Why do clergy often do more damage than help in a time of crisis?

Pastors and religious leaders have a responsibility to those they serve. When difficulty arises, that person should be there to offer some measure of comfort during times of instability. This does not mean that they have all the answers, but it does mean that they stand with those they are entrusted to care for to wrestle through the questions with them. This also means recognizing that sometimes the struggle to find meaning offers more growth to the individual than the answers they come up with. The role of clergy is one of connection and empowerment. Sometimes it requires a comfort with uncertainty. It is a role requiring the responsible use of power. Yet not all of my fellow clergy understand this and in their lack of understanding they consistently engage in activities and behavior that drive a wedge between them and the communities that they are called to serve. I was reading the news online this morning and I came across a piece about a pastor blaming the COVID-19 crisis on the LGBTQ community and environmentalists. This doesn’t surprise me. As a matter of fact, I knew it was only a matter of time before these types of attacks started. I saw the same thing after Hurricane Katrina. Pastors and religious figures blamed the destruction of New Orleans on different subgroups of people. This did little to help, but in some ways I can understand the pastor’s behavior. He feels like he has a responsibility to his congregants to have an answer to assuage their anxiety and powerlessness. However, deep down he feels powerless as well. This sense of powerlessness leaves him open to acting out of his own internal biases and prejudices while also internally driving him to seek some measure of control in the chaos. This sows the seeds for the him to act out of his own hubris and arrogantly proclaim that he has the answers as to why this tragedy has happened. Now, he gets to be the hero. Others blindly follow this individual because they too seek an answer, and in the absence of wrestling with the question themselves, they simply accept the convenient answer prescribed to them by their “trusted leader.” Neither party realizing the damage they are causing to others or to the religious community as a whole. This type of behavior damages the connection and empowerment that should be the byproduct of healthy spiritual engagement. It stifles growth and is self seeking as it serves as little more than to ineffectively mitigate individual and collective anxiety. The two most unpleasant human emotions to experience are rejection and judgement. The church should be a safe space away from these emotions. However, it unfortunately has become more associated with these emotions because of the actions of religious leaders and public figures who have lost their way. The “morality” has become little more than a twisted “spiritual currency” that affords its wielder the hollow moral high ground. Now, rather than a morality that focuses on connection and empowerment, the concept has been twisted to serve as a tool to label others. This effectively disconnects them while at the same time enabling the labeler to never have to look at themselves. This is why people see little value in church and religion and are walking away in record numbers. This is what people outside the church see and rightly label as hypocrisy. I do, however want to suggest a solution to my fellow clergy. Let go of a need to have all of the answers. Develop some comfort in the anxiety of the unknown. Extract your ego from the equation. Ask more questions than delivering proclamations and be willing to sit with your people and wrestle with finding meaning together with them. These activities foster connection and empowerment. They also help people come to their own meaning. For the meaning that one arrives at by personally wrestling with the existential question is far more useful and personal that some pronouncement. These things help a person the grow spiritually. Ultimately, we are all on a journey, and while the destination is important, right now, in the present moment, the journey should be our focus.-

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