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The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Licensing the Clergy

Clergy Need Preaching Licenses Renewed

On NPR radio recently a conservative Episcopal Bishop said “God makes the rules and we are to follow them.” A graduate of The General Theological Seminary, this Bishop was exposed to three years of Old and New Testament critical studies. He passed the seminary courses and the canonical examinations given by his diocese. He must know God did not make up the 613 commandments of the Old Testament. They grew out of the laws and cultures of tribal and agrarian people. He also knows that Paul’s admonitions were not to be taken as universal laws for all people at all times. They were written for specific Christian communities for certain times in their histories. The only law that Jesus gave us was right out of the Old Testament – love God and love your neighbor. In fact, Jesus criticized many laws but upheld the spirit of the law.

Some other Bishops, clergy and lay people believe that God made the rules and we are to follow them. Because clergy have not taught the Bible in a critical way and not preached deeper views of the Biblical text, many lay people of our church are essentially fundamentalists when it comes to interpreting the Bible.

Today, literal interpretations of the Bible are used particularly as tools to prevent gay and lesbian people from being ordained, married and granted full freedom and justice in our church and society. If clergy taught what they learned in seminary about the Bible, lay people would be far better informed about what the Bible is really all about.

God gave us a brain, reason and gifts of discernment to use in all of life including interpreting the Bible. Those gifts are developed in our seminary training, our subsequent reading, courses, studies and the conferences we attend.

These days all clergy must undergo sex abuse training to allow them to continue in ministry and to make sure they do not harm the sheep in their flocks. Likewise, it is time for the church to renew the clergys’ licenses to preach and teach. Every five years all clergy should read certain required books, take prescribed course hours and be tested that they know and understand the fullest and deepest, not the narrowest, ways of interpreting scripture. Clergy need to be held accountable, not only for their sexual behavior, but also for what they teach and preach so that the fullness of the Anglican heritage of reason, tradition and scripture be fully incorporated into their and their parishioners’ lives and thought. Nurses, physicians, therapists and automobile drivers must pass examinations making sure they are still fully equipped to proceed with their responsibilities. The clergy need to be re-licensed every five years.

Local dioceses could set up boards similar to the examining chaplains. National standards for syllabi and tests could be set up by the Bishops and Deputies for the whole church.

One reason the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church face vast divisions is because we have not dared to hold clergy and teachers of the Bible accountable to our great tradition of liberality, reason and tradition when it comes to how we teach the Bible.


Blogger Fred and Billie Fenton said...

"The clergy need to be re-licensed every five years." That would clean out the stable!

The "dumbing down" of Episcopal clergy is a serious problem. How many priests in our diocese could pass ordination examinations today?

My parents, both M.D.'s, were required to take continuing education courses. They worked hard at it. We should expect no less from our clergy.

There also is a lack of spirited leadership. Too many passive clergy refuse to accept responsibility for their failing congregations. But that is another subject.

The Rev. Fred Fenton

2:27 PM  
Blogger nuppershs said...

I believe you are absolutely correct in calling for re-licensing of clergy on a regular basis. As Rev. Fenton pointed out, doctors are required to take continuing education courses; as well, those of us who touch the most people in our culture, teachers, must not only show professional growth through continued education in our fields, we must submit to regular FBI background searches that are passed onto our employers (even Catholic, Episcopal and secular private school have these requirement). The churches could hardly ask for less from those who are supposed to be in charge of the guidance of our souls.

2:31 PM  

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