Tag Archives: women’s ordination

Church, Faith, Tolerance and Reconcilliation

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“Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.” Paul Tillich

My friends, I write this because of something that happened to me a couple of days ago. It was an incident that upset me greatly because it ended up in the fracturing of a relationship by a friend who evidently could not tolerate where I was in my life as a priest and Christian. I discovered again the reality of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there will be nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words… never really speaking to others.”

My experience of the Church is profoundly influenced by my life in the nether world of the military culture. My world view is shaped by a blending of various Christian traditions, mutual support and collaboration among believers of often radically different points of view. Because of the love, care and mentoring of people from a blend of different traditions I came to know God and survived a tumultuous childhood with many moves.

As a historian I have been blessed to study church history from the early Church Fathers to the present. As I look to church history I find inspiration in many parts of the Christian tradition. In fact rather being threatened by them I have become appreciative of their distinctiveness. I think that there is a beauty in liturgy and stability in the councils and creeds of the Church. At the same time the prophetic voice of evangelical preaching shapes me, especially the message of freedom and tolerance embodied in the lives and sacrifice of men like John Leland, the American Baptist who helped pioneer the concept of Freedom of Religion established in the Constitution of the United States, of William Wilberforce who labored to end slavery in England and, Martin Luther King Jr. who led the Civil Rights movement.

Likewise that prophetic message of the faith is demonstrated in the ministry, writing and martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his contemporaries Martin Niemoller and Jesuit priest Father Rupert Meyer. All three resisted and preached against the evils of Nazism. In a more contemporary setting I am inspired by Bishop Desmond Tutu who helped topple apartheid in South Africa.

Women like Teresa of Avila and St Catherine show me that women have a legitimate place of ministry and leadership in the Church. I am convinced through my study of Church history, theology and a deep belief in the power of the Holy Spirit that women can and should serve as Priests and Bishops in the church.

My theology has shaped by the writings of Hans Kung, Yves Congar, Jurgen Moltmann, Andrew Greeley, and Henry Nouwen. I’ve been challenged by St Francis of Assissi, John Wesley and Martin Luther. I am especially inspired by Pope John XXIII whose vision brought about the Second Vatican Council and I am inspired by Pope Francis.

I pray that Christians can live in peace with one another and those who do not share our faith. I pray that we can find ways to overcome the often very legitimate hurts, grievances and divisions of our 2000 year history. At the same time I pray that we can repent from our own wrongs and work to heal the many wounds created by Christians who abused power, privilege and even those who oppressed others, waged war and killed in the name of Jesus.

I do not believe that neither triumphalism nor authoritarianism has a place in in a healthy understanding of the church and how we live. I am suspicious of any clergy who seek power in a church or political setting. I profoundly reject any argument that requires the subjection of one Church with its tradition to any other Church. In fact I think that the arrogance and intolerance of Christians to others is a large part of why people are leaving the church in droves and that the fastest growing “religious group” is the “nones” or those with no religious preference. Andrew Greeley said something that we should take to heart:

“People came into the Church in the Roman Empire because the Church was so good — Catholics were so good to one another, and they were so good to pagans, too. High-pressure evangelization strikes me as an attempt to deprive people of their freedom of choice.”

I grew up in and have lived my life in a very open and ecumenical environment. I have lost any trace denominational parochialism and competition that I might have had if I had become a pastor of a civilian parish instead of a chaplain. It is interesting that the pastor that first ordained me in the evangelical tradition and the bishop that ordained me as a priest both did so with the intent that I serve as a chaplain. Whether it was the recognition of a gifting for the work or the fact that they didn’t want me messing up their civilian operations by asking hard questions I will never know.

I believe that my environment and the men and women who have helped shape my life have been a stronger influence in the way I think about ecumenical relations and ministry than my actual theology or ecclesiology. Whether they were Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals or even those considered by many to be outside the faith including Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Mormons and even complete non-believers all have contributed to my life and faith.

I have grown weary of refighting theological debates that have divided the church for a thousand years. Since what we know of theology including our Scriptures and Creeds are based on faith and not science I see no reason to continue to battle.

That doesn’t mean that I think we should put our brains in neutral but rather we must wrestle with how to integrate our faith with science, philosophy and reason, otherwise we will become irrelevant. In that sense I identify with Saint Anslem of Canterbury who wrote about a faith seeking understanding and Erasmus of Rotterdam who very well understood the importance of both faith and reason. In that sense I am very much at home with the Anglian triad of Scripture, Reason and Tradition when it comes to approaching faith.

I struggle with faith and belief. After Iraq I spent two years as a practical agnostic. As Andrew Greeley wrote: “Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.” Andrew Greeley “The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St Germain”

I am an Old Catholic and believe that inter-communion does not require from either communion the acceptance of all doctrinal opinion, sacramental devotion, or liturgical practice characteristic of the other, but implies that each believes the other to hold all the essentials of the Christian faith. I like to think that I embody what the early Anglicans referred to as the via media and that somehow my life and ministry has been about building bridges at the intersections of faith with a wide diversity of people.

When I have tried to embrace traditionalism or choose to fight theological battles I have ended up tired, bitter and at enmity with other Christians. In a sense when I tried those paths I found that they didn’t work for me. I discovered that I was not being true to who God had created and guided my life, education and experience. I feel like T. E. Lawrence who wrote:

“The rare man who attains wisdom is, by the very clearness of his sight, a better guide in solving practical problems than those, more commonly the leaders of men, whose eyes are misted and minds warped by ambition for success….”

My favorite theological debates have been with other chaplains over pints of good beer in German Gasthausen or Irish pubs. Those were good times, we argued but we also laughed and always left as friends and brothers. I believe since we are human that none of us will ever fully comprehend all of God or his or her truth. I believe that the Holy Spirit, God’s gracious gift to her people will guide us into all Truth. For me my faith has become more about relationships and reconciliation than in being right.

As far as those who disagree with me that is their right, or your right if you disagree. I don’t expect agreement and I am okay with differences and even if I disagree with an individual or how another religious denominations polity, theology, beliefs or practices those are their rights. In fact I am sure that those that believe things that I don’t are at least as sincere as me and that those beliefs are important to them. I just ask that people don’t try to use them to force their faith or belief on others, be it in churches or by attempting to use the power of government to coerce others into their belief systems.

To my friend who broke contact with me when I refused to debate his argument that I should submit myself to his Church and tradition, the door is open for reconciliation.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Jousting at Windmills: The Quixotesque Life of Padre Steve

I believe that I have reached a rather Quixotesque stage in my life.  I have in my passion for moderation decided to be fair and balanced and with a rather unexpected result. I now joust with windmills. Some of my fellow Christians have gotten upset at me for doing so as they rather seem to like those windmills. It seems that in the current political climate for a Christian to offer criticism of other Christians or for that matter the conservative political movement is something akin to denying the Deity of Christ or worse.

I have been taken to task for a number of things such as defending the rights of Moslems, women’s ordination, the rights of homosexuals, criticizing conservative talk show hosts (I criticize liberals too but seldom get attacked for that), criticizing the almost incestuous relationship between the “Christian right” with the Republican Party and even more conservative political groups and ideologies and the equation of nearly all things American with the Christian faith by some.

This attitude starts at the top of the Church; Pope Benedict gives a great example to follow when he censured Cardinal Chrisoph Schoenborn of Vienna for criticizing the retired Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Soldano for his handling of and interference in the discipline of clergy in the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church. The Pope censured Schoenborn, not Soldano and made the pronouncement that only he could criticize a Cardinal.  Not long afterward the Vatican released a document that supposedly makes it easier for the Church to go after the sexual predators in the Church while at the same time declaring women’s ordination to be a “major crime against the church” which I think is what pedophilia is.  Others have determined that since the world seems to be attacking Jesus, the Christian faith and the Church that criticism of Christian leaders by other Christians is off limits.

I commented recently on the case of Shirley Sherrod an official in the Agriculture Department that was smeared by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart and made to look like the very face of racism in America.  A number of hosts on the Fox News Channel ran with the story before checking it out only having to recant a day later, a day after Sherrod had been forced to resign by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilseck and the White House.  It turned out that she was the victim and a story from her life of redemption and reconciliation presented as her being a racist by crafty editing of the video of a 45 minute long speech.  My comment that no matter whether it was Dan Rather using faked documents to try to damage then President George W Bush or Brietbart and his action against Mrs. Sherrod that these actions were both dishonorable.  A now former Facebook friend (she dropped me) and lay member of my denomination took issue with me and in what turned into a rather personal and harsh exchange I was called a number of names and accused of comparing me to her mother and stepfather like them having a “distortion of reality.” This individual chose not to deal with what my comments were but to take my posting as an attack on her conservative views, which they were most certainly not.  I tried to keep on point but this woman would have none of it.  I found the exchange as fascinating as one would a car wreck.  Now to be fair this woman was the only person that acted this way but her passion was to defend the actions of Breitbart and Fox News because “the country was hell bent on socialism” and that she was going to “do whatever she could to make people aware of it.” It was clear to me that she was so tied to her ideology that she could not be objective and I finally left the conversation. Now I know some liberals that are the same way to be sure, but for Christians to somehow almost equate a political and economic philosophy with the faith is somehow rather un-Jesus like.

Obviously in the interest of the truth I was looking for this confrontation, if not with her with someone else because I know that with some people and it does not matter whether they are conservatives or liberals there is no reasoning, no room for differing opinions.  In the religion and politics of 2010 there are no longer opponents but enemies, yea verily mortal enemies who with their repugnant ideologies must be crushed and in fact those close to them that deviate are even worse for they have betrayed the respective orthodoxy of the zealots of the left or the right.  In my rather brief public life writing on this site I have found the nastiest to be the religious conservatives that take issue with what I write.  The attitude reminds me of the Moslem extremists, militant Ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Hindu Fundamentalists, all of whom have no tolerance for those different than them and often bent on enforcing their beliefs on those that do not follow their religion often violently.   Please know that I am only comparing attitudes not results as with the exception of a few people American Christians have not resorted to violence to achieve their ends though I would posit that the more radical and politically committed conservative or Fundamentalist Christians that have become with more extreme right wing groups have this potential.

Now as far as matter of criticizing big name Christian leaders which I did last week with the knowledge that some would be upset with me and I confess that I am guilty as charged.  I decided to joust with this windmill by posting a link to an article in that bastion of truth and moral turpitude the National Enquirer which showed the incredibly popular televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn cavorting in Rome under an assumed name with the rather sultry female televangelist and pastor Paula White. Now White is divorced and Hinn’s wife has filed for divorce but it is not final. In old fashioned fundament talk this is called adultery.  Add to the mix that both are under investigation by a Senate Committee for financial dealings in their ministries.

Now I have a rather unique take on this as I worked for a television ministry the last couple of years of seminary and while waiting to enter into a Clinical Pastoral Education.  While the ministry that I worked with was definitely above board we occasionally had other televangelists including the previously mentioned Benny Hinn visit our studios and basically act like they were better than the people that worked there.  At conferences that our ministry hosted which included many of the top preachers of the day there were some speakers that acted the same way but thankfully some that exuded grace and kindness.  One of the things that I noticed was the vast amount of money involved in Christian Television and some of the rather cutthroat programming and financial practices of the largest network, the Terrible Blond Network.

Since the late 1980s and early 1990s scandals, financial, sexual and sometimes criminal have engulfed many of the largest names in the television ministry and mega-church world.  Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Larry Lee, Bob Tilton, Peter Popoff, Ted Haggard, Earl Paulk, Todd Bentley and others now including Reverend Hinn and Reverend White.  Others have become involved in politics up to their ears or have made incredibly thoughtless and asinine statements on events like the 9-11 attack and Hurricane Katrina. Still others organize book burnings of various types or other thoughtless and even un-Christian displays of hatred and ignorance.  Now this is a pretty impressive list by anyone’s standards and it does not include the host of lesser known others that have had affairs, financial and even violent encounters.  No wonder the name of Jesus is reviled by so many and that the church is held in such low esteem. We bring it on ourselves because we have forgotten the “Big 2,” you know the commandments that if you do them fulfill all the rest, love God and love your neighbor. I think that it was Jesus that suggested that this was important.

I was criticized for posting a link about the Hinn and White story by three ministers and I do not entirely disagree with then nor think that they were out of line to criticize me.  The biggest concern of all three was that with the Church under attack from many quarters as well as attacks on Jesus and Christian beliefs and values that I should not do it especially because of the source of the story, the National Enquirer. Now mind you that that Enquirer is actually, despite its rater sleazy reputation actually breaking stories that the big media initially missed such as the John Edwards affair and the current investigation into possible sexual assaults by former Vice President Al Gore one of which as of yesterday was closed by the State of Oregon but there are other investigations.  However that was not the point of posting the story. You see I figure that if the Church and its leaders did a better job of conducting itself in a Christian manner then there would be a little more love for it and also Jesus. I believe that much of what we call persecution is in large part due to how badly we as Christians have behaved and treated those in our care before the watching world.  I believe that it is better for Christians to police themselves so that their conduct may be seen as something to emulate, in fact I think that is what the early church did. They had no power, no money and no social status but in spite of real persecution that usually ended in death by crucifixion, being crushed to death by heavy stones, being burned at the stake, shot through with arrows, having their heads whacked off, getting flogged to death, drowned until dead and even tickled to death.   While this was taking place they were commended by Roman leaders as model citizens because of their behavior.  They were known by their love, not just for one another but for their non-Christian neighbors, the very ones that persecuted them.

That is not an isolated example, when I was in Iraq I had Moslem Iraqi Army Officers tell me of their respect for Christians because Christians were seen to be more trustworthy and caring than their Moslem brethren, and by the way Iraqi Christians often face persecution and death.  I was told by one officer that the Iraqi Army needed Christian Priests to take care of their soldiers and families, like the Americans have because they did not get this from their Imams.  In spite of persecution which includes the real possibility of being killed by Moslem extremists most Moslems see Christians as good citizens that they can trust their lives, families and property to.  This is not the case in our country despite the fact that there are a lot of really good Christians who still follow the “Big 2.”

But now in this country we seem to be more concerned with our power and social status and despite all the scandals willing to give these folks a pass on their actions and pony up more money to feed their ministries, usually money that comes from some of the poorest people in the country while many live in luxury.  I think that this is something that the Reformers had against the Catholic Church during the Reformation. May be we need a new Reformation to make things right again, after all only 56% of Americans rank the ethics and trust of clergy as very high. Honestly, we should do better than that and if the world exposes our leaders for compromising themselves and the Gospel then more power to them, we should take care of it ourselves ending our support for such “ministers” and “ministries.”

My church was torn apart a few years back by the actions of bishops who had made unwanted sexual advances another that bilked the church nearly bankrupting it through his financial wheeling and dealing and by others that exploited the chaos in a most un-Christian manner.  The Church is slowly recovering and those that were the primary culprits are no longer in the church.  Many were haughty and arrogant and it came back to bite them and it nearly destroyed the church.

So I will continue to joust at windmills knowing that like the legendary Don Quixote that nothing will really change.  The windmills of religious and political machines will continue to turn and more than likely result in people sending me hate mail for saying what I say and unfortunately the vast majority will be my fellow Christians thinking that they are defending the faith.

There have been others like me that have done some good. I do think that Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans Kung rank up there so what can I say? Wait I know…Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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High Crimes and “Miss” Demeanors: The Catholic Church Equates Women’s Ordination with Pedophilia

Note: This is a serious post that unfortunately has been on my mind for some time and I have not written about it until now.  It is important enough for me to interrupt my latest baseball post and I realize that some readers will not like what I say; I might even get some hate mail as I have gotten it for much less but here it goes.

It seems that the Roman Catholic Church is finally making some changes to policy and possibly Canon Law to ensure that clergy that are convicted of sexual assault, rape or pedophilia receive faster censure or maybe even punishment in the Church outside of what various national or state governments do.  Of course this came after years, albeit decades of chicanery where the Church either through omission or commission aided and abetted many of the men suspected, charged or convicted of sexual abuse, assault or other crimes against children as well as adults entrusted to their spiritual and sometimes their physical care.  It is a policy decision that moves in the right direction but seems to be perfunctory and in light of the actions of the church hierarchy over many decades to cover up crimes committed by clergy seem hollow and unrepentant and an insult to victims who still desire justice even as the Vatican continues to fight to keep clergy from being prosecuted by the courts of various nations.  To make matters worse it uses the same letter to equate the ordination of women as a “major crime against the Church” or in other words equivalent to pedophilia, child sexual abuse and a host of other crimes whose victims cry out for justice.  I just don’t get it.

Now before the reader thinks that I am on an anti-Catholic crusade be assured I am most assuredly not. I find even with all of its faults as well as recent retrenchment on many initiatives that were once heralded by Catholics and Protestants alike, much to be commended in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact in the late 1990s I explored the possibility of “crossing the Tiber” and wrote two very orthodox and even serious articles on the Church in the New Oxford Review. Those articles actually got me banned from writing for several years by a former Archbishop in my church who is now coincidently a Roman Catholic Layman who writes for Catholic Online.  Back then stuff was too Catholic for him, seems almost like Karma to me, now he defends the Curia and I question it.  Things have changed over the years.  Many of my closest friends in ministry have been and are Roman Catholic Priests, many of who feel as I do and fear retribution if they speak up on any of this.  Needless to say I am dumbfounded at the statements and actions coming out of the Vatican or directly from Pope Benedict XVI.  It almost seems that these actions and statements occur on a weekly basis. If you ask me such statements and attitudes make the Church hierarchy appear to be defensive, vengeful, arrogant, isolated, vindictive, petty and completely unaware of how these actions make the Church look to a watching world.  But then I wonder if they really care about this.

To be honest I don’t know what to make of this. The Church has survived 2000 years or so and survived a lot worse crisis than it is experiencing in this new millennium however it seems that the present administration in the Vatican has built a wall to “protect” itself from actual accountability and responsibility for the criminal acts of some of its clergy which in turn victimizes the victims of these men again and again.  The whole attitude and action seems without grace and heartless despite the formal statements from the Pope and other prelates, however as my old sophomore football coach Duke Pasquini used to say “your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”  Words are cheap and the Vatican’s failure to first discipline its own and second to turn them over to the state for temporal judgment is arrogance that Jesus would have condemned the Pharisees and Sadducees for, not what he expects of his Church to practice.  Actions speak louder than words and the Vatican’s actions damn it in the eyes of a watching world and this friends  is nothing to rejoice over or gloat about even for those that have an ax to grind against the church.  It is cause mourning for it taints people’s view of God in a decidedly negative way both believers and unbelievers, God gets the blame more often than not for the sins of his people.  If Benedict is serious about wanting a leaner church he will get it as ordinary Catholics, especially in the west will vote with their feet leaving only those that agree with this perverted view of the Church’s role in the world.

There are two things that I want to note before I end this little essay.  The first was the censure of Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna and the driving force behind the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, a renowned theologian, pastor who was considered as a potential Pope.  Schoenborn accused retired Cardinal Angelo Soldano, the former Vatican Secretary of State of blocking investigations requested by him of clerics accused or suspected of criminal sexual activity.  He also said that Soldano had caused “massive harm” when he dismissed claims of clerical abuse as “petty gossip” in his Easter sermon.  In censuring Schoenborn the Vatican announced that brother Cardinals could not criticize one another but only the Pope.  I am sorry but when the Church, any church silences dissent and even constructive criticism from its highest ranking prelates then there is a problem because it demonstrates that the leadership views the preservation hierarchy and the rights of the Papal state as more important than the Gospel and justice for the people of God.  Somehow I can hear Jesus call out “woe to you Scribes and Pharisees and all that.”  Rome is burning and the Pope and the Curia continue to try to douse the fire with gasoline.  No wait, napalm it’s stickier and burns better.  They are a disaster.

The second came the same day and in the same document that the Vatican will in making it easier to investigate sexual abuse in the church. The document declared it a Major crime against the Church” to ordain a woman as a Priest. Now this is not new the Vatican has been excommunicating women and those that ordained them for years.  However, declaring it to be a major crime puts it at the same level as pedophilia and other sexual crimes of clergy.  How do they compare?  Oh wait, female Priests put the souls of their parishioners in mortal danger even more so than male Priests who physically, emotionally and sexually abuse those in their charge.

The ordination of women may not be allowed by the Roman Catholic or for that matter my Church but to call it a major crime against the Church and equate it with pedophilia and sexual abuse of minors is abhorrent.  When the Roman Catholic Church hides behind diplomatic immunity as a nation state and claims religious persecution when someone inside or outside of its walls calls it to account it shows a cold and ruthless face to the world.  It says that it wants to punish those guilty of such heinous crimes but at the same time it shields them from criminal prosecution by the state without providing any discipline of its own.  The Vatican claims to be a state with all the rights and privileges thereof but refuses to put these criminals in its own jails and punish them.  In fact I say hire more Swiss Guards, open up a jail in the basement of the Vatican do a little rendition and torture in some third world dictatorship put them on the Papal G5 send them to Rome and give these criminals a life sentence in the catacombs somewhere.  Well that won’t happen so were left with the Vatican continuing to protect the guilty and if it does anything try them in ecclesiastical courts which do nothing more than mete out spiritual judgments that do absolutely nothing to help the victims.

Jesus I’m sure would be really welcome especially by hanging out with people like Mary Magdalene and even the Apostle Paul who seemed to allow women to have a lot of authority in places that he visited, people like Lydia in Philippi as well as Priscilla of Priscilla and Aquila fame. Interestingly enough many commentators and Scripture Scholars believe that Priscilla may have written the book of Hebrews and some make a very convincing case for this.  My Lord it is no wonder that people don’t want to have anything to do with the Christian faith when the mother Church of the west engages in such activities.

I really don’t know what to say when Catholics come to me about such things because I do not ever want to be accused of leading Catholics away from their Church or faith. As an Anglo-Catholic with strong pro-Roman leanings I encourage them to stay and be salt and light knowing that all Papacy’s end and magisterial eras come and go and that the Church has somehow made it 2000 years through worse crisis than the current day.  That is cold comfort to them and I wish that I could do better but it is what it is and unfortunately Rome continues to burn as the Pope and Curia call for more napalm with which to further engulf the church that they pretend to defend.  It seems that they are about to destroy the church in order to save it and I cannot understand where that fits in the context of God’s love and care for his people, especially the lost, the least and the lonely, those whose prayers like those of the sinner versus the Pharisee are heard by God.  God help the Roman Catholic Church and even more those victimized by its clergy in such ungodly ways.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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