Saturday, May 5, 2012

Where Charity and Love Prevail, there the Church is never found...

I have been reflecting a great deal lately on  the idea of church as a "big tent." It is true that we do not often get along. Theological issues, social issues, our own issues, and a whole host of other things divide us. Yet, paradoxically, we believe in a faith that says "so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." How did we get to this state?

Well, Christianity does not have a stellar history of inclusion and welcoming. We frequently find even the most minute reasons to hate each other. This rant is directed more at social issues than theological ones. Let me be clear: there are some unique theological issues that should and will divide us. A dear friend of mine, a Presbyterian pastor, said something to the effect of "our dialogue with each other in my denomination is now about such basic and long-accepted issues that it has become an interfaith dialogue." Depending on the severity of the issues, at this point we should likely part ways as friends and Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

No, my rant here is more devoted towards social issues. The first schisms were mainly the conservatives of many denominations. At the ordination of women, the inclusion of gays and lesbians,  and even interracial issues some people parted ways. This is most unfortunate, as they still had a story to tell and things to contribute. They left often hegemonic groups that had little or no diversity--what challenges and growth can come when you surround yourself with those that are just like you?

However, the conservatives are not completely to blame. The more liberal camp then made things intolerable. Without a strong voice against some of their plans, they began to steamroll over the opinions and thoughts of others. You must accept women's ordination or you must accept gay marriage... This, too, is as uncompromising as the views of their opponents. They alienated those that were left and made them out to be neo-conservative fanatics. This is especially unfortunate.

This author, for one, celebrates alternative episcopal oversight, societies devoted to a certain liturgy, etc. It allows individuals who feel called to a particular direction to band together as a group and maintain their beliefs at which they arrived with a well-formed conscience. They should not be made to accept a woman priest or forced to celebrate a gay marriage. However, they should also respect if another group decides that this is their wish. Oh, but in a perfect world...


  1. Often groups that profile themselves as ''open and inclusive'' become most intollerant as soon as one does not agree with them. i.e. does not ordain women or marry same sex couples. I call this the intollerance of the tollerant. And I do know from experience how vicious they can become.

  2. As a Vagrant Vicar myself, I can relate to the many posts on this site. When I read the post here, I can do nothing but shake my head and wipe a tear from my eye.

    A personal experience...As an Orthodox cleric, I went to visit the local Dignity community when I met one of the members at a local college's conference on "Religion's Response to Homosexuality." I learned that this group had no regular priest, had no regular services.

    What I attended shocked me. A defrocked priest presided over something that looked nothing like the Catholic mass and resembled more of a love feast. When I offered to being them a minimum of Eucharistic Devotion with Liturgy of the Hours, possibly Holy Communion or a Western Rite Orthodox liturgy I was met with silence. They seem to like being angry and militant.

    What I can't understand is why so many churches are so much against anyone who is not one of them. Jesus himself said, If they are not against us, they are for us..." Yet, as is a major case all over Christendom, we seem to be more content with criticizing others than opening our hearts to those who are in spiritual needs...clergy and laity alike.

  3. Well, this is a good and timely topic of discussion. Our sister and brother Christians are at all different levels of development in faith and spirituality. And among the independent clergy, you also have many different levels of training, education and ability. Interfacing these many variables is difficult and requires a strategy. What we need to do is respect what the others are doing and not be judgmental. We need to accept them where they are and not offer to change them. My liturgy is not any better than theirs. My priest is not better than theirs. They may not see their priest as "defocked," but may hold him in high esteem for his courage and perserverence. They may not value apostolic succession or Catholic sacramentality, but they are still Christians preaching the gospel and attempting to live apostolic lives. They may have been burned by the institutional church and fled from its trappings. They may find comfort in their own broken human experience of the church. Human nature seems to be suspicious of someone who is different or new (strange) and that is why it is important to develop a relationship with other communities through multiple meetings and contacts. I frequently visit a Messianic Jewish Church in NYC where the pastor feels called to promote Jesus for his Jewish brethren who have accepted Jesus. He has been doing this for over forty years. He knows the scriptures well and he preaches scriptural and balanced sermons from the heart. He dresses in plain clothes, the liturgy is community based and is a simple Hebrew lighting of the Sabath candles by a woman and the blessing of the gifts(challah bread and grape juice) with the words of institution which can be said by any member of the community in unscripted language. The service is accompanied by a small band of musicians and vocalists. Everyone seems to be equal in the community. He has a large following and they meet in plain auditorium rooms at a Christian Church on Friday evenings. Before their communal session they have a small group Bible Study and a Meditative and intensive oral prayer time in a separate room. I attend as a visitor and participant but I am very well received as a clergyman and sometimes give private counseling to some members who have requested it. Afterwards, there is a social hour of fellowship with food and drink. This is a perfectly good Christian Community very different from others I have seen and they are dedicated to Jesus and his gospel. They have no concerns about a particular liturgy, or about sacraments and apostolic succession. Money and finances are not mentioned but there is a collection box on a rear table. We all have baggage that we carry with us and sometimes that interfers with our relationships with other people and other Christians. A Passionist priest under whom I studied theology over forty years ago taught me a very important lesson -- and that was to see other Christians and other religions in a phenomenological way. That means you observe and listen and experience the faith (church, liturgy, teachings) of the other group or person but you do not make any judgments about it. You simply observe it without any critique or acceptance or comparisons to what you know. That seems to be a way of being open and inclusive without letting your own baggage get in the way. In this way, you do not give offense and you do not take offense. Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan