Many of the worst injuries which have occurred in the Church happened because someone knew they should say, “We need to talk. I’m concerned about you” but they didn’t.
Read any of the anguished stories of sexual abuse suffered in the Roman Catholic Church, a Mennonite seminary, in Southern Baptist congregations and even in schools sponsored by the Presbyterian Church USA and it is clear that more than one person believed someone was behaving in an unethical and immoral way – may even have been told it directly by a victim – and yet an honest, direct conversation never took place. Or if it did, it was clear that the brother – or sister – in question did not, “as Jesus directs, “listen” and there was now accountability with the expectation of repentance, correction, and change.
Think how many lives would have been saved from grevious suffering, depression, even suicide if someone had followed through on Matthew 18. So much damage has been done to the mission of the church of Jesus Christ, because we appear untrustworthy and unrepentant we appear to the world.
Why do we find it so hard – almost impossible – to say to someone whose behavior concerns us, “We need to talk. I’m concerned about you.”?
One point of resistance is that we are polite people who mind our manners. We aren’t fond of conflict or confrontation. We would rather smile and ignore a situation than stir up unpleasantness.
Another point of resistance is our concern of losing connection with another person. What if a member gets offended and leaves the church? What if our friend stops talking to us altogether? What if this powerful person cuts us off?
A third point of resistance is our assertion that God alone can judge, so we best stay out of it. Behind that may be a fear of being judged in return. We know that people who are caught in the act or backed into a corner, who really do have something to hide, are completely capable of acting unfairly and defensively.
In the face of all of our resistance, Jesus offers this good news. The church is a community where we can take the risk of being this honest with each other because we are forgiven and forgiving people who are saturated in grace.
Jesus’ direction of how to have the “We need to talk” conversation comes just after Jesus has described how God will always search for and save the lost sheep and just before Jesus commands Peter to forgive an abundance of times and to be nothing like the unforgiving servant.
The promise of forgiveness in community creates a safe space for guilty truth to be named. Wrongs can be repented of and corrected. The peace, safety and the health of the offender and the community can be restored.
So when someone wrongs us or is doing wrong to others, what do we do? We remember that sin is our mutual business and forgiveness is all around us. We might start with a simple, “We need to talk. I am concerned.”
Jesus will be there. And when Jesus is with us, we are the church forgiven, forgiving, and accountable and we are a gift to one another and to the world.