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The church encourages good

A response to Kagure Mugo’s “The church has more money than God”.

By Philip Burnett

I was going to call this piece “In defence of the church”, but then changed my mind as I don’t feel like entering into partisan discussions. My basic contention is that the good done by religion and “the church” far outweighs the bad, and that this is something that ought to be considered, rather than going down the hackneyed route of rather boring church bashing.

First, to clarify what I mean by the church. Literally, it signifies the whole body of Christendom, which has very wide boundaries owing to the plethora of denominations which call themselves Christian. St Matthew’s gospel (16:18) tells us that Jesus Christ established “the church” when he said to Peter, his apostle, “Tu es Petrus et super hanc Petrum aedificabo ecclesiam meum” (“On you, Peter, I build my church.”) Jesus Christ encouraged his apostles and followers to forsake the trappings of an earthly life, and to focus on the service of God through expressing love for those with who they share a common humanity. This is the mandate he also gave to “the church”. It’s like the preamble to the Constitution.

It’s important to remember that this, of course, is an ideal. Christ was probably well aware that as humans we are not capable of always living up to such lofty and ambitious mandates. It is difficult, particularly in our own time when we live in a society that encourages individual liberty, success, and materialism to such an extent that we define our identities according to what we drive, what phone we own etc. We don’t realise it but our personal greed affects others — the child toiling under slave conditions to make that Armani shirt, the pregnant mother making a part for an iPhone. That fundamental basis on which the church was founded — a respect for others based on humility and a respect for all humanity — would do a lot of good in our secular society with its emphasis on individual liberty and success.

Through the ages an awful lot of evil has been perpetrated by “the church” in the form of acts that have been in direct contravention of Christ’s mandate. It would be naïve of me not to mention these. There have been the crusades, the inquisition, wars have been waged in the name of religion, the church has actively supported human beings killing each other. There are lesser and greater evils that have existed and continue to exist.

Yes, it is wrong for pastors to manipulate their congregations and to spread false beliefs just so that they can line their pockets, or have a power trip: they ought to be flagged for this and face the consequences from society. There are matters that are Caesar’s, and matters that are God’s. We ought to remember, however, that deception is a human trait, and we are all susceptible to it. It is not “the church” that is being deceptive it is humans using “the church” and religious beliefs to manipulate their own ends. It is precisely because we are humans that we fail. And something that religion teaches us is to accept our humanity and all its failings.

That is not to say that we are all bad and must live in guilt and shame over our condition. Rather, membership of a religious organisation, such as the church, teaches us that we belong, and that we are valued — all of our being is. The church encourages good: it encourages goodness to spread. Think of a person, and I know of many, whose only sense of community is the church they attend. Their week revolves around church attendance because they know it is a time when they will be accepted as part of a group. Society is not giving to them that affirmation or sense of belonging that we humans crave. But the church is.

Personally, I feel very let down when I read of corruption in the church, whatever the denomination, especially as I know that it is tainting all the good that is being done in it. But I feel more let down when people use these instances to attack an institution of which they clearly know nothing. I’m not advocating a rosy, sun-filled image of the church: as with any human organisation there are going to be problems and these need to be highlighted and discussed. But there’s always another story that needs to be acknowledged in any discussion. And in this case it is about a lot of goodness. It’s important to remember this.

Philip Burnett was born and educated in Cape Town, and at Rhodes University. He enjoys listening to and making music, reading, and all things related to cricket.


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    • Vince-0

      You’re going to try “weigh” the various Crusades against anything else? Nice math.

    • bernpm

      “I was going to call this piece “In defence of the church”, but then changed my mind as I don’t feel like entering into partisan discussions……”

      The writer of the previous article, you refer to, has done very well in the race for response counts. He has already ticked a score of 34.

      Reading the title of your article I was looking forward to another religious war which you say you will not want.

      I will keep an eye on your score.

    • Momma Cyndi

      ??? so when something goes right, it is the ‘church’ or your ‘god’ that gets the credit but when something goes wrong, it is the fault of individual people ???

      are you thinking of going into politics?

    • Chris Cross

      “The church encourages good: it encourages goodness to spread.”

      Does this only apply then to the Christian religion only? Is the teaching of ‘good’ exclusive to Christianity?
      Does this statement apply to the Old Testament as well, where in ‘Leviticus’ for example there are countless instructions on what ‘punishments’ should be meted out, or which and how many innocent and defenceless animals should be killed as recompense for what was then considered ‘human error’
      Or is ‘the church’ to which you are referring only ‘an interpretation’ depending on which way you want to swing it – as Momma Cyndi rightly says?

      If its primary function is ‘a sense of belonging’ – why not call it what it effectively is – a ‘social club’ … a place you can visit once a week, read the same passages over again, hear the ‘Momma Cyndi’ slant put onto it in the sermon, and get to chat with a few people?

    • Azul Idgaf

      By promoting ignorance, the church is promoting good? I rest my case…

      It’s like america talking about “democracy” yet goes around force-feeding, through their noses, hunger-strikers. You can take your christendom and democracy and shove it up where the sun don’t shine.

    • David

      Just like money, religion can only be good for society. Money just sits there as a medium of exchange. But people kill, cheat, steal and do horrible things, to the extent of even using RELIGION, to either to get it or retain it. If you were to scratch under the surface a bit, you will find out that even the so called religious wars had nothing to do with religion, but money and power.

    • http://none Richard Becker

      Believing in forgiveness through human sacrifice is good?
      Covering up for priests who molest small children is good?
      Cosigning people to hell who were born in a different era or different part of the world and don’t know about Christianity is good?
      You and I must be living on different planets.

    • Jeffrey Jones

      ““Tu es Petrus et super hanc Petrum aedificabo ecclesiam”.
      Jesus spoke Latin?

    • Antman

      Why is it that people free to sew forth hateful, abusive comments at Christianity? Is it because they believe that they won`t have to account for this, hiding behind anonaminity or a pseudonymn? Unfortunately we all have to give account for everything even when I`m `undercover` .Why is it so `easy` for someone like Azul Idgaf to say what he does against Christendom with little or no remorse?Dignity and selfrespect has by and large been the hallmark of any discussion or debate by Christians so in response to you Azul I say `peace brother`!

    • Momma Cyndi


      You see nothing at all ironic about your comment?

    • Jan Swart

      People who don’t believe are free to do so, because THEY ARE FREE! Geddit?
      “To anyone who says that without God we are nothing, I say don’t talk to me in that tone of voice. I am not a slave and I am on the side, of anyone who is, on their emancipation.” – Christopher Hitchens

    • Jan Swart

      Eskimo: “If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?”
      Priest: “No, not if you did not know.”
      Eskimo: “THEN WHY DID YOU TELL ME?’

    • MOLOI

      Profound analytical piece of writing. God bless.

    • Milo

      Everyone just take a breath.
      The point here is that do not be so easy to couple the institution with those that practice in it. Yes many many priests (practitioners) do wrong, but that should not take away from the essence of the church (the institution). So beacuse we have a lacklustre schooling system, does that mean that education is bad…..throwing the baby out with the bath water are we?
      The church is good, anything that preaches love is good and serves a great purpose. Dont be blind sided by the culprits in it

    • Jeffrey Jones

      I do not see or hear the “church” preaching love of homosexuals. Their mealy-mouthed “love the sinner, hate the sin” amounts to hating homosexuals. You cannot divorce homosexuals from their homosexuality.
      The “church” also collect huge amouts of money from people who can ill-afford to spare it. They use this money to build grand buildings for their “worship”. That money is going to the wrong people, for the wrong reason.
      The “church” prevents people from using their own intellect and reason to figure things out for themselves and makes them a slave to false hope.

    • Wondering…

      If a tree produces rotten fruit does that not mean that the tree is rotten and should be cut down?
      Is there one religion that has not borne bad fruit?
      I don’t think so…

    • Jan Swart

      We should all share in God’s moral examples. He killed 70 000 innocent people because David called out a census (1 Chronicles 20). He ordered the destruction of 60 cities in order that the Israelites could live there, and ordered the killing of every man, woman, child, young and old, as well as sheep, oxen and asses (Joshua 6). He ordered the murder of all the people of Jabesh-Gilead, except for virgin girls who were to be forcibly raped. When they ran out of virgins, God told His people to hide along the roadside and when they saw a girl they liked, to kidnap and rape her (Judges 21). God ordered the murder of all the worshippers of a different god in their own church (2 Kings 10:18 – 27). He allows for the selling of your own daughter as a sex slave (Exodus 21: 1 – 11), child abuse (Judges 11: 29 – 40), and the bashing of babies against rocks (Hosea 13:16). Thank you, God, for giving such great examples of morality, and for creating a religion that is a force for good in the world.

    • Kagure Mugo

      I would love to first clarify that i know that there is a great deal of good that has been done by the church. As i also understand that there is a spectrum of pastors. I myself come from a family filled with people of God who are very awe inspiring. My aunt for one gave up a great deal (monetary and other wise) to spread the gospel and do good. I however do not feel that this preclude the church from being criticised. I myself am Christian and see first hand what these churches do and do not do.

      And my piece should form part of a greater critique rather than a universal acceptance which is just as negative as saying that criticising ‘clouds’ the good done. Not criticising also does as it allows for a great deal of negative actions. No one is perfect but that does not mean they should be left to their own devices. There is great need for critique opf the church as it always jumps to the defensive and to the ‘look at the good i have done’. That is the problem

      I see there are a great number of people who argue against the idea of inherent good in the church, my piece sought to highlight something very bad and thus raise debate, critique and make the church and its congregants see that there is a problem and in return ‘be better’.