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A Good Report

Writing to Timothy, his younger brother in the faith, the Apostle Paul listed a number of attributes desirable in a bishop. His final admonition is this: "Moreover, he must have a good report of them which are without [outside]: lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil" (I Timothy 3:7). In the United States of half a century ago, a good report was taken for granted for the clergy of all confessions and denominations. The entertainment media—and especially movies—generally portrayed the clergy in a favorable light, a bit naive, perhaps, but basically good. When the occasional rascal was portrayed, it was usually someone from the fringe, such as the mercenary evangelist of Elmer Gantry or the pompous missionary of Cole Porter's Anything Goes. Such Protestants were easy to attack, because Protestantism has so many splinter groups and independent operators; to portray a Roman Catholic priest or a Jewish rabbi in such a light would have been unthinkable, at least in the 1950's. Today it is easy to attack a priest, although rabbis still enjoy a certain immunity: lampooning a rabbi would probably be condemned as anti-Semitic.

Forty years ago, merely identifying oneself as a minister, priest, or rabbi was a virtual guarantee of respectful treatment, and perhaps of a discount in stores or even "professional courtesy" from doctors and dentists as well. In recent decades,...

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