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  • Writer's picture Brian E Pearson

What about the Clergy?

A friend recently confided to me a horrific story, in two parts. First, as an eleven-year-old at a sleepover, he was sexually abused--raped. Then, as a teen, unable to shake off the unwarranted shame of that awful experience, he sought council from a priest. As a way of broaching the subject he asked if homosexuality was wrong. The priest replied in the strongest possible terms that it was sinful and deserving of eternal punishment.

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My friend was seeking compassion, understanding, and healing. He wanted to feel whole again. Instead, hearing that answer, he shoved all the splintered parts of his soul back down, deep inside, where they continued to tear him apart. In a way, he was injured all over again.

What was the priest thinking? What possible conception of ministry led him to leap before he listened? Was something else not called for by the visit of my friend? Was there not some other role this priest ought to have played than that of judge?

Clergy, in the earliest days of the church, were seen as teachers, pastors, and guides. Following the model of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who himself was seen in light of King David, the Shepherd King, the early church understood the role of its leaders to be that of servants, first of God, and then of God's people.

But somewhere along the way, as the church came under attack from within and without, clergy became gatekeepers, defenders of the faith, and God's judges on earth. "What you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven," they recalled Jesus saying, "and what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven." They took it seriously, and literally.

In the ordination service a new priest pledges, first and foremost, loyalty, conformity, and obedience to the church. Such is the foundation for the work of a modern minister. Not love, joy, peace or any of the other fruit of the Spirit. When a priest is "instituted" into a new ministry, the bishop says, in the old words, "Take thou authority, which is thine and mine."

Is it any wonder that clergy regard their role as one of power rather than service? They see themselves as the appointed arbiters of how we are to behave, and what we are to believe, as if we were children. They presume to impose limits on individual conscience and reason because the church alone knows the mind of Christ.

In the weeks to come I will explore the various ways clergy could be serving their people, rather than bossing them, as teachers, caregivers, and guides. Anything else is hubris.

Next Week: Clergy as Resident Rabbis

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