by Bil Aulenbach

The Church and Behavior Control

During this COVID-19 pandemic, my wife and I stayed isolated. The good news is that this gave me the opportunity to do a lot of reading, writing, and creating blog posts.

I recently read one book that referred to the institutional church’s need to enforce behavior control. That triggered a blog post idea and reminded me of a joke.

A Jewish couple met with their rabbi for marriage counseling. The groom asked if he and his bride could dance together at the reception despite the rule that men and women must dance separately at ultra-Orthodox Jewish weddings. The rabbi snapped, “Absolutely not, it’s forbidden.”

Then the man asked, “Is sex okay?”

The rabbi replied, “Of course, that is a mitzvah” (a good thing).

The groom then asked lots of questions about every sexual position he could think of, to which the rabbi replied, “All are mitzvahs.”

Finally, the man asked, “Can we have sex standing up?”

The rabbi said, “Absolutely not!”

The man asked, “Why not?”

The rabbi replied “It could lead to dancing.”

To me, this is behavior control, which is a major problem for the twenty-first-century church. This strategy might have worked in previous centuries, but we live in a different world:

  1. Today, higher education is much more accessible to the masses (only about 10 percent of the population was literate in Jesus’s time), and education teaches people to think. Many churches do not want you to think. They like to do it for you.
  2. Too many churches think they have to brainwash people to control them—and rightly so, given how restrictive these congregations’ rules and beliefs usually are. Their behavior control is so tight that if you disobey, they expel (excommunicate) you.
  3. Many churches like to keep their members childlike so they can stay in control. Forbidding dancing with the opposite sex at Orthodox Jewish weddings is a silly rule, but Christian churches are full of similar prohibitions.

As an Episcopal priest, I am attached to a diocese to keep my ecclesiastical orders current. The local bishop has a tendency to be a control freak. He has rules about everything, and he meticulously enforces all the canon laws and rubrics (liturgical rules) of the Episcopal Church. This control kills creativity, initiative, progress, and change. I wonder what the bishop would do if Jesus was in his diocese?

I have never been good at following any rule that interferes with my one and only guiding principle, agape, which is why I am so critical of most mainstream churches. I see their behavior control as an affront to my humanity, my educated brain, and my Christ.

My wife and I attend a church that has some rules, as every institution must have, but the people there are not control freaks. Irvine United Congregational Church is an agape-driven church where everyone is welcome, no matter where they are on their life journey.

Do you like to live under lots of rules and regulations?


Image courtesy of wiredforlego (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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