There have been a lot of calls for “prayer (and fasting, sometimes)” since the revelations of clergy sex abuse, its coverup, and too-frequent leadership incompetence that began (again!) last July. I think prayer and fasting are important in the midst of this mess, and have said so; but there’s something else I want to emphasize today: It’s a general and vitally important rule of the spiritual life:
You should never, never pray for something unless you also intend to act
to make what you pray for happen.
Just as there’s much deserved mockery of politicians who offer “thoughts and prayers” after the latest mass-shooting but won’t risk the wrath of the NRA by doing anything to prevent the next one, so calls for “prayer and fasting” deserve to be mocked when they’re offered by anyone who won’t act – beyond more calls for “prayer and fasting.”
So, to take some examples:
You can probably tell I’m fed up. I want our church to be an effective witness to Christ, to be “light to the nations” in a time when its ethical leadership is especially needed. But the church has no – no – moral credibility right now. I don’t expect perfection from church leaders (I know myself and my weaknesses too well for that). But couldn’t we at least deal with crime, rule-breaking, and internal discipline at least as well as (insert name of random publicly-traded corporation – other than Enron – here)?
Churches in the U.S. have, to date, been largely exempt from civil regulations that apply to everybody else. There’s no Securities and Exchange Commission, or Pure Food and Drug Administration, or the like looking over the bishops’ shoulders. (On a personal note, the church doesn’t have to fund or guarantee my pension the way any secular corporation does, either.) Maybe that’s been good for our mission. But self-regulation may have to come to an end if church leadership can’t demonstrably police itself.