Leaders and constituencies both religious and secular are floundering in the complex communications landscape of the early 21st Century. The prevailing cultural mosaic is an awkward marriage of hyper-tolerance and a Puritanical demand for absolute devotement to some "party line," a particular theological perspective or a specific denominational mantra. In other words, each sub-culture sees perfect, absolute adherence to the tiniest bits and pieces of its philosophical agenda as of far greater importance than pragmatic leadership.
This is certainly true of but by no means peculiar to politics. Throughout American history the “half-a-loaf” philosophy guided pragmatic negotiations among politicians of every stripe; a Stalinesque "scorched earth" approach now demands all or nothing. In fact, not just a whole loaf or nothing, but a whole loaf or I burn down the bakery. If a bill doesn't satisfy the purists in every point they would be happy to sink the ship of hope rather than accept a partial victory.
In this toxic atmosphere, leaders are struggling to understand why "how they say it" can cause a riot, literally, while managing successfully gets drowned out by the noise of the mob. All this is especially difficult for veteran leaders who cannot figure out which contradictions will be tolerated and which minuscule departures from the "vocabulary of the righteous" will not.
Younger Americans who despised the legalism of their parents are among the angriest and most legalistic generations the West has ever produced. Eager to pounce, they wait with hidden daggers (or protest signs pre-painted) for any tiny verbal departure from their prescriptive linguistic litmus tests. Verbal "failures" they construe as political, philosophical or religious "wickedness" and, therefore, sufficient grounds for any response they the "righteous" should deem appropriate, which means basically anything.
If this was only to be found in Washington or just in the streets among the ANTIFA, thugs, we might take solace. Alas, it is everywhere, even in the church. I know a pastor who had well and successfully pastored the same church for nearly thirty years who went through a hellish, and I use the word advisedly, revolt because he did not use the correct words in a sermon about home vs. public schooling. He did not preach against home schooling. He just did not employ the "correct" vocabulary of endorsement or treat the subject with the sufficient passion or whatever, and those thus violated would not let go of it. He lived over it. His church is still intact, though smaller in numbers than it once was, but that pastor is now struggling with what he calls "emotional fatigue."
Another pastor I know faced a firestorm because he prayed in public with some teacher of whom the apologetics purists in his church disapproved. He did not espouse that person's theology of prayer or his style of ministry. He simply dared to appear on the same platform and, God forbid, pray with him.
As if the "tyranny of the correct" were not enough we also face the "legalism of the exact." At one church I accidentally misquoted a statistic in a church newsletter. Though I apologized the next day in a follow up letter, the Puritans in the house denounced it as "too little, too late." They wanted me to commit harakiri on the church steps, and anything less was too little, too late.
What shall we say to these things, at least to "these things" in the church?
I. Churches and believers must be taught the difference between action and motive. A pastor, or any leader, as unlikely as this seems, may occasionally do something differently than you would. That does not necessarily mean the motive was wrong. Claim the right motive for leaders with whom you differ and watch how the heat goes down.
II. Do not easily sacrifice personal history and relationship on the altar of linguistic or theological purity. To bring down the pastor who has dedicated your babies, prayed with your sick and buried your dead is no small thing. An ungrateful and judgmental legalism is un-Christlike and grievous to the Spirit.
III. Do not cherish the myth or your own infallible superiority. As remote as it seems, as bizarre as this thought is, you may be wrong. Humility is a great grace and one which God will bless with honor. Pride in your own rightness, and thereby condemning the wrongness of a leader is a passage to rebellion.
IV. The only hill Jesus died on was Calvary. It is high risk Christianity to die on more hills than Jesus did. Always remember, this just may not be the horrendous nightmare of a mountain you think it is. Dying on the wrong mountain is foolish. Dying on a molehill, ANY molehill is absurd.
V. Finally, Jesus died on Calvary. He never crucified anyone on Calvary or anywhere else.