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Pastorcide

Pastorcide

    Today's newspapers carried the story of a pastor's wife who killed him.  Church members and neighbors were baffled. The church secretary was quoted: "They just seemed like the all-American family."

    Let me hazard a guess as to motive.  If it isn't the consequence of a psychotic episode, I'd bet that the preacher, reputed to be charismatic and dynamic, might also have been, in the eyes of the person who lived with him, insufferable.

    Basking in the adoring sunshine of a loving congregation can do that to a soul, make you think there ain't no flies on you... and other absences of aroma referred to in common parlance, phrases I am too discreet to use on the Internet.  In seminary we were warned about "pedestalization."  Congregants really think the pastor's prayers are more effective than their own.  Congregants really think the pastor not only has God's words but God's ear.  Congregants really think the pastor is less prone to sin than they are. 

    Which may help to explain just why when the pastor falls from grace, the fall is so precipitous. Disillusionment breeds utter contempt for the disillusioner.
 
    Not that we have been unprepared for a preacher's feet of clay.  Think Elmer Gantry.  Or Jim and Tammy Fay.  And the seemingly endless stories of pastors who ran away with the church secretary or organist. 
 
    I've dealt with a few disillusioners in my time.  Like the founder of a storefront church in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, a preacher with a fondness for young boys: he branded me as a racist at a public meeting of the Protestant Council of New York when I questioned the grant of money to his ministry.  He got the money and was later indicted for improper use of federal poverty allocations.
 
    When I hear that a preacher has gotten into trouble, I usually ask, "Money or sex?"  You know, the twin temptations, just as they are for any other professional.

     Somewhere in the last century I picked up the factoid that of all the professions the clergy were the most likely to be murdered by their spouses.  I have wondered if that statistic has been revised now that women nearly equal men in the number of ordained clergy in Protestant churches.

    During my years in the pulpit I made a calculated effort to disabuse anyone from bestowing a halo on me.  Considering the violence with which I played basketball congregants never had any difficulty distinguishing between me and Jesus. But I suspect that such pulpit confessions as I have offered of my own sinfulness sometimes served only to polish the halo, especially since propriety prevented me from giving a detailed description of the trash strewn about my inner life.

    Barbara, however, gets more than an occasional glimpse of who I really am... my petulance, my infelicitous language, my unwillingness to let go of old hurts, my arrogance... well, you get a glimpse of her glimpse.

    Fortunately, I am in retirement worth more to my bride alive than dead.  She has not said to me, as I overheard another clergy spouse say of her husband, that she would shoot him if he ever had an affair with another woman.

    The other morning in the exercise room I conversed with a fellow I occasionally meet there, a Baptist minister.  I commiserated with him about the endless meetings to which our profession is subject.  This week he had none, nada, not a single committee meeting.  He felt free as a bird.  We laughed and confided, as only those in the same profession with the same experience can; and shook our heads at the inability of most laity to understand, really understand, just how fallible, mortal, stupid, silly, wrong-headed and, well, human clergy often are. 

    Maybe, just maybe, a pastor's wife noting the gross incongruence between his reputation and his reality decided to forcibly adjust that imbalance.



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