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When clergy behave badly l Worship


January 2, 2019

Earlier this week, I sat with other members of my family in a hospital waiting room. We were waiting for news from the doctors about my 84-year-old father’s heart surgery.

It was a busy place with paper coffee cups, Christmas carolers, staffers in scrubs and lots of people just like us staring at the ceiling. I didn’t like it.

My mother explained that she asked the pastor from her church to come and see us there. When he arrived, he was quick with warm humor, curiosity about dad’s condition and lots of eye contact.

When the message came that the operation was over and that my father was being moved to the recovery room, the pastor asked if he could tag along with us to see him. “Please,” said mom.

The surgery had gone well. We were glad to see Dad open his eyes and joke with us about how great he was feeling. Relief, affection, and gratitude all flooded in together. The pastor led us in a short prayer after reading a passage from one of the Psalms. High fives, hugs, handshakes and he was gone. I think we were all glad that he had come, especially my mom.

In those few minutes, the minister had shared encouragement, listened carefully, and resisted the temptation to say stupid things like, “Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll be just fine” or “You just have to have faith” or “Everything happens for a reason.”

No, he did his work very well. He helped us remember God’s care and presence even in moments that are difficult.

I thought about all the skilled, compassionate, disciplined and authentic women and men in pastoral ministry that I’ve known over the years: Colleagues with faith, integrity, courage and wisdom. What a blessing!

I also thought about the miserable failures of pastoral leadership; breaches in trust, sexual abuse, sloth and exploitation of individuals and entire church communities. Each week seems to bring new reports of denominational leaders’ failure to protect people from predatory clergy. They harm and manipulate the very ones they are called to serve and love.

Some of them are caught and convicted. Some of them just moved around to other places by a system bent on denial and self-preservation.

Pastors, ministers, priests and all those in service to the gospel of Jesus Christ are all a mixed bag of saints and sinners, of fitness and incompetence, and of character and compromise. Some should be congratulated, some should be incarcerated.

When clergy behave with grace and wholeness, it is a blessing. When clergy behave badly, it hurts us all. Their actions wound individuals and the communities we share. Trust, wholeness and honesty are broken, leaving many with shame, grief and pain.

It’s time to commend the commendable and call out the criminal. The Church deserves better.


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