Sunday, June 08, 2014

Christianity Incorporated

A thought from the apostle Paul:
“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 11:3, NASB)
I just happened across a National Post article from a few years back that serves as a superb illustration of the sort of complications (“complications” being the polar opposite of the “simplicity” Paul refers to) that arise when Christians become corporatists.

In an article called “Breaking the Jews for Jesus code”, Post writer Joseph Brean takes every opportunity to poke holes in the credibility of Jews for Jesus, an evangelical group that is a participant in a five-year long Ontario Superior Court legal “saga”.

What a pile of unfortunate muck. Nothing is ‘simple’ about this story.

The dispute revolves around one Marcello Araujo, a former employee of Jews for Jesus fired for getting married without his employer’s permission. Jews for Jesus has a standard code of employee conduct, or ‘Worker’s Covenant’ (that Araujo claims he never signed) requiring its staff to “seek counsel from those in leadership prior to entering into a courtship” and “contemplate marriage only with a believer.”

Upon discovering that Araujo had married without telling them, JFJ Canada dismissed him. They allege in court documents that Mr. Araujo “failed to select [his wife] as a spouse in accordance with the dating guidelines”.

Complicating the issue, after his dismissal a “mole” within the JFJ Canada organization emailed Mr. Araujo a valuable list of donors that Araujo apparently made use of in his new job working for Chosen People Ministries, an organization The Post refers to as a “competitor”.

Araujo promptly sued for wrongful dismissal, seeking a six-figure settlement for lost wages (he was salaried to the tune of $59,760 annually) and benefits, plus punitive damages.  JFJ Canada countersued him for “poaching donors”.

Now (because his story clearly needs more drama) Brean tells us “Marcello Araujo is scared”. Of Jews for Jesus Canada, presumably. The reasons for this are unclear (perhaps Brean contemplates a watery Lake Ontario grave, canvas shroud weighted with surplus hardcover King James bibles from the JFJ Canada warehouse), but the writer refers to “cultish aspects of Jews for Jesus, which is doctrinally indistinguishable from many conservative Christian evangelical groups”.

Hmm. “Cultish”. Let’s not miss any opportunity to tar other conservative Christian evangelicals with the same brush, Mr. Brean. Apparently even incorporating does not inoculate believers from the charge of being a cult. 

Andrew Barron, director of JFJ Canada, declined to comment. While we may be conditioned to view such things as evasions, his reluctance to add fuel to the fire may well have been the most spiritually in-key thing in the article.

*   *   *   *   *

Anyway, back to the apostle Paul and his desire for “simplicity”. I’m picking my favorite translation of this verse here because, well, I like the word “simplicity”. I can’t prove it’s the best translation choice, and I won’t try. Other versions use partial synonyms like “sincere”, “undivided” and “complete”.

Regardless, the sense of it, I think, is that devotion to Christ ought to be unadulterated by anything else. When deciding how to proceed in the Christian life, no consideration other than the will of Christ ought to govern our choice. As he himself said, “No one can serve two masters”. 

Paul is expressing his “jealousy” for the Corinthian Christians. This is not a personal jealousy; a fit of pique that a group of believers he has worked with are now listening to other teachers. Though he goes on to defend his apostleship and the truth of what he has taught them, Paul seems comparatively unconcerned about what the Corinthians think of him personally.

He is, however, deeply concerned how they think of their savior and, as a consequence, how they represent him in the world. His jealousy is “divine”. He is concerned that they will embrace a different Jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel. 

*   *   *   *   *

What a “different spirit” we have in the JFJ Canada/Araujo story. Some of the muck is indisputably organizational, some is personal.

None of it is necessary. None of it speaks well of Christianity.

Let me pick out just a few “complications” caused by this whole arrangement:

·         Mr. Araujo was salaried. Because he received a regular income and benefits from JFJ Canada, he now has a cause of action in Canadian courts. The formal, regular, documented receipt of income from employment triggers a legal right to pursue a form of redress that Mr. Araujo would not even consider if he viewed himself as a servant of Christ rather than an employee of JFJ. Talk about a “different spirit”.

·         JFJ Canada has become a big, unwieldy, corporatized entity that feels the need to regulate its employees’ personal behaviour in an extra-Biblical code of conduct, and a big enough financial target that its ex-employees feel there is something to be gained by suing it. But the “good news” we bring to a lost world is neither that lucky believers may get a chance to work in a squeaky-clean, Christianized business environment modeled after the corporate world rather than after the word of God, nor is it that society has generously given us remedies by which we can seek redress for wrongs allegedly done to us in this life. Talk about a “different gospel”.

·         Far from operating in dependence on Christ — who is (one hopes, at least) the only reason such organizations come to exist in the first place — JFJ Canada clearly views its donors as its lifeblood, or they would not be countersuing Mr. Araujo for his use of their donor list. Talk about a “different Jesus”. Any “Jesus” who needs you to file a claim in Ontario Superior Court on his behalf is not the Lord I know.

Don’t know about you, but if this is the modern Christian alternative, I’ll take simplicity any day.

I leave you with the words of the apostle Paul, which could not be more apropos:
“When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels?”
His conclusion:
“To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”

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