I had the pleasure of doing a wedding for a very nice couple last weekend. They had been referred to me by someone who attended a wedding of mine two years ago, and had been looking for a wedding celebrant for some time because they kept running into clergy who couldn’t do a wedding outside their church building or – as I learned from a guest – because the clergy they met with were judgmental, presumably because the groom has a son from an earlier relationship.
Every time I hear a story like that – and I hear them more often than you might think – I am both profoundly disappointed in the circus clowns masquerading as clergy and find myself wondering exactly how they got so deluded. Setting aside for a moment the many instructions of Jesus that we are not to judge, I can’t help but wonder what these jokers hope to achieve by their arrogance. Even if they have never heard the old maxims that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones and that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, surely they have felt the judgment of others and can recall how it felt. Even if their goal is to shape the morality of others – and we can spend quite a bit of time debating the validity of such an attempt – surely they can’t be ignorant enough to believe that belittling others opens the door for further discussions about anything.
I cannot help but believe that some clergy think that ordination gives them the right to be less than kind to others, that ordination grants them some sort of moral high ground and special insight into the actions of others. Nothing could be farther from the truth! There is nothing about ordination that excuses the ordained from being kind, patient, loving, considerate, gracious, and accepting – in fact, ordination brings with it to integrate the above and all other social graces to the highest degree as part of their spiritual practice! The only thing different about someone who has been ordained compared with someone who hasn’t is that the ordained, presumably anyway, have expertise in spirituality and spiritual practice – which should make them more compassionate, not less.
More than that, on the most basic level of human conduct, the only person who should even be considering judging the actions or history of another is the person who has achieved perfection in their own walk. Since that person hasn’t appeared on earth yet, why don’t we all play it safe and leave the judging to the courthouse? The last thing an imploding institutional church needs are clergy incapable of good manners. That sort of thing may have gone unnoticed – or been ignored – at one point in history when a naive public readily surrendered most if not all of its power to the professional clergy, but those days are long gone, thank God.
When fearful, insecure people sense they are losing what little power they have they often attempt to tighten the reigns on those they have control over. Unfortunately, the result of such an attempt is that they find those whom they thought they could control walking away from them. In essence, they create the very situation they were trying to avoid and in doing so alienate even more people from the church. The only surprising thing is that the church doesn’t seem to be able to put two and two together.