Priests, Carnality & Clerics
Shucks, this is a toughie. In actual fact it's the sort of topic
I would normally veer away from. To me, it has nothing to do with the
message of Jesus. It is one of the issues facing modern Christianity, that
mainstream religion of the west. But this site [http://www.dechurched.com/]
is meant to assist people cope with Christianity. So I better try.
I could launch an attack against the hypocrisy of the church. That
would be an easy start, and would certainly ally me with the forces of
good. Only thing is, it would also group me with those ambitious
journalists, out cleaning up the world, making it a better place for us
purchasers of their newspapers.
Faced with existing current pressure, we have recently seen
predictable responses. Look at the decisions of several hastily convened
powerful clerical councils around the world. Strong statements like "No
paedophile will ever work in the church in America again" issue forth as
they attempt a last minute clean up campaign. The major denominations
treat the thing like a public relations or business exercise. A
festering problem emerges - get in the PR consultants, get out a press
release, institute some proceedings, pay off a complainant in Maine, set
up a task force to clean out that monastery in Texas etc. This is called
disaster recovery in today's wired, wavering, low attention span world.
And lastly, in an act that finally bears some sort of relationship to
their religious calling, pray for a war to break out somewhere to remove
the heat of the cameras.
In the evangelical and charismatic sector, with its leaning towards
spiritual root causes, a different interesting argument emerges. It goes
- The church, their one in particular, is a real threat to Satan
- Therefore he tries to discredit it from the inside
- He tempts many pastors and clerics with sexual sin, and of course
- Does this attack of the Devil not prove that Pastors are his
You better be careful with that line. Anyone could go out, spend a
night in a bordello, and then say they were the subject of above average
temptation - which proves they must be spiritually important.
Much has been said about compensation for the victims of abuse, who
must spend the rest of their lives living with this background. I
personally know of several scenarios like this, and they are
devastating. I cannot in any way claim to fully understand their pain,
or offer any solutions. I just know that lives, young lives, get
blighted and families and beliefs are ruined because of it. It is
So I am going to put a little word in here instead for the
perpetrators. Many churches turn against them, send them hate mail,
ensure their wives file for divorce, make them leave town, find out he
was also embezzling funds, declare he was never a Christian in the first
place etc. Again this falls into the camp of distancing our good souls
from their evil ones.
I have heard of individuals who forgive however. Personally. And go
see him, and keep in touch. I mean the poor guy loses everything, his
credibility, his job, his purpose, his family. Do you think he doesn't
end up with a few regrets? I know I risk a reader saying, oh you've
avoided the sufferers. True, but it was a plug for mercy.
And now I want to get onto the global topic. Briefly, because I only
First point is, if it is just coming public now, is it a recent
phenomena, or has it been going on for centuries? Twentieth century, or
maybe ever since clerics have been around?
Second one is, what about Islam, or Buddhism, or Hinduism. Is this a
Western world problem? In our Political Correctness, we have to say how
wonderful other religions are these days, especially ones that breed
terrorists and suicide bombers. I better not climb too far from that
trail, but I do wonder why we don't hear about sexual abuse cases
amongst the clergy of that faith.
There is undoubtedly a simple answer, if only I was to ask the guys
who run Islam - there are no cases. Okay, I'm gone, I'm out of here.
Third point and back to the West. The church is getting caned, for
sure. However, so are university lecturers, Presidents, executives and
senior managers. Do you know why? I need a new paragraph here for
When we mention the non-clerics, then it comes out it's a power
problem. People in power abuse their authority, and power applied to sex
= abuse. I reckon they're right. Not only for laymen straying, but for
the clergy as well. It's a power problem. Oh! A power problem. Not an
electric power problem, but a power and authority problem. Gee, I'm back
on my favourite topic. Jesus had no power, but the Church seeks it. And
what happens when you have power - you abuse it.
And you know what's coming now. As long as the institutional church
supports it's power structures, problems like this one of sexual abuse
will surface. Like weeds growing everywhere. As long as the Pastor up
front asks people to submit to him, misuse of power will occur. As long
as the Pastor insists on being called "Pastor Mike" he is supporting the
use of power in a church setting.
Will the church drop it's hold on power and authority? No, in fact it
is just using power and authority to try and clean up it's act. This
little contradiction might not make sense at first, so I will reword it.
If sexual sins are a power problem, then it says something about the
wielding of power. But we always expect powerful men to clean up a power
problem. In fact we, you and I, are ultimately the ones putting these
guys in charge.
Yet we all claim to follow one who didn't use worldly power.
I realise the topic comes from a well known phrase. The Media is the
Message. Basically this means that it doesn't matter so much what is
said, as to how it is said. Imagine the following scene; the white robed
choir boys have finished their aria, and the candles have been lit, and
two rousing hymns have been sung, and the notices read out about the
celebration of Lent, and all done in the glorious echoes of a steepled
church architecture. Then the white robed bespectacled middle aged,
balding Minister steps up to the pulpit and preaches an absolute cracker
of a sermon with spot on spiritual content.
Unfortunately everyone listening was lulled into the wrong frame of
mind. And they don't hear what was said. Instead, they experience the
ambience of the delivery. The media. They go home having felt good about
being in church. By the next Sunday, 98% of them can't recall what was
said a week previously.
It's true. Once this mate of mine asked me to go with him to church
one Sunday morning when we were on this course together in another
country. Turns out he was a Catholic. Now I had not been to that many
Catholic churches in my life. So I said, "Sure, lets go". I sat at the
back trying to merge in, and the service went through a bit of a
routine. A family got up to do something together, the songs were great,
then the priest gave a sermon. And I tell you, he had some good stuff to
say. There was no party line delivered at all. What he had to say was
straight down the line. I was impressed.
But I couldn't help noticing that most in the back rows were ignoring
him. There was a guy near me reading the newspaper! Not just folded up
either. He had both pages wide open, full stretch, and took no care on
opening to the next section. Luckily for the priest the comic strips
weren't too funny that particular day.
Now just here I had better try and cover my butt. You see it is
tricky writing this because people usually come out with one of two
immediate reactions; firstly some will say to me, "Oh you are just
another Catholic hater"; or else some will shrug, "What else do you
expect to find in a Catholic church?" Neither of these responses gets
anywhere near the point of this exercise. Knocking the Roman Catholic
church is a centuries old tradition of both Protestants and Atheists.
Exactly the same conditions exist within all branches of Christendom,
whether Roman, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, Quaker etc. In fact
the same issue can be just as true for an Electric church, or a
Pentecostal church, or one of those architectural wonders found in
California. The Media overwhelms the message.
Churches everywhere struggle with the sociology of this situation all
the time. For example, we were in this traditional church once (many
were cold, and some were frozen), but the Minister and the elders
couldn't bring themselves to really change much in the flow of the
service. The guy gave excellent messages. Absolutely. But little impact
because nobody heard them. Nobody was challenged, nor did they want to
be challenged. This was the problem. The elders were afraid that if they
challenged the congregation, most would up and leave. The congregation
was their capital base, to use a business term. And one does not
squander ones capital. Instead they had a church full of committees. And
everybody was happy. So happy.
Since all the above examples relate to traditional gatherings, and
these are always the easiest to criticise, lets look at a modern
situation. For a few weeks I went to this Super-church in a large
auditorium. So large a church that 1500 people at a time filed in and
out five times every Sunday.
The stage was littered with electric guitars, drums, digital pianos,
and young men in business suits. The young Pastor (always a "Pastor" for
some reason. Never a "Minister") is swarming around continually,
grabbing the microphone now and then as the music drags on for at least
an hour. Eventually when he judges the moment is correct, he either
preaches an emotion packed message (never a "sermon"), or makes an
"appeal". While he does this a very serious older man stands with him
near the front lifting an obviously holy arm beckoning them down.
Preferably he is grey-haired to add authority.
And people go home feeling good for being at church. Next Sunday 98%
of them can't recall what was said the previous week. The Media
overwhelms the Message.
Significantly, very significantly however, the media, or the
ambience, or the environment, or whatever you call it in the above case
is closer to the media of the modern world. So, in the opinion of those
Pastors, it is not "boring". It is "relevant". You can go there and have
your life changed. Every Sunday. Perhaps five times every Sunday if you
attend all the services.
Since we have commented on the state of the modern world, let us
explore another perspective on this. Namely, the problem of
communication in the modern world. Go back a few centuries, and there
were far fewer technical means of communicating than there are today.
No TV, radio, computers, cell-phones, or even daily newspapers.
Basically what this meant was that when somebody took the trouble to try
and say something, people were so starved of information that they
listened. Speaking was such a serious activity that words held value.
And silence did too. In the Old Testament story of Job, his friends
heard about his predicaments and all travelled to see and console him.
When they arrived, they were so shocked they did not say a single word.
For seven days!
Let me provide a recent-day analogy. I was with this guy in Africa
once who drove around in a truck selling Christian books. He could pull
into a village (a village without TV, radio, computers, cell-phones, or
even daily newspapers), open up the side of his truck and start talking
into his loudspeaker. People would appear from everywhere. The novelty
of hearing something, anything in fact, was still strong.
But in the modern telecommunication-oriented world, people have the
opposite problem. They have information overload. We send each other
data all the time. Whole economies are based on industries just trying
to get this data through to people more efficiently. Computer networks
are terrible in this regard. You get on a computer-based Office system,
and you will find out what I mean. People type up a message and send it
around the world, or across the office floor. But with about two extra
keystrokes, they can copy ten, twenty, a hundred extra people on the
same message. If one hundred people read that thirty-second message,
nearly one man hour in total of work time is consumed.
So people stop reading all this stuff that flows over their desk or
past their computer screens. Rather they attempt to sort out what is
important, and what is not. If you are marketing million dollar deals to
Chief Executives, you only have one page to get their attention. And it
better have a colour chart. Education courses are run on how to get this
message across to these guys. As the marketers get more effective, the
same trainers turn around and teach the recipients how to discern
quickly between valuable and worthless information.
It's getting out of hand. Pretty soon it won't be acceptable to just
send someone a written message. Do you know what the new wave of
communication might be? Multimedia. A combination of video, still
photos, music, and computer power. The way things are going with
Multimedia, you will need to deliver a personal video message with
musical sound effects, and background still shots in order to simply
tell someone that the budget reports are due in tomorrow. Otherwise you
won't get your point across. Nobody will have heard your attempt to
communicate over the incessant chatter of data in its multitude of
What am I getting at? Simply this. No longer is it adequate to just
say something, and expect that it is heard. Modern media wants
excitement delivered with the message. It wants an environment. The
father of media studies, Marshall McLuhan, pointed out the difference
between hot and cool media. Newspapers are a "hot" media because you
have to get involved in the newspaper to get anything out of it. You
have to read it. But television is a "cool" media. You don't have to do
anything. It's message comes out at you. You don't have to go get it.
You just sit there. And guess what? Predictably, human beings prefer
cool media. Just plain laziness I reckon.
I realise this particular topic throws open the whole question of why
today's youth can't read and write but this is not my point. My point is
still back with the sermon being delivered using time honoured methods.
Standing at the front, and lecturing. Amidst disciplined quiet. This
message is delivered to a people increasingly accustomed to a zappy
media, to excitement, to stimulation. They expect wall surround videos,
quadraphonic sound, colour graphs. Instead they just get words.
Sometimes not even impassioned words. The preacher might be like Paul in
the New Testament. A great writer, but not that challenging a speaker.
How could such a sermon compete with Multimedia? Unlikely baby, as the
man would say.
So what do you do? Well, shucks, take on Multimedia. Get into
"Christian Television" or "Christian Radio" or, heaven forbid,
"Christian Multimedia". Make your message relevant to the society we
live in. Give it to them how they want it, how they expect other
messages to get delivered to them. Make it an experience. Turn the
preaching of the gospel into a disco. The crowds will pour in. You will
be a great success. You could then write a book on church growth in the
modern world. (This could be a facetious paragraph by the way.)
You know something? After pondering this through I am starting to
think that the best way to communicate with people is sit and listen to
them, person to person, friend to friend. That is one media that has the
potential for love to be involved. Funny thing is, Pastors talk about
this method of communication all the time. But they return to their main
job of preaching from the front - with multimedia.
If you want a sociology lesson in power, one easy method is to sit in
a church pew on Sunday mornings. We all know that historically the
Church has an awful lot to answer for in the wrongful use of authority,
and many write off the cumbersome older institutions. But if you look at
the modern clerics, I don't know that anything much has changed. Like
many things in western society it looks smoother and friendlier, but the
underpinnings of being told what to do are all still there.
The electric churches, full of rock bands and signs and wonders every
Sunday, have a mixture of social and spiritual techniques. The
professional pastor gets up and lays a message of his choosing on
everyone. Naturally he invokes God on his side to buttress his advice,
and, being a follower of the motivation school, he is certain to smile
his way round the flock at coffee afterwards.
Even so, what's the problem? Initially, nothing at all. These people
provide good community services. They advise and counsel and fix up many
personal and family issues. Drug addicts are turned into youth leaders.
The church occupies an extremely useful social function that outshines
any government committee on social welfare. But it can't seem to get
beyond the fix-up issue with its people. It has trouble with the
maturity stakes, and can't recognise that it unwittingly has a power and
dependency syndrome permeating it. This factor causes even the most
modern church to lose people. Doesn't matter which denomination. And
being a bit of a local and international church junkie, I have covered
quite a few denominations.
I have frequently observed people come into a new spiritual
experience in Christianity. Suddenly that previously monolithic thing
called Christendom is no longer a decrepit old bureaucracy. In an
instant, like Paul on the Damascus road, the light breaks through and a
life is changed. At this point the new convert can't get enough of
church, of prayer, of singing, and if he is lucky, studying the Bible.
After some time he moves to stage two, which is incorporation into
the hierarchy. He gets involved in committees. He immediately sees these
groups are run worse than company board meetings, and he is exposed to
power blocs within the congregation. But most people don't have a
problem with this for some reason. They reconcile this parody of human
behaviour quite happily, even though it is supposed to be guided by
higher ways. At this stage, and I repeatedly see it, any final guidance
or word on anything, has to be approved by the pastor. Even an
interpretation on a tricky passage in the Bible. If there is a dispute,
phone him. He is in closer touch with God, after all.
Many don't reach stage three. This is the awkward phase when you
understand a little of the marvellous freedom of Christianity, but also
see that the church is just another institution run along exactly the
same sociological lines. Stage three is the dangerous one because of
Firstly you can live in two worlds. Plenty of Christians do this.
They can't let go of their faith, so they compartmentalise their lives.
They are frustrated with the fact that the sociologically analysable
church is the major expression of Christianity in the world. But they
see it as the best available option for introducing their kids to the
gospel. So they keep going, and check their brains in at the door.
A second option is to simply drop out. I am told there are more
people leaving evangelical churches than joining. I certainly know some
in this category, people whose lives were changed, and then after some
time looked up and saw the same old marionette strings of power and
authority influencing their lives. Out went the baby with the bath
Or thirdly, there are some who are convinced that their calling is to
work in Christianity "full-time" and become a man of ... sorry, a person
of the cloth. They join the system.
And finally, some reject the power syndrome and run what are called
"house churches". No clergy present. In these house churches, people
really get to know their Bibles, because they don't have an expert to
tell them what it says. It's true. House church people know the basic
book of Christianity far better than those in any outfit led by a
Now here's the interesting thing. Many pastors would agree with all
the above. They know the dependency syndrome is there, but they don't
know what to do about it. They want their people to be independent
thinkers. At least they tell me they do. But they won't go public with
this knowledge. They fear their congregations couldn't handle it. They
can't see their church surviving without a professional leader. And the
congregation, mostly in stage two above, cannot conceive of it either.
Therefore the structure perpetuates itself.
Of course there are also plenty of modern clerics who don't agree
with the above, and get people to prefix their own name with the word
'Pastor'. Exactly the same as the crusty clerics we are meant to call
'Father' or 'Reverend'. Give me strength!
This is intriguing because Jesus repeatedly got stuck into the church
leaders of his day, and always went public with repeated condemnations
of authority. St Paul started churches and then left them after a year
or two. Even though those churches had many problems, he went anyway, so
they could discover their maturity. In most cases, he wrote just a
single letter back to each of them.
But not today. Pastors can't seem to do it. Their people are still
dependent on them. A growing spiritual freedom leads to frustration,
capitulation, or dropping out, and each census year, the statistics show
a decline in attendance.
Traditional authority in the west is declining, something long
overdue since the wars of this century woke us to the folly of those in
power. Unfortunately the churches cannot handle this decline, even
despite its predicted demise in the Bible. In fact they blame society's
ills on a lack of authority, pointing back to some golden mythical age,
another thing the Bible warns against.
In the third world the church is on the grow, understandably because
the message of Christianity has obvious answers in that context.
Corruption, blatant injustice and warfare are things you can stand up
against and be counted. I personally knew two missionaries who worked
for more than twenty years in a corrupt African country, and who died in
a hail of bullets. The lines of good and evil are at least simpler to
see. The gospel thrives there and brings change to lives. Our Western
clerics understandably try and find answers in the successful church
growth models of those nations, and end up bringing people here like
Yonggi Cho from Korea, who runs a church of 700,000. Undoubtedly the guy
is great, but the East is not yet at the point of dealing with the
questioning of authority. Their issues are different from ours. After
living five years in Asia, I think I can safely say that generally they
accept power structures. They are fascinated by our parliamentarians
antics, and cannot figure out why Pauline Hanson wasn't thrown into
Our western response is either to rely on the antiquated
centrally-driven churches, including the big global one where they speak
Latin. Or to develop modern versions using the same sociological
principles, only they speak Oprah. And both are in trouble.
You see, here in the West, nobody quite knows what to do. Because it
can't be done. Institutions do not dismantle themselves.