Thursday, January 17, 2008

Clerical Oppressors

JUST God! and these are they
Who minister at thine altar, God of Right!
Men who their hands with prayer and blessing lay
On Israel's Ark of light!

What! preach, and kidnap men?
Give thanks, and rob thy own afflicted poor?
Talk of thy glorious liberty, and then
Bolt hard the captive's door?

What! servants of thy own
Merciful Son, who came to seek and save
The homeless and the outcast, fettering down
The tasked and plundered slave!

Pilate and Herod, friends!
Chief priests and rulers, as of old, combine!
Just God and holy! is that church, which lends
Strength to the spoiler, thine?

Paid hypocrites, who turn
Judgment aside, and rob the Holy Book
Of those high words of truth which search and burn
In warning and rebuke;

Feed fat, ye locusts, feed!
And, in your tasselled pulpits, thank the Lord
That, from the toiling bondman's utter need,
Ye pile your own full board.

How long, O Lord! how long
Shall such a priesthood barter truth away,
And in Thy name, for robbery and wrong
At Thy own altars pray?

Is not Thy hand stretched forth
Visibly in the heavens, to awe and smite?
Shall not the living God of all the earth,
And heaven above, do right?

Woe, then, to all who grind
Their brethren of a common Father down!
To all who plunder from the immortal mind
Its bright and glorious crown!

Woe to the priesthood! woe
To those whose hire is with the price of blood;
Perverting, darkening, changing, as they go,
The searching truths of God!

Their glory and their might
Shall perish; and their very names shall be
Vile before all the people, in the light
Of a world's liberty.

Oh, speed the moment on
When Wrong shall cease, and Liberty and Love
And Truth and Right throughout the earth be known
As in their home above.

-John Greenleaf Whittier

I happened to open my Whittier book to this poem the other day. It was originally printed in the Charleston, S.C Courier on September 4th, 1835, addressed to all clergy attending the popular pro-slavery meetings going on at the time. But as I read it, without having yet read the context, I thought of the Orthodox priests in Romania who kept the poverty-stricken under their iron thumb, perpetuating the cycle of bitter toil by charging the spiritually uneducated high taxes of money and gifts to "pay" for their sins or keep loved ones out of eternal hell. From there my mind drifted to ministers and clergymen here in the more affluent places of the world who may not exact monetary gain from their flocks, but present to them such a bitter and unforgiving portrait of God as to drive many away. Many who never return. What a horrifying thought that the very men who claim to teach the ways of God to a world desperately in need of Him would so pervert that office, would so blantantly display greed and vice in the name of a Holy God!

But then, I thought to myself, how is my position so very different? I have been charged to be a walking example of what God can do in the life of one of his children, haven't I? And if I, in following my own inclinations, present to others selfishness, unkindness and pride, what is to prevent them from equating those very qualities with the God I supposedly serve?

"Woe, then, to all who grind
Their brethren of a common Father down!
To all who plunder from the immortal mind
Its bright and glorious crown..."

I have as much responsibility as any of those clergy did to present a true picture of our kind, forgiving, and most importantly our life-changing Savior to the world, and I count that an honor.