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Why so many ‘difficult’ people?

17 April 2014

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.


Why are there so many "difficult" (i.e. spiteful, rude, or unforgiving) people in churches?

"Difficult" people are found in every walk of life and community, both secular and sacred, and there should be no surprise that in churches such individuals abound. The Church, of course, is a divine institution, but it wears a human face, of all sorts and conditions, and that was how it was intended to be. The well-known saying that "the Church is not a museum of saints but a school for sinners" derives its truth from the example and intention of its Founder, who once said: "I have come to call not the righteous but sinners" (Mark 2.17).

The twin parables of the wheat and tares and the dragnet in Matthew 13 were used to illustrate that the Church in this age is a corpus mixtum - a mixture of good and bad, of saints and sinners - and with the warning that it is not for the self-righteous to engage in weeding and separation.

In every age, there have been those anxious to find a perfect and ideal Church that consists only of the holy and righteous: that was the aim of the Donatists in the fourth century African Church, and of those Puritans who left the Catholic Church because she included bad as well as good Christians.

The lesson of church history is that this ideal is never actualised, and superior self-righteousness is far from the mind of Christ, who chose a mixed bunch as his disciples, and still invites those in whom the old Adam reasserts himself in spite, arrogance, rudeness, and an unforgiving spirit.

These "difficult" people have a place in the Church, through which the Holy Spirit works the means of their sanctification. Meanwhile, a fellowship of forgiven sinners strives to live together in love, charity, and forbearance.

(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthshire

As a vicar's wife, I offer two theories. The church is one of the few remaining places where tolerance and forbearance can be relied upon; so those who have been ousted from clubs, friendships, and often from their own families can encounter acceptance. Second, they are in more need of the grace of God than more lovable folk, whether they consciously admit this or not.

Name and address supplied

A friend suggests that this is because churches offer a place where it is "safe" to be unpleasant or difficult. There is something in that, but I think it is also because of our longstanding habit in churches of avoiding or dealing ineptly with conflict and difficult behaviour.

"Difficult" people often express disagreements in vicious sideways snipes, while the rest of us, including those in leadership or ministry, either join in or look on aghast, but keep our mouths shut.

(Mrs) Alison Moore
New Brancepeth, Co. Durham

There are probably not; but we naïvely expect all churchpeople to be nice. The trouble is that religion reaches into the guts, making it hard to discuss views and ideas dispassionately, while the general decline of the churches encourages blame culture and defensive attitudes. I am fortunate to have met many truly loving and wonderful people though 60 years' contact with congregations.

(Canon) John Goodchild

A Reader in our parish for two years is to be "fast-tracked" to ordination and be the curate this year, not having been to a Bishops' Advisory Panel. The churchwardens have not been consulted about character or suitability. Can this legally be done? Can any appeal be made, and to whom, as our Bishops are not listening?

Address: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.


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