A Laity Bill of Rights

bill_of_rights

 

Let’s stop right here, before I get started.

I’m not a member of the laity, and I’m pretty sure a laity bill of rights should be written by laity.  But, at the risk of “clergy-splaining”, I want to throw a few things out there for your consideration, laity.  Freedoms and protections I believe should be inalienable in The Church.  Use what you want, and throw the rest away.

  1.  The right to think.   Just because you have a dazzling pastor or a Harvard trained Sunday School teacher doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use your brain at church.  Some churches tend to tell you what you should believe.  I don’t go there.  I see the church, and it’s leaders, as teaching you HOW to believe–how to engage in disciplined, faithful inquiry.  Will your pastor make a strong case for the quadrilateral or prevenient grace?  Absolutely.  But how (or if) you integrate it into your walk of faith?  That should be your job.
  2. The right to bare arms.  Heehee.  Simply put,  I believe a church that puts a dress code over and above hospitality is already a dead church.  That said, different churches have different cultures.  If you’re wearing a tuxedo and everyone around you is in cutoffs, you may have a different concept of reverence.  There may be a church culture that fits you better.
  3. The right to accountability.  Here’s what I mean:  Lots of older churches (and their leaders) have allowed accountability to sort of drift away.  Being a member of a church means…attending occasionally?  Putting a few bucks in the plate once a year?  I find myself guilty of letting my congregations down in this way.  Laity who sign on for the adventure of discipleship deserve to encounter discipline along the way.  Discipline shapes the life of a church, in terms of expectations, opportunities, and structure.  If you’re going to make a commitment to a church, that commitment should challenge you, engage you, and work to form you into the disciple you’ve committed to be.
  4. The right to disagree.  You believe in creation, but your pastor teaches that it’s just a metaphor.  Do you have to change your beliefs? (Or change your church?)  No.  It’s okay to disagree.  Your Sunday School teacher tells you animals don’t have souls, but your dog Pearl (r.i.p.) was the most loving creature you ever met.  Do you have to sully her good name because your teacher said so?  No!  This may be obvious, but I think there are laity who forget they have the right to disagree.  It’s even possible to disagree without painful conflict or separation.  Great conversations can emerge from seeing things differently.  Just the same, if you find your pastor on the opposite side of the fence every Sunday, you also have the right to rethink if this church is truly feeding you.
  5. The right to be safe.  Churches are those rare buildings that actually house a “sanctuary”–a place of refuge and safety.  That could be said of the whole church property.  That’s the fervent goal, anyway.  There are times, it pains to say, when that right is violated.  You also have the right not to be bullied for your belief or any other reason.  You have the right to be safe at any age and in any situation.  These are rights we strive so hard to assure.  But sometimes, through negligence or evil, this right can be painfully violated.  God forbid, but were something like this to ever happen…
  6. You have the right to remain silent.  But I hope you won’t.  Instances of abuse are traumatizing, and we see one example after another of people who have waited decades to speak up in the face of that painful occurrence.  If you ever experience something that makes you uncomfortable or threatened or exposed, I truly hope you’ll tell somebody that you trust.  This is bad stuff, and it can threaten the rights of everybody in the church.  And if you are that trusted person somebody confides in, you have the right–no, RESPONSIBILITY to do right by them.  Listen to them.  Believe them.  Reach out to others who can help.

This is such a short list.  Maybe some laity out there will offer their own lists of rights.  I pledge, as a clergy, to listen and respect every word.Maybe I should be focusing on a bill of rights for pastors.

Hmm. Here’s a start:

1. We the clergy have the right to … pretty much all of the above, too.

Have a great week,

Mitch

dress-code

Sexual Misconduct

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you…” — 1 Corinthians 5.1a

I’ll bet that title got your attention. Me too.

Last week, a prominent United Methodist Pastor in Texas, Tyrone Gordon, resigned and surrendered his credentials amidst multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. He was one of the stars of our denomination, and though nothing has been proven or disproven, the allegations against him are daunting.

NOT AGAIN!

Every time a pastor engages in sexual misconduct (or sexual harassment), God weeps. That’s what I think. This is not Kingdom Behavior.

In our conference we have mandatory sexual ethics training for all pastors, and safe and sacred certification for all who work with children and youth. We work very hard to make sure our churches are sanctuaries from all kinds of abuse.

It pains me to say it, but despite our denomination’s best efforts, some pastors are repressed, and some never learn appropriate boundaries. There are even some who are predators. Some just make stupid mistakes. What I’m trying to say is, sexual misconduct is a rare yet nevertheless present aspect of The Church.

It’s scary, and it sickens me. But sexual impropriety is by no means restricted to clergy.

I would suppose God weeps whenever any doctor, or foreman, or supervisor, or teacher, or co-worker misuses their sexuality in the workplace. It’s a widespread problem.

Here are some stats on work related sexual harassment (from hr.blr.com)

  • About 70% of women and 20% of men have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • There are about 15,000 cases of sexual harassment filed each year in the United States.
  • These charges cost U.S. companies almost $40 million each year.
  • The number of complaints filed by men has more than tripled in recent years, indicating this is not just a woman’s problem.

There’s a good chance that you or someone you love has been a victim of some level of sexual harassment. Unwanted advances, aggressive behavior, inappropriate humor, power plays, physical assault, etc. This happens more than it should.

When it happens via the clergy, the moral outrage is often stronger because of the perceived higher ethical standards clergy must meet. But the truth is, Christians in all sorts of workplace environments find themselves making poor decisions, inappropriately crossing boundaries, and hurting themselves and others as a result.

Again, this is not Kingdom behavior. So how can we respond?

The two words that come to my mind are: Responsible love.

Responsible love for the victims means listening, believing, showing patience, helping to rebuild trust, and being an advocate.

Responsible love for the one who has engaged in misconduct means counseling, accountability, justice, and hopefully, forgiveness.

Perhaps, most of all, responsible love teaches and promotes healthy sexuality throughout the system.

Painful events like these bring forward so many emotions, and every one of them is acceptable to God. The path to responsible love is a rocky one, not always attained. Still, as Kingdom people, I believe it must be our goal.

I am truly humbled by the recent events in our denomination. It is a reminder that we must all (not just clergy) be mindful and vigilant in our interactions with each other. As painful as times like these can be, we must seize the opportunity to learn and grow.

Because, if we don’t learn and grow…

God weeps.

Have a great week,

Mitch