Mind the Collar

There was a brief flurry of comments about the young man who appeared at the MTV Music Video Awards in his clerical collar to denounce racism.  This got him into a bit of trouble with his congregation resulting in him offering his resignation.  This is his letter explaining his actions and the results.  Where to start with this?

Let’s start with his congregation’s concerns about his actions.  Is this warranted?  Of course it is.  The young man expresses surprise that his congregation has a problem with what he did.  Their reaction was”deeply hurtful” to him.  Perhaps he can understand then why his actions and words were “deeply hurtful” to some in the congregation.  He mentions his “right to free speech”.  But his right to free speech ends when he puts his clerical collar on.  Once he puts on the garb of a minister, he is voluntarily giving up his civil right to free speech in recognition that he is formally representing the Church or at least his congregation.

Did he consult with his leadership regarding whether or not appearing on a show broadcast around the world was a good idea?  Did they approve the specific statement he issued in that venue?  Did he honor his congregation by verifying that this was something they wanted him to do beforehand?  He specifically states that he is speaking “as a pastor”, but a pastor has a context.  Without ensuring that his congregation supported his statement, he should not be surprised that some were hurt by the publicity and offended at certain aspects of his remarks.  If you want to appear as a private person, without a collar and without reference to your vocation of pastor, that’s one thing.  But if you want to wear that mantle, you accept the restrictions that go with it.

Regarding what he said specifically, I have a few issues.  His designation of racism as “America’s original sin” has a lot of theological implications when he speaks in the uniform of and under the title of pastor.  I’d be curious how he reached this conclusion.  What is the exegetical basis for this assertion and again, how is it that he decides to publicly assert this as a leader of part of God’s Church?  It sounds a lot more like personal interpretation and exegesis to me, regardless of how many others might share in his viewpoint.  How does this become the country’s original sin given that it was not a sin universally engaged in?  At what threshold does can a sin be attributed directly and personally to everyone, if everyone does not directly or personally engage in it?  Slippery stuff, there.

I agree that racism is a sinful thing that should be confronted as such as necessary.  What about white supremacy, though?  How is this defined?  Does the demographic preponderance of whites automatically equal white supremacy?  Is it the particular ideological assertion that whites are inherently superior to other ethnicities?  That’s a big term to throw around without defining anything.

Most egregious, however, is the fact that when referring people to inspirations for confronting racism and white supremacy, Mr. Lee mentions only contemporary political movements and persons with extremely limited scope and questionable ideologies of their own.  I would think that if he wants to don the garb of a pastor and speak as a pastor, then he should have at least referenced Scripture as the first and foremost inspiration and power for confronting sin in all of it’s many facets.  Was he requested not to mention Scripture, or did he simply not think of it, or did he specifically choose not to mention it?  Curious.

So yeah, I understand why some of his congregation was upset.  And I find his rather immature surprise and hurt at this to be just that (hopefully) – immature.  His letter smacks of a self-righteousness that still doesn’t recognize the hurt that he caused, preferring to focus on the hurt he has personally experienced.  I pray for his sake as well as for the sake of his next congregation that this is a time of growth and maturation for him as a man and as a pastor.  I pray that he finds good, wise folks around him to help him in this process.

I pray this for myself.  I’m pretty sure it’s a good prayer for everyone, which might minimize the frequency of these sorts of public problems.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s