Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Prophetic Function of Clergy

A recent editorial in the Washington Post argues that the Presbyterian church should not have issued a resolution condemning the war in Iraq becuase he "feared it would have a polarizing effect. It was a divider, not a uniter."

I don't know if I would have been interested in this topic if it wasn't for a recent post on Larry's blog.

The editorial is interesting, I think, but I don't agree with it. Perhaps I'm more black and white than shades of gray, but I get frustrated with the idea that you can't say anything unless most people agree with it (though I can see why majority rule for a denominational resolution might be a good idea; if the denomination makes a resolution, shouldn't most of the denomination agree with it?). If the invasion of Iraq was "unwise, immoral and illegal" whatever the majority says does not matter.

In some ways, I have little sympathy for the Presbyterian church, in large part because of all the troubles the Episcopal church is having over the issue of consecrating a gay bishop. Then again, that was a majority decision -- but was it right? I don't know, but the pain it has caused is very real and it is continuing. I'm not saying they shouldn't have done it, though.

What is the function of clergy anyway? To speak the truth? To facilitate discussion? To save our souls? To guide us to mental health? To manage a church?

1 comment:

Larry said...

I could write a large sermon on this knotty matter, but for starters let me refer you to a belief.net discussion on religion and politics, especially the first response to the original statement.

Churches tend to have two different kinds of pastors: pastoral men, and prophetic men. The pastoral men tend to stay in their position longer. There is certainly something to be said for both types of men.

In 1992 (was that when the Gulf War started?) we belonged to a small Quaker Meeting in Brevard, NC. At the outbreak of the war the meeting decided to send a minute to the local paper opposing the war. A dear old friend, who had been an editor for 30 years was commissioned to write the minute.

Jesse came back with a really lurid document. To begin he chewed the govt up and down for the early 20th century banana republics we established, putting an amenable dictator in charge-- over and over for years during which United Fruit Company expanded immensely. And his minute went on like that right up to 1992.

One member suggested that he delete the passage about the banana republics, to which Jesse cheerfully agreed. Another member had a similar objection; Jesse cheerfully agreed. And so it went. We wound up with a fairly innocuous statement opposing war which we duly sent to the local paper and the episode closed.

Quakers have a habit of doing nothing without unity, which is the main reason that Quaker meetings do so little. Quaker members are generally quite active politically and in other social ways. And most Quaker Meetings support the Friends Committee on National Legislation, about as aggressive a D.C. lobby as there is. But unlike the Presbyterian body they have no ruling, judging, or legislative function.

As a pastor in 1958 I chewed my congregation up and down for their racial attitudes. "That Catholic Church down the street is closer to Christ than we are because they have some black members." Then in the apostle Paul's words, I fled to the next town.

I don't know who is most right in this conflict. I do know that as Christians we need to take a stand against war- and many other political evils. Our congregations would be smaller, but they would be more commited to Christ.