A Critical assessment of the contribution of Richard Gula’s Ethics in Pastoral Ministry to the ministry of the pastoral leader in 21st century western culture

Richard Gula, has been credited with “blending good scholarship with pastoral experience” (O’Neil, 1997) and nowhere is this statement truer than in his treatment of the Proposed Code of Ethics (See O’Niel 1997 and Theisen 1996). He situates the pastoral ministry within a “theological-ethical framework” (O’Neil 1997) in which he highlights its place within the overall Christian vocation (See LG 1) and from where he addresses “a variety of moral issues which pastoral ministers have to face today” (Loyola Marymount University). This approach gives the code its particular character; it “offers aspirational goals to challenge and guide to the highest ideals of a ministry informed by faith” (1996: 144). This reveals Gula’s notion of Christian moral life. For him, it is practically living out what one believes rather than acquiescing to imposed laws. For this reason, therefore, his code assumes the role of a guide with ideals, standards and goals to challenge (1996: 144) pastoral leaders “to think critically” about the signs they give (See Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales (BCEW)) for effective witnessing in contemporary society.
The Proposed Code of Ethics is divided into six sections of which the first three: Preamble, Theological Framework and Ideal Characteristics of Pastoral Ministers are theological reflections on which the author’s proposals for ethical behaviour in ministry are based. The last sections: Professional obligations, Sexual Conduct and Confidentiality are practical ways to implement this behaviour.
This essay will consider ideas Gula himself has presented as central in his work: the Common vocation of all the baptised which widens out into “the affirmation that people are made in the image and likeness of God” (1996: 144). A critical assessment of these ideas will be made, showing their centrality in the code and their specific contribution to Pastoral ministry in today’s Western culture. In conclusion the main concepts raised in the essay will be summarised and areas for further research will be proposed. This topic interests me as one who works in pastoral ministry with students and prayer groups.

  1. What we are
    • The common vocation of all Christians
    Gula’s preamble presents pastoral ministers with a description of what they are and who they are called to serve in their ministry from the point of view of their common vocation as Christians. We are dealing here with a dynamic concept which implies growth and becoming. “What we are” implies the dignity of the persons ministered to, that of the pastoral leader and, their common calling to “advance” to full potential as Christians (see Gula 1996: 143). The pastoral minster’s call is primarily about helping the baptised to be fully inserted into the Church’s mission, a vocation they share as members of the Church to be “a sign and instrument of the communion of humankind with God and with one another” (LG 1). In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, this notion is further elaborated on. “There is one chosen people of God” it states, ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’” (Eph. 4:5) (LG 32). While the members share a common dignity deriving from rebirth in Christ (see LG 32), this document tells us that equality and unity admit of varieties of gifts, functions and roles, issuing from the same Spirit and ordered to the same goal (1 Cor 12:11 and LG 32). From this perspective the Pastoral leader’s role in co-operation with the Bishops and the Pope to “advance the Church’s mission” (Gula 143) assumes the characteristic of “first among equals” signifying equality in dignity with those they serve. Furthermore, this service which they render to the faithful is mutually enriching as Witherup affirms of priests, “…We paradoxically find our own lives enriched by those whom we serve” (2010: 5). The statement is true of lay pastoral leaders as well.
    Created in the Image of God
    • Ministry to a pluralistic society
    The foregoing consideration, however, could be found limiting as far as pastoral ministry in a Western pluralistic society is concerned. Although Church membership is all-embracing because, catholic means universal, not all people regard themselves as members of the Church, hence, Gula introduces another concept that seems more far reaching and all-embracing, “the theological affirmation that people are made in the Image of God” (1996: 144). In this society, pastoral ministry finds a place within institutions such as hospitals, prisons, the army, the navy and schools, and this calls for a sensitive awareness of the multi-faith (and no faith) character of the recipients of ministry. Lourdas writes this about working with other religions in a health Care Chaplaincy programme at SMUC, “The working environment of healthcare is increasingly multi-faith and multi-cultural. Increasing awareness of other world views enriches ministry through acquaintance with the core beliefs. (MFGHC/ SMUC in web page).
    In such circumstances Gula’s statement that “People’s experience of God is so closely tied to their experience of us, we shall want to fulfil our vocation by maintaining professional standards” (1996: 144) is very relevant.
    This author confirms the centrality in his code of the affirmation that people are made in the image of God by saying it is “the basis for understanding the ultimate place of God in the moral life and for acknowledging the human person as a reflection of God” (1996 144-145). Going beyond Church membership, that affirmation confers on everyone the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Contemporary Western society is particularly aware of the implications of the notion of human rights and dignity (See wikipedia), and is well informed of breaches of these values on the part of pastoral leaders and ministers, thanks to the media (See Bridger 2002: 1). It is, therefore, of vital importance to give these notions a significant place within a moral code ethics such as this. Gula does just this when in pointing to the centrality of the concept in his code and asserts that it “establishes the dignity of the person and the social nature of being human as the key ethical criteria against which to measure moral aspects of pastoral ministry” (Gula 1996: 145).

Created in the Image of God
Usage and Meaning
The concept of man as made in the image and likeness of God first appears in Genesis Chapter 1: “In the Image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27; see also Gen 9.6). This notion reaches full development only in the New Testament (See James 3:9, Col. 1:15).
Here too we find a “dynamic expression, not a static construction” (Fowler 1999 1V), holding in tension what the human person is by virtue of creation (Genesis 1:27) and what he becomes through an ongoing call to achieve likeness to God in Jesus Christ (Eph 4:24). Pannenberg confirms this when, he states, “Man’s mastery of the world is part of the biblical notion of being made in the likeness of God” and then goes on to say “Men are far from having achieved likeness to God” (1977: 40). For Pannenberg transformation into the image of God, goes on happening in the very process of life’s experiences, deficiencies, struggles and achievements (See 1975: 40). It is appropriate to recognize pastoral ministry as situated within these daily experiences and endeavours of people, assisting them towards achieving a definitive formation in the image of God.
Genesis 1:27 and 5:9
What does it mean to say man is made in the image of God? The answers are varied (See Frame 1997). Starting from what “lies at the root of anthropomorphic ideas about man in the image of God” Pannenberg says: “That is what is involved in calling man an image of God: his being, and the human life, belong together, but in such a way that man discovers and achieves his own being only on the basis of his experience of God.” (1977: 42). However, this author sees a correspondent notion of the contemporary understanding of the idea in Genesis 9:6 “where God’s image is the basis of the inviolability of man for man” (1977: 43). If today we are convinced that the human person is inviolable; he/she should not be killed, we are not arriving at this conclusion by empirical findings. It is an attitude of faith (See 1977: 43). Ill-treating and disposing of human beings as if they were things, disregarding their bodily, mental and emotional wellbeing, according to Panneberg, is actually destroying what is specifically human in them (1977:43). Panneberg concludes that this reverence for human beings corresponds to what in Old Testament is reverence to man made in the image of God ( see 1977: 43).
Hoekema’s holds Herman Barvinck’s view. He says, “Man does not just bear the image of God but is the image of God”( 1986: 66). The image of God in man is, essential to his nature and existence as a human person (1986: 66). Commenting on Genesis 1:27 the same author tells us the root meaning of the Hebrew word for image, tselem, is “to carve” or “to cut” and “can be used to describe a carved likeness of an animal or person, and the root for demūth is likeness meaning “to be like (1986: 13).” These two concepts together mean “the image is also a likeness” demonstrating “that man is a representation of God who is like God in certain respects” ( 1986: 13).
From a detailed analysis of the Genesis text Hoekeman identifies three ways in which man is said to be in the image of God: as “likeness” because created to reflect God’s goodness, as “a social being” because created male and female like God who lives in a “divine fellowship” – an idea expressed in the text by the words “Let us” (Gen 1: 27), and finally, as “one given dominion over creation” (1986: 67). These three modes of being in the image of God also establish the human person in a threefold relationship which goes with responsibilities:
• Relationship with God the creator who gives man the dignity to reflect and mirror God’s goodness, his mercy and love (Gen. 1:27) (See 1994: 67).
• Relationship with other human beings. He made them male and female and sharers in the same blessing and dignity (Gen 1: 27)
• Relationship to the rest of creation in which man represents God as ambassador (Gen 1:28) God’s command to man, “the cultural mandate” – is a “command to rule the earth for God and develop a God glorifying culture.” ( Hoekeman 1986:14 )
From the foregoing Gula’s insistence that the recognition of man as made in the image of God establishes both the dignity and social nature of being human is clear.

Jesus as the norm
Gula’s treatment of the concept of the imago Dei does not end with man. New Testament writers see in Jesus the fullness of the image of God. He is “the visible expression of the invisible God” (Fowler: IV, Col 1:15). In their state of perfect innocence, human beings were destined to image God but in their fallen state they fall short of that perfection. Jesus is the fulfilment of the image of God. He alone could say, “Whoever sees me sees the Father… (Jn 14:9 ). Being the “yes to all of God’s promises” (2 Cor 1:20), he lived in total conformity to God, “wholly directed toward God (Hoekema, 1986: 74). As a social person living in fellowship with others, Jesus was “wholly directed toward the neighbour (See Luke 19:10;) (1986: 74). His whole attitude to ministry was “doing the will of God (Jn 4:34) in serving his neighbour (Mark 10:45, therefore, he is “the model of who we aught to be and what we ought to do to enter the way of discipleship” (1996: 145).
It is noteworthy that Gula insists on that imitation of Christ, which goes deeper than a “replication of his external historical behaviour” (1996: 145). Gula realises the difference between authentic imitation of Jesus Christ i.e. letting oneself be guided by His Spirit, and living in hypocrisy i.e. keeping up appearances when the spirit is long since dead. (See 1996). Loyalty to God in the demands of one’s own ministry as was Jesus demands authenticity (see Gula 145).
Authority in Ministry
“Diakonia or servanthood,” says Tyler “…is subversive of overt and blatant expressions of power in Christian ministry” (Tyler Power Point notes ( PPN) 4) It “implies delegated authority given not for its own sake but to further the kingdom” (Tyler PPN 4). In accordance with this reasoning, Gula urges pastoral leaders to refrain from a use of the authority given them to dominate in the name of service. (1996: 145). Gula’s call here is for authenticity, in ministry, a virtue that liberates first the ministers, then propels them to genuine liberation of others.
An important observation of Stagaman is that authority is service because it is grounded in the conviction that all who are granted authority in the church are sinners who have been called through no merits of their own to be disciples of Jesus Christ (1999:29). Such service excludes “making another person functional for our own gain” (Gula 1996: 145). Stagman understands “genuine authority as shared and collegial”. It “resides in the community’s collective skills … and is the sum total of all those skill and talents operating in concert” (See Stagaman 1999: 29). Such awareness on the part of the Pastoral leader is a challenge to dedicate himself to the building up of those talents of the community rather than destroying them by any form of exploitation (see Presbyterorum Ordinis 9). Abuse of another human being is actually setting oneself up against God to whom, according to Gula, pastoral ministers owe ultimate moral responsibility (1996: 144).
Other views on the proposed Code of Ethics
Gula’s Code of Ethics has received wide recognition in Catholic circles as well as in Protestant. Kevin J. O’Niel sees the code as arising from the author’s “concern for accountability in pastoral ministry”. For him it is “a credible tool” provided for that process (1997). O’Niel, nevertheless, recognises the lack of “a structure to foster personal responsibility within individuals and specific methods for accountability within institutions” but, he believes the code itself will play a part in the process of setting up such a structure (See O’Niel 1997). S.P. Theisen, the book reviewer for ISTI, commenting on this work says it is “thorough and practical” and a good summary to the author’s book, Ethics in Pastoral Ministry which he describes as offering a “refreshing and positive perspective”(1996).
In protestant circles, Gula’s Proposed Code of Ethics has been inspirational in the writing of similar documents (See Bridger 2002). In a report to the House of Commons written on behalf of the Anglican Church, Bridger draws on Gula’s Code as an authoritative document (2002).” In the same report this author also mentions ministers who regard the introduction of a “code or set of guidelines as both risible and offensive” (2002: 1). According to Bridger, such people think a code “implies a lack of trust in ministerial integrity and an intrusion into sacred vocation.” For these people the introduction of a code “amounts to an unthinking acceptance of the cult of managerialism” (2002: 1) Bridger says. Similarly Theisen wrote regarding “some pastoral ministers” who claim that since they have a “religious vocation they are above professional rules and expectations.” (1996: 1). In his view, these people have a wrong notion of being “professional” which, he holds “connotes a specialized competence, a commitment to excellence, integrity, selfless dedication to serve the community and to hold the public trust” features he believes pastoral ministers should aspire to have (1996: 1).
Even the concept of image of God finds its critics. According to Lossky, Patristic thought has general consensus on the twofold meaning of this concept – “the image as the principle of God’s self manifestation and the image as the foundation of a particular relationship of man to God” (Lossky 1967:126). However, some theologians regard it as having been introduced into the bible through Hellenistic influence in the translation of the Wisdom books (See Wis. 2:23) (Lossky 1967: 127). for Lossky this observation doesn’t affect its meaning. He says, “One may wonder if this recourse to a new vocabulary, rich in philosophical tradition was not the answer to an internal need of Revelation itself which… lend new colouring to the sacred books of the Jews.” (1967:128).

Contribution to Pastoral Ministry today
The foregoing objections not withstanding, the idea of our common vocation to participate in the mission of the Church (See LG 1), and the affirmation that man is created in the image of God (See Gula 1996: 145) lend great credibility to Gula’s treatment of the Proposed Code of Ethics. These can be likened to the pivot that holds the other ideas together because they deal directly with the person for whom ministry is about. One of the loopholes in pastoral ministry is focusing on “doing” the ministry rather than on the people we serve. It might not take very long for Pastoral leaders so oriented to regard the people just as one of those “things” they have to do. Archbishop Vincent Nichols endeared himself to the parishioners of St. Benedict’s Abbey Parish by inviting everyone who wished to give him a hand shake. Everybody did. The lesson was driven home.
Throughout this essay notions relevant to pastoral ministry have been highlighted. The main ideas that emerge from this discussion as a major contribution of Gula’s Ethics in Pastoral Ministry to the ministry of the pastoral leader in 21st century western culture could be summed up by one word: Awareness. Gula’s idea of the Christian’s moral life, as we saw, is the practical living out of what we believe, so a moral code is a challenge to do just that (see 1996: 144). He is backed up by Stagaman who says, “Christian morality is not a code of commandments, but the life of the Church community and the lives of the individual members as expressive of gospel values.” In another context Gula gave his reasons for teaching moral theology as: “to challenge students to think critically about the practical implications of our faith” (Gula 2008). The challenge to think critically of the implications of our faith and the witness we give by our lives informed by this faith content in our world today is Gula’s message and contribution. We have moved from law to challenge. Thinking critically implies awareness on three counts: self-awareness of the pastoral leader, awareness of the people he/she serves and awareness of the body of the Church in whose mission he/she has been called by God to participate in.
Self awareness
Gilmore tells counsellors:
“As helpers, we should wisely remember that we are our own most important counselling instrument and that what we know and possess of ourselves makes a great difference in whether we help others effectively or not” (Gilmore 1973 cited by O’Farrel 1988: 83).
Commenting on this remark, O’Farrel points to the fact that it is in this process of ongoing self-counselling that those who lead others in ministry become aware of their strengths and limitations, effectiveness and potential weaknesses so that they can grow and improve in their interactions (See O’Farrel 1988:83) De Mello agrees with this in his succinct statement: “If people are strangers to themselves they are strangers to others”. In a world of pressure and activity, only the strength to say “no” to the irrelevant and “yes” to create time to develop a personal relationship with God can make the pastoral leader aware of his/her own Human dignity in order to effectively enter into another’s sacred space. O’Farrel stresses the importance of self-awareness in the life of those who counsel. He says:
“The importance of self-awareness and self-knowledge is perhaps not stressed sufficiently, and it cannot be stressed too often. Seeking to understand how we are likely to react in given situations and to different people, and learning what triggers our emotional responses gives us the opportunity to see what is preventing us from achieving our ideal” (1988: 83).
Life in society today demands that with so many voices clamouring for attention, we do not lose sight of the essence of what we are called to. Cardinal Martini compares the over self-confident minister to St. Peter, who, before his denial of Jesus, failed to listen to Jesus’ warnings. He was too sure of his willingness to follow Jesus even unto death (Lk. 22: 31-34) (See Martini 1994: 118). Self awareness on the part of St. Peter might have averted his fall. Bridger makes this observation regarding society’s expectations of pastoral leaders,
“No longer are people willing automatically to give professionals the benefit of the doubt. They are subject to scrutiny and criticism in a way that was not true of a generation ago. This presents a sizable challenge to the Church” ( Bridger 2002).
In Gula’s code of ethics the author highlights those actions that should follow self-awareness: self care, self disclosure (see Tyler PPN ) authenticity, cultivation of virtue and a personal profound relationship with God.

Awareness the people and the Church
A challenging aspect of the vocation of the Pastoral leaders is their call to enter into someone else’s sacred space of “becoming” (into) the image of God. Here one recalls the saying of St. Augustine, “For you I am a Bishop, with you I am a Christian” (Sermo, 340, 1) spoken as by one who was aware of the mystery of his call among his brethren. In this context, the power given to the leader to build up is to be understood in terms of “the kingly rule of God which calls for a radical transformation of heart in” people, “a conversion which amounts to following Jesus” (Stagaman 1999: 66). They are leaders, admitted into this space only to mediate the presence of the divine and promote the mission of Christ (See Gula 1996: 146) As this entails a profound life of prayer where God’s holiness is communicated, it likewise entails “the readiness to make room for the gratuitous, not just for the gratuities” (Bridger 2002: 1).
Awareness of the body of the Church community.
The Concept of the image of God revealed to us very clearly the fact that all our basic call as created beings is God’s gratuitous gift. “Let us make man in our image” (Gen. 1 : 26 ff). Lumen Gentium too showed the gratuity of our Christian call to participate in the Mission of the Church (LG 1). All of this carries a responsibility to God, and to individuals as Community. Bridger reminds those who forget that a code of ethics is designed to protect the rights of the Church as well. (See Bridger 2002: 1).

In this essay we identified the concepts of the common vocation of all Christians, and the notion that people are made in the likeness of God, as central notions in Gula’s code, which contribute to a renewed sense of the dignity of the persons pastoral leaders are called to serve, a renewed awareness of the pastoral leader’s own dignity and their responsibility to society (the community), the Church and to God. All the other issues discussed in the code hinge on these affirmations. We also looked at Gula’s understanding of the Christian’s moral life – a practical living out of what one believes. We saw how this has affected the presentation of his code i.e. not as a law to be enforced, but as a challenge to live up to. Finally we summed up the way of living up to this challenge in one word: Awareness on three levels: self, others and the community of the Church.
In accordance with the author’s own invitation to people to add to or develop his original ideas (Gula, 1996: 142), I would propose accountability in the use of finances and just remuneration to the pastoral leaders. A structure to implement the code could include the care that pastoral leaders, especially priests, should get and the amount of work they can carry as individuals for more effective witnessing.



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