Why Do We Take It?

K. D. ‘Casey’ McKibbon

Why do clergy put up with the unfair treatment they receive?

The short answer is most clergy have no guts, or they hide behind some scriptural verse, or believe the dictum “Christians don’t fight.” Clergy have such a deep need to be liked that they can’t make waves. Most clergy are master manipulators who believe they can con them selves to safety. 

At a deeper level it is difficult for some to grasp the fact that the denominations put forward the position that their clergy are not employees therefore have no rights under the law. Bottom line is clergy in Canada have no protection under the various labour or human rights codes, laws, etc. Procedural unfairness continues to be the major cause of grief. Natural justice is not recognised or seldom obeyed at the local level. That’s the fight.

All clergy know one thing. Repression comes upon clergy who ask that the rules of natural justice be followed in cases of unfair treatment. This is almost incomprehensible to other lay Christians and those outside the loop.

If you ask me why more clergy are now going to court, I will turn the question around and say the miracle is that more clergy don’t sue. This is the mother of all clergy problems.

It’s simple, really. Clergy cannot believe the system which they love, trust and are loyal to can be so uncaring and unjust — deaf to the issues they raise, not interested in who or what is right and just. They find, in fact, that the process works to hurt them. The system displays “a peace at any price, and you are the price, pastor” mentality. And what is worse they feel no one cares at a level that counts. Not colleagues, not institution, no one!

Most clergy don’t know about the rules of natural justice. If they do, they don’t have the courage to insist these rules be the test of fairness in every church fight! Therefore a win-win solution to the conflict is impossible. Case closed.

But don’t blame the poor cleric, they have very good reasons for not resisting injustice. To insist on a just win-win solution is to invite big trouble and clergy know it. At one point all they want is out. They want their professional and personal reputation intact. So they try to ‘stick-handle’ through, spiritualize it, or go into denial.

They know the victim gets blamed, a reputation attacked and no church wants a ‘trouble maker.’ The church ‘grapevine’ can be a very effective way to blacklist a person. No one wants to be seen as a failure. We know that unsaid dictum ‘good Christians don’t fight’ and you should have seen the trouble coming and moved syndrome.

By the time pastors lose trust in the system, or their own ability to work out of the problem and are ready to resist, they are in trouble. They have no money, little support, are burned out by the conflict, lack hope, and just want to go away and start over again. BUT IF THEY CAN’T, they call me.

The ones who do fight back, either have no other option, or are mad as hell at the betrayal and unfairness. Some have a spouse with a career, a mortgage, kids that love the town, etc. Others see the vision of how resisting can be a ministry to the wider church and feel a deep sense of Call to stay.

The tragedy is that if they do ‘escape’ to a new town, if they manipulate their way out without obtaining justice or fairness they are never the same again. Now they know how the game is played. From here on they play church on Sunday, keep quiet, and kiss up to the potential abusers. Many join the ranks of the clergy killers, handing out to colleagues what once they received themselves! Few join with us to bring justice and change.

This piece was written years ago and things have changed. I now tell clergy they have no options. They either go along with those in authority or get out! Find a life.

Clergy can’t go to court anymore because the churches have learned to draw the procedure out for years. In addition, the Civil Courts will not hear cases until the cleric has exhausted all appeals within the church system. This can take years and years. Once in the civil courts, you are looking at six or eight years of stress.

I repeat: There is no justice to be found within any church system. What sane person would spend their life savings and sacrifice their family and career for this? Get out. Get a new life.

The only answer is the one I have been giving for 25 years. Clergy need the protection of a union.