“Clearly the person who accepts a pastor or priest as an infallible guide will believe whatever they teach.” – a paraphrase of St. Thomas Aquinas
For misunderstanding artists and using them for your own ambition, historically and unfortunately, you are the most culpable. From the Pope’s mistreatment of the artistic genius Michelangelo, the “Bonfire of the Vanities” and the religious zeal of Father Savonarola, the iconoclasts, the covering over of “lewd” nudes in the Sistine Chapel, neutering the statues at St. Peters, and on through time to the modern day evangelicals who have removed all semblance of true art and artistry from their services. From time immemorial, artists and the clergy have been, at best, uneasy bedfellows.
Power corrupts. Fear leads to suppression. These two sentences explain much. The last two years, I have carefully researched religious history in preparation for my latest book. Of the two overarching themes to emerge, one was the vice-like control exerted by church leadership to maintain power. We have all heard the phrase, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Most artists are simply too free and wild to control. And so, the Pastor fears them. And then suppresses them. And because most Pastors are all-powerful (dictators without accountability of any kind) in their churchdoms, they simply suppress anything that would cost them power. It is politics at its finest…or lowest. Machiavelli would be proud.
I didn’t realize this simple truth until the last couple of years. The new breed of “crowd charismatic, no people skills” orator does not ultimately endear themselves to their parishioners. They seem not to even comprehend the word minister. Their people fear and respect them, but are not ministered to by them. And so this particular breed of Pastor naturally fears the artist leaders who by nature tend to be more people conscious, empathetic and “among the people.” Subsequently, these particular pastors exert control and censorship to make sure the art is propaganda, therefore eventually rendering it powerless. One pastor told me in a condescending way, “You know, Randy, you can’t build a church on artists”.
In my early ministry as an artist, I was forced by my pastor to burn my “obscene rock albums” and watch my vintage Chicago, Kansas and Eagles albums go up in smoke. That same pastor preached that intercessory prayer, worry and doubt were sins. Another pastor severely reprimanded me for a soloist singing an Amy Grant song that had the reprehensible words, “baby, baby.” I’ve been forced to change true-to-life lyrics to perfect endings, been screamed at, made fun of, and once, my Pastor hit the conference table with his fist in front of the entire staff and screamed at me, “We will NEVER have dancing in this church, as long as I’m Pastor.” (Who cares what the Bible says, of course). And I’ve watched as the creative team was forced to plagiarize Rick Warren and Bill Hybels rather than create our own service programming. So much so, that a cease and desist was issued from the Warren office. Unfortunately, these stories are only a few of the many that are too painful to recount.
The sad truth is that many of us (and most volunteer church leaders) are afraid “to touch God’s anointed” and so the Pastor/Priest is never held accountable for his/her actions. Because of the fear and control we have been taught in our religious upbringing, we are guilty of failing to protect our leaders who are human just like us.
There is no intercessor between us and the triune God. The Pastor is not our intermediary, nor is he supernatural. He is just a human being like me and you who has the gifts of charisma and oratory. He has not been given special dispensation by God, or a pass, if you will, to do whatever he chooses to do. He will answer for his actions, just as we will.
We must support our pastors by challenging them, not revering and pardon the french, brown-nosing them. We must love them with truth, not acquiescing to their every want and desire. We must hold them accountable and protect them from themselves even as we ask someone to do the same for us. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
We need these men and women to teach us Biblical truths. We do NOT need to give them power to lord over our lives. I applaud their calling to teach. I applaud their calling to minister. We need Pastors. But even more, we desperately need healthy Pastors.
My pastor, Pete Wilson, who is the antithesis of much I have written here, and a man that is comfortable in his own skin, radically transparent, and a lover of people and artists, posted articles on his blog recently HERE and HERE about pastors that deeply disturb me. Pastors have isolated and insulated themselves into despair and loneliness. A desperation they dare not admit because our religious psychosis demands that they are perfect. We have allowed them to die inside by bowing to an office and authority that scripture does not teach.
Could it be that we church goers tend to say like Pilate, “I wash my hands of this matter,” when in reality the guilt of placing them on a pedestal and expecting perfection is blood on our hands? Please understand me, I care about pastors.
This past February, I asked a pastor to speak to the global creatives that gather annually at the cre:ate Conference to help us understand the quandary and frustration pastors experience in dealing with us “artistic types.” As a former pastor for over thirty years, I personally offer “48 Hours of Solitude” for any pastor and/or leader that is a grace-filled, non-judgmental, no-holds-barred time of solitude and encouragement with the overriding philosophy, “what happens and is said at the 48 hours absolutely stays at the 48 hours.” A safe place. A place of grace and love. Nothing more, nothing less.
What else can we do to nurture a mutual love and respect for each other? As a wise man once told me, “The enemy does not necessarily strive to keep us from the truth, he strives to keep good men with the truth from each other.” This post like my most recent book is intended to facilitate conversation. To start us talking. Americans and especially religious people and leaders generally suck at dialogue. Open dialogue is often viewed by many pastors as disloyal and disruptive, when in fact, it could be the very thing that saves us all from heartbreak, despair and utter loneliness.