Friday, June 17, 2011

Pastor Weiner

Yesterday, as I juggled and sorted my coming summer schedule with the boys, I discovered one of those scheduling impossibilities that make life so highly entertaining.

On a well packed day next week, my little guy has an orthodontist appointment.  More significantly, my big guy is getting his braces put in, a non-trivial multi-hour exercise that allows us to continue paying the mortgage on our orthodontist's vacation home in Bermuda.   And the little guy has a three hour School of Rock band practice in the late afternoon.  And the wife will be in Seattle.

And this was the day I'd originally registered for the mandated day-long Presbytery sexual misconduct training, running from 9 in the mornin' to 4 in the afternoon.  Something had to give, and what gave was the training.  It'll happen in the Fall, and that'll work just fine.

This sort of training isn't, of course, something I haven't already done.  Sexual misconduct training was a significant part of the two-day retreat with which I entered into ministry.  It was there in the background as I went through the required psych assessment.  It was front-and-center during a significant portion of the required semester long Pastoral Counseling course in seminary.  In fact, it's so often present that at times it starts feeling redundant and, if I'm in a grumpy mood, a bit oppressive.

Again?  Really?  Sweet Mother of Pearl!

On first blush, it's easy to question this relentless tide of trainings and re-retrainings.  For all of the good heart behind them, the fact remains that trainings and seminars are unlikely to have a significant impact on the behavior of a sexual predator, or on the actions of someone who has no sense of appropriate interpersonal boundaries or propriety.  

Human beings who live into a dysfunctional sexuality will sit through the training, make a few jokes, and then go right back to sending inappropriately personal emails to that young woman who recently came to them for counseling.   Telling someone something is wrong and showing them what is right provides exactly zero guarantee that they'll act appropriately.

The endless stream of political scandals that mass media pitches out there to draw the attention of our nookie-addled culture is clear evidence of this.   Did Anthony Weiner know, rationally, that his tweets were inappropriate and would be disastrous for his career?  Did John Edwards know, rationally, that cheating on his cancer-stricken wife was wrong and would destroy his credibility?  What about Gov. Sanford?  Gov. Swartzenegger?  Senator Ensign?  How many trainings and counselings and consciousness-raising sessions do we suppose would have gotten them thinking with something other than their little brain?

I'm not fool enough to believe it makes a difference to them's who are inclined to act inappropriately.  Knowledge of the right is not doing of the right.

So are these sessions a waste of time?  If the predators and those who have a poorly developed sense of sexual self are not going to be changed, and those who are faithful will pay attention to the Gospel anyway, should churches spend so much time on this?

Short answer:  Yes.

They should spend the time because, as I see it, what matters is 1) clearly establishing acceptable norms of respectful behavior within the Beloved Community and 2) empowering those who accept those norms to both identify and defend them.

The purpose of these trainings, honestly, is more for those who aren't violating pastoral trust.  It's a reminder to remain constantly vigilant.  That includes empowering folk to be aware of inappropriate behavior in others, but also giving the awareness that if you're not attending to your own faith and maintaining balance in life, unChristlike things can happen.  Even to good people.  

It's a reminder that the integrity of the Good News is at issue.  It's a reminder that the church needs to attend continually to insuring that our communities are places where everyone is safe and welcomed.

Too much is at stake to neglect it.  And that is more than worth a refresh now and again.