Great teachers are lifelong learners, as all of us should be.
Really great teachers offer more questions than answers, challenging others to take whatever questions they pass on and live into them in order to find their own truths.
Preachers are teachers. The truly great ones respect their “students” while trying to enlighten their spiritual lives. As lifelong learners, great preachers know their place and their function. They also know what they do not know (a neglected measure of true intelligence) so they are open to being taught as well as to teaching.
According to such standards, we have been exposed to less than great preaching in the on-going presidential campaigns. The Reverends Jeremiah Wright, John Hagee and Michael Pfleger have become both political pawns and caricatures that belie their roles and, sadly, tarnish the good they have done.
I have little difficulty accepting the out-of-context defense and cry of “Foul!” by both Reverends Wright and Hagee, even while feeling their words, in context or out, are ugly as sin. But Father Pfleger is another matter.
As a former priest and seminary teacher of communication, I cringed watching on the news and YouTube his performance at Trinity United Church of Christ. In other settings, the distortions of his person would be not only laughable but also insulting to most listeners, to say nothing about his mockery of Senator Clinton. No out-of-context defense for him.
If anything, his performance was well out of the context of my idea of a priest, and apparently the ideas of many others, judging from responses in the press. In my seminary years I taught that nothing communicates more powerfully than one’s person and truth and that any priest’s model should be He whom he represents. I do not know the person and truth of Father Pfleger but I found it very difficult to see Jesus in his performance.
That being said, I am left saddened by the poundings all three preachers have had to endure because of their stumblings into matters political. But they, more than most, should have heeded and been living by their Employer’s admonition to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Now that the presidential primaries are over, I can only hope they have learned their difficult lessons. The campaign months ahead should be all about Caesar, though that is not to say we do not need God’s continued blessings on our country, its future and its leaders.
In the meantime we can be grateful, somewhat, that the three reverends have reminded all of us that the principle of separation of Church and State applies not only to politicians but to preachers as well.