Friday, June 1, 2012

Preachers and Pastors

We have many kinds of religious preachers in our midst today.  What they share in common is their emphasis, by training and inclination, to speak to matters of religious dogma, or to personal opinions of interpretation of a specific teaching, or to matters of the Church as an organizational entity and hierarchy.  It is all a great deal of time spent telling others how to think and how to live.  Some of that preaching is worth listening to.  Some is not.

On the fringe of this preaching are those who focus on division, hate and judgment, which appear to clearly fall outside of the core teachings of most all religions.  Recently in a small North Carolina town, a preacher spoke from his pulpit to his Sunday congregation that the solution to the homosexual “problem” was to build two high, electrified fences each several miles square.  All the lesbians would go inside one fence, the gays in the other, and then they would be left to starve to death.  Just prior to this, Franklin Graham was prominent on television ads advocating passage of an amendment to the North Carolina constitution to ban same-sex marriage and any other form of “domestic partnerships” except a marriage between male and female.  It was blatant political advocacy, with the ads paid for by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.  (Inexplicably to me, their tax deductible status remains unchallenged by the IRS.)  Awhile back, there was the preacher of a tiny congregation in Florida advocating the burning of the Qur’an, an act more hostile than anything written in the Qur’an itself.  Then there is the preacher from Kansas who leads his family and adherents to military funerals around the country to chant that the decedent’s death is God’s punishment of our country’s evil ways.

When I hear the latest such outrageous words or actions making it into the headlines, I cannot help but wonder what the personal story is behind these people’s formation.  What was it in these preachers’ life experiences, or the shortcomings of their accomplishments, that would drive them to such beliefs and actions – beliefs that anger, hatred and punishment can be God’s real intention for human beings.  In these preachers’ seminary school, monastery or mosque, what teachers taught that violence (physical or mental) against others could somehow be expected to result in peace and fulfillment for either the perpetrator or victim, versus teaching that “violence begets violence” and “what you sow you reap?”

Somehow our desperate need for true pastors – in whatever title from religion to religion – has gotten lost in the incessant drumbeat of dogmatic preaching.  Pastors who are more concerned with comforting those who are ill, lost or troubled than with admonishing them.  Pastors able to give suggestions and guidance rather than marching orders.  Pastors able to help people think through and find their true spiritual beliefs instead of doing their thinking for them.  Pastors able to listen instead of talk, to be a spiritual friend rather than a judge and jury.

It is not easy for the religiously trained to move from preaching to pastoring.  But it is possible.  Pope John Paul II seemed to retain his sense of being a parish priest in spite of the huge size of his enlarged parish and the demands of managing his church structure.  H. H. the Dalai Lama speaks often of being “just a simple monk,” reflecting his humility as much as his role.  Reverend Desmond Tutu’s infectious enthusiasm for his fellow man despite his hurtful experiences from South African apartheid are inspirational.

We never lack for preachers.  But what we really need are the pastors.  By any formal title or none.  From whatever classroom of training, including the classroom of the experience of life.  Less talking and debating, more holding of another’s hand after a good hug.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really appreciated your distinction between preachers, who 'preach up sin', and pastors who are comforters/counselors.