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)

5 thoughts on “The Church and Behavior Control”

  1. I love it. One of my favorite topics. I grew up in a ‘liberal’ Southern Baptist Church. But they sponsored no dances. So, I attended some in the basement of a local Methodist Church. I remember dancing away from the metal poles, fear of lightning. But the electricity I was experiencing was not lightening…it is nice being struck.

  2. No I don’t..especially rules and regulations from a church. My church is not controlling at all… thank goodness. No one who knows me would try to control me. I do my own thinking. Just like politics….I have always been a registered Republican but I study the issues and everything I can get my hands on about the candidates and then try to vote my conscious…not my party. I have never voted the ticket. I pick and choose what I think is the correct choice for me.

    The same is true of my church. When I preach which is about twice a quarter anymore, I mainly preach about the Message of Jesus…agape and the kingdom of God. I avoid any subject I think is ignorant. I realize men wrote the scriptures and men are fallible. I stick with the message of Jesus

    (from Fedor Dostoevsky’s book: “The Karamazov Brothers”).

    Ivan calls on his younger brother Alioxa, who is a novice in a large monastery, to define himself on the injustice in the world, embodied in the suffering imposed on children. He does it with this poem:
    The action takes place in Seville, at the end of the 15th century, when Tomàs de Torquemada ruled the Inquisition where he examined nearly one hundred thousand cases of heretics and killed two thousand people who were burned at the stake.
    The “Crucified under Pontius Pilate” returns to Seville to visit his children. He goes to the square and in front of the cathedral he finds heretics dying burned at the stake. Everyone recognizes him, he walks among the people, and just with a smile that expresses infinite compassion, he gives his sight to a blind man and returns life to the daughter of a notable of the city.
    Suddenly, he finds the Grand Inquisitor calling the soldiers and imprisoning the visitor.
    In the evening, the Inquisitor, incognito, goes to prison and asks Jesus:
    – “Why have you come to destroy us? The prisoner does not answer.
    The Inquisitor insists: –
    ” On your stay in this land enough to defend the cause of freedom. Well you said you wanted to set us free. Fifteen centuries have passed and your freedom has caused many headaches in the Church. But we live in another situation; now people feel free. He has humbly put his freedom under our feet, even though it has been necessary to “suppress” freedom in order for human beings to be happy. You, Crucified, will fail and, if you return, endanger the beautiful building that gives happiness to humans. It’s not about eating “bread from heaven”; that is, the freedom you promised, but to eat “earthly bread,” which is blessed by submission. It is thanks to the devil that it has been possible to make an alliance with Caesar and thus the Pope has become master of the world. The vast majority of humans have preferred to be led as a shotgun guard and the Church takes on the task of giving people a quiet and humble well-being that befits weak creatures, forced to work, but who find in leisure time the life organized like a child’s play, with innocent songs, dances and hearts.
    They are one hundred thousand people who lead millions of happy beings. I have joined the group of those who “have corrected your work.”
    You have now come to destroy us, but tomorrow I will burn you.
    The prisoner does not come out of his silence while annoying his visitor.
    He gets up, docks at the Inquisitor and kisses him on the lips.
    This one, disturbed, goes to the door, opens it and says to him: “Go away … and never return!”

  4. Thank you Bil. A simple, positive, focus on existential priorities. And a wonderful show of support for our IUCC family. May we continue to live up to our possibilities.

  5. It’s reasonably simple in it’s complexity…Jesus walked through 631 laws, 10 commandments and came up with two verses from the Hebrew scriptures that threw the ball into our court…love ” God” and take responsibility for community and tend “God’s” creation. Are we participating in the challenge?


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