Monday, March 22, 2021

Public and private. . .

Everyone from media celebrities to elected officials maintain the distinction between their public personas and their private lives.  The supermarket tabloids once fed the curiosity of those who wanted to see behind the public mask into the shadows and darkness of the lives of the rich and the famous.  Now social media serves as the investigators revealing the secrets.  It would not survive except for our curiosity to know how different these people are in private from their public face.  We are suspicious about those who appear to have no difference between them.  We assume there are secrets and we want to know them.

Everyone from the Bart Ehrmans of this world to the folks in the pew have come to believe that the Church has a public face and a private identity, that the Church trades in secrets behind closed doors, and that there is much hidden from view that would color what people think.  Ehrman suggested that the Bible is a homogenized version of reality orchestrated by folks in power (including Constantine).  Before him came those who suggested that the Christ of the Scriptures was not the same as the Jesus of history.  It has become the stock and trade of Christianity's critics to suggest that the Gospel is not made up of facts but of myths, promulgated and sustained for nefarious purpose (to fleece the flock and control the faithful).  It has become a distinct problem as the ordinary Christian has come to view with suspicion what their Pastor says, what is written in Scripture, what is confessed in the creeds, and what is believed as doctrine.

While there are some things that remain held in confidence (like the content of people's private confession), the reality is that the Church could and should be more transparent.  This does involve such things as financial accountability but it also involves how decisions are made and what is behind those decisions.  What works against this transparency is that we live in such a litigious culture that what we say in public and what we say in private ends up being different.  I dislike that we are in this position.  While my mind may understand it, my heart does not accept it.  We should be more open about the faults and failings of the Church just as we should be more open about our work.

Sometimes people will come to me and ask about certain things in the parish.  I am happy to refer them to the published reports and minutes -- we have nothing to hide.  There are a few things about which we are circumspect -- those which impinge upon pastoral care, especially the seal of the confessional, for example.  But the rest of what we do, we do openly and with complete accountability.  This is how it should be.  There may be a few areas where such openness cannot be given but those who lead the Church should be careful about overextending the reach of secrecy.  

What agitates against the integrity of the Church is when the Church appears to be something different on the outside than on the inside -- especially when the leaders and the faithful represent the faith to the world.  It helps no one when those who claim to be devout or belong openly contradict the most basic and consistent tenets of the faith.  It helps no one when pastors suggest to our people that what we say we believe, teach, and confess is different than what we really believe.  It helps no one when those who represent the Church stand unequally yoked with unbelievers -- giving the world the idea that there is no real truth, only personal conviction.   It helps no one when the public face of the Church does not accord with the private.

History has not been kind to those who attempted to show the world one face of Christianity while having another face behind closed doors.  They have become the storied characters of mini-series and movies but instead of advancing the cause of Christ they have confirmed the unbelief of those who were suspicious from the beginning.  Anyone who has watched The Borgias knows that the salacious details of a dark story may make for a compelling drama but they do not help the cause of the Gospel.  The expos√© of Jim and Tammi Faye Baker and other televangelists have only confirmed the doubts of those who saw Christianity as a sham promoted by a charlatan.  The terrible story of clergy sexual abuse have not only harmed their victims, they have hurt those who have been faithful servants of the Lord and worked against the Gospel.  In many cases, those on the inside knew what was being done and did not hold the offenders accountable.  Their failures were born of a desire to protect Christ and His Church but they did just the opposite.

As best we are able, the cause of Christ and His Gospel is best served by honesty -- honest confessions of what was and is the faith of Scripture and the living tradition that has always surrounded it and the candid admission that every member of Christ's Church and those who lead her are sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Some of the failings of the Church's leaders should and ought disqualify them from their leadership roles but this standard dare not be applied unevenly or the duplicity of the injustice will itself come back to haunt us.  Accountability is the gold standard of the faith, transparency in the Church's finances and operations, and integrity which means who we are in public is the same as who we are in private are some of what has been lost but needs to be found.

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