All too often these days people – especially in South Africa – will “play the race card”.
A judge, perhaps, is caught driving while drunk. Ah, no, he claims, he was never drunk. It was the white traffic officer who was out to get him just because he is a black man.
I saw a newspaper story this morning: the taxman is after Julius Malema for R16 million in back taxes. Malema (the former leader of the ANC Youth League) has recently formed his own political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF), after being kicked out of the ANC. So Malema is now claiming that his tax debt is a frame-up by “the Afrikaners and the Indians.” Since these are the two ethnic groups which many black South Africans are most likely to regard with suspicion, pardon me if I view this latest claim sceptically.
I should note that the race card works both ways. Some white “sportsmen” have also tried it on.
Playing the “grace card” works in much the same way.
A minister or a church leader or member gets caught doing something they should not be doing:
Perhaps a minister is using his position to pressure young girls in the church to sleep with him. Perhaps an unmarried local preacher is having a baby. Perhaps a society steward has a drinking problem, or a gambling problem. Perhaps there is an abusive relationship in a marriage. Perhaps a circuit superintendent is openly lining his own pockets with church funds.
It is sad to say it, but every one of these examples is real, and recent.
Then, when the church finds out about it and angrily asks the guilty party to answer for their actions, the first response is usually to deny everything and challenge the church leadership to prove the charges. In the event that the church actually can show that there is a case to answer, then the offender presents a penitent front and plays the grace card:
“We’re all sinners. We all need God’s grace. Why pick on me? Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone…”
And, usually, he or she gets off with a warning. Perhaps a pastoral commission is held. But usually, pastoral commissions are instructed to find ways of healing the situation, rather than to apply the discipline of the church.
There is a trend in our church today to put mercy first…. and last, and always.
I must ask what that looks like to those who have left the church or been driven from it in despair; worse still, what it looks like to those who have never been believers at all?
I observe the easy grace being both preached and practiced in our church with considerable dismay, and I wish that we could find the courage to practice discipline as well as mercy.
I believe grace is free. But it should never be cheap.