There’s this guy, a member of a church. He’s not fictional. He’s real. He makes my friend cry in her office after he’s made her feel less than human.
It happened like this: he came into her office. To me, her friend, it sounds like he barged into her office and then declared, “Did you know you don’t like people?” This very real church member went on to explain to my friend that she played favorites. He rejected her shyness and then made her cry. Really, who wouldn’t cry? No one in the life of the church had approached her about this. Instead, he took it upon himself to tell her that “all these people” have a problem with her. Moreover, she apparently had a problem with them. He stood there, watched my friend cry, and expressed his compassion by saying, “You’ll get thicker skin as you get older.”
First, for obvious reasons, he earned his title: Man Who Makes Me Cry. Whether it was over his complaints about Youth Sunday or her shyness, she referred to him in this way – until one day on the phone with another friend. On that day, in the midst of her rantings and ravings about this non-fictional church member, she called him a persecutor. It got worse. She got so upset, she called him Herod.
It seemed to fit. And so, it stuck.
This persecutor has a female counterpart. She got her name from another pastor calling a friend in frustration and rage, and with a few angry tears. Miles away, in another church, there is a woman known to her pastor as Mrs. Herod. Again, it seemed to fit. After all, it felt like Mrs. Herod was truly seeking to chop off her pastor’s head. And so, it stuck.
The problem, as my friend explains, is that Mrs. Herod seems “outwardly supportive” to the point that she will throw off her pastor “by saying or writing something so kind and lovely.” Ironically, this is how it started with Herod too. That pastor always thought Herod had her back. Obviously, they were both wrong. Herod didn’t have her back and Mrs. Herod was not always kind and lovely.
You don’t just get this kind of name in passing. You have to really earn it. You have to really upset the pastor over and over again. You have to really put some edge in those off-hand comments, as Herod did when he remarked, “If I were a minister, I’d be the first one here and the last one to leave.” There is no appropriate response that can address this kind of remark. Herod and Mrs. Herod don’t want to hear it. Mrs. Herod is more than willing to send you an e-mail to address her issue, time stamped for December 31, 2008, with a subject line reading “Disappointed in You.” It doesn’t matter that her pastor was on vacation. It doesn’t matter to Mrs. Herod that her pastor works hard to maintain appropriate boundaries.
And so, pastors who are usually careful about name-calling start doing just that. They start name-calling – not to their church members’ faces, of course – but in every phone call they make to those few friends that understand that Herod and Mrs. Herod deserve their names.
Now, I’m willing to be diplomatic. I’ll try to see this from all angles. It’s possible that Mrs. Herod’s behavior is symbolic of the gaps that still exist between clergy and those they serve. While many clergy firmly understand and uphold their boundaries, this doesn’t always mean that our church members understand. They think their clergy are supposed to be available when they’re not. They think that they can help, and so they offer tidbits of wisdom like Herod does about growing a thicker skin. Isn’t that fantastically helpful?
It’s also possible that Herod just has issues with all strong women. It’s certainly possible that he lashes out at all women that have a place of prominence in the life of his church. However, that doesn’t forgive him for his behavior any more than it allows for Mrs. Herod to “help” her young female pastor. As young woman clergy, we don’t always want help. We always want support.
That’s when the phone rings. Mrs. Herod is at it again. Now, I know what you’re thinking. We should not call our church members names – even with colleagues. I don’t care. Get over it. We still do it. It keeps us sane.
Calling them Herod or even Mrs. Herod is not the same as the quiet comments you share with other members of the staff about particular church people, like the man that worshipped with our church for a couple of years that I swore to be the spitting image of the sorcerer Gargamel of the television cartoon Smurfs. I didn’t mean to disrespect this man with this striking similarity. I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t affect my interactions with him, but it was really just a coincidence that I noticed and even commented upon with my colleagues. I didn’t share this reflection with him though. I didn’t offer it and watch him react – as Herod might have done.
In the Gospel story, Herod slaughters innocents and tries to trick wise people. This church member is no different. He stands in his pastor’s office and watches her cry. Of course, she doesn’t want him to see her this way. She would much prefer to be strong and confident until he leaves her office – but that’s not how it happens. He gets to see it. Every last tear my friend cries.
This is not the same kind of behavior as the woman who rushes up to you three seconds before worship starts to tell you that her son’s tractor trailer overturned last night and killed him. It’s not even the same as the church member who told his son that I was a “doll.” The Herods are another story.
Even though they exist in churches that are far from my own, I know the type. It’s not just because I’m young or because I’m a clergy woman like my friends. I know the type because they exist in every church. Because of our call to be the type of community where all are loved because God loved them first, the Herods are out there – and my job is to love them. I don’t want to love them. I find it incredibly hard to do. Still, Jesus reminds me that I’m called to love them and so I try. I try very, very hard, but in doing so I might call them a name or two behind their back.
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