Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Religious Prostitution

I met with a couple recently who asked me to baptize their infant. As a matter of routine, I request the opportunity to meet with parents and baptismal candidates to make sure we're on the same page about the meaning and purpose of baptism. In light of the mysterious sacramental nature of baptism, this is harder than it looks. Anyway, I haven't seen this young couple in church since the last time I baptized their child over four years ago.

I have this nagging sense that either they don't understand the meaning of baptism as a communal act of the church, or they are just as happy to be "consumers of religious service." In either case, I feel like a prostitute providing my religious service to satisfy their immediate need. And the next time they happen to have a need for one of the services the church provides, I may see them again.

I find myself feeling like a religious prostitute alot more than I used to. Is it because there has been a shift in the way culture fundamentally relates to the church and I should learn to like it or lump it? Or perhaps my prostitution radar has become more accute as I seek to perform the religious rites of the church with theological integrity and pastoral concern. There's plenty of blame to go around. A generation of pastors before me have been happy to offer any religious service requested because that's what pastor's who operate by the chaplaincy model of ministry do.

On the other hand, how many times have I consented to performing religious services without complaint even though I had a sneaking suspicion that I was being had. And it was easier to perform and shut up than actually try to nurture them into a new understanding of their faith. Whatever the case, I am growing tired of religious prostitution. Even though it might feel good while I'm participating, I always pledge that it will be different the next time. Perhaps by making such a confession, the next time I'm tempted to perform religious prostitution, I'll have the courage to obstain. My only consolation is that Jesus appears to have a special concern for prostitutes in the Gospel, I can only hope the same might be true for me.


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