafraid of letting people know that he's gay, he's pleasantly surprised
to find that the people are so accepting. He looks through the
group's website and finds nothing about their position on sexual
orientation. He even checks the group's student constitution on
line. He has some conversations with a few students about it, but
they are not sure of what they think, and not sure how it matters in the
group. But next semester, the annual leadership selection process
starts. He discovers at that time that the group's leadership is
not "open and affirming," as he had thought, and requires new leaders to
hold the same position. He wonders why no one told him sooner.
Sadly, in my observation,
liberal Protestants tend to be transparent about their theology, because they agree with secular
liberal culture (especially in the Northeast). Meanwhile, some
conservative evangelicals hide their positions when they disagree with
the culture. Some hide the
troubling implications of penal substitution,
cost of defending Augustine on predestination. They seem to hope that people will have more motivation to
change their views to become more conservative once relationships are at
stake. A few argue that because Jesus 'hid' his messianic identity for a
time while he redefined it for his disciples, church leaders don't have to be fully transparent about positions
and policies - an interpretive error, in my opinion. Jesus never hid his
I think other people should be told on the front end
what they're getting into when they explore a Christian community. What
is the position or biblical interpretation on 'X' here? What are
the policies? When ministry leaders do not communicate this well
in advance, we disrespect the ninth commandment: "Do not bear false
witness." That is, "Do not lie and do not give false impressions,
including about yourself, especially when you know other people will be
affected." In this case, we need to be
truthful witnesses not only about other people, but to other people
about ourselves. That, too, is taught in Scripture.
See below for that.
We find the same principle in dating:
Imagine two people start dating each other. They both view their dating relationship as
a discernment period: Are they a good fit for each other for
marriage? If one person recognizes that
her/his own position on an issue (e.g. health condition, money, ideas about gender roles, hopes for children or
not, etc.) might be something the other person would view as a
deal-breaker, is it not passively manipulative to delay that
conversation? Would it not be more caring to be proactive?
Similarly, must we not also proactively help someone discern
about Jesus, or a particular church community?
Christians have a rich heritage of transparency. Christian
writers of the second century relied on an ethic of maximal
transparency about theology and church practice. They defended their positions at the front end. The
Epistle to Diognetes
was probably addressed to the tutor of Marcus
Aurelius. Athenagoras of Athens addressed his
Plea for the Christians directly to
the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the whole court, and "all philosophers." Justin Martyr of Rome addressed his
First Apology to the
Emperor Titus, "the sacred Senate, with the whole people of the Romans."
is the earliest known manuscript of the First Apology, dated
to the 4th century). He addressed his
Second Apology to the entire Senate. They obviously
intended their letters to be read by the general public.
Christians may have disguised their meeting locations from persecutors
but they do not seem to have disguised their beliefs and practices.
Christian writers wished to be politically tolerated, they could not
separate that from their Christian responsibility to do evangelism by
telling the truth. Anyone could easily disprove any false
information presented, simply by walking into a Christian worship
service and interviewing members of the community. So the Christian
writers had to give clarity, not obscurity, about Christian faith and
Sadly and ironically, the church is now associated with hiding
abusive priests and abusive husbands. But perhaps we are all learning
about transparency in authority. I hope the church returns to
its oldest convictions in more ways than one. Imagine if we could insist that corporations and governments be transparent, because the
Biblical Basis for Transparency
Jesus tells us to fulfill our
promises (Mt.5:33 – 37) and Paul tells us to discharge our debts and owe
nothing to anyone (Rom.13:8). But when one party starts or changes the
terms of a working relationship or ministry relationship without the
other party’s knowing consent, the second party is not under oath to
Scripture consistently warns
the more powerful person against modifying (i.e. breaking) oaths to more
vulnerable people. Scripture demonstrates that by condemning
characters like Laban the deceiver, who changed the terms on the more
vulnerable Jacob multiple times to basically enslave him (Gen.29 – 31).
Within the Sinai covenant,
the overarching concern about the stability of contracts seems
integrated into two commandments: the commandment to not steal and the
commandment to not bear false witness against your neighbor (Ex.20:15 –
16; Dt.5:19 – 20). Hence, in the very first section of case law
following the Ten Commandments, Moses commanded protections for the
betrothed girl who lived as a guest in another household waiting for
marriage; if the betrothal was not kept, she was free to go with honor
and without debt (Ex.21:7 – 11).
If your spouse cheats on you
(Num.5:11 – 31; Mt.19:3 – 12), or perhaps had significantly falsified
himself/herself to you prior to marriage (Dt.24:1), s/he has changed the
terms of your relationship; while you could certainly forgive and remain
with the person, you would not be under oath in principle to remain in
Israelites were to not
deceive the more vulnerable aliens and foreigners in economic
transactions; so Israel had to have just weights, balances, and measures
to be fully transparent with them in trading and making economic
promises (Lev.19:33 – 36; Dt.25:13 – 16).
Then there is a set of
principles highlighted by Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is an extended
reflection and elaboration of the Ten Commandments. Two entire
groups of commandments – commandments in Dt.21:15 – 22:4 relating to
theft and in Dt.22:5 – 23:14 relating to telling falsehoods – support
this ethic of transparency. My conclusions do not depend on
whether this literary arrangement of the book of Deuteronomy is correct,
but the material is easier to perceive this way:
Parallels Between the Decalogue and Structure of the Covenant
Stipulations (Dt.12:1 – 26:19)
1, 2, 3 (one
God, no idols, swearing)
Purity of worship, exclusion of foreign gods, name of God
Holy rhythms of daily life and concern for the poor
Respect for legitimate human authority: judge, king, priest,
Situations dealing with loss of human life
Marriage to a woman taken captive from wartime
ethos of care and compassion, especially towards neighbor and
Various commands about representing one’s self or others
Various commands about greed, protection of the vulnerable
For example, in the ‘false witness’ category are:
The law against cross-gender dressing (Dt.22:5): Back then,
cross-gender dressing might have been done to falsify one’s own
appearance. It might strain or break trust in many, many ways,
such as: gaining someone’s trust dishonestly; forming misleading
emotional entanglements; receiving the economic support by impersonating
someone else; etc.
The law against taking a mother bird along with her eggs (22:6 – 7):
Taking a mother bird would falsify one's relationship to your neighbor,
since you'd be taking something that God meant for you to share.
It would also be falsifying Israel’s relationship to the creation which
originates from God’s command to rule the creation in such a way that
will lead to its flourishing and not its extinction.
The law requiring a railing on one’s rooftop (22:8): Rooftops
were like modern day porches or balconies - hangout spaces. They
needed railings for safety. If a guest fell off, the owner would
be guilty, says the law. Inviting someone to spend time with you
without putting proactive safety measures in place endangers the guest
and misrepresents you: You say you offer true hospitality, but you
The key principle seems to be: Tricking a vulnerable person to
accept a situation you know will affect them, or changing the nature of
a relationship in a hidden way, violates the ninth commandment. It
involves falsifying yourself and bearing false witness to a neighbor
about your intentions.