Blame culture and the church

I don’t know what the weather is like where you are but the so-called ‘beast from the East’ is currently battering Oldham. Snow drifts in certain parts of the borough have led to several feet of snow. Closer to my home, we had a healthy 6 or 7 inches on the ground. The main routes through the town, though well gritted, still struggled and were as snowy as I’ve ever seen them. My son and I walked a few hundred yards to the little corner shop this afternoon and the snow was up around my shins, and higher on my son.

All that, however, wasn’t enough for many. Typical of some of the tweets heading in the direction of Oldham Borough Council was this:

Apparently, despite best efforts to grit the main routes, Linda wasn’t all that happy.

The only thing that can be done when severe weather is predicted is to grit the main roads as best as they can. It was apparent that, despite having gritted the main routes, the snow and ice still managed to settle. Some felt that the Council ought to have gritted minor routes too, despite limited time and grit available. What is more, some wanted to blame the Council for the very snow and ice that settled on the main routes that they gritted. I may be in a minority of one, but I have to say I feel sorry for the Council under those circumstances. What more could they do?

The temptation for many is to seek blame. According to some, there are no circumstances under which someone can’t do something to solve whatever the problem happens to be. If there is a problem, it is automatically assumed that someone failed to do what they ought to have done. The reasoning runs thus:

  1. Whenever there is a problem someone can do something to fix it;
  2. There is a problem;
  3. Someone has failed in their duty to fix it.

We seem to be naturally self-righteous creatures. The subtle subtext is that I wouldn’t be nearly so negligent in my duties. That, of course, we know to be a lie because we continually drop the ball all the time. The only difference is that when I fail I expect grace upon grace; when others fail they rightly feel my just wrath.

It put me in mind of another conversation I had with a former member of our church. Vexed about various issues that were not wholly clear but most definitely my fault, I met with her to listen to her complaints. One concern was the lack of growth she perceived in herself. I asked how she was getting on reading her Bible and praying; she said she did those things a bit. I laid out the various means of growth available to church members and gently noted that, though she came to some of these things sporadically, she wasn’t regular. She retorted that she had ‘tried’ those things and didn’t feel they were helping.

Over the course of the conversation, I explained how I thought believers put away sin, grow and the various opportunities available at the church to receive support in these things. My friend suggested that she still saw sin in her life and didn’t feel that I was doing enough to help. I, as gently as I possibly could, tried to restate the assertion as I understood it: she had sin in her life and felt she had stalled in her growth but – despite the various opportunities for accountability, growth and encouragement of which she only sporadically availed herself – her sin and lack of growth was eminently my fault. She did not demur. I understood her correctly and she wanted me to do something – apart from all the other available somethings – about it.

The issue was that she had imbibed blame culture reasoning. The problem was her sin and lack of growth. The assumption was that she could not be the problem and that there was something someone else could do to fix it. The blame, in her mind, was well and truly attached to me because her sin had not just gone away. I explained, as best I could, that I could encourage, exhort and rebuke people with scripture such as things were appropriate. However, what I could not do was change anybody’s heart – only God is capable of that. What she was asking of me was to be her functional saviour; we could both happily agree that would never work.

This blame culture has infiltrated the church. The grounding assumption is that I cannot possibly be at fault. Where problems exist, someone or something else must be to blame. For many, the Devil is a helpful means of distancing myself from my sin. It wasn’t my sin that led to those terrible consequences, it was the Devil (probably attacking me). Otherwise, we look to the minister or elders. It’s not my fault, the pastor neglected his duties and that’s why this happened. Otherwise, we may look to other members. If they weren’t so insistent upon their preferences (for which read, if they indulged my preferences) we wouldn’t have all this in-fighting. In essence, the argument boils down to blame – someone must wear it and I know it shouldn’t be me.

So often when we are discontent we look anywhere but inwardly to find the cause. The one thing of which we are sure is that I am not at fault. We discount the fact that the heart is deceitful above all things and instead make our heart and discontent the arbiter of blameworthiness; namely anywhere but me.

But, like the snow, sometimes others have done all they can. Is Linda legitimate to blame the Council or does her frustration at the way things are stem from her own heart? Was our former member right to blame me for their sin or was their sin and discontent a matter of their own heart? That’s not to say that others are never responsible for anything it is just to say, sometimes we have to look to ourselves and ask, is this discontent someone else’s fault or does it perhaps lie somewhere inside of me?