In this world we sometimes meet people with a handicap; some in wheelchairs, some blind or deaf, some with Downs Syndrome, disabled veterans of war, the list goes on. When we meet these people, we are reminded of how blessed we are as fully functional persons. Yet upon closer examination we may be able to detect a hidden emotional or psychological handicap within ourselves, sometimes referred to in our culture as Dysfunction. The purpose of this entry is to discuss characteristics of a dysfunctional family; how dysfunctional family members comprise the local dysfunctional church; and how the dysfunctional the Church has been throughout American history. References used will be from "Two Trains Running" by August Wilson, "A Loaf of Bread" by James Allen McPherson, and "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King Jr.
Most families today, as pop culture gurus tell us daily through our television screens, are dysfunctional. The daily dose of talk shows on TV (and radio) put the dysfunctional American family on display in efforts to draw our attention to inter-personal familial relationships and how they are miserably failing in this modern era. Dysfunctional families are often characterized by child/spousal abuse and child/spousal neglect. Yet, sometimes, even in the most pristine environment dysfunction can raise its ugly head through drug and/or alcohol abuse, peer pressure at school or work, or any number of of social/media influences that could cause one to veer off the course of being a fully functional and responsible member of the family. August Wilson, the famous playwright, wrote a play called "Two Trains Running" set in 1969 Pittsburgh, PA. The tale is spun of a handful of dysfunctional characters congregating at a local diner. A character by the name of Sterling gives a discourse on what is wrong with most of the people he has encountered in his life; saying to those assembled at the diner, "People don't pay you half as much mind as you think they do...Most people so busy trying to live their own lives they ain't got time to pay attention to nobody else. I used to think everybody cared what I did. I robbed that bank and thought people would be mad at me. Half of them didn't even know I was gone. Five years ain't nobody missed me. They didn't even think about me till they saw me again".
One need not look too far to find the truth in this statement. The more educated and "enlightened" our society becomes the less people seem to care about one another. Even in the context of family life, most parents don't really know their own children and would be surprised if they knew what their children were really like. All too often our children get lost in the shuffle of daily life as we rush from job to job to pay our bills and taxes. The non verbal message we send our children is that they are not important enough for us to spend a significant amount of time with them. This, I believe, is the first step towards dysfunction; being much too busy to give our children the attention they desperately need to grow into healthy, stable minded adults. We rob them of good memories and replace them with the idea of how we neglected to initiate an intimate, caring, and respectful relationship.
As children grow one of the things most parents try to convey is a healthy belief in God. For many families this involves taking the children to a local church ( or Synagogue, Mosque, etc.). At these institutions of religious learning, parents are certain that the church will be able to impart knowledge of the Divine as well as provide role models worth emulating.So many parents don't know enough of why they believe what they believe to impart any knowledge or understanding.
Still, many parents stay away from church altogether, thinking it a waste of their time but insisting the children attend the ecumenical babysitting service. This presents the child with a model of inconsistency; for it is common knowledge that children are imitators, and mostly imitate their parents. For parents that do attend church with their offspring if the belief that is being taught at church is not being modeled at home, then the parents appear as frauds to their children; unworthy of emulating.
The noted Author James Allen McPherson gives us an example of a prominent church member who brings his dysfunction into the church (and neighborhood) in the short story "A Loaf of Bread". In this story, the dysfunctional deacon who goes by the name of Nelson Reed believes that the local Caucasian grocer is attempting to rip-off the ghetto patrons who rely on his store for sustenance, and is angered more by his own thought of the grocer than by the actions of the grocer. At one point in the narrative Reed bursts forth with his angry accusation to the grocer: "All I know is you done cheat me, you done cheat everybody in the neighborhood, and we organized now to get some of it back!...I raised my kids the way my daddy raise me...don't you know I'm gonna raise some hell!". Self righteousness and ungodly anger are poor motivators if you are really trying to influence someone. Many members of the modern church are as dysfunctional as this deacon in regards to putting their faith into action; insisting on their own version of "Christianity" and doing things according to their own understanding instead of relying upon Scriptures as their guide.
Throughout many chapters of human history the Church at large has acted in a dysfunctional manner. American history teaches us that the Church has been just as dysfunctional within our borders as anywhere else in the world. Take for example, the American practice of slavery, when slaves were taught that the Good Book says for "slaves, obey your masters in all things" (Col.3:22) and yet were forbidden to read the Bible and understand the context it was written in for themselves! Even after the Civil War had been fought and won by the North, after Lincoln had freed all the former slaves, black skinned Americans were still denied their American right to freedom of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"(US Constitution). They were refused the right to vote, denied equal pay and good paying jobs, restricted from living in neighborhoods their white counterparts didn't want them to reside in, told by the law they couldn't attend the same schools as whites, and on numerous occasions they were lynched just for being black.
Although certain denominations bemoaned the way blacks were treated in the culture in the culture of their day, nothing was done on a large social scale to oppose racist thought and lifestyle (within the confines of the church) until a black preacher named Martin Luther king Jr. rose to prominence in the late 1950's and early 1960's. As one who represented the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he called on many across our land to demonstrate in a peaceful and non-violent manner for the equal rights and equal treatment of all citizens who reside in our country. Because of his leadership of this large non-violent movement, he was targeted by the authorities wherever he led demonstrations. Many times he was arrested and thrown in jail in an effort to dissuade him from the course God had laid out for his life. While in the Birmingham jail, he penned a letter now know as "Letter from Birmingham Jail" to organized church leaders of his day: "Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being 'disturbers of the peace' and 'outside agitators'...So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound...but the judgement of God is upon the Church as never before. If today's Church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club..."
This stinging rebuff of the Church of the 1960's still fits for today's dysfunctional believers. Since the assassination of Dr. King, no Church leader has arisen to be the voice of a collective social conscience, nor has any Church leader put their life on the line, as King did, to facilitate healing and reconciliation in the modern Church or society. Instead, government and special interest groups are being allowed to dictate social policy because the Church refuses to take a stand and lead society by the words of Scripture and the example of Jesus Christ.
It's high time we learned our function, dys is getting us nowhere.