Thursday, August 23, 2007

Airing Linen

I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of secrecy. My experience of Christ is one of liberation and openness. Relationship is predicated upon the Light of Christ finding its way into every nook and cranny of my being. It requires not only honesty with one’s self; relationship with God requires an honesty with others that is also one of transparency.

As clergy, I have been required to maintain confidentialities of those who come to me as a part of pastoral concern. Sometimes I know things, especially in the parish, that cannot be shared because the individual who confided in me should be the person to speak of their particular concern. But here lies a sociological conundrum. How do I keep from triangling in relationships?

Triangling is getting someone else to do your work for you without you having to reveal your motives. Person A goes to Person B and tells them that C needs to do something so that B will put pressure on C to do it. It is a dishonest transaction; A should speak to C him/her self. Clergy often end up being the Person B in congregations simply because we are the person everyone comes to. The real clue is that as a pastor, I cannot go to C. I have to encourage A to go to C to provide healthy relationships in the parish.

When there is conflict I feel that the more information I have about an issue the better informed I am to resolve a conflict. It means that I have to be deadly honest with myself and with others if goodness and healing is going to result. I believe sincerely in the healing powers of the Light of Christ. “The truth shall set you free” is not merely an axiom in my spiritual journey; it works. It not only works in my personal life. It works in my corporate life.

When so many Roman Catholic prelates were being exposed for having obscured the sexual abuse of children by clerics in their charge, I understood both the plight of parents who demanded openness from the hierarchy. I also understood the charge to protect the Church by the bishops. After all, I had known Cardinal Law when he was a young bishop in Springfield, MO. I knew that he had been a man of compassion and honesty. But as the story began to unfold about the obfuscation that so deeply permeated the Archdiocese of Massachusetts, I began to see such triangling that led to sinfulness because of the basic dishonesty of the transactions. Protection began to be avoidance, and avoidance began to be arrogance in the face of abuse. Lives were being ruined simply to keep up appearances.

Today, I would rather err on the side of transparency than be a party to obfuscation in the Church. I do not wish to be a party to continued abuse of those who have been victims. However, after many years of working with the victims of abuse, I know it is in the airing of the abuse that most victims leave behind the role of victim and move into the role of survivor and then to healing. When those who have come forward begin to throw off the shame of abuse the Church needs to affirm that action by confirming transparency rather than further obscuring the facts. It is a delicate task but we need to find ways to do it.
What drives me nutz however, is the way some fall back on confidentiality to avoid taking responsibility for one’s own personal agenda. For Person A to go to Person B and expect Person B to tell Person C to change and then for Person B to refer to Person A but not by name is dishonest. When leadership falls back on an unidentified accuser as the underpinnings for punishment of a member of the group, it flies in the face of basic civil justice. The accused must be able to address his/her accusers. The Church may not be cavalier in the way it addresses information. As a leader of the Church I may not base my evaluation of another on innuendo or gossip, but only in the light of honest interaction. For leadership the task is not in telling Person C of their sins, it to bring Person A and Person C together to talk about differences. The airing of differences often leads to healing.

What confidentiality cannot be in the Church is a repository of ill will. I cannot simply allow issues to plod along without addressing them in the name of holding things in confidence and paralyzing Persons A and C from ever coming to grips with the issues they have between them. Nor may I use these differences as a way to hold the group hostage as the only bearer of the whole story. As a Christian I am required by faith to believe that Christ’s light can heal. It is in airing this kind of linen that allows issues to be addressed by all concerned rather than to be hidden allowed to fester. But this must be done in an atmosphere of trust.

The sad part of all of this is that there seems to be so little trust in the Church at present. It would be easier for me to give up on the healing in the Church because there is little trust its system. But my hope is in God, not in leadership or ecclesial systems. The Church has often shot itself in the foot. The Church is only as perfect as I am and that isn’t very. I cannot delude myself into believing that Church is going to be better than I am willing to be. But I also need to trust that God perfects God’s Church by calling us to new and better ways of airing our differences for the good of the whole. It is a difficult task, but I believe essential if we are to survive in the face of post-modern cynicism. The transparency I can model today may mean healing for tomorrow.


clark west said...

Dear Muthah+,
God bless you for saying it--having chosen to expose a history of clergy sexual abuse in my own parish, and having paid a price, (not as bad as our friend Dave, but bad enough), I know that you are preaching the truth!
I give thanks for your ministry of words here on this blog.

Muthah+ said...

Clark+, we who are clergy of this era must be willing to endure the wrath of those who would stick their heads in the sand in order to "preserve the church." We as Church participated in this dishonesty for too long. We must now reap what those who have hidden have sown.