As ministers, we are participating in the status quo of our society. We are viewed as the holders of traditional morality, whether we claim the title or not. We are looked at differently when we drink beer or say a swear word. We are also looked to for performing functions like weddings and funerals. In some parts of the country, like the south in particular, whether we deserve it or not our voices are lent extra weight on certain matters, particularly of morality. We are ministers as participants in our society – granted, less so every day, but its going to be a while before we have made ourselves completely irrelevant.
In this capacity, we should always be aware of what we are saying and of what we are doing, because these things will reflect upon us in the eyes of our society. Sometimes, this is a good thing. Wearing a robe and stole at a peace rally gets some extra attention that a Grateful Dead t-shirt does not. Attending a PFLAG rally as a pastor, for good or ill, carries some extra weight.
On the other hand, we get co-opted by our broader culture. It is very easy to fall into a particular social position, especially when it lets our voice ring louder than it would otherwise. But when we act in the capacity of minister as resistor, more often than not, all of that social recognition falls away. We are called to be in the world but not of the world – whatever that means. For me, this means that in many cases we need to be leaders in the resistance against a culture that devours its members and exports its violence, that demands allegiance and provides empty consumption in return.
When we do this, however, we are going to lose whatever extra respect and social power we had as participants. And, in the meantime, we still need to participate, to do weddings and funerals and to function in our social role. In doing this, we are simply living out the tension of being Christian in our culture, but we’re doing it with a robe on and with an official title, which makes it a little worse on us. On the one hand, I don’t think we’re supposed to become religious recluses, cutting off contact with the “profane” world. On the other hand, the church needs to push back against culture constantly or else it will be swallowed by it. For many people, they get a couple hours a week to try to catch a glimpse of Jesus’ way of life. The other 110 waking hours are spent being bombarded with the American way of life. It isn’t a fair fight, but its our fight.