No, “Confidence and Confidentiality” is not the title of a Jane Austen novel, but my name for the two extremes on the continuum of pastoral behavior. On one hand, we have the clergyman wracked by doubt and bound by the fear that he may accidentally divulge private information about the members of his flock. He is concerned with "Confidentiality." On the other, we have the supremely self-assured clergyman who speaks freely in the knowledge that God would not let him reveal personal facts that God did not meant to become public. He exudes "Confidence."
Which one am I?
Need you ask? I remember when little Timmy Idaho was a little boy and his daddy "Big Idaho" confessed to me that he knew little Timmy would never be more than "a lickspittle conformist Company Man," but didn’t have the heart to tell him. With Timmy in Church, a timid clergyman would sooner die than divulge such a potentially embarrassing fact. But if God had not meant for me to wield his sword of truth, he wouldn’t have given me my sword-wielding epiglottis or tonsils or whatever it is that makes the sound in my throat (or taught me how to confidently weave such virile metaphors into my sermons!)
I’m sure many of you recall the “pastoral privilege” exception that you granted me last year. The more demented of you may not remember that after Big Ray of “Raymond’s Hardware and Barber” went on his tragic electric razor-spree at the Cat Show, many members agreed with me that I should be released from my pledge of confidentiality to report to the community things like Raymond’s recurring nightmare about being ravaged by long-haired Persians.
Now, while we all initially agreed that the “pastoral privilege” exception applied only to conversations that revealed dangerous anti-social tendencies, I have since consulted the Good Book, and found Biblical passages that justify expanding the “pastoral privilege,” and they are today’s reading.
First, we must not forget Exodus 20:5, one of several passages where the Lord tells us that the sins of the fathers will be revisited upon the sons:
For I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation of those that hate me. . .
The Lord God is a jealous God, which is why good Christians (and Hebrews) must not discourage children from a little healthy competition about social popularity, for it would not make them a “Heather” in the eyes of a Lord that understands jealousy. Au contraire!
But more importantly, if a son has a plan to shave a cat, three or four generations of that person’s family in either direction also likely have pet-shearing fantasies. That is why I am fully justified in extending the “pastoral privilege” exemption from keeping confidences to pretty much everyone related to the person.
Second, there is the question of whether their anti-social speech may have affected others. Continuing on the theme of how people might be influenced by false prophets, remember what 1 Corinthians 12:2 says about mute idols:
Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.
Clearly, people are easily misled, and it is fair to say that any soul who comes into contact with a person with anti-social tendencies might be swayed by them. So although I might warn you about a person with such tendencies, that person’s evil cat-shaving plan may have already infected others with impressionable minds or a sense of grievance against felines. So the “pastoral privilege” exception should be applied to anyone who had contact with a person with anti-social thoughts, or indeed with the members of the several generations of that person’s family.
It is safe to say, then, that the “pastoral privilege” exception applies to pretty much everyone in town. I can only imagine an exception arising in an Andromeda Strain type situation where one was either a drunken old man or a crying baby in quarantine deep in an underground laboratory as the town above them is decimated by contagious deadly disease. With God as my witness, I swear that, in such a situation, I would take their secrets with me to the grave!
And, brothers and sisters, just as I intend to err on the side of confidence over confidentiality, I urge you to look into your own lives, and think about how confidences are dangerous to you and your family. I urge you to come and share those confidences about family members with me (after all, if the 9-11 terrorists had not been so consumed with secrecy, then we might never have had reason to attack Saudi Arabia.)
Yet I feel that were you to come to the Rectory to do so, you would find it inadequate for the purpose. A small sitting room with lighting inadequate to prevent a sensation of claustrophobia! A living area a full three rooms away from the kitchen, guaranteeing that the crudités are cold by the time they arrive! A guest bathroom without a functioning bidet!
Sadly, several of you have opposed the construction of a New Rectory, calling it an “unneeded expense.” At the Annual Congregational Meeting, I noted that Mrs. Bill Jefferson, a self-described “fiscal watchdog,” expressed the notion that the estimate of $2.5 million for a New Rectory was perhaps overindulgent.
To that I would simply remind you all of the maxim that “people in glass houses and who have several different strains of painful recurrent herpes shouldn’t heave stones at their local religious leader.” As the Pope is wont to say, “halt den mund, capische?”
Of course, Mrs. Jefferson’s opposition was supported by Mr. Mormoni, whose father was a close friend of Big Idaho, to whom I alluded earlier. I respect Mr. Mormoni’s argument that the Old Rectory is in fact only five years old, and hence could still be used to advantage.
I should also mention that Mr. Mormoni’s mother was also a close friend of Big Idaho. So close that I remember them leaving the union temperance prayer-meeting one time together. Mrs. Mormoni had left her purse, so I decided to follow them and return it. I hesitate to continue the story in this venue, however, because of the presence of people who may be put off by descriptions of unnatural acts that involve albino ferrets, a gyros wheel, and embalming fluid. Perhaps another time?
Finally, Fran “Pantsy” Nelosi was the most vocal about her opposition to the New Rectory, based on allegations about some imagined misdeeds of mine in the Woodshed. As Chairwoman of the Women’s Missionary Society, Pantsy’s misguided opposition has swayed more than one parishioner.
While there is little that goes on in town that does not eventually come to my attention, it was not until last Tuesday that Dr. Zimbardo confessed to me that Pantsy is not as enamoured of missionaries as her position in the society might indicate! But again, time is winding down, and I would like to reserve some time for a couple of procedural matters. The full details of Dr. Zimbardo’s testimony may or may not be the subject of a sermon at a future date.
At this point, I would like to formalize both my interpretation of the expanded nature of the “pastoral privilege” exception. Are there objections?
No? Well, then, I wanted to follow up with a final chance for anyone to object to hiring Hal Ibbertson to begin work on the New Rectory. As the man said, speak now or forever hold your peace.
No? Well! That touches me! It touches me so deeply, I will cease to ponder how to visit iniquities, and instead consider whether some confidentiality may be mixed in with my own confidence. Perhaps confidence and confidentiality will become my new watchwords!
Until the New Rectory gets tiresome, anyway.
Labels: Sunday Sermon