February 22, 2007

Unsafe Questions

Because I live in a rural community, and because the high school where I sometimes substitute teach is small, the students not only know me, they know that when I'm not teaching, I'm a pastor of a church. Even though I never introduce myself as such on the public school campus, I get called "Pastor Danny" a lot more than "Mr. Bradfield."

Yesterday I was teaching at the alternative high school, which is really just a portable classroom across a small field from the main high school campus. About a dozen students who either failed the mainstream school system, or were failed by it, attend there.

It wasn't long before the questions started.

Hey, Pastor Danny, is it a sin to listen to music? My brother's a priest and says it is.
Hey, isn't it really bad to say "God dammit?"
Hey, is premarital sex a sin?
Is it a sin to masturbate?

I can tell that the kids have two reasons for asking questions like these: an outer reason, and an inner reason. The outer reason is obvious: to trap the teacher. It's clear that sometimes there is no right way to answer. If I say, "Yes, premarital sex is a sin," it only proves to them how out of touch I am with their lives. If I say, "No, it isn't necessarily a sin," they laugh, because it's awfully darn funny to hear a pastor say something positive (positive to them, anyway) about sex.

But I still try my best to listen to their questions and answer them, because I can see that they have a deeper, inner reason for asking, which is that they really want to know ... and they're not about to go to Sunday School or catechism, raise their hand, and ask about masturbation. Things like that just aren't talked about in church.

It's too bad, though, really. People—not just kids—have questions, but they're not allowed to ask them in church....

Is it OK to disagree with a scripture passage?
Is it OK to have doubts?
Can I share with you my struggle with guilt, depression?
Will you pray for me as I try to figure out how to live after the divorce?

No. We don't want to hear it. Just come and smile and pretend that everything is A-OK. Don't bother us with your questions. Do that, and our own questions might break free from the prisons where we've locked them away. Do that, and church won't be safe anymore...

"Safe? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good."
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

1 comment:

Purple Hydrangea said...

It like when I was talking with a group of "church ladies" about the conversation Charlie and I had at the store about condoms. I feel so blessed that he and I can talk about things (some more than others). One of the ladies I was talking with blushed and said she would never be able to talk with her son about something like that, thats what his dad is around for! (he is a pastor)..
It worries me that kids and adults for that matter have so many questions and no one to turn to for answers, biblical or otherwise...