Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sermon on the Rant

Okay, I know earlier I said all I had time for today was a bit of fluff. Not true, particularly not after reading over on Finished Last’s blog that his blog’s been found by a close friend of his and the repercussions of this. It stirred up a passion in me for a post that's been on my mind for some time now. The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone although I like to think that God has helped me a little along the way. Any examples I use are from my head and while possibly composites of discussions with several people I know they are not in any way reflective of any one person’s experiences so please don’t try to think that I am telling any particular person’s story, but bits and pieces from the lives of many interwoven with my own wonderful and colorful imagination. I am trying to make a general point not vindicate or indict anyone here. Let your own conscience be your guide in deciding if I'm speaking about you or not. Also, please note that I am speaking from a Christian perspective because Christianity is my background and that from which I draw my conclusions. Your actual mileage may vary.

Pastors of churches don’t have an easy life by any means. They are, first and foremost, servants of God. They are, like the rest of us, human. They have to struggle with and juggle the call of God, the demands of their parishioners and others within whatever hierarchy exists in their particular denomination, and their own humanness. I think it takes an extraordinary person to successfully navigate all those pieces.

In this particular post I want to examine one of these aspects more than the other two although all three are important pieces. I, however, as a layperson have less impact on a pastor’s relationship with God or his/her own human frailties than I do with the demands that we, his/her community, place on him/her. (Oh for heaven’s sake henceforth I’m using male pronouns in this thing but please know that I am not trying to exclude females as I strongly believe they can be and ought to be allowed to be pastors just as well as males.)

We have expectations of our pastors, sometimes very unrealistic expectations. We expect them to be there when we need them. We expect them to comfort us in our sorrows, to share in our joys, to conduct services the way we think they ought to be conducted. We expect them to go along with our church traditions. We expect. We expect a lot. Most pastors I’ve known, and I’ve known many on a social level as well as through church, are tired. Most love their work, but they are tired because of the demands on them. I have yet to hear one of them however complain about how tired they are. They just keep right on doing what they’ve been called to do. In this day of cell phones and email and the like they are at their flock’s beck and call night and day. For the most part I haven’t heard resentment from them of this. They accept that they are “first responders” in their parishioners’ crises.

As their flock, how do we react to their loving care? We hold them to a higher standard than the average person. We hold the expectation that they are above sin, but they are not. They are human just as we all are. They sin just as we all do. Who among us doesn’t sin? (Oh that’s right, sure Mom, sit down. We know you haven’t sinned since you accepted Christ in 1956. God bless you Mom for being such a saint for more than 50 years.) So how should we, as sinners, treat our pastor if he has sinned? Should we kick him out? No, I don’t think we should. Should we ignore it altogether? No, not at all. Should we try to empathize and minister to him? Yes! But I say yes here advisedly because too many will feel that the way to minister to him is to batter him into submission. What I mean by ministering is to comfort him, help him to work through his situation just as he would do for us.

Here’s a radical question for you. Can getting married be a sin? I believe it can. But how? How can this holy estate be a sin? When it is entered into by those who shouldn’t be entering into it I believe it is a sin to have married. Does the end justify the means? No! Most will agree with that statement. But if marriage is the means to an end such as “I can finally have sex” or “I need the security he can provide” or “If I don’t marry now I may never get another chance” or “My biological clock is running down so I better snag somebody before it’s too late” or “It will look better to be married in my profession” then I think that those ends do not justify the means and the person you marry, if done for those reasons, has been wronged. Therefore, by marrying that person you committed a sin.

Let’s then look at the man who marries a woman not for the right reason, that of wanting to spend an eternity with her, to live his life in partnership with her building a life of caring and compromise between them, but for any number of other reasons. He has sinned. He covers that sin with more sin. He lies to his wife about his reasons for marrying her. More sin results as he indulges in any number of behaviors to try to fill in the missing pieces from his life. Sin compounds upon sin. Now imagine this man is a pastor. As long as he keeps quiet and continues to sin quietly, nobody is the wiser, and everybody is happy – on the surface. Underneath though, many can be hurt by this swelling bundle of sin. Eventually, more than likely, the ball of yarn will come unraveled and cause all manner of mess within the life of the pastor, his family and his congregation.

Now, what if this same man, after having committed the sin of marrying for the wrong reasons, repented of that sin by doing all that he could to remediate the situation? Let’s say he goes to his wife, confesses his true reasons for marrying, and divorces her. Isn’t that more an act of kindness than to weave a years long tapestry of lies? Isn’t that true confession and repentance? At that point, shouldn’t the church rejoice that this man, their young pastor, has turned his life around? But in most congregations of my knowledge that would not be the reaction with which he would be met. He would be met with scorn and derision. Therefore, without an incredible amount of personal strength, he would choose to hide behind the lies and maintain the status quo rather than face letting down those around him.

In the end, what I'm trying to say is this: as congregants we should support our pastors, and hold them to reasonable standards, but not to such a degree that they must step down if they are willing to admit to sin. God does not require that of any of us. We shouldn't either.

So ends today’s sermon. Please give generously as the offering plate passes your way.


Seeker said...

What an interesting post, Trueself!

I agree wholeheartedly with most of what you say. However, whilst the churches are full of sinners, I do think it is wrong, if you are in a position of authority within the church, to go and broadcast what you are up to. Anyone reading this guy's blog might perhaps get the idea that it is okay to do what he is doing. So, once the bog has been discovered, I do kind of see why he might have to resign.

I still have a lot of sympathy for him though: he may have been writing the blog to help sort his feelings out - and he probably never expected that somebody he knew would find it. Still, maybe all this has happened for a reason: hopefully it will now help him sort his life out.

But yes, we are indeed all sinners. And Jesus himself said 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone'. I hope members of this guy's church will remember that quotation when they find out what has happened!

Take care.

Desmond Jones said...

You are right on the money about 'pastoral isolation', Trueself. People tend to put their pastors on a pedestal, or in a glass house, or whatever 'idealized' metaphor you want to use. They (we) tend to see their pastors as 'better' people, less 'sinful' than us 'normal' folks, and thus, not quite human. And I think that can be an awful situation for a pastor to be in - when human life gets, well, 'human', who can they go to? Exactly so, and you're right on the money here.

The same dynamic holds true among Catholics, btw; because of priestly celibacy, it might even be more acute - the pastor is that much less 'like the rest of us'. Molly and I try to have our priest over for dinner from time to time, just so we can get to know each other on a more personal, human level. He really does seem to enjoy the opportunity to 'kick back' just a little.

The rest of your post, I'm not sure what to say. I do think it's quite appropriate for someone who has admitted to adultery to step down from pastoring; in fact, I wonder if, when he's no longer living in the 'glass house', he can more easily get the help and support he needs. . .

Desmond Jones said...

And now, it seems our good friend has taken his blog down. . .

You know that I will miss him, and I wish him well. . .

Fiona said...

Sigh, I went to read him this morning and he's gone. I hope he's okay. I'll miss his words.

Jac said...

What a loss to us all. Now, (in my book) that is a man of truth and integrity, struggling with God and self -- a true son of Jacob! This is what we are put on earth to do, not to be judged by others! We do enough of that to ourselves! The real gift in this will be if he gets right with his-self, his loved ones and his God. And then, who cares what his employers think or do!

Trueself said...

Seeker - Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful comments. Obviously you and I aren't going to agree wholeheartedly with one another, but that's okay. I do appreciate other points of view.

Desmond - Knew I could count on you to chime in on this one. He will certainly be missed, but from what I hear he may be back in the future in some form. I'm sure he'll let you know if/when that happens.

Fiona - From what I hear he's as okay as he can be under the circumstances.

Jac - I agree with everything you've said here, wholeheartedly. Thanks for stopping by.

Bunny said...

Great post, True. Great.