The Problem of Pastors and Politics

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IrrelevenciesI was having a conversation today…and yesterday…and Sunday about how it has been so very, very hard to keep my damn mouth shut about the political game.  I’ve slipped a few times – more this week than combined in previous elections – but I am doing my absolute best to not tell people to vote in any way or imply that any candidate is not a Christian candidate.

I’ve wanted to.  My God, I’ve wanted to.  But I have been keeping my mouth shut.  Mostly.

I know I’m not alone, but I can’t help but notice that I have quite a few pastor friends who are quite vocal this election, and I get it.  I really do, I really, really do.  But I find myself at a crossroads.

I am a pastor(ish), and even when I am not in my pulpit, I may as well be because people are going to hear it as the pastor giving his pastoral advice.  I may not be presenting the Word of God in every moment (ESPECIALLY WHILE WATCHING DEBATES) but I am a pastor in every moment, and the words of my mouth are the words of a pastor no matter if I am commenting on the qualities of a specific sandwich at Chick-fil-A* or talking about the qualities of a specific candidate.  In every moment, my voice is the voice of a pastor.

Now if I say that a chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A* was tasty but the breading was a bit soggy, I have expert status because I eat a lot but not because I’m a pastor.  I’m just a sad, sad man at that point.  But if I say that one candidate is better than another, my being a pastor gives a level of expertise as a theologian and professional minister.  If I say a particular candidate is not a Christian and demonize them, then I have declared – even unintentionally – that the correct Christian choice is to vote against them.  If I say that the country is doomed if a particular candidate is elected, I say that using the authority I have as a pastor.

Maybe that’s how you think pastors should work, and I won’t be able to convince anyone otherwise, but consider the situation I find myself specifically and tell me how I am supposed to be political and not do a disservice to the Christians I serve, because all of them are baptized, confessing, and worshiping Christians just like me, flaws and all.

I have a staunch Trump supporter, a few that will vote Republican, a strong Clinton supporter or two, a few that will vote for Hillary, and a pile that seriously think the only answer – the absolute only answer – is for neither to be on the ballot and so they feel so helpless and hopeless.

Now let’s say that I demonize Trump and support Hillary.  The Hillary supports just feel supported, the Trump supporters no longer feel like they are welcome Christians, and those frustrated in the middle point to things that she has said that clearly go against my preaching and ask how I can support her.  Most people (or at least half) were just told – albeit possibly unintentionally – that voting for the candidate of their choosing is a sin and that they should feel ashamed.

Now reverse it.  Different people, same result.  I literally told half or more of the people in my congregation that they are sinful for disagreeing with me.

Maybe you don’t see it as forcefully as I do.  Maybe you see yourself as speaking in a voice that isn’t your pastor voice.  Maybe you believe that absolutely no real Christian could support a particular candidate – and that your view is absolutely correct.

But I do.  And before I get an onslaught of things that are wrong with both candidates, I’m watching the same news, reading the same blogs, and having the same thoughts as everyone else.  I can see – clearly – what is going on.  I don’t need you to tell me why you hate/love a particular candidate.  I am not blind or dumb.

I just don’t think it’s responsible for us to be so publicly demonizing and deifying candidates and tell those who we serve who disagree with us – that those that serve right along with us – that we hold the only possible Christian option and dissent is unacceptable.

Now jokes about voting for Mr. Potato Head and Aaron Rodgers (whom I hate with the fire of a billion suns) and expressing your frustration with how the election is shaking out is an entirely different matter.  That’s called being human, and my success as a pastor is about 75% due to my being willing to be a human.  But when you discussion of political situations turns to “Absolutely not her/him”, you tell those who disagree with you that they cannot have their position and still be Christians.I’ll admit I hate elections, and I want my Twitter feed to go back to beer, jokes, bourbon, jokes, and occasionally a profound statement, but the rhetoric is out of hand, even if I agree with 99% of it.  We’re pastors, we have a different standard and a different calling and we should respect that even when it pains us.  We serve our congregations (or different ministries), not the political process of our country.Think about the people you serve and if what you are saying will make them less served by you.Rant over.  Contemplating turning the heater on in my office.Peace,
– Robby

*I hadn’t had Chick-fil-A in years and then one opened in Dubuque and I was on the road a lot and found myself having to choose take-out and now I’ve had enough Chick-fil-A for a year…

How to Choose a President

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IrrelevenciesSo I watched every second of the debate last night.  It was a huge mistake on my part, not likely to be made again.  But it got me thinking, how do we actually decide who it is that we have leading the executive branch of our federal government?  What is the thought process that we go through to actually make the decision?

I am not endorsing or detracting from any candidate officially (though I really, really want to…) but I think it is more than fair to give ideas on how one might decide who to vote for.  A set of questions, in a specific order, that gives you an idea of how to choose a candidate.

Remember, these are in a specific order.  Start with the first question and move down.

1. Is this candidate qualified to actually fill the role of President?

If I sent an application to an engineering firm, it would rightfully be tossed out.  Do you know why?  Because I am incapable of completing the tasks of the job I am applying for.  It doesn’t matter if I have the same design philosophy of the company, it doesn’t matter if I’m a really cool dude, it doesn’t matter if I’m fresh blood while another candidate is old hat, if I cannot complete the tasks required of me, I should not be hired.

I think all the vast majority of people – include Christians – get so caught up in the political game and black-and-white nature of partisan politics that this very simple question gets ignored.  It needs to be first on the list, period.  You don’t hire pastors as security guards – usually – and we shouldn’t hire people who can’t actually complete the tasks of President to be President.

(Sidebar: I hate capitalizing President…)

2a. (Specifically for Christians, but also applicable to others) Will this candidate embody the Greatest Commandments?
2b. (For everyone) Does this candidates actual political positions align with my moral convictions?

I tried to come up with something more instructive here, but I couldn’t.  Look at the political positions the candidate purport, look at how they speak and act, and then decide if you can give them the yes on these questions.

There is an argument that these questions (especially for Christians) should come first, but the best morality and the best politics and the best person means absolutely nothing if you can’t put those things into action.  The reality is that if someone cannot actually do the job, it does not matter how awesome they are.  There is a reason I’m not, nor will I ever be, a baseball pitcher or starting NFL quarterback.  I’m pretty awesome, but I can’t do that.

3. Is this person the best candidate for everyone who isn’t me?

I am a white male, protestant, religious, moderate, working class (and slowly clawing my way up), beer drinker, bourbon drinker, short, over-weight, non-pot smoking, writer, pastor.  And I could focus that microscope even further.  Who is best for me may not be best for my wife, or the church secretary, or the family that just moved in down the street, or the banker, or the homeless guy I gave money to that one time, or the pan-handler I gave money to that one time.

When we choose someone who is best for us, we are choosing on a very narrow microcosm to benefit with our choice.  If we decide to be a bit less egocentric in our decision-making, then we actually consider a much broader set of benefits and actually, you know, attempt to improve the world, not just our personal microcosm.

And really, everyone else being better off makes you better off, just saying.

4. Is this person the best candidate for me?

If you actually get this far, then you can actually be selfish.  If you are fortunate enough to get through all of the questions with two (or more?) candidates who can actually do the job, embody your moral convictions, and are good for everyone, then you can selfishly choose a candidate who will pass laws that will make your microscopic microcosm of the world better specifically for you.

That’s the end.  Hopefully this was unbiased enough to not actually endorse/detract from anyone specific, but I can’t guarantee that.  This is the first election where I very much wanted to just start screaming publicly about political matters, but it isn’t my place and certainly my pulpit will not be sullied by partisan politics.

Peace,
– Robby

The Bible Trivia Exam came up again…

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Irrelevencies

Okay, I’m so done with the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) and how ridiculous they have become.  I should try to be more diplomatic and pastoral with this, but I’m just done.

The Bible Trivia Content Exam is a 100 question multiple choice test you take after your first year of seminary.  Does it actually show anything about your giftedness for ministry?  No, not a thing.  Does it actually help show what your weaknesses in scriptural knowledge are?  Maybe, but probably not.  Is it full in inane questions that requires you to know the random minutia of scripture that you will likely never use again?  Yes, yes it is.

Did having the old tests available to I knew what to study help me pass the test?  Yes.

Did having the old tests reduce my Biblical knowledge and prepare me less for ministry?  No.

Did having the old tests increase my Biblical knowledge?  Yes, a lot.

So the PCC has got a lot of criticism – and loud criticism – about the change in the BCE and the PCC basically said, “Yup, we hear you, but we know better than you and we’re responding without actually addressing your concerns.”

So, here’s how testing has changed in the PC(USA).  The BCE has become harder and impossible to prepare for short of memorizing all of scripture, while the senior ordination exams – you know, the actual professional exams that test your true readiness for ministry – have become easier with the removal of proctoring, the removal of any closed-book questions, and recently the removal of any time limits.  So basically, you have to know trivia like the back of your hands, but the actual meat of ministry you can rely on time and resources?

So you know, I’ve got a solution.  Make the BCE a senior ordination exam.  If this exam is supposed to “assess competency in core areas of knowledge within [ministry],” why exactly are you assessing it before the education that you are supposed to learn about these things is completed?  You are asking people entering into seminary to have a full seminary education’s worth of knowledge – including a bunch of first-career pastors – of the minutia of scripture before actually completing seminary, and then you are surprised that less and less students pass the exam.

The test is supposed to “…assess one’s knowledge of stories, themes and pertinent passages in the Old and New Testaments,” and you know, you learn those things in seminary.  Because if you come in knowing all the answers, you don’t learn and you aren’t challenged.  So if we are going to make the BCE more difficult to prepare for and more difficult than the senior ordination exams, then maybe, just maybe, it needs to be a senior exam.

OR, maybe just maybe, the PCC can stop being stuck in a “memorization is the only way” mentality with the BCE when you certainly don’t need memorization for the actual professional exams.

OH, and I was curious about something because Tim mentioned pathology in that condescending letter.  I called my nurse sister about her boards and you know what?  They didn’t randomly get a test before their education was completed that tested knowledge that they haven’t gained that they will gain in their education.  So their boards where tough, timed, and to make sure they don’t kill someone – like our ords are designed to make sure we aren’t heretics and don’t turn people away from Christ – and guess what?  They release to previous years exams to practice on.

This is just stupid, and most people outside of the PCC see it.  But those who think that we all know nothing about scripture and somehow this trivia exam weeds out those who don’t know enough are also in charge of the PCC, and it pisses me off.

Pastors, remember the bull crap you went through when you were going through ordination, and fight to make it better.  It doesn’t need to be easier, but it can be fair.

GRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

– Robby

I Hurt

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I’ve made a few of these posts in the past, and though I truly don’t have time to write this today (8 hours of work to finish in 5 :-S) I cannot remain silent.

For the majority, this will not apply or just echo the sentiments they have already said.  For those, I encourage you to share if you agree but more importantly, hug your family and friends and be thankful for the days that you have that might have been cut short.  We all should hurt because of this, and we must let ourselves feel that hurt.

This post isn’t for those who agree with me; this is for those who don’t.

The correct action when this happens is to mourn.  It is not politicize, it is not find our bully pulpits and soap boxes, it is not call for radical changes and for people to resign because they didn’t make the correct accusation, it is not stand on the bodies of those who lost their lives to make our political points.

It is to mourn.

I do not have words to describe how I feel about 50 people being gunned down and 50 more being injured because of their lifestyle.  I found John Oliver’s words oddly apt in describing how I feel. Warning, it is a bit raw, but I can’t find better words myself to describe how this feels.

Stop making this about an agenda.  50 of our citizens were murdered simply because they have the right to exist.  Stop making this about you and make it about their lives and mourning that they were cut short.

I said it when Antonin Scalia died and I will say it now, they have not even been interred to their final resting place and the mourning process has not even truly started yet; stop standing on their still warm bodies and make this about your politics.

Grieve and mourn and hurt.  Get angry at someone who murdered so many people.  Refuse to find solace in this world because there is none here.  Sob and scream.  Do the things that mourning people do.

But do not make it about politics, and do not stand on the bodies of innocent, dead people because you want your voice to be heard louder.  This period is not about you; it is about them, and their families, and a mourning nation.

I have never considered myself an ally of the LGBT community – I am not an activist for anything, really – but this senseless violence was carried out on that community – that marginalized community – specifically and without remorse.  We cannot ignore that.  Simply existing and exercising their sexual identity is the reason that one man decided that these people deserved to die, and that should never be.

We need to lift up our marginalized, especially those who live in fear of violence, and show them love.  We need to stop withhold love from groups of people that we disagree with, that we don’t understand, that we are disgusted by, that we hate, and that we fear.  We need to be showing love to all.

Did you see the line of people donating blood?  That is what we are capable of.  Let’s make that the message of these days of mourning.  Do what you can for others, sacrifice of yourself for others, help the world by showing love.

Political conversations needs to happen, the debates need to happen, solutions need to be found to curtail this problem, but not now.  Mourn first, give first, love first, let their memories becomes memories, then you can start your grandstanding.

Today is not about anyone other than those who were lost.  The loving thing to do is to remain mindful of that.

I’m hurting for our nation, for our marginalized people, for people who are hated because their lifestyles are uncomfortable for others, for all who experience violence.  And it cannot be okay, not today, so I am just going to hurt today.

Lord, hear our wails and our sobs and give us peace that this world has taken away.  Amen.

Grumpy, Grumpy, Grumpy

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Irrelevencies

This should be a tweet, but I couldn’t make it a pithy little quip.  Just…if you don’t care about my inane intolerance of just annoyingly edgy and confident media…like…just…go do something else instead of reading this.  I’m just…tired…

But really, I listened to Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything today, most notably the episode on the future, and I just don’t have words to explain how much I exhaustedly hated it.  Like, it epitomized everything I hate with our culture right now that doesn’t revolve around politics.

This is what I got out of it: technology is making us stupid, and Benjamin Walker knew everything bad that would happen with technology now in 2006, and only people as smart as him knew it.

Oh, and social media is making us dumber.  As is technology.

He’s 4 years older than I am.  We are in that weird middle stage where we are the elder millennials, me more solidly in Generation Y than him, but still this isn’t a generational divide.  He just arrogantly doesn’t like social media and technology for the sake of not liking it.

What he epitomizes, for me, is the ultimately popular counter-culture, the hipster culture, the “I’m somehow better and smarter than everyone else because I’m not a sheep that just adopts technology and uses social media and you should worship at my superior feet” mentality that makes me want to punch things.

And it does because the reality is that this mindset of edginess and counter-culture being morally superior is so grating on my nerves because I have the mentality that I don’t care what culture does, I do what I find to be the correct course of action.  If culture agrees, great; if it disagrees, whatever.

I spent a lot of energy as a preteen trying to fit in, and a lot of energy as a teen and young adult screaming that I didn’t fit in and that made me better.  And then I grew up.  I found my confidence and humility that allowed me to enjoy the world instead of looking for what I should hate.

I will pull an example from music.  I have a weird taste for Ingrid Michelson, Sara Bareilles, and Brandi Carlile…and Tech N9ne and Bad Religion occasionally.  I should hate them according to…well, really every measure of culture that fit into.  And I also love great, non-mainstream (but still accessible) bands like The Tedeschi Trucks Band and JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound and PJ Harvey and Gary Clark, JR., but I still like these really mainstream (or popular punk) artists, as well.

Why is being counter-cultural moral?  Can someone actually answer that?  Why is being contrarian a moral position?  Why do you get to look down your nose at people when you refuse to consume popular culture and you rebel against technology?

Christians, too, have this awful ideal.  Whenever a moral direction is changing within the church, the accusation is that the church is following culture, implying that all surrounding culture is absolutely wrong, and that aligned changes mean that the church is following culture, not that it is a parallel and concurrent, but separate, change.

Why is resisting change and being contrarian and counter-cultural seen as automatically moral?  Can someone actually answer that for me so this subset of our culture…odd word choice…can not grate on my nerves quite so much?

I’m grumpy, I’m tired, and caffeine has worn off.  Someone please just save me.

Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee…
– Robby