James Croft is training to be an Ethical Cultural Leader and describes himself as an Humanist, skeptic and free-thinker. His work along side clergy of several denominations in Ferguson, Missouri has made him thankful for the work of his colleagues ordained in religious traditions.
Clerical privilege frequently hands the worst ideas the biggest megaphone, putting the values and beliefs of a far-gone age on a pedestal, while shielding those who abuse their position from the consequences of their actions. The fact that when I’m fully-trained as an Ethical Culture Leader I will formally be a clergy person myself is the source of some discomfort, as if I’m being offered a fancy uniform I’m not certain I want to wear. The work of an Ethical Culture Leader I love and want to continue – the position as clergy makes me nervous.
In the past few months I have spent many hours with clergy in the St. Louis area, as we have planned and worked together in response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. In that time I have seen, over and over again, enormous moral courage and principled leadership from the clergy. Professional representatives of a wide range of faiths have consistently been some of the first to respond to calls to action, and have been pivotal in organizing actions across the city.
I’ve seen clergy show the wounds they have received on the front lines of this struggle. I’ve seen them mobilize faraway communities to stand vigil night after night in the freezing cold. I’ve taken notes as clergy taught me how to de-escalate a conflict. I’ve wept as they described the beatings they’ve seen the police give protesters. I’ve heard clergy express fear that the teargas they were attacked with, having seeped into their clothes, will affect their sleeping children when they return home. I’ve taken calls from them as they were released from jail.
The clergy here in St. Louis are a credit to their traditions and to their profession. They are doing what religious leaders ought to do: holding society to a higher moral standard, using their authority as a weapon against injustice, mobilizing the rich resources of their religion to bring hope and encourage change. I’m glad they are here, and I feel privileged to work with them.