Monday, May 30, 2005

Star Wars III: The need for transparency

I finally caught Star Wars III this weekend. I've been looking forward to this one because I am fascinated by the methods in which the spiritually gifted fall into darkness. People with great gifts often start with the right kind of humility and awe of the power given to them, only to crash and burn in the fire of their own pride. The process of getting to that point is rarely visible to the naked eye. It's why Christians are often in shock when a man or woman whom God has endowed with seemingly endless ability falls into sin. It seems like a sudden thing when it is really a gradual decline.

I was curious how Anakin would make the leap from impetuous youth (very common) to the leader of all darkness (not so common). George Lucas nailed this one. Anakin's slip was a gradual one caused by his own insecurities, his own fear, and ultimately, his inability to submit to the right authority. While there was leadership in place to keep him accountable, this story is a powerful revelation how there is no accountability if we choose not to participate.

While the spirituality of Star Wars bears only the vaguest resemblance to the Christian faith, the organizational structure looks a lot like the structure of many churches today:

  • There is a high council where a select handful rules with authority. While one, in this case Yoda, appears to be the leader of the group, the other Jedi on the council binds him. They seek agreement amongst each other in the spirit of the Force they serve.

  • Jedis are paired in twos, one as a teacher and the other as a student, or padawan. Maybe this could be a senior pastor and assistant pastor. Maybe this is a pairing for the mission field. Perhaps this could model a husband and wife. However you like to compare it, there is an implicit discipleship pairing of twos also common to New Testament ministry where the teacher is responsible for both the physical health and spiritual growth of the student -- and they are to be accountable to each other, because the final authority to which we are accountable is the Word, not the teacher.

  • The Jedis appear to govern by sourcing their principles, spiritual understanding, all in constant comparison to their own history (1,000 years of history is a common reference).

  • Each Jedi is accountable to each other, the council, and their mission to serve all life and the "light side" of the force. Service of one is service of the other. They are interchangeable.

  • With all of this structure and organization, the Jedis still could not prevent the fall of Anakin, whom by all accounts was the most naturally gifted Jedi. He was prophesied to be "The One," a powerful, spiritually enlightened Jedi who would bring down the powers of darkness that had begun to blind and weaken the followers of the light side and "bring balance" to the force.

    Anakin's departure did not begin with wholesale defiance, it began with his disobedience -- internally negotiated by his fear and the best of intentions:

  • He went to the aid of his mother despite the objections of his leaders. He could not save his mother from a horrible death, but extracted revenge on those who raped and killed her as well as those related to the evil doers, a genocidal act that was clearly in opposition to the principles of his faith.

  • He began a secret affair with Padme, although (as we learn in Star Wars II) apparently Jedis are called to celibacy in an attempt to foster a greater love of all living things. In Star Wars III, Yoda warns Anakin of a jealous love that is of the dark side (see Matt 10:37, where Jesus tells us to distinguish our love of God from the love of family and friends). Anakin was seeking advice about dark dreams in which he saw pregnant Padme die at childbirth.

  • Anakin's fear and disobedience allowed darkness to speak into this life by way of the Chancellor. With the promise of preventing Padme's death, Anakin gives into the darkness where he did not allow the "light side" to speak to his heart.

  • Through all of this, Anakin verbalized his subservient position with teacher Obi Wan -- in spite of his momentary bouts with pride. Even right up to his fall, he confesses both submission and humility to Obi Wan. His teacher responds with an exhorting word this builds him up. Anakin's faux humility was a guise, defeating the principles of accountability. He never truly submitted to Obi Wan's authority (or the Jedi Council's, for that matter), because he never revealed his genocide on Tantooine or his illicit affair with Padme. This secretness was his path to the dark side. Those things he kept in darkness allowed darkness to swallow his whole heart.

    Hebrews 12:14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

    Right up to the fall, Anakin knew of the consequences of his action. However, his love of his (secret) wife came before his responsibilities to all living things. His fear of death trumped his respect for life. This is a spiritual blindness we can all relate to.

    The fall of gifted Christian leaders is rarely so dramatic. More often than not, it's a common weakness -- a heart of lust, a heart of pride, a longing for personal power -- that leads to the fall. Their sins are kept in private, even though they may have an outstanding accountability methodology. However, unless they are truly willing to submit the secrets of their heart to the light of council, there is no method of accountability that can prevent their fall.

    This lack of transparency can be a church killer because many have placed their faith in God through the ministry of these people. Scripture appears to reveal an especially harsh judgement of the fallen because of the strife they bring to God's faithful who follow them (2 Peter 2:20-22).

    Of course, willing transparency can only be fostered in a community that is free of legalistic judgement. It can only exist in a community of grace and love. I know of a situation where an assistant pastor in a church held a grudge against his senior pastor for divulging very personal confessions to another pastor outside of their church. This outside pastor proceeded to put condemnation on the assistant pastor. Bitterness consumed the assistant pastor and trust was lost.

    Instead of bringing this very real grievance to a higher council or finding another church, this AP did what he felt God had called him to do and he resubmitted to that church -- but at a great cost to his heart. Sins in his life that he had felt freedom to confess before became things that he kept in darkness. He negotiated this business by saying he didn't want to "stumble" anyone in his church. In his outward life he had learned all the right words and body language of a man God had rightfully placed in authority. His theology was flawless. Inside his house and beyond purview of the church, he and his wife began living a life of sin. A few years later this came to head and his sin was exposed, his bitter heart was now defiant, and he renounced the authority of God and that church.

    Accountability and transparency go hand in hand with love, grace, and mercy. It is not just for leadership, it is for the entire body. God put us in account to him, and we are to account for each other. How serious does God take it? I think this is the kind of situation God was talking about in Ezekiel 3:20:

    Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.

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