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Looper column: Doormat faith: There is something better

Shayne Looper
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St. James Plaindealer

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

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Some people have a “doormat faith.” I found the term in John Dickson’s book, “The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission.” Dickson is not referring to a faith that makes people into a doormat, but the kind of faith that brings people to the door but does not see them inside.

To avoid argument, I willingly acknowledge that some people of faith act like doormats and let people walk over them. Critics have gone further and argued that some people let others walk over them because of their faith, because pastors and Sunday school teachers have taught them that acting like a doormat is pious and godly. I will not deny this has happened. I will strenuously deny this is the result of faith.

Take the person who has suffered spousal abuse on and off for years. She has been instructed by her pastor that her marriage vows are sacred. She has been taught to submit to her husband. In a case like this, is her faith not responsible for her “doormat” status in the marriage?

I would argue it is not. It is a misunderstanding of faith, perpetuated by misinformed church leaders, that has enabled the abuse. This is not faith at work, but ignorance. Rather than enabling the abuse, the church ought to be the first to confront the abuser and empower the abused.

It is true that the church teaches submission, including in marriage. It is not true that this teaching is limited to marriage or directed only to women. Submission is a characteristic trait of all Jesus’s followers, both men and women. They submit to God, first of all, but also to duly appointed government leaders. They submit to church leaders, to spouses and to each other.

It would be a serious mistake, however, to think that submission makes them a doormat. Submission makes them supportive and encouraging, not weak and exploited. Submission does not remove their responsibility to judge for themselves what is right and to stand against what is wrong.

When people who have faith act like doormats, it is not because of their faith but in spite of it. Faith makes people courageous, not cowardly. It makes them firm, not feeble.

By “doormat faith” I (following Dickson) do not mean faith that turns people into doormats but faith that gets people to the doormat and leaves them there. They remain outside of the kind of life that apprenticeship to Jesus makes possible.

Doormat faith is not the obedience-producing, righteousness-accompanying, love-expressing faith about which St. Paul so frequently wrote. Doormat faith brings no assurance. It falls short of being transformational.

This is not to say that doormat faith is a bad thing. It is certainly no substitute for the faith that connects a person to God, but it can be a precursor to it. Its strength is that it leads people to the doorstep of a richly satisfying life with God. Its weakness is that it cannot bring people through the door. It is good, but it is not enough.

Doormat faith is the kind that professes belief in God but fails to provide a connection to him. It says, “I believe Jesus died for my sins,” but does not go on to confess Jesus as Lord and leader of life.

As a long-time pastor, I have met many people with doormat faith. I am thankful for them, yet I know there is so much more for them to experience now and forever. If they are content to say, “I believe in God,” they are too easily contented. Such faith is meant to be the beginning of a journey, not its end.

How sad when people arrive at the doorstep but fail to go in. Their faith does not move them to action. They don’t become part of a life-enhancing community of Jesus’ followers. They don’t forgive - or even think they should. They don’t experience peace. Yet the door is open.

Sometimes these folks - I have met some - cross the threshold at the end of their lives and enter into a genuine connection with God. It is good that their doormat faith has led them to something better but it is heartbreaking to see them wait so long and miss so much.

Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Coldwater, Michigan. His blog, “The Way Home,” is at shaynelooper.com.