CHARITY GORDON: We're a little lower than angels, a little higher than sloth bears

At a Dutch zoo this past Sunday morning a few sloth bears ate a monkey in front of horrorstruck visitors.

Imagine taking your children to the zoo for a nice little outing. You just want to spend time together, enjoy the weather, watch the kids go crazy over the animals. But instead you see a cute, shaggy-haired, long-snouted sloth bear maul a monkey – then eat it for Sunday brunch with two of its buddies.

A park official at Beekse Bergen Safari Park in Tilburg, The Netherlands, released this statement: “In an area where sloth bears, great apes and Barbary macaques have coexisted peacefully for a long time, the harmony was temporarily disturbed during opening hours on Sunday.”

I'll say. And the whole grizzly event is even more surprising when one knows the typical diet of a sloth bear is fruit and insects.

I couldn't help but find in this news story an analogy to the church.

We take ourselves and our families to places of worship each Sunday. We worship, study and pray together, encourage one another, and in most cases we do this in a warm, loving environment.

However, all too often the atmosphere in our churches turns violent. Once harmonious sanctuaries – and that word should fit – become places of hostility, gossip and criticism. Instead of being encouraged, we return home feeling horrified, as if we'd just watched “When Church Members Attack.”

Back to the zoo. The incident began when one bear began chasing the monkey. Other bears became excited and joined the pursuit. The monkey ran into an electric fence and was stunned, but it managed to rouse in time to flee to a wooden structure.

At this time one of the bears was able to reach the monkey with its long teeth. After the bear pulled the monkey to itself, it took the monkey to a concrete den where it and two other sloth bears ate it.

Sloth bears have an excuse. Like a park official said, “They are and remain wild animals.”

What's our rationale? We just want what's best for the church? Or we need to keep people accountable? Then let's go to the offending person and talk about the matter. Matthew 18:15 is a good command to obey. Working and praying together to solve a problem trumps dividing the family any day. It sure beats working up others into a feeding frenzy.

The main reason pastors leave the ministry, missionaries leave the mission field and Christians leave the church is conflict among other Christians. And we all know that most of the time the conflict is about the trivial.

If we're going to fight, let's fight over how we can love God and each other better. Let's tear into each other over upholding justice for the downtrodden. Let's duke it out over how we can strive for holiness. But let's grow up and find better hobbies than picking at each other over trifles.

I'd rather my child see a sloth bear bite into a helpless monkey on a Sunday morning than have her see a Christian backbite a brother to death.

Charity Gordon is the Daily Journal religion editor. Contact her at 678-1586 or charity.gordon@djournal.com