We just returned from a two week trip from my homeland in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan after visiting family and friends that was most interesting and informative. I hadn’t been to the UP in wintertime since my father’s funeral almost 21 years ago, and forgot how cold and snowy it gets up there. Besides celebrating on one of the greatest non-events December 21st, I had an opportunity to get together with one of my old seminary classmates who happens to be a priest there. It was in the midst of the conversation with him that I realized I would never had made it as a priest in the UP, or really anywhere in the American church due to the way I hold the church teachings and what I stand for.
This priest (who shall go nameless) looked worn out and frustrated, and it became clear as we talked that the problem of mediocrity is a church wide epidemic. This priest had mentioned how the people up there had no interest in real church teachings, and even when laid out clearly (and this priest is very articulate) there was great resistance and complaints levied against him for doing this. It also seems that his Bishop, like many around the country, respond to any form of criticism unfavorably for the priest, and this serves to undermine both the credibility of the priest as well as the church in general. So, many of the homilies given by this priest are rather on the unchallenging side and getting into the hard hitting issues is considered taboo.
It brought me back to my seminary days over a quarter of a century ago, when I spoke up against the homosexuals and how our church was being sold out. I ignored the advice of fellow seminarians as well as some of the faculty when told to keep my thoughts and beliefs to myself. It also brings home the point of Biblical truths that hidden sins would be ‘shouted from the roof tops’ and no amount of staying quiet would change that fact. Yes, I was asked to get counseling for my ‘homophobia’ by the faculty as a condition of returning, but I knew my time was up when I left in the spring of 1986. But I had also sensed at that time that telling the truth was going to result (most likely) in my not making it to ordination. So I saw no point in continuing on, as I knew then I would not compromise on church teachings and sell the people out due to ‘feelings’ and horrible theology.
Many who made it into the priesthood knowingly sold out their belief systems in order to get ordained. One of the main lines of thinking back then was “Tell them what they want to hear, and then after getting ordained, do what you want”. I have only found that those who compromised their value systems in order to get ordained are still compromising their value systems today. Now, some of the men I know did not compromise their values, but did stay quiet then and now seem to this day to be suffering in silence. My fears for myself always had been if I could justify ‘playing the game’ to get ordained, how could I then come out of my shell and stand for the truth? I didn’t see a way out, other than leaving the seminary and following what I believed outside of ordained ministry. It turns out it was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.
I’ve been blessed with a good family, children and a good career. I am able to live the faith unencumbered by public criticism and can be as involved to whatever level in the pro-life movement and participate in civil disobedience. I can write the truth and not have to worry about being censured, ‘suspended’ or sent to a monastery to’ rethink and contemplate my life’ by a bishop that doesn’t have the integrity or grit to stand up for the church or to the whiners and wimps who seem to be calling the shots. And I don’t have to be beholden to the godless IRS and cursed 501 c 3 status and can call out by name those who are advocating evil and trying to destroy everything that is good and holy in our society.
I believe I am doing exactly as God called me to do, and that is to minister to my fellow man to the best of my ability and in the truth. I am doing way more in a lay status than what I ever could have accomplished in the church as it currently is. I am way freer than my former classmates, who as priests, are beholden to men and parishioners that believe they have a better theological background than the priests do. And I am free to teach the faith, unencumbered by man-made shackles, and can debate with anyone at any level without worrying about losing my livelihood. I never thought I could be a better priest outside of the priesthood, but it seems like it’s the case. What a sad commentary. Glad I didn’t make it.