By Charles Moncrief
The Church has always come under criticism for its failures to respond to the calls for justice by a hurting society. The critics need to be heard, especially when the Church presents obstacles to survival of domestic and other forms of violence. I would also hope to offer some ways for us all to move forward in response to some of this criticism.
Some critics charge that the Church is corrupt, basing their opinions on the few accounts of clergy who abuse their positions of trust. But for every pastor who owns a private jet, literally millions struggle to feed their families on the stipends paid to clergy. Many are bi-vocational, working a second job just to make ends meet.
Others charge that the Church is silent on matters of violence in society, and that its pastors give misleading advice to those attempting to survive their wounds. This is unfortunately true, but possibly not entirely for the reasons we might think.
Pastors in most cases have advanced degrees in theology and church leadership. These degrees come from a seminary, which may or may not include Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in a hospital or a mental institution. They may also include specialized training in the issues a pastor might face in the world after graduation. But a four-year seminary education is simply not adequate to equip a pastor for all of the conditions that arise in the world today.
Continuing education meets some of this need, when a pastor can take a few weeks to attend courses or conferences that address the major issues of the day. Another resource is the pooling of talent among the pastoral leaders in the community, even as it causes clergy to set aside their doctrinal differences and work together. Some leaders have strengths that better address domestic violence, some are more capable of responding to grief issues, some can better assemble addiction centers, and so on.
But something else is needed. And this is the most vital. What the pastoral leaders need most is you. You know what it is to live through the human experience from one day to the next. You know what it is to face the challenges of society, how it affects your family and professional life, and where the Church is not reaching your neighbor. You know what the Church needs to provide, and where it helps and where it doesn’t.
You wouldn’t expect the clergy to visit you in a hospital if you didn’t let them know you were there. At the same time, you wouldn’t normally assume the clergy know what programs are needed by the Church to meet your family’s and your community’s needs. Open and honest communication is the key. As you let the leaders know what you need, they are more able to identify resources both within the congregation and among the other churches in the community to make an effective response.
While some leaders contend that it’s not the Church’s place to redress society’s ills, and while other leaders maintain that the Church needs to concentrate on social justice alone, it’s necessary to strike a balance. Certainly the elements of piety (relationship with God) can coexist with those of justice (relationships with our society), and in a healthy mixture of the two.
It’s also necessary to consider where we might redistribute responsibilities. What is the responsibility of the leadership? And what is the responsibility of the members?
All of this can stand revisiting. Maybe we can renew our commitment to be in conversation with each other as we face together the necessities of each coming day.