Checking the Erosion of Relational QualityI grew up financially poor but relationally rich. My father was a sharecropper and my mother occupied her time birthing nine children—six of whom lived to adulthood—five boys and the youngest a girl. My mother and father are now gone and wait in patient respite for the voice of the archangel and the trumpet blast that will more than restore the relationships we knew and cherished and grieved at their passing. The loving, the laughing, singing, arguing and working along with a multitude of experiences made up the tapestry of our relationships.
The hardships we faced never seemed unbearable because we felt safe in the warmth and security that comes from trusting and loving each other. Our home life was not idyllic, but it was our relational bond that kept us coming back together from the far flung places where work and sibling family needs had scattered us over a period of 60 years.
A couple of weeks ago two of my brothers drove up from Texas to help me replace a roof on the detached garage that serves our home in Michigan. In reflective conversation after supper one evening, we talked of the wonder that all six of us are still alive and mostly well, but most of our conversational reasoning centered around the miracle that there was no relational stress separating any of us from each other.
Now, I should confess that I left out one relational element in the previous paragraph—fighting. During our youth we fought with each other and we fought with rivals in the community. If fact my father taught us certain rules that governed this ignominious part of our lives—we could not fight where Mom could see it. We could fight each other at home but never could we fight each other in public—that was reserved for community rivals.
The Blessings of Bonded Relationships
So how did it come that we would enjoy the blessings of bonded relationships after all the years required to get us to senior status? The Church played a huge role in that. My father and mother became Seventh-day Adventist Christians in 1959. We had grown up with no church nor did we feel particularly bound to a higher power. Those elements became a part of our lives midway through childhood and adolescence, and the impact of the values we learned and the values demonstrated by simple God-fearing people set us on a course that vaulted us over the pugnacious (mostly) into a context where the fruit of bonded Christian relationships bless us today.
Caustic Polarization and the Church
But all is not well. We live in a time when caustic polarization is whittling away at the very core of positive relational behavior. Our national politics are producing “first ever” challenges to constitutional law that have never been experienced in the history of our nation. We fight not toward resolution but toward dominance and control. Parallel with this painful reality we witness the decay of behaviors that are absolutely necessary to the formation and sustenance of healthy bonded relationships. Decency, respectful courtesies, apologies, empathy, love that is greater than partisan loyalties are relational commodities in scarce supply on the national political stage.
But we still have the church—or do we? Bonded relationships grounded in trust and personal commitment to the Gospel and the common mission held us together for over a century. Each Conference and Union is chartered with its own tax number. Our system does not assume that the general conference president is the “boss” of the union presidents or that the conference presidents are subordinate to the union presidents. In fact, each president answers to a constituency of God’s people—not to one another.
In 1980 the General Conference began to track changes that moved elements of working policy from being optional to mandated by marking such changes by printing in bold face type so that it became obvious that the option was no longer a matter of choice. Today most of the optional language in working policy is gone. That which once depended upon bonded relationships and trust has been replaced with mandated policy.
A graphic illustration of the impact of this ongoing action may be seen in comparing the working policy model constitution of 1980 to that of 2019–today bold face type dominates the view. Relational trust has been exchanged for the more controllable presence of voted mandates which give rise to the need for forced compliance which is necessary when its wiser cousin, commitment, is no longer considered adequate for the managed church.
The Evolution of the Church and Relationships
As societies and organizations emerge, they generally do so as relationally connected people who form groups that are egalitarian in nature and over time they evolve toward non-relational hierarchical entities. Our history has revealed that the church is not immune to that evolution. Power and control have no vaccine that will make people immune—it is the core of the cosmic conflict as recorded in Lucifers words in Isaiah 14, “I will rise above…” Relational bonding must be consciously nurtured. Controlling behavior must be replaced with “Come let us reason together.” That conversation must be held in the context of the sweet fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22, 23).
The blessing that my brothers and I discussed was made possible by our encounter with a church—the organic church comprised of simple, faithful, loving, God-fearing people who Sabbath to Sabbath changed or lives and our relational destiny. Keeping it relationally whole and hearty is essential to creating a transformational context for those whom destiny will call into its embrace.
Dr. Stanley Patterson, with a PhD in Leadership, teaches at Andrews University.
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