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8.09.2010

Just One of the Gang AND Uniquely Qualified

AKMA Adam writes in response to the NY Times article on Clergy-Burnout that this issue (like so many before it) is much more complicated than presented (now, in fairness to the NY Times . . it was an Op-Ed piece, not a scholarly article). A portion of AKMA's response follows (full text available here).


"Once it became conventional wisdom that clergy were not vaguely superhuman angelic beings who deserve special treatment by virtue of their sanctity, many people hopped directly to an opposite point of view: that anybody whatsoever should have an equal say on any ecclesiastical topic, regardless of the depth of their familiarity with the nuances of theological or ecclesiastical knowledge. While it’s OK to laud a specialist or scholar who advocates your point of view, woe to the clergy leader, or scholar, or well-trained layperson from some other side. Any unwelcome appeal to depth may be denounced as authoritarian; any unwelcome appeal to authority may be denounced as tyrannical.

"Likewise, clergy who knew that the old 'yes, Father' model was corrupt rushed to assert their ordinariness. There’s nothing special about ordination, they assure people; we’re just one of the gang. This both denies the basis for a theology of calling and trivialises the training that the seminarian/divinity student-cum-minister has just devoted a great deal of time and money to pursuing. Both these reasons tend to undermine the standing of the minister relative to the congregation. If she’s just one of the gang, and the rest of the gang wants levity and feel-good nostrums, then who is she to oppose us? If his training doesn’t equip him distinctively to lead the church’s deliberations, why listen to him at all?"
As one who finds herself [nod to AKMA here] utilizing the "one of the gang" assertion from time to time, I feel compelled to offer at least a summary defence.  In the first place, the Catechism which begins its section on ministry with the life, work, and witness (perhaps some redundancy here) of the laity.  Second, the order for the sacrament of baptism indicates that the oil of Chrism used invites (enables?) the baptized to "share in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ" and the congregation's words of welcome ask the newly baptized to "share with us in [Christ's] eternal priesthood."  So when I emphasize, from time to time, my one-of-the-gang-ness over and against my uniquely-priest-y-ness, it is with the intent of raising up the ministry of all - the priesthood of all believers.

Having said that, however, AKMA's comments provide a corrective lens to that "ordinary" assertion by reminding that if clergy are, by virtue of baptism "no different" than any other baptized Christian, they are, by calling, by ordination, by vocation, nonetheless uniquely "set apart" for a specific ministry, a ministry which relies upon (depends upon?) said clergy's academic and vocational preparation.  A double-edge sword for  as clergy emphasize "ordinary," lay persons hear "just like me." And, as lay persons hear "just like me" they also hear, "I'm just like the clergy" - i.e., uniquely qualified to offer opinions (often stated as truth) about liturgics, sacramentology, scriptural authority, homiletics, music in worship, etc. even though I may not have (and typically do not have) the academic or vocation background to support those views.

First aside: I was watching the History Channel yesterday and was horried by the "so-called" experts who were "proving" that human beings actually are the genetically-engineered creation of extraterrestrial beings.  Reading the "fine print" under the names of these experts, one in particular caught my eye: "Radio Host." Really? The credential "radio host" was sufficient for this individual to appear on the history channel as an expert on human origins? It is any wonder then, that we (collectively) find it acceptable to be "experts" on any number of topics for which we have no academic or vocational preparedness?

Second aside: I wonder if the recent seminary financial woes are, at least in part, due to this cultural shift in understanding the vocation of the priesthood.  As more and more lay persons discount the unique calling of the clergy, they, in effect, discount the value of said clergy which, indirectly begins to erode the value (both in terms of dollars and content) of the specialized training received.

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