More often that you might expect, I hear from someone who has questions about their spiritual journey who have approached their local priest or pastor and they have refused to answer their questions. Even more disconcerting is the truth that the more disruptive the experience that prompts the question, the more likely it is that the professional clergy person will not only refuse to answer their questions but will tell them they aren’t welcome at “their” – the clergy person’s – church.
Let’s get a few things straight right out of the gate. No church belongs to its pastor. The church is not a building, it’s the community gathered in the building. The pastor doesn’t own the people, so s/he can’t own the church. What’s more, a pastor’s job is to answer people’s questions. It’s fine if the pastor doesn’t know the answer to the question, as long as they are willing to admit they don’t know. If there is an answer to the question, it then becomes their job to find the answer. If it is a question for which there is no answer, then the pastor’s job becomes to sit in the uncertainty with the person who has come to them with questions. Clergy vow to serve God and God’s people, and when they start drawing lines about who they will and will not serve they are walking away from those vows.
Retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong asked a very good question: “Why is it that the Churches that claim to have all the answers don’t allow any questions?” That’s not only funny, it’s an accurate assessment – but what is the purpose of religion if not to answer our questions about life? When a Church insists that you not ask questions but instead memorize the answers they provide, it’s a pretty good indication that they aren’t interested in helping people engage life and develop a spirituality that helps them navigate life’s challenges. Presumably, that’s one of the major purposes of the religious life.
The broader Church has a history over the last fifty years of placing quite a bit of emphasis on issues that people either don’t care about or don’t happen to see the same way the Church does. Political concerns have taken priority over spiritual concerns – witness the recent flap over birth control coverage at the hands of the Roman Catholic Bishops and their Fundamentalist Protestant cronies. Fundamentalist Protestants weren’t opposed to birth control until they believed they could make political gains from the issue. What does politics have to do with the needs of the people I outlined above? Rather than address the needs of people, the Church – in most of its forms – has repeatedly made choices in what it believes is its own best interest, but at the expense of meeting the needs of the people it is supposed to be serving.
Is there any wonder that we are in the midst of a historic exodus from the Church?
When you face decisions on your own spiritual journey, remember to trust your own judgment. If something doesn’t seem right, even if it’s right for thousands of people, then it’s not right for you. No two situations are alike and no two people are alike. Don’t surrender your power to authority figures, because no pastor worth anything wants your power. Keep asking questions until you get answers you are satisfied with, and if someone tries to stop you from questioning then know that it is time for you to move on.
Don’t drink the Kool-aid, ever.