Crossing lines (or, none of my business)

The crime drama Crossing Lines is intriguing in that various countries are involved.  (Donald Sutherland always seems to draw me in, too.)  The principal characters work for an international agency and regularly cross national boundaries in order to halt multinational criminal activities.  Those lines should be crossed at the right time by those people.

Some other lines probably shouldn’t be crossed at all.  Some matters that draw our initial attention turn out to be none of our business.  And it’s probably a sign of maturation when one can discern what’s what, turning his attention away more often than not, not crossing the line by meddling in someone else’s business.  I myself am a recovering meddler.

Once upon a time, I recall (immaturely) sneaking a peek at a letter—a letter sitting out in “plain sight” but which I shouldn’t have read after the initial, unintentional glance.  The letter was from a preacher in a little church an hour away, addressed to the elders in my church; it was warning of impending infiltration by recently divorced/remarried persons.  Those remarried people were coming our way, the preacher warned.   I think that preacher meddlingly crossed a line by informing our elders like this:  “Here’s who these people are, and here’s what we did to them, and this is why you should refuse them in your congregation.”  It’s not as though there were child abuse or embezzlement involved; it was a matter of “doctrinal” opinion.  The warning letter amounted to meddling at best, and I might even go so far as to depict it as vindictiveness enveloped in “Christian concern.”  I really don’t think it was any of that first church’s business.  And it wasn’t mine, either.  Not at that point, anyway.

That was a couple decades ago.  In the intervening years, I have often become troubled, and sometimes have offered unsolicited suggestions, to church leaders and others here and there.  These days, when I discover an issue in a church I visit, unless it involves egregious fraud or illegal activity, I figure it is probably also none of my business, so I rarely will cross the line, not meddling unless a door is opened to me.  Whether it is

  • evidence of tyranny or something else authoritarian
  • the stubbornness of warring parties, or some other sinful attitude
  • nepotism or something similar (congregational in-breeding can be divisive)
  • something technical, such as poor use of PowerPoint or lack of proper equalization settings on the sound board
  • something procedural or logistic, such as the inconsistent restriction of women from certain serving roles (when they are freely allowed to serve in other roles)

… it is probably not my concern to help straighten it out, unless asked.  At one point I needed to hear myself saying this out loud.  I am an analyst, a fixer, and a critic by nature, and my strong inclination is to approach folks about problems and issues, with a view toward improving the situations, rooting out the erroneous influences, and correcting the flaws, no matter how minor.  Now, I generally leave other institutions’ problems alone.

Even as I was drafting this little essay while sitting at a professional conference, I was thinking of a minor detail or two that the conference venue could have improved, such as a speedier refresh-rate on the electronic signage, and keeping traffic away from the break-out lecture rooms, so the hallway noise wouldn’t distract those inside the rooms as much.  But I refrained from making any un-requested suggestions.  To bend someone’s ear about things like that would’ve been crossing a line.

At least, when the matter doesn’t directly concern me, i.e., in a church I’m visiting, it’s better just to let it go.  It’s none of my business.

B. Casey, March 2014 (rev. Sep 2015 & Jul 2016)

[1] I got the impression that the now-remarried man and woman were on the receiving end of so-called church discipline and had been withdrawn from (a/k/a “dis-fellowshipped”).  This action would once have been quite common in the denomination in which I was raised.[1]  Basically, if you didn’t toe the line on any of several dozen issues, and didn’t respond to a private conversation or two with minister and elders, you were considered for surgical dismemberment.  I witnessed one of these actions in my own church, for much greater “cause” than the one referred to above, and it did not have the slightest positive effect at the time.

[2] I’m pleased to say, given my moderate view of some aspects of divorce and remarriage, that my church did not continue the pattern of withdrawal of fellowship.  The new couple was accepted, and they became relatively active members.


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