The Role of the Pastor: The Pacifier
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 10:02:52 PM EST
In my column last week, I began a conversation about the role the pastor can play when a church has been targeted for takeover. We looked briefly at the "Pastor as Aggressor:" we will return to that subject at another time as there is more to be said about that.

But this week I want to write about the Pastor as Pacifier. Other titles come to mind.. Were I to be more clever, I would have entitled this the "Pastor as Passivist." Its not a word, but it gets across the meaning I am intending: some pastors watch the machinations and ministrations undertaken by activists in their church and choose to remain, well, passive. I could have called this article the "Pastor as Enabler," for the result of choosing to remain passive is that one further enables the church to continue to be attacked.

I choose the title "Pacifier" because it comes closest to naming the underlying motives of this pastor: keep peace at all costs. For whatever reasons there may be - and there are many (we will explore some of them) - some pastors engage this conflict in their church with a predicated avoidance.

Why? And at what cost to the church? That is what we need to explore.

There really are many reasons why a pastor whose church has been targeted for attack would wish for, opt for, hope for, and long for peace and refuse to engage in the conflict that results.  

One of them is ignorance. I don't mean this is any pejorative way: I mean only to suggest that pastors who have spent their careers watching one church squabble after another can infer from the evidence that what they are witnessing here is just another church fight. And many have learned the hard way over time that it is wise to stay neutral on matters of church dispute: taking sides can result in the loss of offended members. What they may not realize - in other words, that of which they may be ignorant (and this can be costly) -  is that this fight is different.  It is much less internal than, say, a battle over which hymnal to purchase, whether or not to expend endowment funds for the purchase of a new piece of property, or when to schedule the new second service. This battle involves outsiders with much more nefarious intentions, and passive indifference in their presence will be costly. Informing local church pastors of the web of connections that feed this monster is essential.

Another reason for pacifying is, to put it bluntly, that some clergy just don't have a stomach for the fight. There are personality types for whom conflict avoidance is a matter of personal choice. An incredible amount of energy and time can be spent triangulating with conflicting members in order to pacify them and - if needed - keep them at bay. Pastors can even find it ennobling to brush one unresolved conflict after another under the carpet. And the relief they feel at having avoided conflict, coupled with memories of times when these efforts failed them, empowers them to repeat the strategy.  

In all fairness, it should be pointed out that sometimes conflict avoidance can avert much more disastrous consequences. And one can easily understand that most pastors' inclinations tend more towards acts of kindness, grace, and compassion - especially toward members they have been called to shepherd. Good men and women who have been called into ministry to preach the gospel, to care for the sick and needy, and to bind up the wounds of the broken-hearted never imagined that they would be called upon to engage in battle against the very people they chose to serve. One of the untold stories in this saga is the intense pain it is causing such pastors.

There is little judgment in this analysis.

But there is much to observe. And it should be properly noted that avoidance tactics in these circumstances only exacerbate the problem. This is not a conflict that can be wished away. Pastors whose resolve is, to quote the noble Chief Joseph, to "fight no more forever" gain some level of personal comfort at the expense of their churches. Fueled with both propaganda and motive by outside agitators, those members who have committed to this battle do not believe that compromise, peaceful negotiations, or fatigue are legitimate reasons to end their attack. And Pastors who believe that they have quieted the troops with some sort of peaceful resolution must be very wary. Another attack is being planned.

I am witnessing in these days one good pastor after another abandon churches in the middle of intense conflict, unwilling to enter the fray in defense of their church's history, tradition, and heritage. They leave such churches to the wiles of a crafty opponent who will not take defeat easily; and to the hope that among the laity can be found those who do have a stomach for the battle. But they are not easy to find. In a reply to my Feb. 7 article ("Anatomy of an Attack: Part 1), "Mainstream Baptist" writes:

"Those who lack scruples against character assassination, slander, lies and gossip are parasites that feed on the reservoir of trust that people of genuine spirituality and integrity earned for their communities of faith.  When the unscrupulous are finished eating the heart out of their churches, nothing is left but a hollow and fragile shell.
From hard experience, I have learned that most moderate Christians would rather switch churches than fight to preserve their church from fundamentalism.  The majority of the moderates who refuse to switch churches, prefer to appease fundamentalist cliques -- preserving some small measure of personal tranquility -- rather than facing and confronting those who defame the character and intentions of those who have the courage and conviction to oppose fundamentalism.  
Bystanders enable the perpetrators by allowing them to deal with their victims one-by-one."

What he writes here about church members is no less true of their pastors: some would rather switch than fight. And "bystanders enable the perpetrators."

I can, and have, observed the behavior of such pastors.

I can, and do, understand their inclinations.

What I cannot do is stand idly by and watch the church I love be attacked from the outside with no righteous cause or purpose. Pastors in this time can no longer afford the comfortable choice of laying low. To do so is to become complicit in what will be the inevitable outcome.  To leave this battle to the laity alone is unwise, unfair, and unwarranted.
And so, next week the "Pastor as Protector" - or to borrow one more apt phrase from the past (not without its own touch of irony): Defender of the Faith.

At times, Mainstream Baptists like myself, have been called "fanatic moderates."

Thanks for recognizing that moderate Christians have a faith worth protecting and defending.

by Mainstream Baptist on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 02:08:02 PM EST

A truly fearsome lot.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 04:06:41 PM EST

Consider changing your title.  Pacifism has a strong tradition of speaking truth to power and non-violent resistance, thus "Pastor as Pacifist" is inappropriate here.  There is a tradition of debate within peace circles between Passivists, like Tolstoy, who advocate not resisting evil, and Pacifists, like Ghandi or King, who advocate non-violent resistance.  The Pastor as Pacifier advocates "Peace, Peace, when there is no Peace" and tries to gloss over underlying conflict, thereby unwittingly enabling those who would destroy our churches.  

by Rusty Pipes on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 02:08:39 PM EST
I have taken to heart your kind corrective and have made the necessary changes.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 02:31:56 PM EST

What made the first part of the series powerful was your citation of the case of a pastor who had been a predator, targeting a UCC congregation for disfellowship.  This essay could be stronger if you could tell the stories of pastors (with the names changed to protect their privacy if necessary) who tried to pacify the destructive factions in their churches, who as "bystanders enable[d] the perpetrators."

by Rusty Pipes on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 12:38:36 PM EST
Yes, I will do that in future articles. There are numerous cases of this, and some of the details will add punch to the point.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 08:33:37 PM EST

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