Discussing clergy abuse in the contemporary moment is important and valuable work. Clergy appreciation month is here and the temptation is to lean into a dialogue of human brokenness and failure, and yet there is also a call in this season for prophetic voices who are willing to paint for us a picture of a preferable future. We can choose to lift the narrative of what clergy should be in a society looking to find a path away from the hate and partisanship that threatens to dismantle any civility left in our culture. This is the time to ask ourselves what would it look like for clergy to lead the way toward a new era of human flourishing where each individual is invited into their highest self and all systems of oppression, marginalization, disenfranchisement, or dehumanization are dismantled.
Religious practices seek to provide a way for individuals and communities to name their experience and to live in response to it (Allen 2008). If organized religion has at its center the task of assisting people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity, where soul touches Transcendence, Mystery, and Being, then the clergy’s task is to serve as a practitioner of the sacred (Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die 1998). True leaders invite us past the place of finitude into the realm of the infinite, and to simultaneously offer a principled public criticism of and opposition to systemic injustice. Clergy are those prophetic ambassadors who bring with their very presence a sense of cultural dissidence which ultimately seeks to counter the ideological claims, or hegemony, of oppressive power. It is the clergy’s job to point the community to the Divine in such ways that the fractures in our humanity become clear and that clarity allows for healing to transpire. For the clergy who will help shape a more just and humane world the religious community is one the models an alternative set of values and practices to those of the larger world (Allen 2008).
These prophetic clergy who will lead humanity into a new era will be prophetic mystic revolutionaries. Mystics as well as revolutionaries have to cut loose from their selfish needs for a safe and protected existence in order to face without fear the miserable condition of the present world (Nouwen 1972). They dare not use intimate relationship with the Divine to avoid the social evils of our time, rather they fully engage battles with systemic evil precisely because they are grounded in intimate relationship with the Divine. The prophet is creative. They return from the mystical experience to insert themselves into the sweep of time with a view to control the forces of history, and thereby create a fresh world of ideals. Ultimately the true prophet desires to see religious experience transformed into a living world-force as a test of the authenticity of the religious experience. Courage is the primary test of the prophet. Prophets take risks and speak out in righteous indignation against society’s maladjustments, even risking their lives to do so. The wisdom of prophetic community is both radical and subversive (hooks 2003). There is no national community today in which that which is genuinely prophetic does not place the prophet in peril (Cone 2011).
In the Christian tradition, the Gospels were written from beneath the heel of dominationist might, by dominated folk, with other dominated folk in mind. Virtually everyone mentioned in the Gospels were poor colonized subjects of Roman imperialism with all the violence, exploitation, fear, insecurity, and psycho-emotional debilitation that attended that status (Hendricks 2011). It would be impossible for a new breed of prophetic mystic revolutionaries to ignore the current imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy that are the forces of destruction that threaten the demise of global culture. The church as a community of people bound together by their willingness to journey into the mystery of God, in order to maintain its leadership in the larger society must be led by voices who are completely engaged with the realities of that society. The primary task of a faith community must be to assist in the creation of wholeness. That communities raison d’être is to be the place where each person is nurtured into being for the common good of humanity. We must have leaders concerned with the disparate parts of our humanity being bound together and then kept from being separated again (Spong, A New Christianity For A New World 2001). Salvation on the lips of prophetic mystic revolutionaries means the internal civil war of our highest selves and base self is won by looking the perfection of the Holy.
What would happen if your local congregation invited your clergy persons to this work? What if it was the norm of our expectation that each clergy person reflects these characteristics? What if our liturgies supported this work in every aspect? What picture of a preferable future will you create?
Feel Free to Comment Below.
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Allen, Ronald J. 2008. Thinking Theologically: The Preacher as Theologian. Minneapolis: Frotress Press.
Cone, James H. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. MaryKnoll: Orbis.
Hendricks, Obery. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.
hooks, bell. 2003. Rock My Soul. New York: Atria Books.
Nouwen, Henri J.M. 1972. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. New York: Image Doubleday.
Spong, John Shelby. 2001. A New Christianity For A New World. New York: Harper Collins.
—. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: Harper Collins.
Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Public Faith. Grand Rapids: BrazosPress.