I've noticed a repeating pattern of resolutions that call for justice, for equality, and for all of us to respect the dignity of every human being in various ways. And yay for those calls. I believe deeply in my bones that as Christians we are called to this work and ministry in the world - the work, not just saying the words, but doing the work in our churches and communities.
But I've also noticed something else. While we call loudly and clearly for justice, equality, and dignity, we seem not to be as committed to these things in our own church communities. We call and work for living wages and reasonable debt in our society, yet many of our clergy and lay staff are under compensated for the work they do or are overwhelmed with debt from their seminary experience. We demand and participate in conversations about race, gender, and sex discrimination in our communities, while we seem reluctant to name the prejudice and discrimination that continues to pervade our church and actively work to dismantle the system that sustains racism, sexism, and homophobia in the church.
We demand accountability of those in power in their actions in our secular communities when abuse of such power occurs, yet far too many people in our churches, clergy and laity alike, are victimized by bullying behavior and by prejudice that is dismissed as "Oh, it's just a joke" or "Well, that's just the way s/he is." The powers that be close ranks and protect their own, whoever their own happen to be. Secrecy masquerades for confidentiality, and back room deals and under the stole conversations replace transparency and accountability.
We call for reconciliation in our world, yet I regularly hear yet another dissolved priest/parish relationship that ends with wounding and betrayal while the issues of all parties are swept under the rug with no energy to confession and reconciliation. When the parish is wounded and betrayed by the priest, the church is too often moved quickly into another search process and basically told to get over it, instead of being allowed to grieve and heal. And when the issue is a clergy-killing parish, often the priest is left abandoned and alone, with no recourse or support. Again, I wonder why clergy don't have some union to provide representatives to mediate in these matters and ensure the justice of a fair hearing and, if warranted, care and healing for the wounds from the situation, both of which frequently do not happen for most clergy in these situations, especially those in associate or priest in charge positions.
I wonder why a church that speaks so loudly against poverty doesn't look at the wealth that sits with the Church Pension Group and its obligation to financial justice and equality in retirement among clergy and laity who work for the Church (and yes, I know I'm not supposed to say anything remotely criticizing CPG, because I may disappear in the dark of night). Does a retirement compensation system that rewards climbing the church corporate financial ladder and not those who work for less compensation, often in the poorest and most vulnerable communities line with the teachings of Jesus and our own Church resolutions to the secular community?
My grandmother, in her infinite Mississippi wisdom, said, "You can't give away what you don't have." We are the Church. We are called to love our neighbors as God loves us. We make promises in our Baptismal Covenant. And we are not immune to the sins we all too quickly point out in the world around us. We have faith communities, churches, and dioceses who are modeling this love they hope to see in the world, who are faithful in practicing what they preach, who are getting their own spiritual space in order before asking the same of the communities in which they live. I wonder what might happen if we recognized what we are trying to name and transform in others may be things we need to offer for transformation in our own spiritual communities.
What might happen if we actually modeled the practices and changes we wish to see in the world?