Habakkuk and Faith Community Accountability

I really like the Book of Habakkuk… a book that is hardly known by many Bible readers. For those who don’t know, here is a very loose paraphrase of the book in conversant form:

Habbakuk: “God. I keep praying and praying, but you don’t listen. Your people are living lives of violence and injustice. When will you step in and fix things?”

God: “Habakkuk, I have heard your prayers. Don’t worry, I have things under control. I am sending in the Babylonians and they are going to sweep down upon Judah and destroy everything in their path. That should solve the things.”

Habakkuk: “God, that’s hardly an improvement! And how can you justify punishing bad people by using people who are even worse?”

God: “Didn’t I say I have things under control? I may be using the Babylonians for my purpose, but don’t worry… I will ensure that justice and righteousness triumph in the end.”

Then Habakkuk ends with a psalm of praise to God with a famous passage that expresses the tension between trust in God and the ambiguity of present circumstances:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength,

he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

he enables me to go on the heights.”

Why am I mentioning this? Here in the Philippines, a major news topic has been the PDAF (or “pork barrel” funding). This is money made available to politicians for development projects. Unfortunately a scandal has developed where it was found that some funds were funnelled into NGOs (private charities) and then misused (including NGOs acting to launder money back to politicians).

Okay, that doesn’t really explain anything, But, my wife and I have helped found three NGOs in the Philippines (and are on the board of trustees of a fourth). One (Dakilang Pagibig DIADEM Ministries) does medical missions ministry. One (Bukal Life Care & Counseling Center) does pastoral care, crisis response, and Clinical Pastoral Education. One (CPSP-Philippines) oversees certification of CPE training and training centers.

The challenge is that this scandal has put NGOs under increased scrutiny. Happily, we get nothing from the government, and the annual budget of Bukal Life Care is in the vicinity of $4000, while CPSP-PI is even less. But it is a wake-up call to NGOs including religious NGOs, to ensure that they are not only honest, but also use sound accounting practice. Sometimes religious organizations are quick to apply church-state separation to justify practices that are questionable in the secular world. However, honest and ethical behavior with good oversight allows them to act confidently and transparently in a time of caution and distrust.

Okay, so now why am I mentioning THAT? We live in a time of scandal… including religious scandal. Evangelical Christians aren’t too bothered when scandals hit other religions. Evangelical Christians aren’t too bothered when scandals hit other Christian groups with beliefs we have issues with. Many will, in fact, share such scandals with Friends, Family, and FaceBook. I know a guy (not a friend on FB, but a friend of a friend) who seems to copy every negative and embarrassing report regarding the Roman Catholic church onto his FB page and pages he is connected with. There is something a bit perverse about that. (It will be hard to feel much sympathy when attacks swing his way.)

But when such a scandal hits Evangelical Christians, they (we?) commonly feel like they (we) are being unfairly persecuted. They shift into Cover-up, or Complain, or  Condemn mode. I remember being in the US Navy decades ago. When a scandal would hit the Navy, the Navy would go through a fairly predictable pattern. First, cover-up, cover-up, cover-up. If, that doesn’t work, they would go into plan B… witch-hunt, witch-hunt, witch-hunt. Both are protective measures for the ones in leadership positions. The first protects by hiding. The second protects by scapegoating. The church tends to do the first step (cover-up). Sometimes it goes to scapegoating, but sometimes it goes to martyr/complaint mode. “We live in an evil and corrupt world… no wonder they are unfairly attacking us. The fact that we are being attacked by the world shows that we are following God…”

But I look at Habakkuk and see another possibility. The Church (along with associated structures… both church and parachurch)  should set a high standard and enforce such high standards. But sometimes the church fails in this. It becomes like Judah in Habakkuk that has fallen into the evils that it was supposed to reject. God then brings in external justice since the internal justice mechanisms failed.

When evangelical churches and evangelical organizations get challenged from the outside for corruption and other evils, maybe they shouldn’t go into cover-up and martyr modes. Perhaps they should try to see if the attacks have some validity, and wonder whether this is God’s way of getting their attention.

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