HINSHAW: Expectations should be high for clergy

Faith column



He is accused of a triple murder. He may have attended the funeral of his victims and offered condolences to the family. He owns a pawn shop. Sold a pawn shop to his victims. Buys and sells gold on the side. Lives in Kentucky.

He is a Baptist pastor.

It’s only this last fact that makes this story a story. Triple murders, even at pawn shops, even when the children of the victims are present, rarely make national news. Murder stories are a dime a dozen, making news editors very selective about which ones they’ll report.

But throw a preacher into the mix and you’ve got an interesting wrinkle. Preachers and murder rarely go together in the same story unless the preacher is visiting a murderer on death row. For that matter, preachers and pawn shop owners are rarely the same persons either.

My first reaction was that this incident was not newsworthy beyond a few Kentucky counties. It felt too tabloidy.

But on further consideration, I am glad that such stories are published. Of course, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Even though the prosecutor contends he has clear evidence of guilt, the pastor says he can prove his innocence. The judicial system will run its course.

But this incident supplies the opportunity to reflect on what it means to live up to the standards of a sacred trust. Too many clergypersons have been involved in child sexual abuse. Too many higher church officials have tried to cover up such sin. Even one story of sexual dalliance on the part of the clergy is one too many. Same with misappropriation of church funds or any other violation of trust.

One might complain that a few bad apples shouldn’t ruin the reputations of the 99 percent of clergy who are highly ethical and lead lives of quiet holiness. (The percentage is my own.) But I hope we never reach the place where clergy wickedness is so rampant that we shrug our shoulders and conclude, “That’s not newsworthy; they’re all like that.”

Holy men and women are not the only ones for whom civilization sets high standards of behavior. The same kind of malfeasance could take the form of cops on the take, educators who cheat on their competency exams, lawyers who lie under oath, athletes who shave points, elected officials who sell influence, CPAs whose personal tax returns are fraudulent, etc.

When people prostitute their profession and violate the public trust their misdeeds ought to be exposed to the light as the worst kind of hypocrisy, which brings us back to the pastor facing charges in Kentucky. The story is worthy of attention not simply because he is a pastor, not simply because some people have an ax to grind with the church, not simply to bring public shame, but because we have higher expectations of some persons and professions who should know and do better.

Creede Hinshaw, of Macon, is a retired Methodist minister.