Thursday, October 27, 2011

Denoms, NonDenoms, and Accountability

A couple of weeks back, I spent nearly the entirety of a Friday sitting in a long training.   This was the mandated training for Presbyterian pastors on sexual misconduct and malfeasance avoidance, one which we've got to attend every couple of years or so to maintain our good standing within the denomination.

I'd done it before, of course.  Multiple times, both in seminary and through the local Presbytery.  But there I was yet again, watching videos, talking with small groups, and sharing as a whole.   It was a familiar dance, so familiar, in fact, that it would have been easy to dismiss it as just another pointless hoop inflicted on us by the Woman.  'Cause you know, you just can't call it Da Man if you're PC(USA), 'cause it ain't.

Thing is, it wasn't pointless.  It wasn't a hoop.

I wish I'd never had to use my prior misconduct training, but the painful reality is that the awareness it provided me has come in handy over the years.   Encountering the reminders about warning signs to look for in a faith community, I see them now for what they are...the swords of cherubim, protecting the integrity of the church from those who would use it as a place of sexual predation.  Take that metaphorically if you must, but whichever way, that knowledge is important.

It's not about legal liability, either.  It's about insuring that church is a safe, gracious, and truly welcoming place, truly reflective of our Master and Friend.

The training also provided a reminder to the not-predatory-but-flawed human beings who pastor churches that human beings...if they are stressed, isolated, and spiritually out of balance...can make decisions that shatter their integrity, and leave former Christ followers cynical and broken and bitter.  We all need that reminder, all of us, and the tools that the wisdom of others can provide.

Here, though, I wonder about how that plays into the dynamics of the nondenominational world.  Having cast themselves free of the yoke of denominational affiliation, every nondenominational church is free to be itself.  The nondenominational pastor is accountable to no-one but himself, Christ, and the circle that has gathered around him.  And that is a problem.


Because in the absence of the discipline of denominational accountability, pastors can more easily wander afield.  You are the brand-made-flesh of your entire community.  The church exists because of you.  Your flock, who adore you, are unlikely to be willing to see you weakening, unlikely to admit to themselves that your behavior is critically compromising you.   In the absence of the insights of those who have resisted or endured that form of human brokenness, those pesky demons are likely to have far more play.  In the absence of the oversight and the training, and freely submitting yourself to a discipline that can guide and inform your struggle, your ability to maintain yourself in Christ is weakened.

And when we are weak, ugly things can happen.

That's not to say that denominations don't have a problem with malfeasance.  Of course we do.  But we know we have a problem, and together, we work to deal with it.

In those admittedly clumsy structures of our connection, we are doing something about it, and can hold each other to standards that honor the intent of our Teacher.   Across the many churches of a denominational community, the institutional memory of the damage done remains strong, and those stories act as a reminder and a caution to those fool enough to imagine that It Could Never Happen Here.

But if you are free, free of that discipline, then those stories are not in your ears.  If you are disconnected, and free of the collective reinforcement that comes from denominational affiliation, you are also free to wander deep into dark places.  You are free, should you so choose, to use your power and your charisma and the adoration of those who follow you to follow your every hunger.

Advantage?  Denominations.