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Are Christians also human beings? Are we permitted to talk about our lives the way other humans do? Can we admit mistakes, confess uncertainty, and be honest about conflicts? Is it okay not to have an airtight spiritual explanation for everything that happens?

One of the greatest causes of cynicism among Christians is the way we lather God-talk over our lives in order to obscure realities we consider too painful to discuss directly.

Consider this example from church life (though such situations are not confined to local churches). A minister is not happy in his place of service. He wonders whether he was right in accepting this call in the first place. He has dealt with painful personality conflicts, constant power struggles, and criticism. Now he is leaving. He is leaving because he can't take it anymore. His future is most uncertain.

But he believes that he can't say any of these things. There is an unwritten Code in the church (and not just this church) that dictates how a minister says goodbye. So he says, "God spoke to me and is leading me to a different place of service at this time. I appreciate the opportunity to be your pastor. I now must move on to wherever God leads me next."

Everybody on the inside of the situation knows what these words really mean: "I am miserable here. I can't take it any more. At this point, I would rather be unemployed than continue to serve here. I'm not sure exactly where God is in all of this, but in any case, I know that I must move on. I sure wish you would deal with the issues that have led me to this point, but I won't tell you what those are, so I doubt that you will actually deal with them."

A departing pastor does a church no favor by not discussing its dysfunctions. How much better ...

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Do Likewise
David P. Gushee serves as Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, where he also chairs the Mercer Lyceum initiative on rebuilding democracy. His column ran from 2005 to 2007.
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September 2006

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