Let’s Start the Discussion
with Loaded Language
I received an advertisement in my email yesterday pointing to a two-year-old documentary entitled Betrayed: The Clergy Killer’s DNA. It wasn’t spam. It was sent by a pastor.
I checked the link to the film’s website.
It costs $20 to view the documentary. I watched the trailer and read the discussion threads. I’m not about to invest in what seems to be a 90-minute pity party, aimed primarily at a clergy audience.
The trailer promises a one-sided look at church life. Pastor as victim.
The film addresses a problem that only clergy know about. There are, lurking in congregations, evil laity who are wired to make life difficult for clergy, They, and they alone, are causing clergy to forsake careers of service. They, although few, are bringing down the entire Church.
The Alligators Have Returned
I have been around this kind of talk all my life. Back in the 1970s the clergy called parishioners with dissenting views “alligators.” You get the picture. The alligator hangs in the water. Only its eyes can be seen. It is waiting for just the right moment. Snap! Its jaws are locked on the pastor’s leg, pulling him under—(and back then it was a him).
This documentary ratchets up the rhetoric. No longer alligators. Clergy killers. It’s in their DNA. Unredeemable!
Interestingly most of the testimonials on the documentary’s website recommend sharing it with other clergy. There is very little suggestion that this is a film to be shared with laity. Keep it in the club.
A Little Power Is Never Enough
Here is the reality of church life.
- Clergy control the rule-making process.
- Clergy control the pulpit.
- Clergy control the church press, whether it is the church bulletin, congregational newsletter or a denominational magazine or website.
- Clergy have their own “union”—other clergy to advocate for them and make sure congregations live up to denominational standards.
- Clergy control any grievance process, if there is one.
- Even in the conventions or assemblies, where lay people participate, the laity are vetted. Those chosen to attend and vote are usually in favor with clergy. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it does create frustration for laity with less than mainstream views.
- Clergy are fairly immune from legal obligations in fulfilling promises. If courts get involved they are likely to lean toward the establishment, defaulting to the powerful. That old separation of church and state thing.
Yet, with all this one-sided power exercised in a downright cloistered environment, when leadership problems occur, the laity are somehow to blame.
2×2 has its roots in this inequity. We have experienced the resulting abuse of power.
Make no mistake. Church leaders wanted our congregation to die. They said so. They meant it! Lay members who might stand in their way were labeled before there was any discussion. We were personally pursued in court from 2008 to 2014. The killer DNA is not limited to laity!
The Lay Point of View
The laity could make our own documentary about our lot in the Church. Just go over the above bulleted list and replace “Clergy” with “Laity don’t” or “Laity aren’t.”
2×2 advocates for the lay point of view—many points of view, we assume. We are not clergy haters or clergy killers. We have career clergy in our membership.
We are part of the waning Lutheran tradition in which clergy and laity are regarded equally.
We, as lay people, want to serve within the Church to the best of our abilities (which are boundless). We see a structure that discourages lay involvement. The number of laity opting out far exceeds clergy dropout. It’s worth a documentary!
Good Leaders Solve Problems
The types of problems that lead to this documentary’s inflammatory rhetoric (as evident in the title) and the resulting fractious and divisive congregational conditions are in fact leadership problems—not laity problems. Leaders must deal with all sorts of people. If they can’t, their lives might be better spent in a different line of work.
Are the laity abusing their little bit of power? Or are they frustrated at not being heard? Are we worried that the Church we love is going in a dangerous or wrong direction? Is our experience unappreciated? Have our decades of devotion been for nothing? Are we tired of being limited to lives of Christian service as ushers and choir members? Do we see new strategies and innovation that maximize the skills of all? Or do we see pastors contentedly doing the same ineffective things, while the church is dying? Are we tired of seeing churches closed, land grabbed and members locked out, while pastors who failed to grow a church are quietly reassigned?
Perhaps we care enough to point out when we think policies are misguided or important needs are neglected or when the pastor is making bad judgment calls.
Leaders—true leaders—can nurture congregations and overcome problems of leadership. That starts with mutual respect. Sometimes it is a simple matter of taking a few people aside, asking questions and listening.
Leaders with poor skills take problems to other people—ones who will be sympathetic—who won’t consider another point of view—parishioners who accept what clergy say as gospel. This will make the pastor feel better while it divides the congregation. In dire circumstances a poorly trained pastor will turn to other clergy who will never hear the lay side of any issues. But they might help make a documentary!
Clergy and Laity: Equal in Importance
The Church faces real challenges today. These challenges will not be met by enlisting only followers with blind allegiance. For one thing, they are going to be hard to find!
The stakes are high for most congregations—life or death for some. Congregations will not survive if laity are passive and yet that is what is expected of us. Congregations need parishioners who advocate for different points of view and aren’t afraid to address problems. And sometimes, not always, but sometimes—the pastor is part of the problem.
Clergy are stronger when influence is shared. The whole Church is stronger when we aren’t looking for excuses, calling names, and pointing fingers.
All Christians, clergy and lay alike, are called to discipleship or servanthood.
It wouldn’t hurt clergy to wear their parishioners’ shoes for a while.
Interview a few of us when you make the sequal!