Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On Trust

It is clear to me that just about nobody trusts the church anymore. A study flagged by Michael Jinkins shows that, in a survey which asked "Whom do you typically trust to provide accurate information about important issues in society?", religious authorities ranked dead last. Last!

Part of me is thankful for this lack of trust; it seems that those "religious authorities" who have the most public forums are the most bombastic and opportunistic among us. If the issue is, who do you trust to incessantly talk about issues of abortion, gay marriage, and Koran burning?, then I'm glad people are getting their information elsewhere. These are important issues, each in its own way, but there are other issues in the life of faith. Religious leaders who incessantly harp on these issues ought not be trusted, in my opinion; the Gospel is bigger than gay marriage, after all.

And while I am often glad that church iconoclasts are ignored, not everybody in the church is bombastic and self-serving. Maybe this is a revelation to you, but there are some goodhearted folks in the church who have some important things to say! If nobody is listening to the church (for whatever reason), and I represent the church (which I do), then nobody is listening to me. I do not believe I am the most insightful representative of the church, but I occasionally have some valid things to say, and so do most clergy I know. Otherwise, why would we waste the breath?

I have entered a field few people trust. Nothing I have done, to this point, has led to that mistrust, but I must deal with it nonetheless. I am starting in a hole, and while I suppose I knew this in some ways, it is interesting to see how this lack of trust plays out. In many ways, I am a great test case--I do not have the history with a congregation that an older minister might have, so the trust I do solicit exists solely because of my office.

I am not looking for folks to take what I have to say at face value, all the time. But when the church is viewed with a skeptical eye all the time, and when the sermon begins with a congregation predisposed not to believe what is being said, then we're in trouble.

The challenge is that we have to create a culture of trust in the church: not so that everything the church says is taken at face value, but so that the church regains spiritual authority. Those clergy who take their call seriously—and who care about the call more than they care about the spotlight—have work to do.

So the question I face is this: how do I relate to an institution (and as a steward of that institution) if nobody believes what I have to say? It is as Kierkegaard says: “There is no lack of information in a Christian land; something else is lacking, and this is something which the one cannot directly communicate to the other.”

How do we communicate that which cannot be directly communicated, and in a way that helps people trust? What is the way through?

(PS This is my first post that is referenced on Methoblog. I'm grateful to those faithful bloggers who run the shop over there, both for listing this blog and for being a window to the greater Methodist conversation. You have my thanks.)

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