Saturday, April 25, 2009

It's a Bit Awkward

... but somebody needs to say this.

We at the Egg have recently read about the arrest of a colleague, and incidentally a friend.  (We won't link to any articles or give any names, although intrepid Googlers will no doubt learn the details quickly enough.)  Our friend has been accused of getting drunk at a party, dancing suggestively with a woman who was not his wife -- even when she asked him to stop -- and later of touching her inappropriately.

It isn't exactly rent boys and crystal meth, a la Ted Haggard, but it is a scandal.  The congregation is divided between those who see an innocent, if humiliating, mistake, and those who see a serious violation of the man's pastoral duties.  The court has not yet decided what exactly it sees.  As we understand it, absent a court decision, the synod has limited authority to intervene.

For the record, our friend is a pleasant, thoughtful man of middle years, who has long supplemented his parish work by serving a chaplain in the military reserve.  Like many reservists in recent years, this has involved a surprisingly long overseas deployment, which can be draining on both family and parish life.  We honor him for his willingness to answer the call.

Now, scandals involving the 250 or so Lutheran pastors in these minor outlying islands are not rare, but neither are they common.  Generally speaking, we live pretty respectable lives, marred now and then by the same things that mar everybody else's -- booze, adultery, bizarre lapses in judgment.  (Occasionally, we do fall into a second category of misdeed, defined by ludicrous assertions of incompetent theology, but these rarely seem to attract any interest outside our own small number.)  Scandals that actually make the newspapers, as our poor drunken friend's did, are quite rare.  

The last one we can recall, several years ago now, involved another friend, who in addition to serving a parish was also a school teacher and -- come to think of it -- a chaplain in the military reserve.  In fact, the scandal involved submitting false military orders to the school district so that he could get some extra continuing-education time.  (Because of our great love and respect for this fellow, we were terribly disappointed at the time, but we do recall thinking "At least it wasn't about sex.")

So.  Why are we airing all this dirty laundry?  Because we want to make an observation, in support of a pet thesis, a thesis of which our many indulgent friends are no doubt already tired.  We apologize for the redundancy.

Observation:  Both pastors -- the most recent newspaper-worthy scandals in our synod -- are men of middle age.  (Women are rarely the subject -- although often the object -- of an ecclesiastical scandal).  Both are military chaplains. (Our late grandfather once observed that the skills required by the military don't match well with those required by parish ministry, and we believe this to be the case).  And -- here's our main point -- both were raised in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, educated at Seminex, and ordained in the AELC.  It was by far the smallest of the ELCA's predecessor bodies, but, as James Nestingen has observed, seems to account for a disproportionate number of its misconduct cases

Thesis:  There was something in the Missouri water, in the 1960s and 1970s.  Something dangerous, of which the rest of us might do well to beware.  Not that we don't love our ex-AELC colleagues.  But we're just saying.


Pastor Joelle said...

I don't know anything about this situation and perhaps it is more serious but I must say when it comes these occasional lapses in judgment...there was a time when a woman know how to handle a man who tried to "touch her inappropriately" in a way that, unless he had serious problems, he would learn a valuable (albeit painful) lesson without ruining either his marriage or his career.

That's one of the things my mama taught me...

Father said...

Good point. Litigation really isn't the solution to all life's problems, even if we do seem to live in an age that thinks so.

mark said...

You are saying that LCMS (suspect to begin with) got rid of some of its predators in the schism that birthed AELC and the worst of these migrated to the ELCA, became military chaplains (at least part-time), and ever since have roamed the precincts of our synod looking for victims. Kinda like Dracula who, underneath those fangs, was a worthy man.
An interesting thesis. And if the synod is a haven for such, who else might be harbored under its collars?

Father said...

Let's be clear. I'm not suggesting that the LCMS willfully offloaded its "problem" pastors or seminarians on the AELC. On the contrary, I believe that in the schism it lost many of the people whom the synod had considered its most promising younger leaders. (Not for nothing, but the AELC people believed that as well, and have never been shy about saying so). And in fact, a disproportionate number of AELC pastors have assumed leadership positions, at least in New York.

What I *am* suggesting, based on my own observations and on that one bit of gossip spread by Nestingen, is that some of the characteristics which marked a young man in the Missouri system of the 1960s and 70s as "promising" came with a dark side.

Theologically, the same colleague whose memoir I tease in another post has argued that the ex-Missourians were shaped by reading Werner Elert, and tend toward antinomianism. I don't agree, but the idea is provocative and worth considering.

My own thought is that some of these fellows carry with them a deadly combination of personality traits: an unwavering conviction that they are always right, precisely because of their Missouri education, matched with a remarkable capacity for convincing displays of piety and even humility; and a clannishness that pointedly keeps them from hearing advice from people outside a selected group of trusted advisors. Many of them have displayed tremendous creativity in building up congregations and institutions -- at least temporarily -- while at the same time suppressing dissent and alienating their church members and staff in ways that ultimately do as much harm as they have done good.

All this, if it is even a real phenomenon, may be the self-righteousness of a self-proclaimed "faithful remnant." Or it may be that the LCMS system of that era inadvertently rewarded narcissistic personalities. Or those may be two ways of saying the same thing.

In any case, I certainly don't mean this as blanket condemnation of former AELC pastors, many of whom are among my friends and most trusted colleagues. Nor do I think this is in any way unique to our synod, except that this was a strong area for the AELC. But I do believe there is a trend here worth noticing.