Certainly the role of clerics is strongly associated with most religions that exist in the United States. Many Americans have fond memories of priests, ministers, rabbis, and other clerics who played major roles in our lives and families. They have often been with us through many of the milestones of life.
Some clerics have played indispensable roles in our history and culture. For example, for many generations African American ministers have played essential roles in unifying and protecting the African American community. They have upheld the principles of dignity, justice and victorious struggle through the most difficult times; no better example can be found than that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cherished memories and traditions must be balanced against many negative historical incidents. In our own country clerics have fueled religious bigotry, intolerance and anti-intellectualism. Clerics have led religious crusades, branded free thinkers as heretics, and--in the extreme case of Salem--have hanged innocent people as witches. Men of the cloth have sanctioned slavery, lynching, anti-semitism, and racism. Most recently a small group of priests, ministers and rabbis have been accused of serious crimes such as pedophilia and murder. Quite often clerics have been on the wrong side of history.
Shakyamuni and Nichiren both emphasized the equality of priests and lay people. Yet very often NST members are told "Go speak to Reverend Nakamoto" when they have questions--as if no one else is qualified give an answer. NST literature states "we should follow the guidance of the chief priest of our local temple as our direct master" and "it is an expression of great arrogance for lay believers to say that priests and laity are essentially equal."
Questions for Shinga Takikawa and Yuzui Murata:
Are priests and lay people absolutely equal?
Does a priest's daimoku have any more power than those of lay people?
Can a lay believer know more about Buddhism than a priest?
Can a layman understand the Gosho as deeply as a priest? Who is better qualified to give a Gosho lecture: a member who has been practicing 25 years or a 25-year-old priest?
Can there be good priests and bad priests? Can there be good and bad high priests?
What should an NST member do if he/she has a complaint about a priest?