Saturday, March 9, 2019

Spiritual uncles instead of spiritual fathers. . .

Remember that old John Candy movie Uncle Buck?  You know, the proverbial story of the, well, less than reliable and responsible uncle who has to take charge of his nieces and nephews in emergency and who screws up magnificently -- until he grows up and steps up?  Think how that might apply to the church and then continue perusing the post.

While reading, always a dangerous thing to do, I came across a great line.  The complaint being made against Roman Catholic bishops (indeed it might be worth considering for all bishops) is that they tend to be or want to be more spiritual uncles than spiritual fathers.  Wow.  Great line.  Of course Rome will think of Theodore non-Cardinal McCarrick who once went by the nickname Uncle Ted.  As if what you do with Uncle Ted stays with Uncle Ted (to paraphrase the Las Vegas slogan).

Yet it is hard not to see the same charge laid before a Timothy Cardinal Dolan who is always smiling and good for a media shot as a happy, winsome, non-judgmental, and slightly rotund uncle rather than a spiritual father with the gravitas to stand up to would be Roman Catholics on the vanguard of pro-choice legislation and causes.

Or, if you have a long memory like me, the kind of spiritual uncles who could not muster the voice or votes to condemn their brother bishop John Shelby Spong or James Pike or Gene Robinson or a host of other Episcopalians who lived beyond the fringes of moral integrity or outside the circle of doctrinal orthodoxy.

And, if you want to be personal, Lutherans who have the title (ELCA) or not (LCMS) who either refuse to hold errant or vulgar folks acountable (Her Church or Nadia Bolz-Weber) or those who either publicly or quietly ignore all semblance of close(d) communion or liturgical integrity or a God who actually creates instead of simply getting the ball rolling to step aside and watch it all unfold (as is charged by so many in Missouri).

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’”  If you want, simply change the terms and apply the same criticism to bishops (those who exercise ecclesiastical supervision) and who want to be liked (like you happy go luck Uncle Buck of John Candy movie fame) or who have to be discrete in what they say and do in order to get re-elected.

We judge the great bishops and pastors largely by statistics (attendance, money raised, etc.) rather than by faithfulness (too often a lonely path in a world that loves diversity but abhors objective truth).  We as pastors (and as bishops) have a craving for affection that is our weakness and makes it easier to play the happy uncle (a little naughty but fun) instead the spiritual father (who must say no and enforce it for our good and the good of the family that is the church).  I know this is what I fight against every day and I would suspect every honest pastor or bishop has the same secret flaw.

Judge not lest ye be judged has become the motto of too many of those whose good offices in the church expect and require them to judge truth from error and integrity from immorality lest we fail in St. Paul's expectation that those who desire the office be of good repute and those whose confession is orthodox.  Spiritual uncles are a luxury that might be afforded when things are going well within the household of God but when threatened within and without, we need spiritual fathers.

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