Questions for Battered Clergy
A Reflection by Geraldine Hawkins
Have you ever noticed that many Christians have a habit that is extremely
abusive? They will provoke you to righteous anger and then turn around
and condemn you for being angry!
I am a refugee from a large Episcopal church in downtown New York where
the rector was forced out by the vestry. I saw a good man slandered out
of his job for no good reason. I am haunted by the prophetic words Lloyd
Rediger (author of Clergy Killers) gave to me when I called him for advice:
"It won't be your rector's enemies who do him in - it will be the neutral
When I confront parishioners who have remained in a church that I left
because I could not bear the hypocrisy and corruption, I am frequently
answered with the statements below.
It would be helpful to know what the victims of similar abuses would say
by way of response. Perhaps the collected responses could form a kind
of defensive weapon for clergy against the hypocrisy and confusion found
in Christian circles. Some of the statements below are just fatuous; others
are compelling and worth addressing because they are (though taken out
of context?) the words of Christ Himself.
The viciousness of the perpetrators is bad enough; but the rationalizations
and faint-heartedness of the well-intentioned-including many of my old
friends-have destroyed my ability to speak to them with anything resembling
charity or lightness of heart or understanding.
As you can see, this is a cry for help as much as anything else, and I
hope that it will help others as well, if only by providing a forum and
a chance for wounded clergy to unburden themselves, and to know that someone
is listening. You may think that your parishioners don't care, but some
of them do care very, very much.
1. "Judge not, lest ye be judged," and variations thereon, e.g., "It is
not my business to judge the vestry, the bishop, the congregation," etc.
(conveniently forgetting that the pastor has been "judged" out of town).
Comment: The New Testament prohibitions against judging have more to do with
slander than with standing up for the truth. A better text in this
situation: 'Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do
it, commits sin' (James 4:17).
2. "It's time for the church to work on forgiveness and healing." (Said
after having ganged up on a cleric, assassinated his character, forced
him to lose his job, given him gallstones, etc.)
Comment: Authentic _Christian_ forgiveness and healing are always the
concomitant of 'walking in the light' - ie. repentance.
3. "Love your enemies."
Comment: authentic love sometimes involves naming the hypocrisy (as Jesus
and Paul did so often) that separates a person from their better selves.
4. "But that's the Old Testament!" (The reaction I have occasionally
when citing the prophets to recall a community to accountability, truth,
Comment: The mark of a Pharisee, according to Jesus, is that he/she knows
the Bible and misses the point. The main point/s? 'Justice, mercy,
faithfulness' (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42).
5. "You're asking me to hate!"
Comment: the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.
6. "You made enemies ... you were aggressive ...let go of your anger'."
Comment: It is true that in conflictual situations in churches some
protagonists and antagonists say unwise and divisive things in church
meetings. Every avenue ought to have been explored to see justice done
privately with the leader/s before the church meeting - which is 'an
occasion of last resort'.
7. "Christians are not supposed to sue."
Comment: Taking fellow-believers to court must always be a last resort (1
Corinthians 6). However, a clear ministry-description for the pastor and
well-defined lines of accountability for everybody are essential
prerequisites for happy working relationships in the church.
8. "He wasn't a good rector for everybody."
Comment: This touches the greatest social problem in Western churches, I
believe. The consumer culture has invaded the church. Pastor and people are
not united 'for better or for worse' but, as in secular commecial
organizations these days, until the pastor 'fails to perform.' And
'performance' is measured - albeit unconsciously most of the time - against
film and television performances. Parishioners in Western countries watch
between 15-20 hours of television a week - and then come to church. They
bring expectations of the pastor-as-preacher, pastor-as-counselor,
pastor-as-productive which are, for 99% of pastors, unreasonable. The
consumer culture is less about serving one another, encouraging one another,
forbearance with one another, than with getting 'value for tithes and time'.
9. "'He opened not his mouth' before His accusers," and variations on "Jesus
let himself get pushed around."
Comment: Jesus did not let himself get pushed around in the context of
religious leaders' hypocrisy. However, there is sometimes a case for silence
when one is unjustly accused. But, on the other hand, I remember an apostle
who didn't take it in this situation either, but made his accusers march him
out of time in public, for all to see!
And now, my favorite:
10. "We need to move on."
Comment: Yes, the church needs to move on, but not without due process
having been done, and seen to be done. Not without deep repentance and
contrition. The church is not primarily a commercial or social organization
with some religion tacked on. It's a redeemed (and in one sense
yet-to-be-fully redeemed) community of faith. We are sisters and brothers in
a family of love. We love as Jesus loved - with strength and humility. We
care for the weak, the powerless. We demonstrate to a knife-in-your-back
world the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the
fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Geraldine A. Hawkins, March 31, 2001
Send your responses to The Editor of The ANVIL at email@example.com,
or by fax 506-856-7075.
If you have some time, visit one or all of these sites:
http://members.nbci.com/etgrafx/aec (My personal page)
http://members.nbci.com/etgrafx (New Brunswick Fostering)
http://www.coalitionagainstabuse.com (Violence free relationships)
http://www.canadianfosterfamily.com (The CFFA)
Terrance R. Trites
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Voice (506) 866-2661 FAX (506) 856-7075