upper room daily devotions

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Cleaning the Wound

I remember the first time that I heard about unethical behavior by a professional staff person in a congregation. It was while I was in divinity school. A person at a prominent church had mishandled money...big money. This ethical breach resulted in deep congregational wounds as well as a huge financial mess. Up until this point,I had never come in contact with significant unethical behavior in the church. Unfortunately, this was not the last story that I have heard about actions by lay staff and clergy that create deep wounds for individuals and for congregations. Of course, the media picked up on the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, but abuse or actions that result in broken trust can happen in any congregation. Too often it does.

Since I've been an elder in The United Methodist Church, I have heard too many stories about the wounds left by clergy and lay staff. Sometimes the actions don't seem terribly bad even though they result in deep wounds. For example, there is the pastor who complains constantly about a packed schedule, but who really isn't busy at all. Who can trust this person? There is also the controller, the micro-manager, and the preacher who uses theology to further her or his own agenda. Who can trust these people? There are famous and infamous (as well as just ordinary ol') preachers who use the pulpit to deride, condescend, and patronize. We don't want people to trust this kind of leader, do we? And then, of course, there are the really big biggies: sex abuse, theft, and abandonment. Again, trust is broken and the church is wounded. It does the church as a whole an injustice when we don't deal openly and honestly with these realities. We, of course, don't want the public the believe all clergy are abusers (we're not), that all treasurers abscond with the money (they don't), or that all preachers belittle others and live as hypocrites (most don't, we're just human). However, our desire to say, "NO! We're not all like this" can result in acting as though these wounds don't happen at all. And, they do.

Covering up wounds does not help them heal. They fester under the surface, growing little green germs that will flourish in the most unhelpful times. Wounds need to be cleaned. Sometimes we even need to pick a scab (sorry to be gross), drain the wound, and add some medicine to it - even when the wound occurred long ago. Time doesn't heal all wounds. The church must come to a point where it can look at the hurts it has and perhaps even has inflicted and seek healing. The church must become able to seek forgiveness for the wounds it has inflicted, offer grace and healing to those who have been wounded the most in this world, and help those who have done the wounding to find accountability and accept God's grace for their actions. This may, and perhaps often will, be a painful process. But it is the healthy thing to do. It is my understanding of what Jesus did. He named the woundedness of the world and then he acted to heal it.

If your church hasn't dealt openly with issues of sexual boundaries, financial responsibility, appropriate care for the weak in your congregation, or sex education for the young, do so in times of relative health. Don't wait for a crisis to arise before talking about healthy ways to be in community. Once the crisis arises, people's individual wounds will be too raw to deal well with these issues.

If we begin to establish healthy boundaries, engage in difficult but healthy conversation about woundedness, and stay together during the messiness of this work, then we are doing real ministry. We are sorting through our sins and our shortcomings with grace and love. We are being church.

Does one group of people have too much power in your church?
Is there an uncomfortable silence about a former pastor?
Does your church have a past that includes sloppy bookkeeping?
Has your church had a series of short-term clergy appointments?
Does your church teach sex education to children that includes what good/bad are, healthy boundaries, safe touch, telling secrets?
How do you accomodate the special needs of people living with "disabilities" such as those who are wheelchair bound, hard of sight and hearing, and those who are in frail health?
Who receives your finance reports and how does the congregation gain access to this information?
Does your pastor know who pledges what?
If you call your pastor, does s/he return your call in a timely manner?
Have you experienced trauma in your past that makes you susceptible to boundary issues today?
Does woundedness in your past make you want to run away from difficulties, resist offering grace, or confuse you in knowing what is healthy and unhealthy in terms of limits and boundaries?
How does your church deal with GLBT people? If they are not welcome, how do you tell them? If they are welcome fully, how are they to know when so many congregations deride and demonize them?
Do you run background checks on people working with vulnerable people?

For more information on sexual abuse and the church, go to the Faith Trust Institute's website.

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