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sheep attack

01/14/2021 10:59:14 AM

Jan14

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

The challenges that clergy have faced have expanded far beyond their expectations and skill sets over the years. Whether one might be a Rabbi, Cantor, Imam, Priest, Reverend, Pastor, or Nun, for example, what is required goes far beyond what one learned at a Seminary. Of particular note are two areas of concern: pandemics and politics. No clergy was trained in the appropriate steps to take when a pandemic breaks out. We too have faced the same steep learning curve that all non-medical professionals have faced: when to close; when is it safe to re-open; proper distancing; singing versus no singing; aerosol distribution and HVAC systems. I would like to think that all clergy have given their best efforts to be mindful of the safety of their congregants, while also not forgetting about their own safety. But it has not been easy, and it has taken a severe toll on the mental health of so many overwhelmed clergy, begging the question: who pastors the pastor?

We all know that politics are never a good topic to preach about in a sermon. I have remarked regularly that I am the Rabbi of Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Undecideds. A sermon that takes a particular political position or speaks about a particular politician regularly runs the risk of offending congregants. Plus, as I have come to learn from many of my congregants, they attend Sabbath services to escape the politics that envelopes them daily, and appreciate a safe zone where the subject is avoided. On the other side of the equation, words that address a particular issue or person that upsets leadership can lead to one’s dismissal. Permit me to briefly share two examples.

At a conference, a group of clergy boycotted the appearance of a certain politician, and led a prayer vigil outside. Upon returning home, one of the leaders of the boycott, who felt that this individual represented the antithesis of Biblical teachings and could not be present, was dismissed. Another clergyperson offered words chastising all of the candidates in 2015 for their lack of civil discourse, demanding that they behave in a manner fitting the office of President of the United States. Leadership in that house of worship met with that clergyperson, offended that the words were an attack upon one candidate alone, and forbid further words from this clergyperson on the subject.

I came across the following on a private clergy Facebook page: Friends, we are facing a surge of pastors who are being 'ousted' across multiple religious traditions for preaching prophetically about racial justice and equality in their pulpits; for taking COVID precautions appropriate to their local public health situations; due to racial/ gender/ orientation/ ableism/ age-related discrimination in their own context; and other reasons unrelated to clergy misconduct. This type of situation is sometimes known as a 'Sheep Attack,' and can be very traumatic for clergy and their families.

How does one model and teach the words of our faith on the one hand, yet fear for our physical, emotional and financial well-being on the other hand. Where is the balance? Welcome to the world of being a clergyperson in the 21st Century.

Wed, February 24 2021 12 Adar 5781