The Wright stuff

Continuing our conversation, here’s a post from Adam Copeland at A Wee Blether:

There’s several different theories as to why Wright emerged from his press hideout to throw grenades at America, the media, our political system, and Obama’s campaign. On one extreme, pundits posit that Wright knew exactly what he was doing: throwing himself under the bus of public opinion so that Obama would have to completely cut off their relationship. According to this theory, Wright’s imploding was an act of martyrdom for a parishoner, and for America’s best interest. One other other extreme, the theory posits that Wright was out totally for personal gain and his ten minutes of mass media fame–and to sell his upcoming book. While this theory is familiar, it doesn’t seem to jive with what I know of the man in terms of the Christian circles in which he hangs, the theology which he reads, the social justice programs which he organizes. Overall, I don’t subscribe to either of these theories. I’m just confused.

But Carol, over at Tribal Church, asked me specifically,

When a member leaves a church, it’s always difficult. And watching this pastoral relationship dissolve in such a public way has been particularly painful. What are you learning, as in intern and seminarian, about the relationship between pastors and members?

Carol tends to write beautiful blog posts with a illustrative story intro and her brilliant perspective at the end. Not so with me, especially with three evening commitments this week and my parents in town. At A Wee Blether you get ugly, simple, boring, but hopefully somewhat helpful numbered points.

What I am learning–and what I still need to learn–about the relationship between pastors and members.

1. Pastors and members don’t need to be best friends, but they need to respect one another as fellow sojourners in the Christian faith. In any community, some folks will bond quickly with some, and not become fast friends with others. In a congregation that’s fine, that’s probably healthy, and it’s at least to be expected. The pastor’s job is not to become everyone’s best friend, but to be a pastor. A pastoral relationship is based in mutual respect, dialog, kindness, and love. That said, a pastor must also be careful not to distance some members because of her relationship with others, or to allow cliques to function unchallenged. If mutual respect is a governing doctrine, many a predicament may be averted.

2. Pastors are people too, but they’re still pastors. It’s a fallacy–functioning in some seminary circles–that pastors can be “on” from 9-5 plus Sundays and meetings, and then be islands unto themselves for the rest of the time. Perhaps this sounds appealing on paper, but it just doesn’t work. Congregation members shop at the same stores, drink at the same bars, and are on the other line of the phone when you’re angry at the local government. How a pastor treats her son’s soccer referee reflects on herself, and on her congregation. If a pastor writes an editorial, or endorses and political candidate (in her public citizen part of life), or sends an angry email, the pastor will find it very difficult to explain to the session, “But that had nothing to do with you, it was after hours.” Politicians get this; old school pastors too.

3. When you screw up, say so. Mike Huckabee, though I disagree with many of his positions, is a decent person and was probably a great pastor. When he screws up, he says so. I love his line, “That’s not the first stupid thing I said, nor will it be the last. I’ve apologized to _______, and reiterate that apology again now.” It’s not just effective politicking, it’s faithful to the gospel. When we sin, we should confess. Pastors who admit their many faults to their congregation contribute to strong, real, and faithful relationships with members.

4. Finally–because it’s weird to preach about pastors when I’m not yet ordained and have only served as one for 11.5 months–I’ll leave with my questions about this subjectHow has the role of pastor changed as society as a whole has become more educated? (A pastor’s master degree is not as impressive as it once was in smaller town pre-21st century America.) To what extent, in a society suspicious of institutions, is a pastor’s relationship with her denomination helpful or hindering in pastoral relationships with members? When is it okay for pastors to accept gifts from members? When is it okay for them to ask for a favor?

I’ve greatly enjoyed this blog tit-for-tat with Carol regarding Jeremiah Wright. Many thanks to Carol for her wise words, and for you readers. Until the next religion-related controversy–or Wright flare-up–I’m going to take a break from Jeremiads.

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