Bishop Tobin, You Can’t Lead People by Bashing and Shaming Them.

Bishops are teachers, leaders and administrators.

They are also priests.

When a bishop becomes so exasperated with his flock that he no longer likes them or feels love for them, it’s time for that bishop to go back to God in prayer.

Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island has published a letter to is flock that is a case in point.

I can’t say what Bishop Tobin feels in his heart, but various comments he’s made and things he’s done lead me to believe that he’s more than a little disappointed in the people in the pews in his diocese. He runs a diocese that is more densely Catholic than most, but also less publicly committed to following the Church.

Bishop Tobin has experienced the personal and pastoral debacle of seeing members of his flock defy him and vote to pass laws legalizing gay marriage. He preached and taught the right things, but they didn’t listen, or rather, not enough of them listened.

Poor man, he took their sins on his own back and blamed himself for the failure of those who should have followed hm to do what was right. It must have been a bitter black moment for him as a leader of souls.

This exasperation, this disenchantment, with the people he is tasked to lead comes blasting out in a recent article he posted concerning the way that Catholics dress when they go to mass. He wants his flock to show their respect for the Lord by dressing up a bit when they come to Church.

Fair enough.

Catholics are notoriously casual in the way we dress at mass. I wear a lot of jeans and t-shirts to mass myself. Maybe we should be a bit more polished in our appearance. Many of my fellow Catholic Patheosi think they should. Me, I’m not so sure that I agree. I think that casual is the new normal of our culture and there are much bigger fish for a bishop to fry than taking on the role of fashion cop.

But I’m not a bishop and I don’t set bishops’ agendas. If Bishop Tobin looks out over his flock and sees attire that is unseemly and disrespectful of the Lord, it is will within his job description for him to admonish the faithful to spiff up a bit. It is the job of Catholics in the pews to listen to him and try to follow his teaching. He is, after all, their spiritual leader.

What is unfortunate is that, when he attempted to do this, he let loose with his anger at the people he leads. Here’s a bit of what he said:

You know what I’m talking about; you’ve seen it too. Hirsute flabmeisters spreading out in the pew, wearing wrinkled, very-short shorts and garish, unbuttoned shirts; mature women with skimpy clothes that reveal way too much, slogging up the aisle accompanied by the flap-flap-flap of their flip-flops; hyperactive gum-chewing kids with messy hair and dirty hands, checking their iPhones and annoying everyone within earshot or eyesight.

These displays reveal a gross misunderstanding of the sacred space we’ve entered in the church and the truly sacred drama taking place in our midst. C’mon – even in the summer, a church is a church, not a beach or a pool deck.

Every member of the worshipping community should dress appropriately for Mass, but the obligation is even greater for those who fulfill public ministries during the liturgy – ushers, lectors, servers, and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Because they’ve assumed a public role in the sacred liturgy and are in the public eye, it’s important that they give good example to others in the way they dress, speak and present themselves during Mass.

Certainly the people of God should dress with appropriate modesty when they go to mass. I agree that those who participate in the mass should make an effort to be visually presentable when they do so.

But I can tell the good bishop that long-term leadership of a group of people depends on trust and inspiration, not verbal flogging and public shaming.

Every person who comes to mass is a volunteer. Every single one of them has something else they could be doing. Every person who is sitting in a pew is there because, at least at some level, they are seeking Christ the Lord. That deserves respect, which is exactly what I think Bishop Tobin is trying to ask for himself and the mass in his misbegotten post.

I think that the bishop wants people to respect the mass, and I am guessing that he would also like for them to respect him. However, I do not think that talking to the people in the pews in the manner I quoted above will garner the respect he is seeking.

The reason why is simple: To get respect, you have to give respect, and Bishop Tobin disrespects his flock in this letter.

People will follow a leader through all kinds of hell and high water if they trust that leader. They will respect and support a leader who respects and supports them. That respect and support is the basis of trust and inspiration, and trust and inspiration is the basis of leadership.

When a leader — it does not matter if it is a priest or a president — disrespects the people he or she is trying to lead, they damage that essential element of trust and inspiration. When they do it repeatedly, they can destroy the trust, quench the inspiration, that is necessary for them to lead.

Bishops have a tough job. I’m pretty sure that it’s going to get tougher as time goes forward. Their authority is battered and tarnished by their own failings in the priest sex abuse scandal.  The Church itself has become the sign of contradiction against the satanic influences that are ripping at our whole society.

Those satanic forces are gathering and will attack the Church without ceasing so long as it stays true to its mission of preaching the whole Gospel of Christ. Bishops, as the generals in the Lord’s army, are the top targets in these attacks.

But they can no go to ground and take cover. Bishops need to stand and lead. They must lead, and they must do it fearlessly and with the kind of strength and faith that only the Holy Spirit can give.

It is not possible for any man to do the job that confronts our bishops out of his own wisdom or strength. If God does not support these men, they will fail. That means that they have to unlearn the lessons of clericalism that have formed so many of our religious leaders and take on the humility of true followership of Christ. There is no other way for a bishop in today’s world to effectively do the job that is set in front of him.

Leadership requires a lot of those who take it up. Among other things, it requires self-discipline. That self-discipline includes a refusal not to indulge personal pique in public venues.

That’s what I read in Bishop Tobin’s remarks: Personal pique.

He is dangerously close to giving the impression that he flat-out dislikes the people he must lead. He needs to stop this and stop it now.

If he is genuinely concerned that the level of casual dress in his parishes has become so extreme that it endangers the sanctity of the mass, he must, as is his job, teach in that area. But it is imperative that he do so as a bishop, a priest, a father and shepherd of a flock that he loves and longs to lead to heaven.

There aren’t many chances when it comes to publicly dissing the people you lead. Such behavior violates the compact between leader and those who are led. If they trust you deeply, they will give you one or two second chances, but only if they love you deeply and trust you absolutely. No one ever gets more chances than that, and most leaders get no second chance at all.

All bishops, not just Bishop Tobin, need to take this to heart. I know what I’m talking about here.

I want to see our bishops succeed. I pray for their success. When I see a bishop shoot himself in the foot this way, I think it’s important to say something.

Bishops must respect and love the people God has entrusted to them. If they do that, they will find the job of leadership a natural outgrowth of the trust they receive in turn.

For a comprehensive dust-up on this whole question, check out The Anchoress who, as usual, says it best, or, have a look at Jen Fitz who employs old-fashioned story-telling to make her point.

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Gripes Go Up

 

Here is my (totally pew-sitting laity) opinion of how bishops should deal with their differences of opinion with the Pope.

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Note to Bishop Tobin: If You’re Looking for God in a Political Party, You Need a New Roadmap

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It is, in that grand Public Catholic tradition, roast and toast Rebecca time. 

Get out your flame-throwers and pitchforks folks. I’m going to talk about the two political parties. 

There are little g gods. And then there are little g gods. 

No little g god I’ve talked about on this blog draws quite the high octane, teeth-grinding I’ll-poke-a-stick-in-your-eye, flat-out mad as when I tell people that their political parties suck. When I pour on the gasoline and say things like they are both corrupt and you can not follow Jesus and follow either political party, I get walking-off, a pox-on-your-house-Rebecca disgust. 

The reason, I believe, is that we want an easy way out of our responsibility as Americans and Christians to engage the larger culture for Christ. When engaging that larger culture includes the rough and tumble world of politics, we really start scratching around looking for an easy way out. We want a pass. A haiku. A some little something to do that will make us feel good while we don’t risk much. 

We don’t want — all of us, including me — to go out there and take the hits that come from engaging the world, including our political parties — for Christ. 

Our problem is that the real Jesus, as opposed to the Hallmark Card Jesus, was a trouble maker. And He still is. Stick with Him in party politics, and you’ll end up getting booed and called names and probably nobody will eat lunch with you or talk to you. It will be time out in grade school all over again if you try even a little bit to follow Jesus first in the context of party politics. 

Nobody wants that. It hurt when we were kids. And it still hurts now that we’re grownups.

What we want — and we are willing to go along with just about any craven lie or manipulation of our consciences to get it — is a safe place where we can just vote straight party a few times a year and then shoot self-righteous arrows at all those fallen folks in the Other Party, which, we are sure, is the devil.

The truth is, boys and girls, as American Christians we have the power to affect how these political parties behave. But doing that means we have to do a few things. We have to,

1. Get up off our duffs and get involved in party politics at the local level.

2. Accept the fact that if we truly follow Jesus, we are going to be unpopular, whichever party we join. 

3. Stand for Christ even though we will get hit with brickbats and name-calling. 

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Deacon Greg Kandra wrote about Bishop Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, who recently made an announcement that he’s switched from Democrat to Republican. His reasons are sound ones. In fact, I know exactly how he feels. The Democratic Party, at least at the national level, has become the party of abortion. It is also the party of gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research, and a number of other horrific things. 

If the good bishop feels that he can’t abide all this and wants to change his D to an R, I say go for it. However, if he’s got some idea that the Rs are going to be a safe haven where he can peacefully abide and get glad-handed and sucked-up-to without challenges to his leadership as a bishop, he’s living in fantasyland. 

Oh, he’ll get all the glad-handing, back-slapping and suck-uppage anyone’s heart could desire. But the no-challenges-to-his-leadership-as-a-bishop will only come if he hands over the keys to the party leadership and walks their wide and smooth way. 

My hope is that in all his newfound enthusiasm for political engagement he doesn’t sell out the farm to this party. He’s supposed to speak for Christ, and that means he needs to make sure that he doesn’t end up toadying to the Rs.

I’ve seen, up close and personal, how the Rs treat their toady clergy. My message to the bishop: You don’t want to be them. Not only that, but you can’t be them if you want to be who the Church says you are. 

There is plenty to address in the Rs economic and military policies that would keep the good bishop busy being a bishop and not a party stalwart, if he wants to do it. There’s also quite a bit he could do to get them off high center on some of the things that make Christians register R in the first place, such as life, family and religious freedom.

That said, anyone who is a D (like me) really does have their work cut out for them. If the Rs co-opt traditional Christianity and its religious leaders, the Ds are at war with them.

I could go on and on about HHS Mandates and gay marriage and falling down before the idol of Planned Parenthood, but you know the story. The point is, the official Democratic Party has lost its soul. It no longer even pretends otherwise.  

In my opinion — and this invariably raises combox ire — you can and will take this country and yourself both right down to hell by following either political party blindly. I also think that weak-as-water Christians have brought a lot of this trouble on us all by going along with their parties rather than following Christ. 

BroadandNarrowWay

Here’s the truth of it: There are plenty of Christians in both the Democratic and Republican parties, at least at the county and state level. But they’ve sold out Christ for the party line. They won’t stand up for Jesus because they want to be friends and pals with their other party faithful buds. They convince themselves to believe the drivel that these people talk, and the seriously evil drivel that sold-out, fallen religious leaders say to excuse the sinfulness of the party. 

There are a ton of sold-out, fallen religious leaders in both political parties. Go to any party convention, and you’ll see them there. They don’t speak for Christ when Christ’s teachings contradict the party’s teachings. Instead, they give tortured explanations about how Jesus really agrees with the party. They don’t use their prophetic and moral voice as religious leaders to speak for the light. They use them to give excuses for the darkness. 

These preachers have sold Jesus, and they’ve sold Him cheap: To be part of the R or the D.

I often — and I mean often — hear Christian people go on and on about “how can anyone be part of a party that is pro abortion” or whatever bad thing the Ds espouse. They do this right in front of me, as if they’ve forgotten than I am a rather public and unapologetic D. If I say anything, they tell me “Oh, you’re not like the rest of them.”

And they’re correct in that. I’m not “like the rest of them.” I try my best to do that thing which I believe down to the core of my political being that politically inclined people must do as their part to save this culture. I engage the party from a Jesus-first position. 

That is what I am trying to get the readers of this blog to do. Engage your political party with a Jesus-first outlook.

Stand. For. Jesus. 

Not the R or the D. 

There is nothing wrong — and I mean nothing — with being part of either political party, if you go into it with that attitude. 

In fact, I would say that there is something exactly right about it. 

Jesus told us to be the light of the world. But party faithful are faithful to the party first. Political Christians, whether they are R or D, almost always end up hiding their light under the party loyalty bushel.

My note to Bishop Tobin is that if he’s looking for God in a political party, he needs a new road map. He’s already in the place where people can find God, and that’s the Catholic Church.

I do not mean to say or imply in any way that Bishop Tobin should not be engaged in America’s political struggle. I back the bishops completely in what they are doing. But this nation is lost first in its soul. All the other things are just symptoms of that deep soul-sickness.

We need religious leaders who will equip the laity to fight the political battles by teaching and leading us in the Way of the Cross. The Church has the answer already and that is Christ and Him crucified. That, and not the R or the D, needs to be his message. 

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