When I asked for feedback for this week’s posts on preachers’ kids, my good friend Anna piped up with a couple of suggestions. As children, we lived in the same preacher’s house, sequentially, in Gamaliel, Kentucky. Her dad was the minister of the Church of Christ across the street from our nondescript brick dwelling, and my dad succeeded her dad in the post.
Thus began a series of weird coincidences that would continue through the early part of our lives, (Another post for another time.) In short, although we have some clear differences, Anna and I share both some understandable history and some incomprehensible happenstance.
Among the experiences we share is first-pew experience of the harsh reality behind the decorum of the minister’s mantle.
I believe my father was, in his heart, an orator and a scholar. When you love books and words and speaking, and you’re a poor kid growing up in the 1930s and 1940s on a ridge in middle Tennessee, that skill set translates into one profession–preaching.
My father was an incurable bookworm who hoarded reference books on theology and Biblical linguistics and read them like novels. He learned the nuances of ancient Greek and was forever convinced that the only real meaning of any English word was its “literal” meaning. For instance, the word “philosophy,” if you go into its Greek root words, means the “love of wisdom.” There’s often something profound to be mined by knowing these root word meanings, but he was adamant that these were the primary meanings of the English words themselves. He loved etymology, but only the origin part, not the evolution part.
I say all this to say that my father was not, in my judgment, a servant of the people or a man of God. Ironically, he did not possess the qualities to be a literal “minister” (whose Latin root means “servant’). He was, in point of fact, a preacher. He was good at delivering the message; he was not invested in the duties of being a minister.
That disconnect within his professional life was part of the issue. The other part was that he was a fallible human being. I won’t perform a full-blown character study at this time; as it is, I fear I will spend too much time beating up on him in the course of recounting our relationship. The upshot of using him as my firsthand example is to point out that people associate faith-based professions with goodness and unimpeachable morality, when most of the time they are just professions.
Many of us are familiar with this concept in a secular context. As an accountant, I marvel at how fiscally, logically and mathematically incompetent some of my coworkers have been over the years. I worked at a restaurant with waitstaff that had 20 years or more experience and no idea how to treat customers or efficiently perform sidework.
For my friend Anna’s part, it is not my place to tell her story, and to be honest I do not recall many of the details. However, I will say that she empathizes with my story in many respects.
Any number of high-profile national scandals and local debacles involving clergy have surfaced over the years. The recent blowup between Kirk Franklin (who, of chorus, is a choir director and gospel musician and not a minister) and his son echo these scandals. The recurring theme should not be a surprising one: people “of God” are no different than the rest of us. They simply chose a profession that claims to be aligned with higher ideals. This association with the divine can become its own burden and lead to even greater failings. Add in the amount of power, trust, and respect that these positions can confer, deserved or not, and you’re begging for a scandal to occur.
As a preacher’s kid, I experienced some of the collateral damage of this pressure, and I wanted no part of it for myself. I may not have been aware of the exact reason, but I have always labored to be certain that no one mistakes me for a great person just because of the job I hold.
Which leads me to the rant with which I will conclude this week’s thoughts. Please read further on Friday, as I go full-throttle against police, first responders, and school crossing guards–all the professional sacred cows of our society. It’ll be fun.