Friday, September 4, 2009

Fallen Comrades

I've had several discussions of late on the moral failings of religious and other public figures (politicians mostly, and many self-professed Christians and Promise Keepers at that), trying to understand why these things happen and the dynamics involved, both for the fallen leader and those who must deal with the aftermath. I just e-mailed a friend my thoughts on just one aspect of the problem, an excerpt of my response below:

"In my opinion, part of the problem with pastors as well as politicians, and really anyone in positions of power, is that the system helps to create the dynamics that lead to people falling. It's not just an individual with a moral indiscretion, but a whole system that produces secret behavior and a value for appearances. Such contexts make it difficult, and nearly emotionally impossible for the broken to feel they can be honest, already believing no one would understand, that everyone would reject them if they new the truth. And often times, unfortunately, they are right to believe so.

In evangelical circles, we are enamored with "accountability groups." But by and large accountability groups don't work. Many accountability groups assume perfection, then expect confession, followed by some pronouncement of forgiveness, with the exhortation to do better. I am not against accountability out right. But I have a different starting point: I don't assume perfection, but failure. Addicts and other strugglers are not helped by being told to do better, but by belonging to other sinners who extend grace and acceptance, and a commitment of love and relationship where screwing up is, well, pretty much normal. In the company of sinners, a sense of not being alone empowers everyone to be honest, deal with pain, and get better - without the fear of being rejected.

What pastors need are not accountability groups, but friends. What pastors can get wrong about leadership is seeing people as a means for some other end, usually the growth of the church, versus people being the end in of themselves. Love is always the means and the end, because people are the goal. Pastors can help create churches in which the goal is something other than deep relationships of grace, a grace which allows us to look inside with honesty and tell the truth about ourselves - and that this is NORMATIVE for the community, of which pastor is chief sinner. Church is really about connection, and often times the way church is done does not allow the pastor to have deep connection with friends who can hear the saddness, frustration, and failings of the pastor, while speaking into the pastor's life with wisdom, grace, and encouragement. The pastor is often the author and victim of the system he (and it's almost always he) creates. In Haggard's case, the church responded to him exactly the way he taught them to! With little grace for other sinners and even less for himself, the result was inevitable. To top it off, Haggard was in an accountability group but alas it did no good. Sadly, he had no real friends.

Suffice it to say, I don't want to be in a "successful" church where I am elevated simply because "I'm the man" or find myself emotionally isolated because the structure of the church points itself toward accomplishment rather than real relationship. I too am only human, a pastor who is one among equals. I want to lead in and through relationship and connection, starting with my own life of failure versus just getting things done so I/the church are seen as impressive. I need a different kind of church because I know the kind of person I am. I need a church for people like me. I need friends."

1 comment:

Erin said...

We have really screwed up the way we think about power, community and real relationship. The failings are in many ways the inevitable fruit of how we go about things.