Justice vs. Quiet
Bill Cosby has an old routine about parenthood in which he describes sibling conflict and how children will appeal to their parents to intervene. Cosby notes, “Children mistakenly assume that parents want justice. The truth is, we just want quiet.” As a parent, I could relate to that tension and thought that routine was funny. What would be funny is if someone who was entrusted with power operated not from strength of character or principles but out of a desire for control and quiet.
To put this discussion in the proper framework, let me back up a couple steps and explain: The Church of the Nazarene grew out of a split with the Methodist church at the turn of the century. As such, Wesleyan Theology has always been the earmark of our denomination. Early on there was a very strong influence from Holiness theologies and 19th Century revivalism but today that influence has dissipated and a new and insidious influence has become the dominant influence: Neo-Reformed Fundamentalism.
An obvious growing tension in the Church of the Nazarene is between Wesleyan thought and Neo-Reformed Fundamentalism or what Brian McLaren calls, “Radio Orthodoxy” – religious broadcasting who through fear and guilt define what is acceptable in American Christianity. This tension between Fundamentalism and Wesleyanism is pervasive and I have witnessed it on all three districts that I served on. On the District in which I now serve, questions for ministerial candidates focus around making sure that they are in line with this “Radio Orthodoxy” rather than Wesleyan Theology.
What is most tragic is that many pastors in the Church of the Nazarene do not know the difference. Earlier this year, a University was concerned about this growing tension between the Wesleyan scholars they employ and the pastors of their region. So, they commissioned a research group to listen to groups of pastors and their perspectives on the university.
As I spoke to some of my colleagues who participated in this listening tour, not surprisingly, many of the pastors were concerned about the “liberal agenda” of the university and how the professors were not reinforcing the same things that they believed – an age old criticism of Christian universities.
When I pushed one of these pastors on the specifics, he listed not teaching biblical inerrancy, an emphasis on contemplative spirituality, and the questioning of a literal seven day creation. When I suggested that perhaps the University was the one teaching Nazarene theology and that the pastors were less “Nazarene”, his face dropped. It had never occurred to him that what the Church of the Nazarene officially believes is different than what many of its pastors believe.
My concern is that if a leader happens to want “quiet” more than “justice”, a scenario may ensue in which a Wesleyan scholar teaching Nazarene theology might be forced out of their position in order to keep the noisy fundamentalists quiet. I know that sounds far-fetched but who knows? Crazier things have happened.