Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

Perspectives: Fostering a Culture of Vulnerability

Story by Tompaul Wheeler

“I would just caution about the whole transparency thing,” says Thomas Luttrell, who teaches psychology and counseling at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Md. “I do think that tends to be a western value, not shared globally just yet. I’ve been on many online discussion groups where transparency is not always encouraged or people are quickly judged, or [some group members] don’t quite understand the purpose of someone being transparent. Someone who comes from a less transparent culture might be shocked or scandalized by someone opening up about themselves.”

People from less individualistic societies may not understand, for instance, why someone is sharing about something deeply personal like going through a divorce. “There’s a social policing,” says Luttrell. “If someone’s outside the norm, they’re judged and shamed for it, whereas, in the U.S., it’s kind of encouraged to not be normal.”

Church leaders should be especially careful, Luttrell believes. “Leaders are put on pedestals and are expected to be perfect and have normative experiences, but if they have struggles like everybody else does—like a porn addiction or divorce—then everyone’s scandalized. They’re expected to keep it silent and not say anything. We have a double standard for our church leaders, but, on the other hand, leaders do need to be careful. I’ve seen church leaders share all kinds of stuff that can be very damaging. But at the same time, it’s not fair that they’re held to a different standard. While it’s true that social media is encouraging greater vulnerability, I think that’s particularly in the U.S. and [for] people who are not in positions of power.

“A lot of people have a theology that tends to discourage vulnerability,” says Luttrell. “When people have an emphasis on perfection, it discourages people from being vulnerable because then they admit they’re not perfect yet. Then we’d see how many people need the grace of God. We need to be honest with ourselves about how many of us need the grace of Jesus Christ. If church leaders led more by example, we might see more of a culture that fosters that vulnerability.”

But what this article is saying is that church leaders pretty much can’t lead by example because it might be damaging. If this is the case, is Luttrell pushing for pastors to lead by example or is it more subjective and/or a dream of his “if only pastors could lead by example”?

Read articles from the July/August 2019 Visitor:

Cover image of Jessica and Quincy Sims by Jared Wickerham/AP Images for the Columbia Union Visitor

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