Is it wrong to be proud of your Church?
Our Coptic community in Sydney, in all the time I have known it, has more or less encouraged local pride. People want to feel good about their parish, and after all, why not? This is the place where they have invested a deal of their time and energy and donations to make it a blessing for them and their families. This is the place where they come for refuge or guidance or peace. This is the temple where they come to meet with God.
On a larger scale, we often point out to non-Copts the glories of the Coptic Church. They are prodigious without doubt: the School of Alexandria was THE centre of Christian learning in the ancient world; the Egyptian desert gave birth to Christian monasticism; and an unparalleled multitude of martyrs soaked the banks of the Nile with their freely sacrificed blood. Why shouldn’t we be proud of all that?
Why is it then that I sometimes feel a little twinge of discomfort about all this? Why do I feel that something is wrong?
Perhaps it is that this kind of pride is so easily misused, if not totally abused.
For example, when a sense of joy at one’s heritage turns into a form of racial bigotry and prejudice, it has left the path of Christ. Yes, I have heard members of our community speak of non-Copts as inferior beings. Ethnic stereotypes enjoy the occasional vogue even among our youth, who should know better, having grown up in this multicultural society where tolerance and understanding are emphasised so often. And how easily do we forget that whole thing about specks and logs in eyes!
Then there’s that whole competition thing:
My parish is better than your parish.
My Church is better than you Church.
My priests are better than your priests.
My youth meeting is better than your youth meeting.
Does this sort of thing really do anyone any good? Built into it is the very unchristian idea that whatever I am associated with has to be superior to everyone else. And it leads to a nasty kind of self-centredness, where if I can’t be better than the others, then I have to cut them down to my level.
Many years ago I heard a parish priest extolling the virtues of “holy competition” between parishes. He saw this as a positive force that motivated parishes to grow and develop better services. I must say that a couple of decades of service have not convinced me of his views, at least in my experience. People and services grow far more and in a healthier way if they cooperate together rather than compete against each other. And can you really see Jesus encouraging His disciples to compete against each other to see who will be the best Disciple? “If you wish to be greatest, go for it!” doesn’t really fit in with the rest of His Gospel somehow.
So is it wrong to be proud of your Church? Depends on what you mean by “proud”. If you mean feeling superior to others, putting others down, being unduly sensitive to criticism, even when it’s valid, and always trying to keep up with the Joneses (or Abdelmessihs in this case), then, yes. It is most certainly wrong.
But if you mean rejoicing in the gift of God that you share with the rest of His family, appreciating how beautiful that gift is, making the most of it, sharing it humbly with others, and working together selflessly for the benefit of all, then be as proud as you like!