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Archive for April, 2009

A time for repentance, not blame

Posted by Ron George on April 29, 2009

The Prodigal Son by He Qi

The Prodigal Son by He Qi

Our former pastor has been deposed for sexual misconduct committed with a member of our congregation some years ago. I’m but one of hundreds who can’t imagine their lives without his pastoral care. Now we must imagine our lives with his being removed from ordained ministry. We can not imagine the pain he and his family are in and that of his former paramour and two former congregations.

It is not a time for blame. Blame is never a solution for pain, but we seem to go there instinctively. We believe that assigning blame will take away our pain, vent our anger and generally make us feel better. Some blame our pain on the church for holding this priest accountable. Some blame our pain on the woman with whom he had a longstanding affair. Some blame our pain on the priest for having deceived us and betrayed our trust. Blame, though, is precisely the wrong way to deal with our pain, because it separates us into camps and isolates those most in need of healing from the nourishing Body of Christ.

We blame because we want to shift the burden, but the burden is ours, and if we don’t share it, it will crush the priest and his family, his paramour and her family and both congregations. It is a time for repentance, not blame, for sharing the burden and letting God in Christ Jesus heal the wounds. It is a time for forgiveness and speaking the truth in love. It is a time for grief that only divine love can heal. It’s as though there’s been a death in the family; in this case, the death of a vocation to ordained ministry. Such vocations are of, by and for the church, so we really are in this together, joined by every ligament and sinew in our souls to everyone else — and their pain. The priest’s pain is our pain, his repentance our repentance; likewise, his paramour, our sister in Christ whose burden we are called to share, whose wound Christ would see healed by forgiveness.

It is a time for listening to each other, because we have a right to express our feelings even though we don’t have a right to harm others with them. It’s a time for listening for the truth in love, the unwritten corollary of speaking the truth in love. As we listen, perhaps we can pass over to the standpoints of others and see the world as they see it, in order to understand, appreciate and really hear what they’re saying. Perhaps our own understanding will be enhanced by this way of empathic listening; and perhaps we the church will become one in the Spirit, healed of our blaming instinct and made all the more capable of sharing the burden of our sisters and brothers who are most in pain at this time.

Remember that the story isn’t finished, the story of our lives together that began some years ago. This priest’s debilitating flaw is not the meaning of his life, and it doesn’t poison the good that he has done. Neither is this recent chapter the meaning of the paramour’s life. We don’t have to rewrite our stories to account for their infidelity, which simply becomes a new part of what we recollect, a part once hidden but now known. It may cast a shadow over what we remember before God, but it does not touch the substance; moreover, we’re called to bring all of it out of the shadows and into the light. It’s the hidden things that become denial and falsehood. So, then, this is also a time for courage.

I thank God for this man’s presence in my life, and I lament this turn of events, but now more than ever we need to let God love us, all of us, which is the practice of our faith. Again and again in life we have witnessed how God brings blessing out of the worst we can do. Christianity is nothing if not a story about victory over death, and our faith means nothing if we’re unwilling to let God have this so that all may be saved from despair.

The psalmist prays: “O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, do not punish me in your wrath. For your arrows have already pierced me, and your hand presses hard upon me … O Lord, you know all my desires, and my sighing is not hidden from you … For in you, O Lord, I have fixed my hope; you will answer me, O Lord, my God … I will confess my iniquity and be sorry for my sin … O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me O my God. Make haste to help me, O Lord of my salvation.”

If I were walking the path of a deposed priest with everyone touched and dispossessed by my misconduct, I would want to know the church was praying with me, sharing my burden and living in hope of resurrection.

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