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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Pastors Make Enemies


I bet you never thought you would see a title like that? Yes, my friends, we ministers are in the enemy making business; like lawyers, bounty hunters and repo men. Everyone thinks that we are in the “everyone likes the pastor” business. I am here to tell you those who think that are mistaken. Every once in a while ministers have to take a stand on an issue that will cause someone in the church to dislike him/her. Sometimes the issue deals with ethical and/or moral quandaries. These are relatively easy, because most ministers can recognize right from wrong. Other times the issue deals with personality conflicts. In these cases we ministers try to find a middle ground between the combatants. However, we are often forced to choose sides. People in the church come to us to make a decision, and we make it. Then, someone gets mad. I have a friend who made what appeared to be a simple and seemingly noncontroversial decision, which in turn led a prominent family to hate her guts. This family arranged for her ouster several months later. The sad truth is my friends; we ministers make enemies.

Clare killed a guy in a bar fight. He spent a few years in the pen for manslaughter. When he got out, he married a woman who was a prison minister, and a member of my church in Pennsylvania. Thus, Clare joined us and was definitely one of those parishioners who is a mixed blessing. Clare could be a wonderful man at times. He was helpful, hardworking and a faithful believer. However, he also had a terrible temper and a chip on his shoulder the size of the Poconos. When he lost his temper, which happened way too often, he was a very scary man. It was like dealing with two people in one body. He would flip back and forth as if someone was throwing a switch in his head. When the switch was thrown and the scary man showed up you wanted to run for your life. After all, he did kill someone.

So, the day came when I had to face the scary man and tell him something he didn’t want to hear. Clare started to get verbally abusive with his wife. They had a lot of problems, and so he walked out of her life and into another woman’s. Soon he started to show up at church with the other woman. In fact, they choose to sit two rows behind the woman he was still married to, in my church! Outrage would be considered a mild word when one considers the general reaction to this situation. Outrage, or whatever you wish to call it, was communicated to me from Clare’s long suffering spouse. Outrage, mixed with a little fear, is how I felt as well. And so, as Pastor of the church, I had to do something about this.

Fleeing to another city, state or country did pass through my mind. But I have a family and I am a reasonably responsible person, and so, I arranged to speak with Clare. Of course it made sense to bring someone with me as a witness to the conversation, and as a possible body guard. So I asked Ken, a 6 foot 3, 200lb+ black belted Deacon who taught at a Karate school. Yeah, that’s right. You mess with me, you mess with my Karate kicking Deacon. As long as I’m with a man who can pin you to the ground with his pinky, I ain’t scared of nothin’.

Anyway, the meeting was uneventful. I told Clare that he couldn’t come to church with his lady friend. I said that it was disrespectful of his wife and a sin. He didn’t say a word. He left and never came back to the church again. In fact, I never saw him again. I guess I didn’t make a lifelong friend that day, did I?

If some people get mad at me, I’m in good company. Prophets have been getting into trouble for thousands of years. Elijah had to run away because King Ahab wanted him dead. Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern and left to die. Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, with the general idea being Daniel ending up in the lion’s digestive tract. Being a prophet is a rough life. Being the messiah isn’t a cake walk either. A mob threatened to throw Jesus off of a cliff. His enemies cried out that he should be stoned to death. And one of his closest advisors betrayed him. Jesus definitely did not have a stress free career.

Jesus warned all of his followers that there would be trouble. He said: “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues” Matthew 10:17. And how about this passage: “Brother will betray brother to death and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” Matthew 10:21-22. Jesus warned all of us minsters that we would run into trouble as we went about doing God’s work. So that raises a very good question – why?

To me the answer lies in the Old Testament book of Judges: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” Judges 21:25. Even today, in our well-ordered society, we still do as we see fit. And that translates into selfish, self-focused behavior. The problem comes when we as representatives of God’s Kingdom here on earth, attempt to stop abuse from happening in our midst. Jesus stopped a mob from stoning a woman caught in an adulterous relationship (John 8:1-11). There are times when we need to step into the fray and do the same. I have found that most people get angry when they don’t get their way. Even when we ministers are clearly on the side of right, we still face anger and rejection on the part of those we stand up to. And so I reiterate my opening thesis; we ministers make enemies. There is just no way to avoid it.

All in all I feel pretty good about the whole making enemies thing. As long as I’m trying to do right in God’s eyes, I don’t care so much how I look in someone else’s eyes. Of course if that person spent time in the slammer, then I better have a secret service detail.

God bless you,
Pastor Bill

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