My Ongoing Arguments with Christianity and Myself

Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

The Gifts and Graces of Ordination Bureaucracies

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2009 at 3:11 am

I’m a bit behind the curve on this one, but the buzz in the emergent blogosophere is Adam Walker Cleaveland’s post “When an M.Div. from Princeton Isn’t Enough.”  The gist of it is that after three degrees in religion, one from a denominational college and two from denominational seminaries, Adam was told that he needs yet one more year of seminary in order to get ordained by that very denomination.

And to think what they would have said if he hadn’t gone to schools within the denomination!

The blogs are abuzz, and Adam helpfully linked to a lot of the blogs a-buzzing.  I took a few minutes to look through them and was astonished by some of what was being passed off as wisdom, mostly in the comments sections, directly or by implication:

1. Either you submit to the judgments of the ordination committee or you are in rebellion against God’s plan. Next thing you’ll tell me is that Jesus himself had exactly the sort of arcane bureaucratic nonsense we see in mainline ordination when he called the disciples.  If only they had listened better, we could have have high debt seminary education followed by years of subsequent hoop jumping two thousand years ago!

2. Ordination committees know best. Fifteen years of first and second hand reports tell me that ordination committees are of widely varying quality, often depending on the individual personalities of the people on a particular committee.  Designation as a denominational bureaucrat doesn’t confer any special wisdom of which I’m aware.  I became a volunteer denominational bureaucrat earlier this month, so you can imagine my disappointment.

3. It’s best to say whatever you have to say (or not say) to get ordained and bide your time until you can start telling the truth about yourself and your understanding of God. One commenter seemed to think this is what Jesus meant by “be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”  If this is what it takes to get ordained, what further evidence of corruption and decay do you need? Ministers who advance this viewpoint should have their ordinations reevaluated if they won’t stand up loudly and proudly against a system they obviously believe to be in sin.

4. Ministers need to be tested; therefore, any hazing or abuse you suffer at the hands of an ordination committee is part of God’s plan for your ministerial formation. Yes, and daddy hits because he loves you. The worst part of bureaucratic abuse of ministerial candidates is that they usually have no recourse whatsoever, unlike abused children.

5. If you oppose mainline denominational ordination procedures, you must think there shouldn’t be ordained ministers. I’ve tutored eight-year-olds who could point out the logic flaw in that one.

6. Ordination bureaucracy keeps the bad people from getting ordained. There’s a good case to be made that giving ministerial candidates psych tests—even one as outdated as the MMPI—keep out the crazies, to cite one example.  I’m not against all bureaucracy.  But you can only wear so many helmets and knee pads and still ride a bike safely.  You can reduce risk in ministry, but you can’t eliminate it.  People still get killed when they do everything they can do to be safe, so let’s not pretend that bureaucracy is a magic protection again future clergy misbehavior.  Too much concern for safety becomes unsafe.

7. Denominations sin, so no one should play with them. But you sin, and we still play with you.

8. Denominations are value neutral systems; only the people in them can sin. Systemic sin is real. See also: racism, sexism, etc.  Systemic sin loves a good bureaucracy full of well meaning folks who’d rather not think about unpleasant things like how institutional privilege and the power of guilds hurt people, for starters. After all, they’re already through with that mess.

Kudos to Adam for putting up an evenhanded post (unlike this one) and keeping it up in spite of a lot of resistance.  I hope he keeps up the transparency, and I hope the San Francisco presbytery takes this all in the good stead in which it seems intended.


Persons of Sacred Worth

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2009 at 12:36 am

One of the great joys of being a youth director was watching new middle school relationships enfold.  Each week brought news of who liked who and who was “going with” who.  They were consumed with sharing the news.

It was as though each new relationship was a discovery, a discovery that Jeff could be interested in Tracy, even though Jeff was interested in Lisa last week, and Tracy had never been interested in anyone at all, at least not that anyone knew.  It was gossip, but it was harmless gossip, if not joyful.  It was like watching a baby take its first steps. You couldn’t help but be proud of them as they stumbled along.

Not all of them walked at the same pace.  Some of them were always in the gossip and seemed to understand that they were the talk of the group.  Others kept their crushes to themselves, keeping to a role of keepers of gossip, not subjects.

There was one girl in particular who was never the subject of the gossip.  She was popular enough, in spite of her odd haircut and wardrobe of homemade bell bottoms and Beatles tshirts.  But there were never any gossip about who she liked or who she was going with.  She was one of the sharers of gossip, not its subject.

We had lock ins from time to time, and a lot of the kids would bring friends who went to other churches, or to no church at all.  I remember one time in particular when she brought a friend with her, the only time I remember her bringing a friend to anything.

Her friend was a cute blond girl whose preppiness couldn’t have been more in contrast to her own social awkwardness.  How was it that she was friends with a cheerleader? How would they have even met?

What stood out more was her nervous energy.  She always played her cards close to her chest, playing straight man to the more animated kids in the group.  But that night she was visibly excited her friend came to the lock in.  It wasn’t  “my friend came to the lock in” excitement.  It was more like first date excitement.

And then I knew.  It might actually be a first date.

I hoped for her sake either that her friend knew it too or that her friend never figured it out at all.  The last thing I wanted for her was for her friend to figure it out and make a scene; she’d never come back if she was outed.  Or worse, that her parents would force her to come back to a place of ridicule.

Of course there was no way to find out either way, and really it was none of my business.  But it made me sad to know that this girl who just might be gay could never have a frank and honest conversation with me about her sexual orientation where I could be honest myself about what I thought God was doing in her life.  We would either have to have an off-the-record conversation where I ministered to her as a person of inherent worth and dignity who experienced her sexual orientation the way God created her to or have a conversation where I toed the “love the sinner, hate the sin” line and lied about the God I believed in for the sake of orthodoxy and keeping my job.  It was an early step away from Christianity.