Yesterday, my son and I were talking about rules.
G: Mommy, kids have to follow rules that grownups tell them?
Me: Yes, honey. And grownups follow rules....
G: That God gives them?
At that point, it didn't seem like I needed to get into the idea of moral law, natural law or social contracts with my 5yr old. Maybe when he's in the first grade? But, his query got me thinking about all of the rules that I follow, the responsibilities that I have towards the world. There are lots of them: traffic rules, financial rules, interpersonal rules, parenting rules. The rules that I'm most aware of, however, are the ones I'm beholden to as a clergy person.
When I was ordained six years ago, I was required to make vows and sign a code of ministerial ethics. Some of that ethical code focused on my responsibility to congregations, some to congregations that I had moved on from, some to myself. The part of the ethical code that I think about most often, though, has to do with the power that I wield over people as a religious authority figure. Whether you dig religion or not, religious leaders of almost any tradition can have incredible negative or positive influence on the people over which they are named stewards. That's why I get called into hospital rooms beside the dying, why I get invited to lead worship services on Easter. My words, my actions, my presence can help to orient people's perceptions and encourage behavioral change.
Or they can do untold spiritual and mental damage to people. I don't know that from experience; rather, I know that because of OTHER people's experiences. I know what my LGBTQIA friends have told me about their treatment at the hands of religious leaders: condemned merely for revealing their attractions, called abomination for existing. I know what my now non-religious friends have told me about their treatment at the hands of religious leaders: mocked for asking discerning questions, rejected because of differing political views.
I know what some friends have told me about their violation at the hands of their religious leaders: sexual abuse, unreported and unpunished. That story crosses religious practices, though the Catholic Church has stood at the forefront of stories of clergy sexual predators for several decades now. Just this week, a Hindu guru fled police custody after being found guilty on twenty charges of sexual violation of underage girls at his Ashram. The psychological and spiritual left behind when a religious leader preys upon their people is mind-boggling.
I have never violated my congregation members like this, I have never committed such a terrible violation of my ministerial ethics. But I live in the wake of OTHERS of my kind doing such evil things. Am I angry at them? Absolutely; they should be stripped of their power immediately and restitution should be made to their victims. Do I feel the urge to say: #NOTALLCLERGY? You bet. When I hear about another person victimized by their religious leader, my instinct is to should that "we are not all like that!" But I don't do that. Do you know why? Because it absolutely does not help. At all. It totally misses the point of what the victim is doing by sharing their story.
Obviously, no one thinks that ALL clergy are predators. But some ARE. That is a PROBLEM that must be addressed. For me to rely on self-pitying denial takes energy I could be putting towards reforming the practices of my clergy people to make sure violations like this don't happen again. I am responsible as a clergy person to accept the judgement of others when my fellows (male or female) fail so reprehensible. The onus is upon ME to live differently, to accept criticism, to take critique, to change my methods of interaction to make religious spheres safer. Why? Because I'm the one with the power in this equation; to expect that the people with less power (non-ordained lay people) to institute change is to buck the responsibility I have been entrusted with. Every time another clergy person commits flagrant misconduct, as a part of a privileged class I have the responsibility to denounce it and reassess the system around me to make sure that I am not putting my own people into vulnerable places. Spiderman's Uncle Ben said this well: "With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility."
Which is why this last year, with its constant revelation of police brutality towards minority people, I've been so very angry at the defensiveness of Police Unions and Police departments.
Police officers are a part of a privileged class of people within our culture, entrusted with the power of life and death as a part of our criminal justice system. With that great power comes accountability and responsibility to others. Police officers and departments are granted POWER, so the people they serve are by necessity less powerful. But that means the police should be under severe scrutiny at all times. Like clergy have come to be. Those with power are under the onus to LISTEN and RESPOND to the critiques, criticisms and calls for transparency that the less powerful ask for. This is how we maintain a more just system: power is not granted permanently, and powerful individuals are under stricter ethical guidelines than those with less power.
So in the case of the unrest in our country, when episode after episode after episode after episode after episode AFTER EPISODE of police brutality against minority peoples is revealed? IT IS TIME TO STOP BEING DEFENSIVE. There is obviously a massive, if not complete, failure in the way policing is being carried out in our country. Social Media has made it utterly impossible to deny this. It is time that Police officers, police departments, and police unions STOP tarring victims or standing behind racially motivated police practices. Those with power have been shown to be violating their responsibilities and the time for restitution has come.
Learn, my police friends, what we clergy people have come to know much too late. Your power does not make you God. Your power can be taken away. Your power means you are responsible to walk a much much much tighter line than anyone else. You have been called on the table, and now it is time to stop talking and to listen. To keep your mouth shut when you want to say #NOTALLPOLICE. Now is the time to look at the fractured edifice of your practices and admit: this isn't working anymore. Now is the time to make recompense. Because if you lose the trust of your people? Oh my friends, do you see the state of the American church? We lost our people's trust and sometimes I do not think we will ever gain it back.
How much worse will it be if you dig your feet in, and the people stop trusting in the police?
Power has been abused in your name, in a title you carry. Maybe not by you. But your privilege makes it your problem. And Now it is time to make it stop.