Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When the Shepherds Become the Wolves

So you did something lousy. You hurt someone. I get it- I do. And I still love you, an' Imma come back to you in a minute, okay?

'Cause first I got to go over here and see about the person that you hurt so bad.

Sit back in your chairs and buckle your belts my beloved friends, 'cause I'm about to PREACH.

Over the past week I attended Ministry Days and the General Assembly of my denomination; a time for 4,000 of my tribe to come together in peace and love and justice and truth and part of that truth was ugly.

Oh yeah.

Part of that truth was a tough conversation between good ministers about what it means when sometimes the shepherds of the flock become the wolves.

What it means when the same ministers trusted to be there in the toughest times betray that trust and prey on the very people we are called to hold close and keep safe. Though we don't suffer from the sweeping accusations that other groups have had, we have had more than one or two.

Enough to make the rest of us face the issue, wondering at times if there but for the grace of god or the goddess or just blind luck go we.

I'm not talking about the couple who fall in love, and who try to do the best they can. I'm not worried about the minister and the congregant who get married, with their congregation joyfully wishing them well. I'm not talking about the ethics violation where there is no complaint and where it exists only in the letter of the law.

Others can speak to that better than I ever could.

I'm talking about predators. The ones who are found in every denomination of every faith.

I'm talking about ministers who date members of their congregations, one after another. Ministers who collect exes like I collect tubes of paint. Ministers who use their power and position to meet their own needs at the cost of those they serve. Ministers who selfishly abuse and harass and proposition.

And sometimes it seems like the worst part about this conversation is how quickly some people would like it to go away.

Because it hurts to talk about what you do when the good becomes the bad and the whole world seems to have torn loose and stared flapping in the breeze like a dirty, tattered flag.

And so we try to talk about returning the abuser to right relations with colleagues. We talk about covenant, and redemption and grace and we even talk about God.

We dare to talk about forgiveness.

We want this to stop hurting.

But I'm gonna quote Bob Dylan and say "I don't care about none of them things."

Nobody talks about the fact that when the Prodigal Son came home no one asked who he hurt while he was gone. His father didn't say "what about the women you slept with? Did any of them bear a child?" His father didn't ask if there had been drunken fights that left another man bleeding on the floor; he didn't comfort his younger son who had never gone away.

He threw a party for the one who had caused so much pain, because he was back and all was right with the world, except that life doesn't work that way and that story is a parable.

In the real world you have to deal with the money lost and relationships torn and the wounds that take years to go away.

And the Prodigal Son's party can wait while we spend our time instead healing the cuts made by angry words and selfish actions. The party in fact can be cancelled right now, and the Prodigal welcomed instead with the list of things that he can do to regain trust and make amends for the sorrow and the suffering and the loss. Get him or her or them a sandwich while they work.

Ministers are human. They make mistakes. Some of them make big mistakes, and some may even be predators. To them I say "I still love you. And Imma get back to you."

But you gave up your right to be first in my thoughts. You used it up in one greedy sweeping step and now you're going to have to stand with broom in hand, sweeping up the remains of the lives you shattered.

Leave the forgiveness to the victims. They get to say if they forgive. Set the question of collegiality aside- a minister who abuses is not a colleague.

The one who shatters covenant does not get to demand that it be recreated as soon as possible, for their own comfort and convenience.

If you have been abused by a clergy person from any faith you have the right to be made whole. You have the right to be believed. You have the right to justice. You have the right to shine a light on the truth of what was done to you and you do not have to lie or hide so that your abuser can maintain the illusion that they didn't do a thing.

If you are the clergy person, you have the right to work for restoration of trust, but you will never have the guarantee of trust. You have the right to attempt redemption, but you are not guaranteed success. You have the right to the recognition of your worth and dignity as a human being, but not necessarily as a minister.

And you do not have the right to hide what you have done behind the black robed skirts and business suits of your colleagues under the guise of collegial covenant.

Imma let my light shine, and if it destroys the shadow you were hiding in, I'll be over here.
With that sandwich and your broom.



  1. Thank you. I wasn't at Ministry Days/GA this year, but have tried to keep up. Thank you for your post, and ministry.

  2. The minister is Lord of the castle. It would be extremely difficult for a congregant, especially a new member who wasn't well connected within the congregation and didn't know the structure of the denomination, to figure out even to to talk to.

    We need more oversight for ministers. Forget the collegial covenant if it serves to foster bad behavior.