Saturday, 2 July 2011

White collar crime

Auckland's ever controversial Anglican church, St. Matthew-in-the-City, has a new billboard on display sure to tweak the noses of their more conservative brethren. It's part of an initiative to petition those old codgers who wear the funny hats to permit the ordination of openly gay and lesbian priests.

Whatever your views on the merits of such a campaign, the use of the term "white collar crime" is interesting.  When did you last see a "man of the cloth" out in public with a dog collar?  When did you last hear a functionary of a traditional church obsequiously referred to as "reverend" without flinching?

Back in the "olden days," when I was a kid, dog collared reverends were far more common.  In fact, there was a default attitude of respect toward them, even among those who rarely darkened the door of a church.  They were, if nothing else, professional gentlemen.  They had endured years of training, had more books on their shelves than their parishioners, and were both 'safe' and somewhat worldly-wise.  If you wanted a job reference, a clergyman was a sound choice, along with the family doctor and a high school teacher.  Need some astute advice?  You'd see Pastor/Father/Reverend so and so, particularly if you came from a lower-middle class or working class background.

Times change.  Clergypersons are no longer exclusively male.  Dog collars are out of fashion when appearing in public. Attendance has plummeted.  The church is caught up in its own interminable internal disputes, gay ordination being one hot issue that refuses to be hosed down, while Rome burns all around it.

White collar crime number one, as I see it, is the refusal of the mainline churches to come clean on their complicity in (to use a euphemism) the mushroom farming industry (keep 'em in the dark and pour on the effluent.)  Obfuscation reigns in an attempt to offend as few people as possible.  The old creeds continue to be recited by worshippers who know that they can't be taken on face value.  The unspoken rule is "play the game" and, while you're being sprayed with effluent, whistle loudly to keep your spirits up.

But why bother?  There's not much future in that, either with or without an enlightened policy toward the ordination of gay men and women.


  1. Perhaps, Gavin, the problem is more universal than just mushroom farming.

    As an aside, I do wonder at the clergy blatantly ignoring the admonition to "flee fornication". Instead, these hucksters wallow in it, hoping to attract, I suppose, people whose attraction is to their same gender, because these liberal days, religion is supposed to make you feel good.

    Do you suppose that the integrity of the past may have lain in the insistence of preaching about leaving sin behind, not compromising and embracing, well, integrity? Do you think that credibility of those personal recommendations of pastors / priests precipitously plunged pursuant to the realization that clergy are liars just like the rest of us and are not due any respect?

    The solid foundation rock of integrity seems to be mirey clay mixed with sand in the slippery quicksand filled pits of compromise.

    Is it not a deal with the Devil: If you will just give me a congregation as a cash machine, I promise to commit any heinous act to support your mission, Satan?

    And we should all know what those sorts of Deals with the Devil end up, shouldn't we?

    Oh, right.

    We're all in hell, so what difference does it make, anyway?

  2. Just bleeve. Since that's the bottom line of Xianity, what's a little compromise here and there? The priest still gets to wear his silly hat and the laity gets to feel all saved and special.

    The most important thing in modern Xianity is to obtain a leather bound bible with gold edge pages to keep on the dashboard of your car. Plus, it serves a second purpose of keeping your pack of smokes from sliding off.

    Alas, Xianity isn't what it used to be back in the day when it was worth killing people over points of doctrine. Maybe that's a good thing.

    Xianity holds that Paul shook hands with one brother (James) but got on his knees and prayed to the other brother. But no, those were the days before the holy trinity and there was only one God in Xianity and most of the believers were Jews.

    You know all that stuff that blasphemers like Bart Ehrman write about? That's only stuff that biblical scholars have known about for a couple of hundred years. Somehow, it just never trickled down to the laity. That might be because the priests still like to wear those silly looking hats and keep their hands warm in your pockets.

  3. So, assuming you don't just mean "give up and play tennis instead" (and from the subject matter of your blog that does not seem to be what you mean), what should churches be preaching? (After the creeds and much of Scripture become unpreachable, which seems to be your view.)

  4. No Tim, never been a tennis player.

    What should the churches be preaching? Big question! I'm considering (still at the notetaking stage) doing a "Voyage around Karl Barth" presentation - maybe in podcast form - that might go part way to providing a personal response to that.

    Regardless, the point of the post is that mainline churches need to get a backbone and speak honestly about the "sea of doubt" that surrounds the island we all live on as Christians. The sea levels are rising and the sharks are circling.

    I come out (originally) of a creedal tradition. Every now and then in the liturgy we'd drop the Apostles or Nicene Creed in favour of the Athanasian. The thing is, I don't know anyone in that tradition (including theologians - and sometimes especially theologians) who'd actually take that creed seriously. It's a pretty horrible formula.

    So why do it? What damage are we doing to ourselves when we have to play word games in order to affirm these things? Why should we expect subsequent generations to practise this dissimulation with a good conscience? WWJD? (Mt. 5:37)

    For a while I was entranced by the ideas emerging, as it were, from the emergent movement, but I doubt that solution is anywhere near radical enough to save the day.

  5. Bob, for some reason I can't get your comment to show up. If it still hasn't appeared by the time you check this please resend.

  6. "I come out (originally) of a creedal tradition. Every now and then in the liturgy we'd drop the Apostles or Nicene Creed in favour of the Athanasian. The thing is, I don't know anyone in that tradition (including theologians - and sometimes especially theologians) who'd actually take that creed seriously. It's a pretty horrible formula."

    I don't have the foggiest what you just said up there, Gavin, but I have been reading a lot of Friends' (Quaker) lit lately, and their one tagline is "we are non-creedal" -- and they've been around for 350 years? Granted, the writings of the original Friends are closer to the Truth than their modern-day counterparts (who tend to, if they profess Christianity at all, unfortunately err on the side of false Christianity).

    The WCG also taught that the truth of the Word was brought to America, in part, by Quakers as well as the CoG7. From what I am reading, this does, indeed, seem to be the case.

    Warts, and all, mind you. One thing that can be said of the early Friends (much like the literature produced by the WCG), on all points they, are 100% human, fallible creatures, and they admit this. So did the writers for the Church. Even Herbert Armstrong. If you don't believe me, read his words for yourself, and see how he repeatedly says that he's only fallible. Unlike Joseph Tkach Jr, on the other hand....