Monthly Archives: June 2013
Another scandal hit the news recently about some pastors resigning over inappropriate sexual and abusive behavior in the church. I’ll spare you the lurid details. It makes me angry when these things happen. Not just because of the betrayal of trust and the often predatory mentality of the pastors who cross that line (they prey on the vulnerable), but because such defrocked pastors too often finagle a return to full-time paid ministry as a pastor. When that happens, it raises serious questions about the hiring policies of some churches. It also makes me question whether the leadership at churches that hire defrocked pastors has a misguided interpretation of forgiveness and restoration so off the rails it puts their congregation at risk.
Here is a valuable tip for all Christians in a denominational or independent church: If your church leaders hire a pastor without doing a thorough background check (including reference checks), or they decide to hire a pastor who has demonstrated inappropriate or predatory sexual behavior in the past–RUN AWAY! That’s right, find another church. There are too many wolves out there these days for congregations to indulge a Pollyanna attitude about safety in their church. The sad truth is that some of those predatory pastors know how to weasel their way back into a church leadership position and often the only thing standing between them and a new congregation is the church search or hiring committee.
Don’t get me wrong, I support forgiveness and second chances with appropriate safeguards, but the process of rebuilding trust takes years. Often it’s better if fallen clergy find another career. There are simply too many damaged and vulnerable people sitting in congregations to expect anything from church hiring committees other than absolute commitment to the safety of God’s sheep over nepotism or misguided ideology.
If your church is in the process of hiring a new pastor, I believe it is appropriate for members of the congregation to ask those responsible for hiring to explain the process they will follow, especially the process of background and reference checks. It is OK to ask how they would handle a negative hit in the background check process. Granted, there are issues of confidentiality in hiring procedures and those responsible for hiring might not be allowed by law to share details about a specific candidate’s application. But congregations have a right to know if church leadership has a thorough screening process that they follow without exception. It is a red flag if the hiring committee is determined to hire a candidate without a background check (or they choose to ignore the results of a background check) simply because the candidate is a dynamic speaker, has years of experience, or is the friend or family member of someone in church leadership. In that case, church leaders may be putting vulnerable people in the congregation at risk. On the other hand, hiring committees may be so focused (with good intentions) on developing a dynamic and growing church that they don’t see a candidate’s glaring red flags. Either way, the congregation is at risk. The fix is for congregations to take a more active role in knowing their church’s hiring process.
Tom (not his real name) and I were having tea yesterday (don’t judge us for doing a girly thing). Both in our fifties, we feel the onset of age-related aches and pains. And yet we were both laughing at the insidious assault of time against our bodies and minds. Tom said with a chuckle, “I can see the inevitability ahead.” Nevertheless, even with a serious medical condition that has impacted his lifestyle, Tom seems to age with dignity.
Growing old gracefully doesn’t necessarily happen naturally. It’s like any endeavor for improvement; it requires thoughtfulness, effort, and suffering. Jim Collins, author of Great by Choice, said: “. . . all writers seem to agree on one point: writing well is desperately difficult, and it never gets easier. It’s like running: if you push your limits, you can become a faster runner, but you will always suffer.” Suffering is a necessary ingredient for anything worthwhile.
Aging can make us cranky, bitter, angry, sharp-tongued, and a host of other unpleasant things. It doesn’t have to be that way. If we ask for God’s help, I believe we can push through to that place of satisfaction that comes through suffering. We can become gentle, funny, and wise even as our body aches and our hair turns gray. Without God’s help, we will become whatever the world makes us.
My daughters have always made fun of my driving. They say I drive like an old man, slow and careful. I believe there are advantages to driving like an old man. (No, I don’t get a senior discount at Kragen Auto Parts.) One advantage came into focus after my eldest daughter had our first grandchild. Suddenly, both my daughters realized that I am by far the safest driver in the entire family. They became quite vociferous about the aggressive and nerve-wracking driving habits of other adults in the family. In short, if other family members didn’t repent and change their driving habits, grandpa Grady would be the only one allowed to transport the grandchildren by auto. (Without even trying, I have achieved most-favored-grandparent status . . . unfathomable!)
I believe one of the primary sources of bad driving is the spillover of our frenetic society and its selfishness into our driving ecosystem. There is enough anonymity on the highway to allow us to view other drivers as idiots and jerks. In a way, it’s like posting anonymous snarky comments on internet articles. Even though I drive like an old man, I occasionally get irritated at the driving faux pas of others. But when I drive to church and someone I recognize from the congregation cuts me off or tail gates, I bestow grace and let it go. Not so much when I’m out on the open road vying for the best place in traffic among pagans and strangers. (My hypocrisy remains.)
I have often observed drivers, including Christians, cuss out other drivers for traffic blunders then turn around and make the exact same mistake as the person they cussed out a few minutes earlier. Do as I want not as I do, right? Hypocrisy happens with greater frequency when grace is not extended by the person wronged. (Some call it karma . . . but not me.) And by the way, given the abysmal state of driving etiquette in America, it is not a good idea to put Christian bumper stickers and symbols on our cars (unless we drive like Saint Ignatius behind the wheel).
Another explanation for bad driving is the fact that new drivers get training on the mechanics of driving, laws of the road, and basic courtesy. But a deep sense of courtesy can’t be effectively taught in driver’s education courses because it is a character trait a person has been raised with, or not. Driving courtesy is related to the Biblical imperative that we think of others more highly than we think of ourselves . . . even on the road. Still, it’s hard not to judge others harshly and place them below us.
Recently, I read the most intelligent and insightful observation about our flawed methodology when it comes to judging. I wish I could recall the author’s name, but here is the observation: “We judge others based on their actions, we judge ourselves based on our motives.” I’m just sayin.’