Lesson 17: The Church’s Damaged Voice

Lost Voice Remember this series has tried to focus on the Church’s role in a democracy. I began with two assumptions and two related questions. The first assumption was that, at least presently, we are not sure what the relationship of Church and State is. The consequent question was whether the institutional church really has a significant role in a modern democracy.

The second assumption was that the modern technological society presents tremendous challenges for the processes on which democracy depends. The question was whether a true democracy can survive.

Of course, I know my position. After all, I have been a committed believer as long as I can remember and a dedicated Lutheran pastor most of that time. At the same time, I have reached a point in life where I have the time and confidence to test those positions. That has been my approach ever since Scott, more or less, forced me to begin writing these online lessons. I decided as long as I was doing it, I should find some personal benefit. And I decided one way that I would do that was by paying special attention to how other people responded.

Little did I expect in the midst of this series, the Roman Catholic clergy scandals would make the headlines. Right when I asked myself how average citizens were hearing the church’s voice, the news services reported they heard an institution trying to impose oppressive sexual teachings on them. The general public has long regarded reducing Christian faith to opposing abortion and homosexuality as an indication the church is obsessed with sex. Now they see the scandal revealing the hypocrisy involved.

Of course, the Evangelicals have a similar problem. They reduced Christianity to a set of supposed family values that center on opposing abortion and homosexuality. They too appear to be obsessed with sexual issues and fraught with hypocrisy as one celebrity preacher after another falls to scandal.

Quite frankly, in recent years I have often felt the general public has a better grasp of Jesus’ teachings than the institutional church. They recognize that family values include faithfulness and sharing, shake their heads when Evangelicals give priority to opposing abortion and homosexuality, and snicker when strong national defense is ranked third. They understand the Gospel demands repentance and love for God and other people and roll their eyes when conservative catholics try to continue the cover up by claiming the problem is homosexuality rather than power abusing vulnerability. Decent people shudder when some advocating this version of Christianity stoop to provoking fear about transgendered restrooms and same sex marriages.

I don’t want to pile on, but really do think it is time we stop being nice about people distorting the faith. The top priorities of orthodox Christianity are not opposition to all forms of abortion and homosexuality. To define Jesus’ teaching in this fashion is at least self-serving and, in most cases, far more troubling.

At the same time, I really have nothing to add about the absurdity and hypocrisy that most of society, whether believers or not, have already observed. As I suggested above, I think it is more important to address the two assumptions and questions I presented at the beginning of this short essay and that is what I intend to do in the next couple lessons. If the church is to regain a credible voice in the present society, she needs to find creative answers to those questions.

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3 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Rita Yeasted says:

    We talk about the who, the what, and the where–but not the why. The Church cannot come to terms with human sexuality. I have had Rustum Roy on my mind during all this. His book “Honest Sex” is on the shelf next to me. And that was not just the Roman Catholic Church. Sex is a powerful force in our lives. To deny that force has drastic results. Unfortunately, when some of these men entered the minor seminary at 14, they got almost no real help in understanding sex, just learned the sinfulness connected with it. If we take away the pleasure of sex, the need for touch, the yearning for friendship and connection with another and drum into their heads that to break one’s vows will lead to hellfire, you put a young man out there who is both idealistic and naive. Some fell in love and left after enormous emotional upheaval. Others, unfortunately, preyed on young children, mostly boys, because their respect for the priests allowed them easy access. And the sins went on. The screaming about homosexuals in the ministry has been going on all week. But I have not seen a person in authority in the Church (from Francis to my accused bishop) who is willing to say, We need to examine why these men turned to this behavior. Could it have been because we denied them a healthy relationship and marriage? Or to put it another way: What has making women objects of temptation for centuries wrought in this mess? What is REAL reason we can’t talk about women in ministry? Would we be too close to the male priests and cause them to have problems with their vows?

    One half amusing thought I had this morning: Celibacy was put in place in the RC Church to protect the Church’s property and wealth. The sons of the hierarchy took over the Church properties as part of their legacy. This crisis has already bankrupted many American dioceses, and if they change the statute of limitations in Pa., it will bankrupt more. How ironic that to protect the property centuries ago, we will lose it because of the law today. Instead of giving the money to sons, we are giving it to lawyers…

  2. Lupe Andrade says:

    Why? I think the shortest and clearest answer to your question is the celibacy trap. Forced, lifelong celibacy. Men and women have, as an essential part of their DNA, of their humanness, the built-in need for sex, and this comes with need for companionship and sharing. Humans are social beings. They do not want to be alone. Sure, there have been anchorites, hermits, lamas, vestals, cloistered nuns and monks who chose and choose this life of abstinence and make it into a true calling. However, this usually entails a special decision and a special environment where adhering to silence or fasting or chastity is made possible and protected. The priesthood is a different story and the Church here, seems to have made a sort of wrong turn. Asking men (and women) to work on streets, factories, neighborhoods and situations that include frequent contact in diverse situations with others, and in a time when stimuli and temptation are ever present in the form of film, photo and video, not to speak of close personal encounters, is to ask for incredible and heroic self-control, during en entire lifetime. This means requiring men (and women) to give up, not just sex, but family and family life, and companionship and support/help. This is incredibly difficult over a lifetime. Even Roman vestals only served as virginal guardians of the holy flames for 30 years… and were free to marry afterward (though it wasn’t frequent). The whole virginity obsession of the Church (we must remember that this went so far (in the 20th Century no less) as to assert that Mary remained a virgin (untouched) even after birth showed an attitude toward sex that almost made it an automatic sin, even within marriage. Not healthy. This, coupled with obligatory male chastity for priests (sometimes “replaced” by corporal punishment… a practice even now espoused by the extremists of the Opus Dei faction) skirted uncomfortably close to masochism and sadism to be healthy. And let’s not be hypocritical…we are noto nly talking of priests and nuns: society as a whole has often imposed near-impossible standards on people… just look back to the forties and fifties in the United States, with puritanical chastity standards belied by reality, but covered up with things like secretive and penitential “homes for unwed mothers”.

    In fact, dear Fritz, we, in human societies and in many religious practices, seem inclined to label some fairly common practices as “sinful” or “forbidden”, while masking or even protecting unsavory things like abusing children, marking women as congenitally inferior, making menstruation shameful, or labeling homosexuality as an aberration meriting punishment as severe as death itself, have been common, well-regulated practices in many religions, not just Catholicism. Religion can be a venue for violence: let us not forget heretic and/or witch burnings! So complicated… so controversial and yet, Christianity continues to provide a path, perhaps the best path toward a sane, healthy and ethical life.

    Pope Francis is a good and saintly man making the best of a horrible situation. However, he is still far from being a revolutionary leader (if he had been that, he would have never become Pope). He works within a structure that has enormous flaws, accumulated over time like stresses on a Cathedral’s columns, until the whole structure stands in danger of collapse. And yet, the underlying faith, the ethics, the selflessness and generosity, the firm steadfast core at the heart of Christianity are undeniable, and should be protected. How to do it? I wish I knew.

  3. Paul Wildman says:

    If the church is to have significant role in a modern democracy it must offer a significant response to modern technology as we move toward ubiquitous algorithms and transhumanism.
    The big question is what does it mean to be fully alive as a Christian in a post human world.

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