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  The Dark Side of Religion
by J. Grant Swank, Pastor
1 January 2003

Bible College and seminary will never tell you about today's dark side of religion. This article will.

Pastor, the dark side of religion is what you were never told in Bible college or seminary. Why? One of the reasons is that the profs there have never been in the pastorate or were in the pastorate so long ago that their lectures are not contemporary.

Even those profs who appear whiz kids of contemporary understanding shy away from revealing to students the dark side of religion. It is not until one is in the work for awhile, sometimes a short while and for others a bit of a while, that the dark shadows start to show.

At first, the graduates, most of them server-giver types—married to same—go forth to love parishioners, help the weary, plan state-of-the-art youth appeals, work 80 hours a week and put church ahead of family. In other words, these grads are not hard-hearted corporate types out to make a money killing; they are tiny Mother Theresas running about the parish environs.

Yet, in time, the awesome dark shadows begin to creep in. At first blanch, the pastor denies them. She does not see them, nor does her husband. They are viewing the world out of red-tinted glasses, looking through love-blanched lenses. After all, are they not willing to lay down their very lives for the cross?

Yes, that is what they were called to do—lay down their lives for the cross. But lay down their lives for the conniving leeches in ecclesiastical leadership, the politicos ready to cut their server-giver legs off at the knees, and the waiting-under-the-pews laity who pride themselves on running off every minister showing his face?

So now, you see, we are beginning to come upon the dark side of religion. It is in every denomination— bar none. It is in liberal and conservative, Protestant and Catholic, liturgical and freewheeling. It is there. It is there as a given in a spiritually fallen world. (In every garden, there is a snake).

For instance, did a prof in seminary ever tell you about the powers-that-be above you who would wear sweet smiles and speak from smooth tongues while all the while laying their own power plans for lording it over you if you did not serve their political ends?

Did the prof ever warn you that in too many instances the churchly system comes first in all things "spiritual"? You had thought it was your commitment that counted, your surrender to the way of the cross that was noteworthy. Ah-hah. Yes. And so it is. At least in God’s intentions for His workmen and women. But the ecclesiastical power hungry aim for other aspirations—carnal; their goals are more temporal and egocentric, more truly churchly political than anything genuinely spiritual.

Did the prof ever warn you that the family who invites you out to eat when you first land in the parsonage will no doubt be the fellow and wife who will do you in when you don’t cross your t just as they would have you cross your t?

Did the prof ever state clearly to you in class that the church board you would endeavor to work with could in truth plant their own agendas apart from any clergy called? They could have their own history of power and play. They could have their own pecking order in seniority for carrying out their final selfish, temporal objectives. And—darker still—they finally could have their own ways of getting rid of you— most maliciously.

Did the prof put it on the table that the telephones from parishioners’ homes could ring endlessly on occasion, you the subject of converse, you the target of gossip and meanness, madness and devilment? The vultures would circle you until you had nowhere else to fly for shelter but your churchly superior’s waiting, compassionate, understanding, defending-his-pastors arms.

Did the prof ever come clean with you that when you then fled for help to your churchly superior—who all along had told you that he was the pastor’s pastor—you could very well find yourself in the cold? Cold. Cold. Cold. Why? Because the superior is voted in or out annually at the churchly assembly, the laity votes numbering most. Therefore, pleasing laity would come first in his secret power book; his pastors indeed in fact would come way down the list—if in reality they would "come way down" any list at all.

Did the prof ever relate to you that if it ever came down to the stark fact that you needed defense before your church board or your church membership, there could indeed be no ecclesiastical regime defense on your behalf? You would stand—along with your spouse—alone alone alone facing the firing line. Your kind-appearing, smiling, smooth talking superior would play a Judas role, acting as if he never knew you. In truth, he may act as if he did know you, but in the role of accusing you, maligning you, informing you that you had a month to vacate the parsonage—no salary, no health coverage, no job, nothing.

Did the prof ever tally up for you the number of clergy colleagues who would welcome you to your pastorate by embracing you, telling you that they were praying for you—even with tears in their eyes—but finally would not stand alongside you if churchly political winds started to change for your demise?

And then did the prof ever level with you that when you were finally shot down, wiped out and scrubbed off the playing field, your clergy colleagues would go on with their own existences as if you had never ever existed on the planet.

And this is the but the start of the dark side of religion.

Email J. Grant Swank

BIO

Joseph Grant Swank, Jr., Pastor, New Hope Church, Windham ME

Graduate of accredited college (BA) and seminary (M Div) with graduate work at Harvard Divinity School.

Married for 41 years with 3 adult children.

Author of 5 books and over 2000 articles in various Protestant and Catholic
magazines, journals and newspapers. Writer of weekly religion column for
PORTLAND PRESS HERALD newspaper, Portland ME.

Hobbies: Traveling to South America, Europe, Middle East, Canada; writing;
watercolor painting; meeting new friends.

Current occupations: Pastor; Teacher at Alternative Learning School for
at-risk youths.

Pastorates: Calgary, Alberta; Indianapolis IN; Akron OH; Fishkill NY;
Manchester CT; Walpole MA; Windham ME.

Winner of First Prize Writing Contest which yielded a three-week guided tour
of the Middle East.

Columnist for websites: MensNewsDaily.com, IntellectualConservative.com, MichNews.com,
Chalcedon.com, rePUNK.com, ConservativeTruth.com, FreeRepublic.com (USO Canteen Chapel link), WoundedShepherds.com (Insights link).