One thing about being a minister is that we often have a good, hard look underneath the shiny, happy exterior of the families in our churches. Whether people want us to look at the underside or not, it’s usually pretty clear within a few years of being in community together. As, I’m sure, our shadow side is clear to them.
Families are extremely interesting. And they can be heart-breaking. As powerful as hurricanes are, I have not seen a natural disaster that can cause the devastation that a family can. There is often a person in which all of the dysfunctions of the members surface. It is the teenager who, at some gut level, understands that his mother is an addict, even though no one is willing to admit it. He gets tired of the charade, and so he begins to tell people that all is not right in family. Then, all of a sudden he becomes the problem, instead of his mother’s addiction.
So, there is the issue, and the “presenting issue.”
It happens in a thousand different ways. Often it’s fascinating to watch the dynamic, and sometimes it’s extremely painful to watch how strong emotions emerge in intense relationships.
It happens in our churches too. The presenting issue can be whether we cut the communion bread into squares or circles, or whether someone returned the linens to the church kitchen, and people may be ready to split the church over these petty things. But the real problem lies somewhere else.
In the Presbyterian denomination, right now, the presenting issue is ordination. We have fights over LGBT inclusion, and as real and serious as those are, we also have something going on. I’m not sure what it is, but it is truly dysfunctional. And the people who are victimized are the very men and women we are supposed to be loving and supporting through their calls. For instance, I know people who are kept out of the system, not because they are homosexuals, but because they accept homosexuals.
I’ll tell you a quick story, which has nothing to do with my LGBT advocacy. We were ready to move from one step of the ord process to another (inquiry to candidacy, for all of you Presbyterians out there), and at the same time, the committee chairs were changing. The first chair was ashamed of her files. Her recordkeeping wasn’t as tidy as she had hoped, she was embarrassed, and so she didn’t hand off her paperwork for six months to the next chair.
It sounds like a small thing, and it was. But, by the time the next chair got the papers and got caught up, my husband and I were way off on our ordination process. Here’s the rub. When we graduated, Brian had finished all of his requirements, we both had small, rural churches waiting on us, and yet, we could not move into the manse because of that lapse in the process.
We were homeless for six months, because of one folder.
We got kicked out of seminary housing and had no place to go. We left our stuff in a professor’s garage, and had to give away our cat. We slept in tents in parks, and couch-surfed at friends’ apartments. We painted houses, did post-construction work, and cleaned homes, but when the odd jobs ran out, we literally had no money to eat and no roof over our heads.
Because of one folder.
Everyone knew what was happening to us. No one did anything to help us. No one questioned the process.
It can be a sick and inhumane system. It can literally destroy people. And yet, no one is allowed to complain.
Well… it’s been ten years, and I don’t have to report to a committee any longer and no one questions my ability as a pastor. So it’s safe to look back, and I see absolutely no reason for the abuse that we had to suffer. And, as I watch my friends and colleagues suffer in the same ways, I wonder what we are doing. It is clear that we have a presenting issue on our hands, in which we allow the dysfunctions of our denomination to be played out on our youngest and most vulnerable. The very people that God has entrusted to our care. The very men and women we should be nurturing, loving, and encouraging.
What can we do to make it stop?