Sometimes I ask myself what exactly is the Gospel Truth in religious texts. Sources range from church registers, regional or denominational newspapers, congregational minutes, funeral and cemetery records to name a few.
Church Leaders are as Human as their Parishioners
As with any record, look at the context it was created. Do not assume because a minister, priest or local leaders authored a record that it stands beyond question. Church leaders have always been as human as anybody in the congregation. Perhaps they are held to a higher standard of accountability, but this is just a perception, if not a burden.
Cultural Influences Cloud What You See in the Records
If leaders and clergy were literate then this speaks of some type of education. This is important, especially if the flock was largely illiterate. However, there are two important factors to consider when judging both records and their authors:
There is often a disconnect between what any church teaches and its members practice. This opens up a wide array of both problems and solutions church leaders must resolve.
Church leaders are often seeing church doctrine through their own often localized perception. So issues in congregation or parish; may not be in another.
Church leaders created records based upon their own lenses of perception and personal issues. For example, a young couple comes before the disciplinary Elders in a Presbyterian congregation, comprised of older seasoned men, for what happened in the hay stack. The young couple may have a totally different perspective on the incident than the Elders. Also consider aside from Quakers, the majority of church leadership historically was male. So men are judging and writing about women’s issues.
Do Not Accept What Your Reading as Gospel Truth
The bottom line is when you view these records take into account the person writing the information. Once you understand their qualifications and their limitations, then you can more clearly judge what you are reading within a context. Don’t except what you read to be Gospel Truth concerning an incident or person.
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