What Can Be Done So People Can Gain More Confidence In Religious Leaders?

In "Voices of Faith," religious leaders answer readers' questions.

Find faith in God, not solely in leaders

The Rev. Justin Hoye, St. Mary Parish Catholic Church, Nevada, Mo., and St. Bridget Mission in Rich Hill: Our immediate spiritual leader — our pastor, priest, rabbi — is often the weather vane for our dealings with our faith tradition. Even if there is controversy in the larger body — in the conference or synod or diocese — we reference the one who guides us regularly in worship. If our pastor demonstrates integrity, we find solace and thank God.

But what if our religious leader is the one who disappointed us? Few abandon their faith because of a concern over doctrine, but many flee because their pastor caused scandal. Spiritual leaders are held to high standards, often unreasonably high, and yet I believe most people give their minister room for growth.

Why? Because individuals sense when the same latitude has been extended to them. A good religious leader gives people room for error without making redemption unobtainable. He or she identifies sin and its harmful effects, tends to those injured by injustices and tenderly draws people back into communion. So, when the minister is the fallen one, people's response s often hinge on how they were engaged in their own weakness.

In short, if there is evidence of a religious leader's mercy, compassion and integrity — even in the midst of disappointment — it should evince God's presence through that minister. Our confidence is then found in God's power to redeem both the situation and a wounded religious leader.

Leaders should guide based on self-honesty

The Rev. Duke Tufty, Unity Temple on the Plaza: Religious leaders either "win" the confidence of the people they serve or they "lose" it based on their thoughts and actions. The most important characteristic for religious leaders is integrity, which holds tightly to three principles.

First, religious leaders must be truthful and express themselves as they truly are, not what they want people to think they are. An uncovered lie is the quickest way to shatter trust in a relationship, and without trust, the relationship has no value.

The second principle of integrity is for religious leaders to drop the pomposity and self-righteousness that come from thinking they are better or more "saintly" than the people they serve. Religious leaders are ordinary people and face similar problems and challenges that other people do. They haven't "arrived"; they don't have an exclusive path to God; they are students of life not graduates of life, like we all are.

This pretense of being an intermediary between people and their God because an individual is unworthy to approach God directly is a fabrication by a religious leader for his or her own benefit, and it is pure bosh.

The third principle of integrity is for a religious leader to practice what he or she preaches. If they dogmatically impose overly strict doctrines, creeds, rules and regulations on people that they themselves don't live up to, they are little more than hypocrites.