As the nooses are put around their necks, the three recite together the Lord’s Prayer. It a powerful ending to an incredible play and film.
In the story, the Church’s desire to stamp out witchcraft is fatally corrupted by deceit, manipulation, vengeance and petty rivalry. Fear and group-think leads to a host of innocent people being accused, condemned and executed.
But the recital of the prayer, along with the visual allusion to the executions at Calvary, illustrates the ever-present tension between religion and faith.
The courage and conviction of the three condemned people is a picture of hope because they show a more authentic imitation of Christ than the religious establishment. After all, Jesus too was falsely accused and condemned by religious authorities.
As history tell us, religious belief has power to build community and promote compassion and justice. But when manipulated for hatred and self-service, it can be hugely destructive. There is no shortage of rubble which surrounds religion.
Looking in the rubble
The growth and collapse of the Mars Hill church led by Mark Driscoll is a more contemporary example of the positive and negative power of Christian religion.
The podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill is compelling and relevant to so many other scandals which have inflicted the church. At the start of the final episode, writer and narrator Mike Cosper says this:
‘It’s a story about a church which thousands call home came face to face with frailty and failure and then collapsed overnight. Its about waking up to loss and disillusionment and still, it’s a story about looking in the rubble for the finger-prints of God.’
The extent of Mark Driscoll’s bullying and self-seeking behaviour is appalling. As a result many people are burned and scarred. And the fact that he walked away with a big pay-off, was treated like a hero by legions of other pastors, and has gone on to start up another church, is depressing.
This is another story with plenty of rubble created by a warped form of faith.
But, as in the closing scene of The Crucible, there is a hope which endures the chaos and injustice. Despite the pain and anger caused by Driscoll’s behaviour and the church’s collapse, we hear stories of people who have trodden a path of redemption, forgiveness and reconciliation.
In the rubble, we can find God’s finger-prints…because this is where the God revealed in Jesus is.
Not in platforms and profile, in bright-lights and book sales, in arrogance and applause. But in humility, in service, in the grace and truth of reconciliation and forgiveness. As Cosper puts it:
‘A God who wept in the garden and at the grave of a friend, who leaves the ninety-nine for the one and who promises justice to the wounded and oppressed.’
Honesty and hope
Similarly to book Bullies and Saints: an honest look at the good and evil of Christian history, this podcast maintains a beautiful balance of honesty and hope, of grace and truth.
We should be neither be naïve or cynical about the church:
‘When I try to hold together both the beautiful and the sad, I confess I feel a deep melancholy and I kind of think that’s how its meant to be when we hold together goodness and brokenness…there’s life, faith and community to be found outside the grip of an unhealthy church and people are finding that now.’
There has been many scandals which easily lead people to give up on the church. I have written about both the high profile and lesser known examples this year. As the Bible makes clear, the church is made up of weak and broken people and will always be a mix of the divine and the dusty.
Corruption and failure within the church cause great harm. But they can never totally obscure God. His finger-prints are in the rubble, reminding us of our need of his grace and truth.
Cosper ends the final episode by quoting a former staff member who was deeply damaged by the fall of Mars Hill. He says:
‘Wherever one may be on the spiritual landscape, I hope those words can strike a chord: ‘Good still happens and God is still present’. Its an idea which is foundational for faith and for re-building faith, reminding us that life with God is not mediated by charismatic individuals or broken institutions.’
‘Good still happens and God is still present’.
I hope this strikes a chord with anyone burnt, broken or disillusioned with religion.