Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pastors and Grave Sin

The danger of choosing sinful men to serve in the Office of the Holy Ministry is that these are sinful men, and these men do not stop being sinners just because they have been chosen to serve. I've been involved in a discussion of what happens when (for the purposes of this post, as I don't have one particular case in mind) a hypothetical pastor is found to have committed a grave moral failing, a sin of such proportions that he is found to be no longer worthy to serve in the Office of the Holy Ministry. Now, this hypothetical man has confessed his error and has rightly resigned his position and has accepted removal from the clergy roster. Some would say that, mindful of I Timothy 3, he is no longer "above reproach" or "of good reputation with those outside the Church," and so he must be removed from the clergy roster AND he must remain silent from that point on. He must not be allowed to teach Sunday School or Bible classes; he must not be allowed to serve in any lay congregational office; he must not be chosen to write for the Synod's publishing arm or Synodical publications; he must not speak (or possibly even participate) at conferences sponsored by any body of the Church--all so that he does not exacerbate the pain of those who were affected by and continue to be suffering because of the man's grave moral failing. 

I admit that I am very sensitive, maybe overly sensitive, to such things. After having been placed on Restricted Status by a District President (who from the very start admitted that my sin was an error in judgment and not a grave moral failing), and according to the by-laws of Synod being completely unable to perform the duties of the Office of the Holy Ministry for nearly eight months while on Restricted Status for what was not a grave moral failing, I'm not altogether convinced by the idea that reputation as we view it today is a permanent bar to any sort of public participation in the life of the Church. I know how easy it is to tarnish or even destroy a man's reputation, rightly or wrongly. For a man who rightly is removed from the clergy roster, that is rightly a temporal consequence of sin. That being said, what other temporal consequences are there? Do they need to be laid out plainly, or do we make them up as we go along? Does such sin merit a life sentence without possibility of parole in the prison of the Church--allowed to live as forgiven, yet for all intents and purposes completely segregated from the daily life of the Church?

I am not insensitive to the pain of those affected by scandals caused by pastors who have been caught in a gross public sin. Such pain lingers, I know, and it affects how victims of such sin view the Church and even the Lord. However, I am also not insensitive to the thought that the man who has sinned is forgiven in the eyes of God and the Church, has accepted the temporal consequences of his actions by resigning his position, and has learned important lessons of forgiveness--especially forgiveness for sins that tend to burden the consciences of all sinners, clergy and laity--which he has the opportunity to share with the Church. Should he be a pastor again? I don't think so (but then again, that would have excluded Peter the denier and Paul the murderer from serving as well). Should a child molester, for example, be allowed to teach Sunday School? Certainly not. Should an embezzler be allowed to serve as congregation treasurer? Don't be silly. Should the man be gagged and kept in the closet, to be part of the Church but unable to be part of the life of the Church? No. Within reason, and certainly with sensitivity to the pain of those who have been hurt by the sin committed by this man, I believe the Church has the opportunity to utilize such men to continue to teach the Church--no longer as pastors, but as sinners with theological training who have a unique understanding of the power of forgiveness through the grace of God in their own lives.

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