Monday, March 27, 2023

The Ords, Part 2

 Within my denomination, one of the things you gotta do if you want to ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament is pass a series of ordination exams.  There are five, and one of the most challenging is the Exegesis test.  You're given a text in the original language, meaning either Hebrew or Greek, depending, and then you've got to both translate it and render an interpretation of that text's meaning.

Helps are permitted, natch, but it's a challenging experience.  Is it a necessary test?  Not at all.  It entirely duplicates what a certified seminary education provides.  It's a needless redundancy, which is no surprise.  We Presbyterians are great at trial by process.

In twenty twenty two, that exam presented readers with a particularly challenging text.  It was one of the many stories of ultraviolence found in scripture.  In Judges 19, a young woman...a "concubine" serially and brutally raped, then dies as a result of her injuries.  The Levite to whom she belongs had thrown her to a mob of men whose intent had been to rape him instead.  To make things even less pleasant, the Levite then hacks her corpse into pieces, which he sends to each of the tribes of Israel as a mark of his outrage. 

It's a horrific tale of sexual violence and body horror desecration, which...having led adult bible studies on the book of just kinda par for the course for that bit of brutal history.  Is it something you're going to ever, ever preach on from the pulpit?  Most unlikely.  Do you need to be able to interpret it?  Yes, you do, because it's in the Bible, and if you want to be a pastor, you have to be equipped and able to deal with the hard stuff.

This seems obvious.  This text is a perfect scripture to surface the horrors of patriarchy and the dehumanization of women, a blunt and godless act of misogynistic terror.  It don't preach, but it does teach, and Presbyterian pastors are Teaching Elders, after all.

Or we were supposed to be.

The inclusion of this text raised a hue and cry among some in the denomination, as folks complained about the use of a traumatizing "Text of Terror" in a high stakes exam.  Victims of violence will be triggered by having to encounter this text, or so one argument went.  The test is a stressful one, with ordination on the line, and to add to that stress by forcing candidates to deal with a retraumatizing scripture alone was abusive, inconsiderate and disrespectful to the experience of victims.   Such a text should only be encountered in a supportive group, others added, and with the help of professional therapists.  

These themes were picked up and amplified through social media.  Voices that disagreed were shouted down or shamed.

Which was, for me, yet another sign of the demise of the Presbyterian Church.  If this is how the "next generation of Presbyterian pastors" responds to that text, we are royally [fornicated] as a denomination.  

I mean, sure, it's an awful text. Horrible.  No [excrement,} Sherlock.  But if you can't interpret it, and you can't explain it contextually and theologically, you're not ready to serve a church.

Because that [excrement] will come up.  What, you think that kids don't read the Bibles you give them?  You think that parishioners won't encounter that text, be horrified, and want an answer from you?

And that's just a God-blighted text, and an act of interpretation.  Members of your, breathing human beings...are likely to experience abuse or sexual violence.  They'll meet with you late on an exhausting Sunday, when you're spent and before you've had your afternoon caffeine bump, because please, pastor, I need to talk, and a story of terror will come tumbling out. People you love dearly in your congregation will die, sometimes horribly.  You'll be in your church office one minute, and ten minutes later, you'll be praying over the corpse of someone you've come to know and love while the family weeps nearby.

You'll need to confront abusers, to tell that dear sweet charming old man who's a major donor and has been a member of the church for seventy years that he's been violating a Covenant of Agreement that forbids him from secretly spending time around pubescent boys, and that he's got to leave.  And sure, you'll have a couple of elders cowering awkwardly behind you, but that's gonna be you, right there.

You'll need to listen to someone confess that they have perpetrated abuse, that they've lied to and betrayed their partners and spouses.  You'll need to encounter every single thing that's ever hurt you in life, mirrored in the lived experience of those coming to you for help.

That's some seriously difficult [excrement], and sure, of course, it's "triggering."  "Traumatizing."

If you're going to be a pastor, your theology...and more importantly, your faith in Christ...needs to be strong enough to deal with those times.

What was, I think, most striking about the "Text of Terror" fiasco was the assumption that people who have never been pastors and have never served congregations in a pastoral capacity should be able to define what is and is not appropriate for pastors to know.  

Not the wise, not the experienced, not those who've been doing the work for decades and know what it means.  But the callow, the naive, those who haven't been tried or tested.  

And don't want to be tested.

Lord have mercy.