Suffering fools does not mean being soft and sentimental. Pastors can be harsh and judgmental articulators of law. But, when in 1963 I moved from parish ministry to the professorship, my Dean and Friend “Jerry” Brauer, said, “Marty, there is a difference in your new role. Good professors have to flunk some people; good pastors never do.” This does not mean that professors have to get their credentials by being non-pastoral and great flunkers. It does mean that the message which imparts credentials to pastors teaches them to see people, foolish people, from a different perspective than they naturally would. I once wanted to provide a character reference to an arrested church member, who was of good character. His lawyer said, “The judge will ignore what you say. Clergy are ”˜soft’ when character-referencing. They know evil, but they find the good, and that does not help in court.” David Brooks might have been listening.
Dismiss “the institutional church” and its ministers, if you will, but, if Brooks is right, you will not have fewer fools. You will likely find more people abandoned, often unjustly, in an impersonal world where someone, someone, should not lose patience or become impolite and dismissive. Here endeth my post-Twelve Days of Christmas column. We can now get back to the gross and grim headline items that beckon for attention in the world of “public religion” in the seasons ahead.