Amy Sullivan, who I follow on twitter let out a bunch of tweets about this article in the NY Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/11/nyregion/riverside-church-nyc-sexual-harassment.html
Apparently the old guard, especially one old doctor, somehow hasn’t gotten the message that women want to be respected and off color comments and disparaging language will not be tolerated in a progressive church like Riverside in NYC.
I always feel nostalgic when I hear about Riverside. When I was a kid it was a favorite spot for my father. He liked the building. We could go up into the bell tower and overlook the city. He even officiated at a wedding there once where a friend of Northside married an assistant preacher there and she asked my father to officiate. As a boy the thing about that church that really impressed me was that it had its own bowling alley in the basement.
Not to anyone’s surprise the church has long been progressive, and when we say progressive it’s progressivism goes all the way back to the older progressivism that had the likes of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson’s progressivism tried in vain to have the victors of WW1 not be too vindictive towards the Kaiser and the German people. He lost that battle which of course grieved a certain Austrian corporal who would come back around a few decades later and make the Kaiser look like the strange little blue blood everyone knew him to really be. https://youtu.be/ABfPJB-2PKM
Wilson’s progressivism is viewed as flawed and highly selective. Wilson, as a small boy lived in the old defeated south and remembered seeing Jefferson Davis taken as captive of the Union armies. https://exploresouthernhistory.com/augustawilson.html
Wilson’s progressivism has not worn well among many other newer progressives. https://www.newsweek.com/princeton-woodrow-wilson-name-protests-443858 In one interesting moment the statues of both Wilson and Davis are taken out by younger progressives. https://www.infowars.com/university-of-texas-removes-jefferson-davis-woodrow-wilson-statues/
It is of course the nature of progressivism to progress who I suppose they can hardly be blamed for shedding heroes like snakes shed their skins.
The most interesting paragraph of the NY Times article for me was this one.
This month, the governing council dismissed Dr. Butler by not renewing her contract, shocking the 1,750-member congregation and touching off a wrenching debate about sexism, harassment and hypocrisy in a church where past leaders had marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr.
This was the most telling of all paragraphs because the moral and religious assumptions of the reporter were presented for all of us to see. Surely the morality of the institutional leaders is vouchsafe by having had (now likely dead) leaders having marched with MLK Jr. How could sexual harassment persist in such a holy place?!
I would have thought a reporter would have kept up better on the news.
Oh it may be fun to poke at “progressives” but of course conservatives are no better on this score. Somehow when conservatives are caught behaving badly though by progressives their conservatism is in keeping with all the sins. Trot out the letter from a Birmingham Jail and any foot-draggers can be held responsible for slowing up the movement of the line demarcating the right side of history.
Now please don’t read me as flippant here. MLK Jr. is about as big a hero as I had growing up. The whispers that his sexual sins went beyond just the extra marital affairs grieve me. I am, however, no longer a boy. My years have made me familiar with the patterns of sin not only in others but also in myself.
What surprises me is the naiveté shown by the report about sin. To me the shock of Riverside isn’t much different from the shock of Willow Creek who’s great hero Bill has been exposed to have given into temptation.
The fans of Riverside who are disturbed that its old guard would protect a “dirty dog” rather than a young(-ish. 49 is likely on the young side of that church…) star preacher who preached “powerfully” about her late term abortion. (I could write a whole separate piece on how that is played between this NYT piece and the linked article that sheds other light on the event.)
There is a hierarchy of goodness that we like to project upon leaders who excel in one thing or another. Wilson really tried to bring peace. Bill Hybels changed the church world. MLK Jr. radically changed the toleration of crippling racism in the US. We imagine that if they excel in one thing surely they must possess the whole package of virtues. Isn’t that what we mean by “godliness” or a servant of God’s Spirit?
We like to work it the other way too. If you want to take a shot at Martin Luther his anti-semitism and his backing the princes in the peasant uprising are moral cudgels easy at hand. Thomas Jefferson and his treatment of his slaves and George Washington for having slaves are ready for scourging. This goes all the way to anyone with white skin, or a penis, or a car (CO2) or an airplane ticket or land once belonging to Native peoples, on and on and on.
Belonging to a church whose leaders once marched with Dr. King I suppose is the contemporary equivalent to an indulgence releasing its members from every contemporary sin, until some smarmy privileged doctor offers a peace offering with an offensive label and then suddenly we revert to our cynicism about any house of worship no matter how many rainbow flags they fly.
“Why do you call me good. Only God is good…Keep the law”
“I have since my youth…”
“One thing do you lack… go sell everything and follow me…”
In most cases we imagine that some combination of pride, shaming and accountability can bring in the kingdom.
Fly rainbow flags or make statements about how much more serious you take the Bible than anyone else and surely no uncleanness will be found in your tribe or in your heart. We would never do such a thing (pride). We don’t tolerate such behavior in our midst (shame). We will name a committee of guardians to watch over us and hunt down the evildoers (Synod).
When we are surprised that our cherished heroes or cherished holy institutions are weak with sin it shows in what we placed our hope. pvk