Sunday, February 13, 2005

Thanks Sage.

I want to thank Sage for the thought-provoking comments about my Lent post. And Sage raises some interesting points and questions. Let me give you back some of my thoughts on this topic.

It's true that Protestant flocks have indeed stayed with ministers who have committed transgressions, the most visible being the extravagant sins of some of the larger than life televangelists, such as Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert (and can somebody please tell me why they're always named "Jim"?

However, most of those very public ministers were involved with bilking their gullible followers and building extravagant surroundings for themselves. In some cases, like the above ministers, they also committed adultery and preyed upon female parishoners. But, and this is an important distinction, whatever their sins, they mostly involved transgressions against other consenting adults.

However, they did take advantage of the elderly and lonely, the shut in who was often ill and desperately yearning for hope, and the young and idealistic (especially young and idealistic women). There sins, transgressions, and crimes, however, did not usually involve children. At least not with these most public ministers.

Many of their parishoners did indeed stay with them, and even defend them. However, mostly, these men, when exposed, also publicly repented. True, it may have been crocodile tears, but man did those tears flow as they sonorously admitted that they were sinners.

To my way of explaining their success at retaining their flocks' loyalty, I think it's because the world, and Americans in particular, are suckers for repentant sinners. And I don't mean this to be flip. The enduring popularity of the figure of Mary Magdalen (although we now know that she was probably not quite the penitent prostitute that ancient Church tradition portrayed her to be) is an indication of people's yearning for redemption. It's the ancient hope that beats in all of our hearts. Because we all realize that we are less than perfect, we all long for the promise that we can be redeemed. I think that's what may be behind the enduring ability of televangelists to reinvent themselves after they get caught, literally with one hand in the collection plate and the other hand on some young woman's thigh. They, like the ancient and sentimental images of the Magdalen, are symbols of the redeemability of all of us. Since most of us are not larger than life, if even these extravagant sinners can find redemption, so then can we with our much less extravagant transgressions.

However, a gullible flock that chooses to stay in a church is far different from one that has no place to go because the church is believed to be the mediator for their salvation, which was my point. At no point did the people who rallied to Jimmy Swaggert or Jim Bakker believe that their salvation would be affected if they refused to support these men. It was that they believed in and were moved by the televangelists' performances. And in neither case were the pastors accused of molesting children.

I am not really familiar with many cases of other lesser known Protestant pastors who were involved with child molestation. I am sure that the problem exists. My whole point was not that only Catholic priests molest children. The point was that if it happened to a Methodist or Lutheran parish, it would be easier for the parishoners to leave and find another church, or even another denomination since most Protestants believe that salvation flows from a relationship with Jesus, not from their church's administration of the sacraments, including the sacrament of confession, which is possibly more important than the Eucharist, since to a faithful Catholic, without confession and absolution of a priest, you are not necessarily fit to receive communion. That's where they really get hold of you, not the Eucharist, but reconciliation and the need for priestly abolution. At least, that's how I see it

But Sage also asked a very interesting question that I need to think about before I try to answer it. I don't know if I can. But here it is.

"Are people in the pews more attracted to the clergy (be it the symbol they
respresent in the Catholic church or the charm of the Protestant preacher, than
they are to Jesus Christ?"

It's certainly something to think about. And if anybody else out there happens upon this and wants to comment, I'd be very interested in what they'd think.

And thank you, again, Sage for your comments.

1 comment:

sage said...

gee whizz, I feel pretty special getting a whole blog entry. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I'll keep reading your blog, you are providing some interesting commentary to ponder.