Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pastoral Ethics - Evangelical vs mine

The leader of the Seattle-area evangelical mega-church "Mars Hill", Mark Driscoll (left), recently commented on his blog on the recent gay-sex-and-drugs-scandal involving Evangelical leader Ted Haggard (right). In Driscoll's comments, he lays out a bulletted list of some ground rules to help pastors and ministers keep from falling into this kind of sin, including:
- Having free sexual access to a wife who keeps herself beautiful (who doesn't "let herself go")
- Working from home instead of being at church and accessible to "the wrong people,"
- Employing only male heterosexual assistants (assuming that all ministers are heterosexual males, too, I suppose)
- Having assistants screen all emails and messages before they reach the minister, and ministers not travelling alone
(There are some other strategies raised, too, with which I have fewer problems, but these piqued my interest and ire.)

By way of constructive critique, I offer these counter-possibilities:

* Instead of laying the burden on wives (or spouses of any gender) of looking good and being perpetually sexually available to their partners...
- Preach a gospel of liberation from culturally-endorsed/formed notions of "beauty" and "duty", and encourage mutual development of spouses, mutual responsibility to be attentive and caring, sensitive and aware of ones own and ones partner's needs. There are many things the gospel is firm on, but the exact form that mutually-fulfilling/enriching relations must take is not one of them. The gospel doesn't promote cookie-cutter roles and relationships - and neither should we.

* Instead of setting up fabricated types of relations as the basis for "safe" conduct or leading to "appropriate" behavior (such as heterosexual male travelling with or assisting a heterosexual male, or having many children and "beautiful wives" as qualifiers for ministry)...
- Stop preaching a sexually-repressive gospel that forces sexual energy and tension to manifest and be expressed in inappropriate ways; preach a gospel of redemption for the whole person, basing a healthy sexuality (as with all things) in healthy relationships with self, Spirit and Other. Assuming people can be pidgeon-holed and have those labels meaningfully stick and define a person is not a gospel-based idea. Jesus was the boundary-breaker, the looser of bonds, and the yoker to something more profound than the world's popular and easy definition of "correct."

* Instead of avoiding the wrong kind of people...
- Embrace them. Set clear boundaries for professional and ministerial relationships, surely, and avoid situations that could lead to confusion or misinterpretation by others, but be an edifying force for those in need. Those needs may require professional help, and a minister should be self-aware to know when a problem is beyond their ability to handle. But a minister shouldn't sit in an ivory tower away from the real hurts and desires of people. Confronting parishoners' inappropriate projections or desires can be edifying in the faith, too, and we shouldn't shirk from that responsibility. Jesus sent himself to the least desireable people in his community, those most in need, those with whom association was seen as defiling and risky. As Jesus' disciples, we are called to no less.

* If you think too many people are emailing or calling you, or dropping by your house, instead of siphoning or avoiding people through "screening" contacts...
- Get smaller churches. Perhaps 5,000 parishoners is too many for one pastor. (Like "friends" on MySpace... at some point the word loses its meaning, and genuine relationship is lost.) Jesus drew big crowds, then eschewed them, preferring ministry among smaller groups. People naturally flock to sources of solace, strength and transformation; Jesus was well aware of the danger of big crowds, and sought out individuals and families and homes to do the real work of the gospel.

Most of all, though, I'd say engage people in progressive causes that liberate them and the lowest in our midst. Be at the forefront of those organizations that recognize the worth of persons, and the possibility of transformation into new being... including the possibility that we too may be transformed.

Cookie-cutter marriages or relationships or job positions is not a gospel-oriented way of "fixing" the temptation problem. Making restrictive roles more restrictive is not a gospel strategy. The strategies I suggest above aren't clear and simple, aren't clean-cut and identical across-the-board. But as far as I can tell, Jesus didn't lay down a lot of specific rules; when asked what was most important, he told us to love God and to love each other. I say, let's let that be our strategy.

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