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Monday, May 23, 2011

There is a thin line between grace and enabling

I realize that few have not heard of the Eddie Long business in Atlanta. For those of you who haven't hear is a link to the latest:

Apparently, the case is headed to trial after failing to reach a resolution in mediation. 

I'm following this case for several reasons.  A friend of mine is a long-time member of this congregation and to say that his faith is shaken is an understatement.  My heart hurts for him and everyone who is experiencing a crisis of faith at New Birth.  Yet this isn't the first accusation of abuse of pastoral position and I doubt it will be the last, regardless of the outcome of this particular chapter in this too-often repeated story.

I'm also following this because I have witnessed abuse of power in my own faith journey, either towards me or someone else.  Yes, I know that Eddie Long is innocent until proved guilty. Unfortunately, the accusations are entirely plausible and sadly possible. If he is guilty, I doubt that his accusers were the only ones that knew about it. Like so many others, he would have been surrounded by enablers who thought they were showing grace by being silent. If he is innocent, then the  personal toll on him and his family are unimaginable. And the community is trying to continue to do its work in the midst of all this madness.

What is it that prevents us from holding our spiritual leaders accountable? What stops us from questioning their judgement and actions as if we are unworthy to do so? Why is silence valued over speaking the truth?   I've always said that the Catholic Church scandal might have been the first to hit the news, but it wouldn't be the last.  They certainly are not alone in allowing known predators to stay in leadership positions even when their predatory behavior has been verified.

What message are we sending to victims of this behavior when we rally around the clergyperson and show no compassion for the accuser?  I am well aware that there are persons who are perfectly capable of lying about their accusation.  But doesn't a faith community owe it to itself to investigate claims of abuse instead of crucifying those who dare to voice them?

What do you do when extending grace and mercy enables a person's destructive behavior to continue?

I think the people of God are going to be held accountable by God for the leaders they choose. I hear many clergy lament the loss of respect that clergypersons experience.  However, I hear very few willing to name the excesses in their own community. It's always a shame in someone else's backyard.

I'm not naive.I know the risk that truthspeakers face. The usual consequence is being ostracized by the faith community that sustains you. That can be a painful experience.  I'm willing to pay the price for that.  What I can't do is be silent.  As a universal community of faith, we are going to have to reclaim the integrity of spiritual leadership. Starting with our own. Part of that reclaiming is showing compassion for the accuser as well as the accused.  Another part is to relieve persons of responsibility that they cannot handle even as you provide help for their issues.  Yet another is being honest about what pressures you can handle and which ones you cannot.

Silence is not always golden.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day Grief and Osama Bin Laden

It's been an interesting couple of weeks.  Today is Mother's Day and I feel beyond blessed to still have my mother.  She is probably the strongest example of unconditional love that I have ever seen.  She definitely has more patience than I do!   It still amazes me how much she really sees people.  I'd like to think that I've inherited some of that.

Of course, I have friends who have lost their mothers. Mother's Day is not a good day for everyone. I always remind myself that I need to make room for those who are grieving without judging or rushing them through it.  How can you tell someone how to react to something like that or how long it should take without sounding self-righteous and insensitive?

Mother's Day can be more complicated than we give it credit for.

Which brings me to the death of Osama Bin Laden. Strange segue, I know. Could he have been taken alive?  Possibly.  Or maybe some SEALS would have died and he would have been killed anyway.  But I am uncomfortable with the idea of shooting an unarmed man. I struggle to see so many rejoicing at his death.  Is a fair trial a right we only give to those we think deserve it? As much as some don't want to think about it, there are people grieving the loss of Bin Laden not due to political reasons but because he is part of their family. Not all of his children were grown. His 12-year old daughter has to live with seeing her father shot dead in front of her. Just like the 12-year old victims of the terrorist attacks have to live with their own grief for parents that were taken away from them. None of these children  had anything to do with the quarrel between Al-Qaeda and the United States.

As a Christian, how do I respect the grief of the family members killed in the terrorist attacks and the grief of those who think the attacks were justified?  How can I be compassionate towards the 9/11 scars to the American psyche and use that same compassion to listen to the grievances of Al-Qaeda, the same group we supported with money and weapons when the Russians were in Afghanistan? The command to love God, myself and my neighbor as myself doesn't quite seem to cover this.

I don't have an answer to these question but I do know this: The death of Osama Bin Laden is going to have more consequences than what we give it credit for.