Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Least Trusted: Religious Leader

"Ruh Roh!!!" as Scooby Doo or Astro would say. I think me, and people like me might be in trouble. The Scientific American with it's sister publication Nature offered an online poll which asked the question "Whom do you typically trust to provide accurate information about important issues in society?" The Scientific American then published an article based on this poll in late September. It listed a number of topics such as climate change, evolution, vitamins and supplements, cancer causes and cures, origin of the universe and food safety. Then it listed eight different categories of people such as family and friends, scientists, journalists, elected officials, religious leaders and companies. The scale was 1 (strongly distrust) to 5 (strongly trust).

The results were fascinating and disturbing. In this particular poll, scientists were the number 1 pick, family and friends were second. The bottom end of the spectrum was telling. Number 5 were journalists, number 6 were companies, number 7 were elected officials and number 8 were religious leaders.

Did you get that? Dead last: clergy and religious leaders were the LEAST trusted when it came to providing accurate information about important issues in society. Now I accept that this is not a random sampling. It is 21,000 people who took a poll on websites supported by Scientific American and Nature. By and large these are highly educated people and may or may not be terribly religious.

However, when religious leaders rank behind "politicians" and "journalists", it is disturbing, at least to me. Not because I am surprised, but because it brings home to me how "religious leaders" have squandered our ability to be taken seriously. Those religious leaders who are in the news are those who tend toward the extremes (can we point to Topeka, Kansas and the small church in Florida recently in the news?).

I know, I know, tolerant, thinking theologians are not nearly as interesting as extremists. Pastors/Religious Leaders have offered cliches, judgments and simple answers to complex problems. Pastors/religious leaders have offered biblical answers for complex scientific problems and thinking people have left the church and any kind of faith.

In the Christian tradition we have only ourselves to blame. Those Christian believers who prefer simple easy answers are often the ones who work the hardest to make sure their viewpoint is heard. Many mainline denominations have been so quiet in order to stay middle of the road, that both the extremes, have walked away.

I believe we need well educated, thoughtful theologians and religious leaders to weigh in on those "important issues" in society. While I acknowledge I am no scientist, I work hard to be well read and to keep up on the ethical, moral and societal issues that we face in this culture. I want to be able weigh in ethically, theologically and yes morally on those things that really matter. The only way that can happen is if I am willing to continue to be part of discussions outside the walls of my particular church that I serve, beyond my denomination and beyond even the realm of "believers".

I am committed to an ongoing discussion with people of faith and people of science and people who do not fall into either camp. I believe we must find ways to continue to address the deep needs not only of our culture, but of our world. I will continue to read, to study and to find ways to share ethically, theologically and morally to make the world a better place. In that I am committed to be

Graced to Serve,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Too many deaths

Enough already. Another teenager killed herself last week because of her sexuality. Her memorial service will be held Wednesday in San Diego with a memorial service being held at Howard University where she had been a student. How many more will there be?

There have been so many well written, well articulated commentaries the past couple of weeks. I hesitated to write one more. And yet, the bullying, the comments, the sneers have got to stop. Each generation struggles with this issue. For each generation, it may be a different issue that surrounds the bullying. However, in each generation, voices for justice, for equality and for what is good and right must be raised against the voices of hatred, bigotry and intolerance.

I acknowledge that the "church" doesn't hold the same opinion in terms of sexuality. Some denominations openly accept gay and lesbian persons. Some denominations strongly condemn gays and lesbians. Some, such as my own United Methodist Church, seem somewhat schizophrenic in thier views: i.e. "all persons are of sacred worth" which is combined with "self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church."

Even acknowledging different understandings and practices leaves no room for bigotry, name calling, bullying or intolerance. Since not all Christians agree, and all persons are not Christians, we must find a way to protect the vulnerable from attacks by those who are stronger, who gang up on others and who try and force their own theology on others.

I cringe every time I hear some one say, "That's so GAY". While others laugh, I wonder who is joining in so as not to be "outed" by their own discomfort. Crude comments and jokes about other human beings because of their sexuality must not be tolerated anymore than comments and jokes about the color of one's skin.

In my own Christian understanding, I think Jesus was pretty clear about what we say and do. "I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable...and if you say 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire." (Matthew 5: 22)

Of course, Jesus said many other things as well, but it is clear to me, that Jesus believed and preached that our words and actions matter. And I believe they do too. Faithful people of all kinds are challenged to live out faith in a way that makes the world a better place. Not just for those who are "like us", whoever we are, but for all people.

I have said it before and I say it again, words matter. They can encourage life or death, hope or despair, love or hate. I choose again this day, words of life, of hope, of love. I stand against hate, intolerance and bigotry. May I be

Graced to Serve