By Charles Moncrief
A recent announcement by the National Football League has raised nearly everyone’s awareness of domestic violence. Many other organizations are examining their own policies and are publicizing their own refusal to tolerate this savage, barbaric brutality. My hope and prayer is that all organizations will review and take action about the way they respond during this brief moment before the public eye again closes.
After listening to too many clergy, it’s obvious something needs to be done within the Church as well. Since most of my colleagues believe they know a lot more about this subject than I do, it’s obvious that they’re not interested in anything I have to say.
A dysfunctional couple became even more so after a priest counseled them with “Go to mass more often.”
A guest host on Susan Murphy Milano’s Blog Talk Radio show took a call from one battered woman who said her pastor told her that she should be more available to perform her wifely duties for her husband.
Clergy such as these are out of my league. Women on the receiving end of counsel like this will one day observe, figuratively, the bodies of such men floating down the river beside which they weep.
Lest this be seen as an unfair and vicious broad-brush assault on clergy, let me be clear on two points. First, very few of my colleagues are like this; most of them are godly and effective in pastoral caregiving. Second, very few of them are giving such advice out of malice and wickedness. It’s often ignorance that results from generations of untested mentoring. And quite honestly, I’ve benefited from some of them who on occasion rebuked my challenges. And I do agree that in principle, being part of a faith community is important for mutual support and accountability.
Many of the priests and pastors who are out of my league are the ones who “run the shop” (my irreverent term, along with “pulpiteers”, for senior congregational clergy). After years in their positions, they are generally receptive to what they hear from other senior-level store minders rather than to my suggestions. My prayer is that someone they respect, at clergy conferences or while eating thin sandwiches at tea parties, will get their attention.
For my part, I’ve chosen to focus on those candidates preparing for the ordained ministry. Or whenever possible, I’m taking aim at young men and women even before they start down that path!
First of all, I subscribe to the wisdom of B. Sidney Sanders, retired Bishop of East Carolina and former chaplain at a seminary I once attended. Sid’s words to those aspiring to the ordained ministry were some variation of these: “If you can find fulfillment in any occupation other than the ordained ministry, then for God’s sake and your own, please pursue that other occupation.” I agree wholeheartedly! I’m 100% suspicious of anyone who says “I want to be a minister.” But I’m 100% supportive of those who have stopped fighting God and running from His call on their lives.
When I’ve preached for candidates in their ordination services, my sermons fit the 3-point model: to honor God, to pray and read their Bible, and to behave themselves. My style is to put the core of my message into two broad topics. To illustrate, I’ll share the draft of an actual core. We pick up right after I’ve told them that this is their final opportunity to bow out, which they can do without shame and without dishonor.
TAKE THOU AUTHORITY
In a few minutes the Bishop will lay his hands on your head and claim that God has made you a Priest in His Church. The Bishop will then make a series of statements that begin with the words “Take Thou Authority”. Listen to those words. And pay attention to the reality that accompanies those words. I’ll speak this to you now. “Take Thou ACCOUNTABILITY.” In this service it’s tempting for you to regard all these words as a mere formality. In fact, sadly I’ve heard just such counsel given to candidates when taking their vows. But know this. The colleagues who attend these proceedings, and who will do their utmost to support you in your ministry, these same colleagues will be called upon to move against you should you prove false to your vows. And if they don’t, I’ll move against them!
People look to a minister as a person of authority. And rightly so. Whether they believe as you do or not, others acknowledge your belief in and accountability to a higher power. And most importantly, they believe it to be of your own free will. Even the enemies of God and your commitment to Him, far more often than not, allow you to pass unchallenged through doorways closed to most. Often, doors are opened for you by total strangers.
A woman sitting next to you on an airline flight will open the door of her heart and mind with some bitter relationship experience that has destroyed her world. TAKE THOU AUTHORITY to guard her trust that you will protect her sacred space. TAKE THOU ACCOUNTABILITY.
An interstate truck driver twice your size will collapse sobbing into your arms because he killed four people in a car that ran a red light in front of him. TAKE THOU AUTHORITY to guard this man’s human side. TAKE THOU ACCOUNTABILITY.
On a rare occasion both the husband and the wife will sit in your presence after one of them has literally or figuratively beaten the daylights out of the other. TAKE THOU AUTHORITY to be a bold and non-judgmental presence to both of them. TAKE THOU ACCOUNTABILITY.
You’ve prepared and polished a whiz-bang sermon to impart your wisdom to the people in your congregation. But you stand in the pulpit facing a congregation in shock because of an event like 9-11 on the previous Tuesday*. TAKE THOU AUTHORITY to tear up your manuscript and speak to the hearts and minds of these people. TAKE THOU ACCOUNTABILITY.
Nothing you say, in a counseling session or in the pulpit, will ever be completely accepted. TAKE THOU AUTHORITY and TAKE THOU ACCOUNTABILITY to field the justly deserved rebukes as well as the cheap shots that come against you for anything whatsoever that you say. Respond to all of them with love.
Above all, as you reflect on any authority you have in your ministry, never forget that this authority was conferred. Not earned. Not awarded. It was placed in your hands by God’s grace, through the agency of His faith community, for a purpose greater than you yourself will ever be.
STAY OFF OF GOD’S TURF
My favorite choice of texts for this warning comes from the first half of Matthew 6:12, "And forgive us our trespasses." These words are the most effective translation our poor English language can make of the original Aramaic words of Jesus, “Washboqlan khaubayn.” Allow me to use these words in terms of stepping over some boundary and getting caught on God’s turf.
One of the greatest mistakes you can make as a minister is to get so far onto God’s turf that no amount of scrambling will get you back off of it. Trust me! God’s grace is the only way for you to get off.
No one is warning you against becoming some sort of arrogant little tin god. You’re probably still chafing over the countless times your seminary professors and fellow students have rebuked your temerity, so you’re a few years away from THIS danger!
In getting onto God’s turf, I’m speaking of these things:
- Taking onto yourself the tasks that you can’t do alone
- Believing that your seminary studies, your clinical pastoral education (CPE), and your internship are adequate to carry you through your entire career
- Believing that you can subsist on professional relationships only within your own denomination or jurisdiction
- Believing that “Read your Bible more” and “Do your Daily Office” and “Go to mass more” are cure-alls for the needs of those who look desperately to you for a word from God
- Believing that yesterday’s answers, even the ones you gave so effectively, are adequate for today
- Believing that as a senior pastor you have all the resources within you to help people with their major issues
I want to address the last two more than any other, focusing on domestic violence.
A few weeks ago I cringed when a preacher said “If you’re suffering from domestic violence, come see me or Pastor Bob.” The implication was that since they’re the senior pastors, they can take care of all that ails you.
There was no reference in that sermon to the idea that these clergy have been to continuing education, especially in the field of domestic violence. The reality is that when you’re running the shop, the demands of the job and of your family life actually prevent you from staying up-to-date on any pastoral discipline. And domestic violence is one of the big ones.
You must participate in a community of clergy and secular specialists who have greater skill and specialty than you do. And you must be willing to defer to someone, even in another denomination or jurisdiction, even non-Christians, who can often address subjects that you yourself cannot.
You can’t just go into your closet and pray that God will give you what you need when you’re presented with a pastoral challenge. You need a lot more of the resources available than your own dependence on the spiritual insights you receive this way.
You absolutely must realize that you don’t have all the answers. And you absolutely must realize that the strength God makes available to you exists in others:
- Clergy outside of your background
- Medical and mental health professionals
- Veterans of domestic violence
- Blog sites such as this one (including all of the links in the articles)
You will, first and last, be unequal to the mantle you wear whenever you try to take too much on yourself.
Step forward in faith and trust. I guarantee you’ll not come through the experience unscathed. But
TAKE THOU ACCOUNTABILITY
STAY OFF OF GOD’S TURF
Grace and Peace,
*Allow me to share a personal experience. I’ve made it a footnote because it’s off-topic.
The Sunday after the 9-11 attack I was scheduled to fill in for a friend on vacation. The scheduled reading included a passage from Exodus 32:9-10, in which God tells Moses
Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods!" I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let my wrath burn hot against them and I may consume them.
Many of my colleagues removed this from the schedule. My efforts to do the same were unsuccessful, so it fell upon me to preach to the congregation after one of their members boldly read this text.
The congregation, upon hearing the passage, had no trouble reading the obvious parallel:
Americans, you were brought up from religious persecution in the early 1600s. You have acted perversely; you have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded; you have cast for themselves your own idols of pornography and drugs and sports figures and despicable forms of entertainment, and have worshiped and sacrificed to them, and said, “These are your gods!" I have seen how stiff-necked you are. Now let my wrath burn hot against you as I throw airplanes into your tall temples!
I’m not going to go into details, but my pastoral requirement was not to shrink from the words presented to them: to obey my ordination command: TAKE THOU AUTHORITY. The saving grace came from reading the entire passage.
Anglican Priest, Charles Moncrief, serves up the issues of the day on a platter mixed with scripture, seriousness, and a sense of humor to create a ministry founded in love for his fellow man.
“I’m an Anglican Priest, disguised as a geek during the week. It’s REALLY tough to change my costume, since phone booths are getting hard to find!”