As you may or may not know, I spend a lot of time with unchurched men, learning their stories, discussing the life of Christ and sometimes, inviting them to return to church. I also spend a lot of time with clergy and have concluded that while some can be breathtakingly egocentric, while others are more CEO's than shepherds......most are living quietly heroic lives, serving a distinctly unpopular Savior Christ and caring for cantankerous flocks for little money and fewer accolades. They are nothing short of amazing.
Having said that, I've asked one of gentlemen who falls into that category to write a two part essay that would help clergy to understand people like him. He agreed, and below you will find part 1 of 2. I, along with the author of the follow piece, welcome your replies.... particuilary if you are yourself a member of the clergy.
In the past, church was seen by many as the place through which worship and spirituality were delivered. The ilk of the Falwell/Bakker movement revealed the religious institution to be little more than a business selling the product of the Holy Trinity. When the American automobile manufacturers did not adjust to the Japanese imports in the late 1970's, it took more than two generations of the car buying public to make their way back to considering buying a Ford, GM, or Chrysler product. I never experienced or observed those in the ivory tower of religion make the distinction and start the healing process. Aren't you in the healing business? Fast forward 10 years and yet another scandal is revealed when decades of sexual abuse by pedophiles masquerading as priests is uncovered. Years of abuse are uncovered. Years of payoffs are uncovered. All of this yields one more black eye to the already battered business of religion. (The Catholic Church is the third largest land owner in the world behind Queen Elizabeth who owns among other things Australia and Canada, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. So, please, do not try to tell me that religion isn't a business.)
In my own experience, (yes, I once attended church) I had a pastor who was guilty of marital impropriety and would engage in his trysts with his paramour while on church retreats. I had a pastor who ingratiated himself with older congregants to inherit their estates for his personal gain. I have had a pastor preach about war with a palpable political slant. Aren't you in the peace business?
A Battered Shell
Religious progress, in my lifetime, has suffered from shame, corruption, failed leadership, poor business models, and failing to deliver the message of God. Instead, the bully pulpit continues to be used for the self-aggrandizement of the sects within religion. Some appear to endorse gay marriage. Some encourage the 52 varieties of how people "self-identify." Others enable society's journey from realists to nominalists.
The "Why can't we all just get along?" thinking denigrates the essence of your message. 500 years ago, Luther began what he thought was a Reformation. Tired of the nonsense of the ruling class, he chose to challenge the entrenched bureaucracy. Today, when everyone feels entitled to forgo civilized discourse for the fear of having their feelings hurt, we are left with religion as the battered shell of what God intended to deliver his message.
A friend came to me with a problem he expected me to solve. I proffered "If you have a problem, let's discuss possible solutions. Don't just expect that things get better without your input and effort." So, rather than just point fingers at the collective failure, I will offer the following for your consideration. (to be continued)
Ed note: Your thoughts? Agree? Disagree?