Saturday, May 15, 2010

Unbelievers Ministers in Church

This is disturbing news. Is there something worse than a shrinking Church in America? I think there is. It is the hiring or the inclusion of non-believers ministering the sacraments in Church. In a troubling news report entitled, "Disbelief in the Pulpit," the basic question asked is what the church should do, if the servants of the Church, primarily the preacher loses his faith?  This prefaces the study ("Preachers Who are Not Believers") done by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. Based on interviews with clergy from 5 Protestant denominations, the paper deals with issues surrounding clergy who no longer believes what they formerly believed.

I find the conclusion of the study more disturbing.
"Perhaps the best thing their congregations can do to help them is to respect their unspoken vows of secrecy, and allow them to carry on unchallenged; or perhaps this is a short-sighted response, ultimately just perpetuating the tightly interlocking system that maintains the gulf of systematic hypocrisy between clergy and laity."
(Daniel C. Dennett, & Linda LaScola, Evolutionary Psychology, p149-150; – 2010. 8(1): 122-150)

Scriptures record a harsh damnation on teachers and leaders who lead flocks astray. While one can say all the 'right' words, one cannot deceive God. God will judge the heart. For those who are dishonest with the congregation, they are most dishonest with God.

My Comments
It troubles me to read that many of these interviews reveal a secretive element. Not only do many of these unbelievers not hold to the faith of their denominations, they 'playact' and that smells dishonesty and dangerously unauthentic. These people come from both liberal and conservative camps, indicating that the problem is larger than we thought.

Before we become paranoid, I think we must recognize the disclaimer in the study. The phrase 'our sample is small and self-selected,' should remind us that such unbelievers in the pulpit is simply a small fragment of the church. They should not be deemed as a growing force. The main challenge for us is basically be able to nip any of such dishonest behaviour by cultivating a culture of grace. Instead of being overly ready to mete out cruel punishment for disbelief, provide clergy and ministers an opportunity for 'spiritual rehabilitation.' The Old Testament teaches us to show grace even to people who commit murder by providing areas of refuge for them. Likewise, for people who are tempted or honestly have second thoughts about their faith, seek help. The path to honesty has to be carefully taken. Deception can easily enter. Sometimes, we use the word 'being honest' as a reason for selfish motives. Other times, we are tempted to 'be honest' when given wrong information or deceitful arguments. That is why a community of faith is necessary, gentle and gracious enough for all to sound one another out and to find some solace in our difficult journey of faith.

One more thing. We need to distinguish between burn-out frustration from genuine doubts. I believe that there is a kind of faith that leads to unhealthy doubt; and a kind of doubt that can lead to healthy faith.

Unhealthy forms of beliefs are like people holding on to views that they no longer embrace. Such believing makes matters worse. On the other hand, healthy questioning can open up opportunities to learn. When we ask God, 'Why?' it is not necessarily doubting God's existence or plans. It is essentially a spiritual struggle to ask God to speak to our heart's condition.May the Church show grace to struggling clergy when they have difficult problems with their faith. Likewise, may these clergy show grace to the congregation by being frank.

I like one of the comment for the article. To the unbelieving pastor or clergy, 'Resign first.'


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