In the United States of America, police have been under a lot of scrutiny lately.
And I struggle with that, because they are citizens, and should have the same rights as the rest of us. They should have a right to remain silent, a right to a speedy trial, a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
And yet I am uncomfortable with what sometimes seems like a lack of accountability.
And in this American political season, we’re seeing a lot about the behavior of those who campaign for our votes as legislators and executives. I know many are disheartened at the level of discourse among those who would lead the nation.
Likewise, there have recently been a number of clergy scandals – some sexual, some financial. And the punishment for clergy seems more severe than that for lay people. Why should it be any different?
Well, regarding clergy, the third chapter of James begins:
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” – James 3:1
I think this begins to get at the issue. Though Christian ministers are to be servant leaders, we know that – though there may be lay leaders with a lot of implicit influence – authorized ministers have explicit influence through preaching and teaching. We also carried implied power in representing the church. This difference in influence, this difference in power, creates a boundary where we, and those with whom we minister, are not playing on an even playing field.
Additionally, there is an expectation that we have the morals and ethics we presume to teach others. And so we come under greater scrutiny – sometimes, it may seem, unfairly.
And I think this expectation is similar to the one we have for politicians and police officers. Just as clergy represent the church, our elected leaders and our police represent the state. Just as clergy have greater influence in our preaching and teaching, so our governmental officers and police officers have greater influence in their roles in making and executing the law. And while clergy sometimes condemn people, lawmakers sometimes impact the rights of people, and police sometimes injure people – even fatally – in the line of duty.
A clergy person, politician, or police officer walking to the grocery store, eating in a restaurant, or driving to a vacation spot would be treated the same as anyone else, but for the fact that both would be expected to have a heightened awareness of moral and legal codes.
But in their professional roles representing the church and representing the state, there must be heightened scrutiny: not because those roles make them different people, but because those roles create a power differential. And that power differential can be abused – perhaps even without realizing it.
I have felt it unfair that I come under greater scrutiny – especially when leading worship. But this scrutiny is part of the calling to which I am called, and it’s part of the yoke I bear as a leader.
Likewise, some may feel it is unfair that politicians and police come under greater scrutiny – especially in the line of duty. But that scrutiny is a part of the calling to which they have been called, and it’s a part of the burden they bear as leaders and officers of the law.
While I agree that no one – civilian, lay, clergy, politician, or police – should be tried in the press, I accept that my calling subjects me to greater scrutiny. I am hopeful that those in government and law enforcement may also recognize this.
We are held to a higher standard for a reason. If we cannot accept that standard, perhaps we have not yet found our true callings.
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