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
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
(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
Address: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor,
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