Category Archives: Equality

15 November, Bishops Don’t Speak for All of Us

Increasing numbers of folks are saying “the bishops don’t speak for me”. Some would go so far as to say, “the church does not speak for me”. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that what the bishops say does not square with what folks experience in their own life.

We encounter God in life as we live it, not as somebody else tells us it ought to be. We hear the Gospel in the setting of whatever is going on in our life. There is a lot going on in all our lives these days, much of which has not happened before, and the Gospel offers context and insight. It is the same God who reveals His/Her Self in each of us with all our differences and our sameness. Since God’s first self-revelation is creation, the more we understand about creation the more awareness we have of God. In the words of Benedict XVI, “Every one of us is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God, everyone is important, everyone is necessary, none of us is an accident”. How then can the bishops declare anyone to be “intrinsically disordered”?

Folks today do not react well to threats, so they do not pay attention to the bishops’ threats, among which are: declaring that folks who vote for a particular candidate are committing serious sin; if a person is not strongly enough against abortion they cannot receive Communion; if a person lives an unapproved lifestyle they cannot receive Communion and are going to hell; priests who are in favor of the ordination of women can be silenced, excommunicated, or thrown out of their religious order; any person or governmental agency that does not wholly agree with everything the bishops say is violating the bishops’ religious freedom; the list goes on.

The bishops have been very effective at driving folks away, and many seem to be smugly proud of their performance. They pontificate on the “hate the sin love the sinner” phrase, which folks know is at the same level as “separate but equal” of a generation ago – false, misleading, abusive. They are either unaware of, or don’t care about, the pain they are inflicting on very many good folks. How does it feel for parents of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to hear their children condemned as “intrinsically disordered” from pulpits and in the media? How do our same LGBTQ brothers and sisters feel when they hear themselves so condemned? Always, of course, in the name of Jesus who never did such things himself.

There are, though, compassionate and pastoral bishops who have found less confrontational ways to serve their people. They just keep quiet about it, and who can blame them? Many of their peers can be very nasty. Often they have been pastors, not bureaucrats, functionaries, or diplomats, and have a feel for their people, walk with them, and, in the words of Francis, “have the smell of the sheep”.

The bishops are very big on “religious freedom”, but it seems this only applies to the bishops themselves. Good folks of other or no traditions who do not share the bishops’ ideas are said to be interfering with the bishops’ religious freedom. Others it would seem, have no right to this freedom. The bishops seem to think that strict enforcement of absolute obedience to increasingly detailed laws and practices that have nothing to do with doctrine imitates Jesus and brings people to him, and that folks are to fully accept these dicta even though their living experience shows they are neither valid nor true. It is no wonder people are just walking away.

Francis is not telling us what to think, but showing us how to think — through the lens of Jesus’ loving mercy. Jesus calls all of us to live this way. Many folks on the street get this, even without using approved words or ideas. They know it is not right to cause people pain because someone disapproves of them or their lifestyle. They know the people in their lives and recognize the good will that all of us have in some way. We are all trying to do our best in a life that is not easy or fair. We do not need others who have no idea of what our lives are like telling us how to live. We need to love and support each other, not threaten or condemn. We do not have to agree always, but we have to be as like Jesus as we can.

If we are serious about following Jesus our responsibility is to look for him and the Holy Spirit in our lives and go where this takes us. For some this might mean closely following the bishops’ dicta, for others it might mean moving in a different direction.

The bishops don’t seem to get it. They are still issuing edicts and cramming miserable liturgical translations down folks’ throats. Other bishops’ conferences have rejected the mandated liturgical translations as bad. Not so the American Bishops’ Conference. They eagerly direct yet more wretched translations of other rites and ceremonies. Does anybody really care? Probably not, except the priests who have to make sense of the verbiage, and who often are quite creative.

Years back a bishop told me, “Do what you think is right, I don’t have to know everything”. Not much of that these days. Some priests are doing just that – helping folks as best they can, and just not publicizing it. In all honesty, there is good feeling in this. We are just trying to follow Jesus as we know him in our own prayer life.

Just saying   .   .   .

14 November, Current Church

In the Gospel Story for this Sunday (Luke 21:5-19) Jesus speaks of the end times when things will get bad before he comes again. In many ways this Story can be talking about the Church in our day.

Let me begin by saying I firmly believe Jesus meant it when he said, “I will be with you always, even till the end of time”, and, “ the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you”. I believe this is what is happening in our day.

Apocalyptic Stories like today’s Story were written to encourage Jesus’ followers back then, and when we let them, they can do the same for us in our day as we look at what is happening with the serious problems in our church today:

  • diminishing numbers of priests – male and celibate; yet in our own local diocesan area there are approximate 100 validly ordained priests who are not permitted to function because they have felt the call to marry and raise a family; they way they are treated shows the vindictive nature of an institution that claims to act in the name of Jesus who was not vindictive; the hierarchy prefers to deny people access to Eucharist and instead maintains its own power by insisting on celibacy.
  • the most serious sin in the church today is publicly being in favor of the ordination of women; a number of priests have been silenced, excommunicated, expelled from their religious orders for publicly supporting women priests; there are several groups of women priests who are prophetically blazing the way.
  • while the hierarchy is dead set against marriage equality, increasing numbers of folks are in favor of it; also, the way our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are treated by the hierarchy reflects neither the experience nor the attitude of increasing numbers of folks.
  • the hierarchy demands total obedience to non-doctrinal orders that reflect neither the gospel, Jesus’ own way of living and reaching out to folks, nor our own experience of life, which is, after all, where we encounter God.
  • many folks, especially the young, are just walking away since the church has no meaning or importance for them, and there are fewer church baptisms and marriages; many of these young families are living quite well without church involvement, and in their own way are living the virtues the church teaches (in words not often not by example), as when a young family chooses to share their lives by adopting a baby without laying down conditions, just moving along together in love and trust.
  • decreasing relevance of the hierarchy as fewer and fewer people pay any attention to what the bishops say about anything; the pontifications of the bishops on matters they know nothing about has demonstrated in the eyes of many their incompetence and irrelevance, and so they are ignored; very few bishops know first hand the challenges of family life from the husband-wife or mother-father perspectives, yet they presume to tell these couples how to live the most intimate areas of their relationships, and thus are promptly ignored; some bishops presume to practice medicine by condemning good folks who have with good will and and abundance of medical and ethics experience chosen a course of action that bishops don’t like.
  • the perception that the church management is more interested in its own privileges than in the welfare of the people and is not following Jesus, who reached out in love to everyone, but is more interested in controlling who can get to God: labeling LGBTQ as ‘intrinsically disordered’, keeping folks whose first marriages failed and whose second attempts to find happiness are not within church norms, from sharing fully in Eucharist.
  • rather than reaching out to all by living Jesus’ gospel and life of mercy, the institution sees its role as controlling access to God by keeping out any who do not subscribe to all its believe or who do not use exactly the right words, etc; keeping the rules of the institution is seen to be more important than following the example of Jesus as folks see it in their own life and according to their own conscience.
  • the hierarchy’s practice of silencing and punishing priests who dare to talk about matters which by church edict cannot even be discussed: optional celibacy, women priests, etc.; also the style of many bishops who govern by fear and threats, either stated or implied.
  • there seem to be two churches – the church of the hierarchy, and the church of the folks in the pews or who used to be in the pews; increasingly folks are writing off the former as embarrassing and irrelevant, while maintaining some connection with the latter; many ignore both.

I believe the Holy Spirit is teaching us what it means to follow Jesus in our own life today. God happens in real life – our life as we live and understand it, and not as someone else tells us it should be. As Benedict and Francis have said, our primary responsibility as a follower of Jesus is to live an open and trusting relationship with him and go where it takes us. Many folks are doing just that. The turmoil of these days shows the Spirit is stirring things up, and raising up courageous folks living prophetically at great cost to themselves and their families.

Structures and institutions are good servants but bad masters. They tend to develop their own goals of self-preservation at all costs. They have to be questioned constantly as to whether they still have the values of the reason they were created – in the case of religious institutions, do they live Jesus’ gospel? Do they facilitate folks’ learning from and following Jesus, or just the opposite?

A question for all of us is whether or not to get involved, or just to sit back and do nothing. Each of us has to answer for ourselves. The recent request from the Vatican (in preparation for next fall’s Synod on the Family) to consult with everybody down to the parish level shows some glimmer of awareness that the ordinary folks know things and have a lot to contribute, and that the Holy Spirit does not guide only from the top down, but often from the bottom up. We are all the People of God.

Having a prayerful and trusting relationship with God however we know Her/Him is essential these days. While we can share our thoughts, we cannot impose them on others, no matter who tells us that others who disagree with us have no rights.

Just sayin   .   .   .

27 July, More Questions

Another question: what does it mean to follow Jesus? Is a person to follow Jesus as she/he is coming to know Him, or are they to follow a Jesus someone else tells them about? If someone is coming to know Jesus as one among us who loves each of us beyond anything we can describe, how are they to deal with a Jesus presented as someone to be feared and obeyed, and whose dictates conveniently correspond to those of a given religious institution? On one’s journey is it possible to be firmly committed to be open to Jesus as we come to know him, and yet reject rules and demands that clearly conflict with the Jesus one is coming to know? If Jesus tells his followers to love God with their whole being and love their neighbor as themselves, how does one’s relational or marital status affect their ability to do this? Or how does anyone get the right to tell others whom they can love and how?

What is a person to do when they come to realize that the operational values of an institution purporting to be the only way to Jesus clearly do not reflect the values that Jesus lived and taught to his disciples? What happens when a person realizes that, while Jesus said people will know his followers by the love they have for each other, many who claim to be his followers conduct themselves in a self-righteous, judgemental, belittling, and abusive way, castigating any who do not agree with them? What happens when folks on their journey come to realize that the Father presented to us by Jesus is not an angry God who plans to send people to hell for missing Mass on Sunday, or not thinking holy thoughts about him all the time, or the occasional sexual lapses or “bad thoughts”, and so on?

What does it mean when a tradition teaches that each of us without exception is made in the image and likeness of God, is the consequence of a thought in the mind of God, each of us is important, each of us is necessary, and none of us is an accident, and then some institutions claim in God’s name to lay down qualifications and standards as to what God really had in mind, and it is not some folks if they are in certain categories? What does it mean when a person is coming to know profoundly in their own life the experience and meaning of the “Our Father” as being in direct contact and relationship with God, and then encounters a system that imposes its own interpretation with itself as the sole intermediary and means of access? What does it mean when persons, perhaps aware of God with them on their journey, perhaps not, find themselves in a strong and committed relationship and some institutions condemn them for this? How are these folks to feel? While they might know somehow God loving them, they do not find his love in some institutions that claim to speak and act in his name. What are they to do?

What are folks to do when they approach representatives of religious institutions with serious life impacting questions and receive all-knowing answers which clearly do not reflect real life issues and relationships? Can an institution really have relationships? Is there a difference between relationships as studied in books and classes, and as lived out in real life? What happens when a person on his/her  journey comes to realize that Jesus doesn’t always provide answers, but very often raises more questions?

What happens when persons who are suffering the pain of coming to know their own sexual identity are told by an institution claiming to speak on behalf of God that, unless they follow a lifestyle that is in accord with the institution’s norms they will be punished for all eternity, as will their parents if they do not change their offspring’s behavior? What gives any person or institution the right to tell these images of God that they are “intrinsically disordered”? Where is Jesus in all this?

What about an institution that claims to be the only way to a loving God, yet keeps its ministers in line by threats and silencing, and the perceived power to damage their livelihood – in other words don’t rock the boat, speak the party line, or you will be in trouble? Faced with this, few ministers speak out publicly what they think and say privately, and who can blame them? Many who have had the courage to speak out loud are paying the price.

Is this what Jesus had in mind when he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another; as I have loved you, so you must love one another; by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”?

Just wonderin   .   .   .

26 July, This Week’s Questions

There  are some big questions surfacing these days about what it is to be a follower or disciple of Jesus, and what is the role of the church, or of any religious system, in all this.

For example, is sharing in Eucharist the right and need of all people, or is it a reward for good behavior and thinking right thoughts, and threat of its withdrawal a weapon to keep folks in line? Is society really evil and a threat to religious freedom, or is society where the Reign of God happens since it is where people are and live? Which is is more important in a relationship – its quality or its mechanics? Why is there such a disconnect between the lived experience and pastoral needs of folks on the one hand, and on the other the disciplinary and management structure of the church? Why does church management (it certainly does not qualify as leadership) consistently ignore the lived experience of the folks, their talents and wisdom, the practicalities of their daily living, and instead attempt to impose its dictates on all? Is it time for the church to stop carping on marriage and focus instead on Holy Matrimony?

Celibate males, who seem to have been calling the shots through much of church history, rarely have any firsthand experience of the pain of a failed marital relationship. They cavalierly issue decrees on how folks have to fit in with given norms and similies of marriage, and if they don’t, punish them for their failure and pain by denying them Eucharist, always, of course, in the name of Jesus who never did any such thing during his time among us. They take the position, it seems, that this is how Jesus would act if he had all the facts. The lifestyle of church managers keeps many of them from having to experience the pain and messiness of ordinary folks’ daily life.  Relationships are rarely neat and orderly, and often messy, but they are real and happen among real persons, not subjects of a law. Management, whose decrees are far removed from many folks lived experiences, claim to speak for Jesus. And so they establish procedures for folks to get back to the good graces of the church, procedures that are often experienced as humiliating, invasive, and abusive. Put bluntly, the system neither recognizes nor cares for the pastoral needs of the folks.  Maintaining power, order, and control is much more important. Apparently that is ok, because “The Church Says  .  .  .”. Always in the name of Jesus. Jesus said “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mk 2:27). Management seems to reverse this, teaching that folks have to obey management’s rules first before they can draw near to Jesus. Its consequences for folks remarrying after divorce is a good example, as are those for “unacceptable” relationships. Folks who would offer sincere pastoral care are often brutally sanctioned for their efforts.

Is society really evil? Francis doesn’t seem to think so. Fortunately it doesn’t look like our young folks think so either. American church managers see society as dangerous to religious freedom. Whose religious freedom? It seems that in their minds they are the only ones entitled to this. Any who do disagree with them are not. Francis points out the good that is happening in the midst of evil and suffering, and encourages folks to let their relationship with Jesus move them to get involved and make things better. He might be saying the same thing about the evil that is in religious institutions and systems where folks are being mistreated and abused, punished for thinking and questioning.

A number of respected theologians throughout the world are asking if it is time for the church to get out of the marriage business and focus instead on Holy Matrimony. Marriage is a civil matter with civil consequences, none of which need concern the church. In many countries a couple must get married civilly before they can have a religious ceremony which has no civil impact. Sounds to me like a good idea. If a civilly married couple chooses to have a religious dimension to their marriage they can approach a church and ask for a religious celebration of Holy Matrimony. Their choice.

It seems, rightly or wrongly, that in many cases the only way to get any good done in many areas of the church these days is through some form of disobedience. Many priests and pastoral care ministers are faced with this on a regular basis. But, then, Jesus did the same. He welcomed and ate with folks deemed unclean by the religious system of his day. He touched the untouchables, spent time with outcasts, spoke and acted forcefully against abuses, lived and moved among the people. He reminded them constantly that they had direct and immediate access to their Father, and lived his Father’s love. It seems in many ways he is doing the same things today through his followers, many of whom are experiencing the same mistreatment as he did.

It must be said that there undoubtedly are many wonderful and pastoral church managers whose decisions reflect their own personal pastoral care and courage. They just are not well-known outside their own territories. If they are known, often they are sanctioned in some way.

There is another basic question: which is more important – meeting the pastoral needs of the folks, or keeping an institution’s self-preserving laws? Often one has to make a choice, as often the two are mutually exclusive. As both Benedict and Francis have said, the basic role of any who would be followers of Jesus is to live in an open and trusting relationship with Jesus, and go wherever it takes them. And be ready to take up the cross.

Just sayin   .   .  .

30 June, Journey

In the Story Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” where, according to Luke’s perspective, he would be put to death for his unacceptable ideas. He invited several folks to follow him, but they were concerned about what it might cost them. Jesus said things like: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head”; “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God”. He doesn’t offer much comfort and security as we understand them. He doesn’t offer fancy clothes, bling, nice houses, comfortable lifestyle. What he really offers is a chance to follow him in suffering. This is serious stuff. He does not promise popularity or approval. On our journey each of us has to do what we think is right. While we might share our journey with others, we cannot ipose it on anyone.

Jesus does not call his followers to an easy life, but often to suffering. There are many folks who believe Jesus is calling them to take unpopular positions on controversial topics, which bring them into conflict with a religious institution. Can anyone say for certain that folks who feel their journey with Jesus calls them to come into conflict with a given church’s position are not truly following Jesus?

In the current commotion around DOMA and Prop 8 there are many folks whose perspective is not that of the hierarchy. Can anyone say for sure that these folks are not doing what they believe Jesus is calling them to do? Can anyone say for sure, as some are, that the Justices who voted either way were not following what their consciences and Jesus told them was right for them to do?

Can anyone say that parents of children who are described by church hierarchy as “intrinsically disordered” are not following Jesus’ example in loving and supporting their children? Or that persons who minister to the gay and lesbian community in ways not approved by the hierarchy are not following Jesus as they are coming to know him?

Any idea of Jesus, no matter how great or grand it might be, is nowhere near who Jesus really is. Anyone’s idea of Jesus tells more about them and their perceived needs than about Jesus. If we find that Jesus always agrees with us on everything, we might have to relook and rethink. No one has the right to impose their notion of Jesus on anyone else, or to judge someone whose idea of Jesus is different.

Many of these folks are already coming to experience what Jesus meant when he said that his followers had to take up their cross daily and be his disciple. Our crosses show us Jesus and teach us about ourselves. Jesus tells us not to judge, but to walk with each other and help each other with our crosses. We need a prayerful relation with Jesus to bring us all together. There is a lot of pain these days. Each of us has caused some for others. Each of us can also bring healing to others. This is why Jesus tells us to follow him and spend time with him, so we can come to know him, and gradually move towards living as he lived.

We need to give serious though as to how serious we want to be about trying to be Jesus’ disciple. It might be pretty costly. Look how his journey turned out.

Just sayin . .