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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.

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