Have you ever done something ‘not fair’ to one of your kids? Sure you have. If you haven’t yet, you will. And even when you don’t, they may perceive something you are doing as ‘not fair’ and you will hear the wails of protest. If you remember what it’s like to –be- a kid, you know how awful it feels to be treated unfairly.
As grownups, and especially as Christians, we learn to realize that life just isn’t fair and that we have to get by in spite of it. And yet…..that feeling of unfairness is one of the sharpest and most piercing, leaving wounds that may last a very long time. I think this is because we basically know, deep down, that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. But because of our fallen tendency to self-justify, we feel injustices done to ourselves most keenly, and so tend to explain, justify, excuse or minimize any unfairness *we* might happen to perpetrate on someone else.
And then there is the case of injustice done to others, by others, when we are just bystanders. If we take to heart every injustice we see happening in our vicinity, let alone on the newscast, we will quickly get overloaded with our ability to empathize with other victims of unfair treatment, let alone do anything helpful. So we look the other way. Fairness? Humans are never very good at it at the best of times.
Sometimes unfairness is only in our own perception. When Jesus was at Bethany, Martha perceived that it was unfair for her to do all the work while Mary sat and listened to the Lord’s teaching. But the Lord did not go out of His way to correct this perceived unfairness; on the contrary, when Martha complained, He gently told her to let her sister alone. Martha herself was the one who had chosen to make a big fuss about the occasion, and it wouldn’t be fair for her to impose that fuss on Mary when she wished to learn from Jesus. In the parable of the workers, the master gave each a full day’s wage, as agreed upon. When the ones who had been there all day saw the latecomers getting paid an equal amount, they grumbled that it was not fair, but the master rebuked them for not minding their own business when they had received exactly what they were promised.
Perhaps one of the toughest things for clergy and their families is the unfairness of people’s perceptions. There are times when you can do nothing to set the record straight, when people who should stand up for you are looking the other way because they don’t have the strength or courage to speak out when you are being treated unfairly. People have their own troubles, and sometimes will not risk stirring up more— at least not until they too end up being wronged by the same agencies.
But other times unfairness is not, as with Mary and Martha or the workers, about people glancing sidewise at their fellows—it is about people in a position to be even-handed failing in that trust. Hiding behind anonymity to criticize another, manipulating information to reflect badly on someone else, showing favoritism, enforcing discipline on one party for small infractions and letting others get away with big ones…unfairness takes many forms.
Being targeted with unfairness by various parties inside and outside the church is an ordinary hazard of life for those in ministry and their families. Some such people you learn are not to be taken too seriously, and you can let the mud slung roll off you. Other times you cannot in conscience back down and let it be thought that their behavior is ‘okay’. When there is wolfishness or abuse or dangerous negligance, or if attempts at manipulation cross boundaries (for example, making suicide threats) then you cannot just let things go and remain silent, even when you realize it is possible that whatever authority you report to may only shoot the messenger—the messenger being you.
One thing that hurts my heart most is when someone else I care about is treated unjustly, and I know that I cannot speak up about it for the simple reason that it will only make matters worse. That not only will the messenger be shot, but the original target will be further oppressed than if silence had been maintained.
If you are experiencing anything like this, may God bless and strengthen you. If it has not happened to you or to someone you know, be assured that one day it will. Do not be surprised. I would like to reassure you that it is not so bad and that you can do xyz to make it better, but sometimes the only answer is: just keep praying.