Fairness and Justice 1

Our church was a host site for a nationwide live simulcast from Focus on the Family this past weekend.  We participated in another one of these in February.  Being a pretty small congregation, we were tickled pink when 100 people showed up for the event.  For the event this past weekend, only 20 people showed up.  We were disappointed with the turnout, but what can you do? 

Apparently, you can complain.

Which, starting yesterday and Wednesday, is what people began doing.  Other host congregations around the country started chiming in via e-mail, complaining about the low turnouts that they experienced as well, and – in some, but not all cases – wondering whether Focus on the Family could have done something differently, and ought to do something now.  Because these churches paid over $1000 for the right to host the event, not including marketing costs, and the costs of hosting the event in terms of equipment, refreshments, etc.  The idea is that the hosting fee can be recouped by selling tickets.  If this actually works out, then it’s a really good situation for congregations to offer something to the community that they couldn’t on their own. 

If it doesn’t work, you’re out a good chunk of change.  Of course, you’ve still offered something to the community, but that’s easily lost in the shock of a negative bottom line. 

So some folks were complaining and hinting that some sort of restitution might be in order.  Others were defending Focus on the Family, and placing the blame on themselves.  We didn’t pray enough for the event.  While the logic is never explicitly spelled out, the idea is that if they had prayed enough (where enough is pretty much impossible to define, since I’m not entirely sure it’s possible to ever have prayed enough) then things would have turned out differently. 

I finally had to speak my peace, knowing that my theological bent would probably be at a decidedly different angle than most of these other churches.  I pointed out the obvious first – that it’s November, and that nine months of layoffs, cutbacks, foreclosures and other economic mayhem has been at play.  Also, that this is November, and Christmas is breathing down our necks, and if we weren’t worried about money from the recession, we’re worried about how we’re going to make this a Christmas to remember through massive buying of presents. 

In other words, there are lots of very good reasons why people may have decided to take a pass on this event.  It’s not Focus on the Family’s fault for this.   There were no guaranteed attendance levels.  No guarantee that we would recoup our down payments.  They put together a program that they thought would be appealing and helpful to people.  We as churches decided that it looked appealing to us.  You pays your money and you takes your chances.

And, I reminded folks, I undoubtedly could have prayed more for the event.  However, my prayers are not some sort of incantation or silver bullet or whatever other metaphor you’d like to mix.  My prayers may alter reality in some way, but they are not guaranteed to.  God remains God.  I can pray very earnestly and at great length for something, but God decides what to do, or what to let happen.  Assuming that we’re to blame because of a lack of prayer is rather presumptuous – even as I can commend people for the desire to pray more. 

Life isn’t fair.  Life isn’t just.  Life isn’t predictable or scripted or otherwise knowable in the way that investors and stockbrokers and even congregations would like it to be.  Sometimes we try to do good things and suffer for it.  Sometimes we try to do good things and bad things happen instead.  Sometimes we try to do good things and good things happen.  We aren’t in control of the big picture.  All we can do is act faithfully to the best of our ability. 

I trust that the 20 people who showed up on Saturday enjoyed themselves and that they heard the love of Jesus Christ expressed through the simulcast.  I can still wish that more folks had showed up to benefit.  And I can take responsibility for allowing our church to do something that didn’t pan out.  But it’s the responsibility of knowing that this is how things go sometimes, and that when they don’t work out the way I want, it’s not appropriate to immediately go out looking for someone to blame.  In fact, it’s completely inappropriate.  The verse I referenced at the end of my e-mail response to this group was 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, particularly verse 7:

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.  Why not  rather be wronged?  Why not rather be cheated? 

One Response to “Fairness and Justice 1”

  1. Marie Says:

    Oh, golly, I’m really not a fan of the idea of success and failure being a sign of whether we’ve prayed enough or well enough — especially when success is measured in money which is, essentially, what high numbers of attendees meant. I’d be inclined, although I’d be wrong and presumptious to do so, to wonder if the rejoicing at the first high numbers and money made might have been a little bit of a no no and the low numbers following were supposed to be an opportunity to reflect on priorities? Isn’t this basically retailing? You buy a product thinking you can sell it and turn a profit, right? At its core? So unless the product as delivered was different from what was promised, the retailer can’t blame the wholesaler, can he?

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