Saturday, September 29, 2012

Religion did little more than make me fat...

The latest Forum Letter includes the sad story of a father and daughter, both ELCA clergy, who lost their faith and, with it, seem to have lost some sensibility as well.  On the one hand there is the story of the father, an ELCA pastor and bishop who retired and ended up leaving behind his faith when he moved on.  It is a sad story of an otherwise sympathetic figure who, not long after retiring, felt compelled to write a newspaper article calling into question the resurrection of Jesus.  He did not stop there.  In the end there was little left of his Christianity except an odd affection still for the church.

The other part of this story is the daughter.  She seems to have grown up in the church but gained less of its faith than not a little bitterness and blame for the church.  The church made her fat.  The church caused the problems in her clergy career.  The church left her nothing at all but her doubts about God and her certainty that not much about Jesus or God can be known, if they exist at all.  From all of this, she and her father found a certain commonality around their rejection of Christianity -- except she ended up with little of his fondness for the church.

This is not a new story.  I have written a blog post or two about this kind of thing.  But every time I read it I am saddened -- saddened by the prospect of someone preaching something they no longer really believed, saddened when this disbelief did not have the integrity to resign right away, saddened that the offenders seem duty bound to announce their doubts (with more vigor than they once spoke their faith), and saddened that the church ends up being blamed for the doubts, the troubles, and the final judgment that Christianity was without fact or truth.  Why can't these folks just remain in the background and fade away?  Why do they feel it necessary to cast shame and doubt toward those who did believe and whose lives were touched by their ministry and service?

Richard Johnson put it very well in this article.  I only hope that those who might one day follow this family in denial would listen and keep their doubts to themselves -- if not for the sake of Christ and His kingdom at least for the sake of those people who trusted them, loved them, received their ministry with joy, and counted on them.  I was not all that surprised when I saw the book Mommie Dearest and the movie came out with the shocking fact that the movie star was not a star quality mom but I am not sure why I had to have this confirmed by the book or shoved in my face by the movie.  Maybe it was therapeutic for the daughter to tell all but it seemed more like sour grapes to me -- oh, yes, and a trip to the bank.  In the same way I am not at all surprised that clergy lose their faith or become confirmed unbelievers.  But for the life of me I cannot figure out why they need to shout their doubts or disbelief from highest rooftop.

We all are caught in the tension between faith and doubt.  Peter was not exactly encouraging when he said, "Where else can we go?  You alone have the words of eternal life."  It was almost as if Peter were saying he hoped he did have an alternative but he knew he did not.  Jesus words are hard.  Faith is not easy.  Life as a Christian is filled with a few ups and many downs.  Lord, I believe.  Help Thou my unbelief.  That's all that needs to be said.  I read that somewhere...

BTW if you are not a subscriber, here is how you can become one.  Lutheran Forum and Forum Letter -- a great buy and a good read -- even when it just makes you mad!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Okay, what kind of congregation calls such people?

I mean they only had at most nominal faith as long as it paid the bills in this world. When I got to know some clergy in the ELCA when I was still there, I was shocked at how little faith they had. My first grader has more faith. Anyway, I think it is the liberals in the seminaries that squelch faith and drive out the truly faithful, leaving only these wolves disguised as sheep for congregations to select from. These wolves work not to nurture the faith of the children of the congregation but to exhort them to make this world better as an end in itself and end up failing at both. They do not fear love or trust in God above all things. Seriously, call committees have their work cut out for them when folks like these who should never have been ordained are among those they must choose from.