Monday, November 16, 2009

Unpaid Clergy and Why That’s a Problem

Seems the LDS church is getting sued {again?}, along with the Boy Scouts of America, for sexual abuse of children. Obviously, sexual abuse of children happens in plenty of churches and you don’t need me to mention which ones. But this has me thinking…

See, on the local levels church leaders don’t get paid, nobody does. All positions are “volunteer” {and by ‘volunteer’ I mean ‘assigned-to-you-and-if-you-don’t-want-to-do-it-don’t-think-you-can-do-it-or-absolutely-hate-the-idea-of-doing-it-and-turn-them-down-then-you’re-turning-down-GOD-and-shame-on-you-now-go-home-and-feel-guilty-you-faithless-selfish-failure-as-a-disciple-of-Christ’}. This includes Boy Scout leaders. This includes Bishops, who are allowed to interview children and teens alone about many issues including sex, this includes Sunday school teachers, etc. Now, I will be the first to say that most of these leaders have good hearts, and wouldn’t hurt a child. My issue is that some of them are *not* trustworthy but are often trusted implicitly by other church members who assume that just because it’s a fellow Mormon they’re a good person and it’s OK to leave your child in their care {remember, most cases of sexual abuse are committed by people who are familiar to the victim…not by strangers}. And this would be a lot less of an issue if people were hired for these jobs.

Mormons take a lot of pride in their unpaid clergy. It often inspires condescension towards churches that pay their ministers. But is it really a good thing? I get the idea that followers of Christ want to give to “him and his church” but I’m not so sure that system is working. Aside from the fact that certain positions are absolute time sucks which take a person away from their family for hours upon hours upon hours each week with only “spiritual rewards” there are no background checks and no training for these people. Do you see why I think this is a problem? Leaders are expected to “follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit” when counselling with members. Now, you all know I don’t believe in the Holy Ghost anymore than I believe in Casper the Friendly Ghost. For one thing, if there really were an entity providing a conduit to the will of God, then why the hell is God telling people to call child abusers to positions in which they are in charge of children? Just saying’.

The way I see it, you have a scenario in which people are given trust and responsibility without having earned it. And that can create all sorts of problems. Let’s say Sister {in the LDS church everyone is called Brother and Sister instead of Mr. and Miss/Mrs./Ms.}, let’s say Sister Smith is having marital problems and goes into see Bishop Jones. Bishop Jones has absolutely zero background/training in psychology, or marriage counselling. He’s an accountant. But, because “God called him as Bishop” Sister Jones believes he’s qualified to help her. Let’s say Sister Smith’s marital problems are *really* serious. Let’s say she’s being abused. Maybe Bishop Jones counsels her to head to the women’s shelter to protect herself and her children. That’s probably good counsel. But let’s say Bishop Jones isn’t her assigned Bishop. Let’s say Bishop Thompson is, and let’s say Bishop Thompson counsels her to figure out what she’s doing that might be causing her husband to get angry with her, and tells her she needs to be humble.


See, there is a handbook that’s supposed to provide a guide to priesthood leaders. But it’s just a manual to Church policies. In the end these leaders aren’t getting checked up on to make sure they follow those guidelines, and I wonder how many of them actually read the whole thing before they start spouting their opinions as advice…er, I mean, before they listen to the Holy Ghost telling them what to say. There’s no predictable mode of operation. Leaders responsible for counsel and for church discipline are not trained for their positions, not even a little. But if the church had paid local clergy like they do at the upper levels, and believe me they CAN afford it, they could begin to solve a lot of problems, starting with child abuse.

ETA: Fellow ExMo and blogger Curmudgeon wrote about this very topic. Don't miss his post!!!