Civility — Change — Leadership

Years before George Washington became president of the United States, he penned 110 “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior In Company and Conversation.” His writing project was more an exercise in youthful penmanship, because he copied a translated older text, originally written by French Jesuits. Nevertheless, the focus of Washington’s observations was civility: polite, reasonable, and respectful behavior. 

A few of Washington’s rules struck me recently, as I was thinking about the current presidential campaign: “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those present.”…….”When you reprove another be without blame yourself.”…… “Let your conversation be without malice or envy.”……”In all causes of passion allow reason to govern.”

Our early American leaders lived in times of tremendous social change. Sometimes we overly romanticize their lives, forgetting their environment of fear, social unrest, “Indian” atrocities, counter-reaction colonialists’ atrocities, slave rebellions, fear-mongering propagandists, intercultural conflicts, and the terrorism spread by rumors of foreign intrigue.

In a letter written to his wife, our second president, John Adams, confided to Abigail about his “fear that in every assembly members will obtain influence by noise not sense.” His letter went on to warn about the dangers of political leaders not acting with respect and decency to such a degree that the government would eventually fall apart. 

Almost two decades into the third millennium, our country and our world are changing even more dramatically. Fear and anxiety are byproducts. The pace of change is accelerating. A bit ironically, a great many contemporary people are anxiously trying to maintain their identity as their very identity itself is changing. White Christian America, for example, is diminishing as a new form of immigrant America is taking shape: multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious. For a growing number of people, however, it is also an America increasingly disconnected from institutional religion. Perhaps that is more our challenge than our danger?

Millennials have now surpassed the Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. By around 2020, more than half of America’s (USA) children will be part of a minority race or ethnic group. Today 12.3% of our U.S. population is black. According to the latest projections from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic share of the U.S. population is expected to reach 28.6% by 2060.. ..A great mix of various cultural traditions and values. And of course one cannot ignore evolving gender and sexual identities. More than 8 million adults in the United States are lesbian, gay, or bisexual: comprising 3.5% of the adult population; and majority public opinion in the United States now supports same-sex marriage. 

Reflecting about social change in our contemporary world — the Republican and Democratic conventions, the political crisis in Turkey, killings in Orlando and Dallas, the truck massacre in Nice, the latest shopping center killings in Munich, etc. — the first word that comes to my mind is leadership. Human problems require human solutions. We all need to be leaders, working together. Otherwise we disintegrate in feverish chaos.

In our families, schools, churches, and community organizations, we need to educate and equip young people with constructive leadership skills. At the same time we need to critique and disempower those “leaders” who do not lead but control. Those people are really not leaders but self-promoting authoritarian managers. The leadership responsibility rests on our shoulders.

What qualities characterize genuine and constructive leaders? 

(1) Constructive leaders are honest and transparent. They have integrity. They neither manipulate people nor play with the truth.

(2) Constructive leaders create a vision of the future that is realistic and compelling. They are not afraid of change, but see it as a continual human challenge. They understand the changes on the horizon as new opportunities for human transformation and growth.

(3) Constructive leaders inspire and motivate. They help people engage with the present and build a more humane tomorrow. They reflect deeply on the signs of the times.

(4) Constructive leaders analyze and solve problems. They observe, judge, and act in collaborative problem-solving. Yes they are often recruited, trained, and chosen to solve problems. But they don’t do it alone. They cannot do it alone.

(5) Some people are very content to sit back and watch the world go by. Or they long to return to some romanticized former time, like the 1950s…..Constructive leaders have a higher level of perseverance. They have vision but are not daydreamers. They can be counted on to get things done. They move ahead. They don’t live in the past.

(6) Constructive leaders build on solid foundations of mutual respect and trust. They do not denigrate people but lift them up. The stronger the relationships, the better the leadership. 

(7) Constructive leaders communicate with their people. They listen to them. They stimulate and promote collaborative leadership.

We are all called to leadership. Civility is a virtue. Change is a fact of life.

The New Tribalism

ANOTHER VOICE – Posted 14 July 2016

The natives are fearful, restless, and angry…… An alarming development in the United States, across Europe, and even at the Vatican is the rise of the new tribalism. It is fierce and destructive.
The new tribalism polarizes and compartmentalizes people into friends and adversaries. Much of it is irrational. It rejects dialogue and democratic decision-making. In the USA we see “born again” politicians and evangelical Christians defending and promoting the new tribalism. Much of what they promote is politically suspect and theologically contrary to the life, spirit, and message of Jesus of Nazareth.
In summary, it is: Tribe first. Morals second. Faith forgotten. Reason out the window….
In Dallas the megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, has said he would vote for Donald Trump and “run from” a presidential candidate like Jesus Christ, because he doesn’t feel that someone like Christ is the type of leader the United States needs right now. “You know,” he said recently “I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR, and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’” “Heck no!” Jeffress said. “I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation.” He went on to say that he really doesn’t care how despicable a person is, just as long as they’re “tough.”
Over at the Vatican the natives are restless as well. Earlier this week, a group of 45 Catholic scholars, clergy, cardinals, and bishops sent an appeal to the College of Cardinals asking that they petition Pope Francis to “repudiate” what they see as “erroneous propositions” contained in his April 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The group of 45 argue that Francis’ document contains “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals.” A key agitator in the anti-Pope Francis tribe is the U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke.
When people feel insecure or find their beliefs challenged they often succumb to dogmatic and close-minded ideologies: a kind of “circle-the-wagons, we’re under attack” tribal unity. Dialogue stops, mutual respect is scoffed at, and polarization gets firmly established. Inhuman values and behavior are applauded in the name of tribal unity. In the end chaos erupts and authoritarian leaders take control – often with religious blessings.
History is full of examples: Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy, and Hitler in Germany. Our contemporary daily news, of course, gives abundant and frightening reports of hard-nosed and vicious tribalism, much of it now linked to the coming presidential election campaign. Sorry to say, I don’t think the situation will improve after this month’s political conventions are behind us. It will be a long hot summer.
Tribalism ignores the dignity and value of a person and sees only stereotypes of distrusted and despised enemy people. A Trump-friendly tribe argues that gays are a threat to family life; that Mexicans are rapists, drug addicts, and criminals; that blacks are stupid and lazy. And….of course that Muslims are terrorists. Too many people believe and want to believe the Fox News stereotypes. It gives them comfort to know not “I” but “they” are the problem.” And of course “they” are changing everything.
Yes we do live in a time of dramatic and extensive socio-cultural change; but change is and always has been a part of human life, especially in the United States where “new and improved” has always been better than “old.” Except perhaps in far-right politics and fundamentalist religion.
Like it or not, the rate of change in coming years will accelerate not diminish. One can argue whether or not human nature changes; but there is no debate about the fact that our understanding of human nature has changed and grown tremendously. New knowledge brings changes in social institutions, ethical values, and moral behavior. Slavery, once blessed even by the churches, cannot be tolerated nor morally justified today. Women we know today are not inferior to men. That is an improvement and a great change from what the “Angelic Doctor” Thomas Aquinas taught, when he said that women by nature are defective and misbegotten males. (Some bishops still believe Aquinas was correct!) And of course, we know today that gays are neither innately disordered nor per se prone to immorality. And we are still discovering a lot of new dimensions to our human sexuality and gender.
New perspectives bring new understandings. They also create alarm for people who would rather live in the past.
Our challenge is to use our brains without forgetting to use our hearts. Every woman, every man, every person deserves respect and positive acknowledgement. Jesus understood that, even if some of his contemporary followers don’t.
I think one of the best scriptural texts about the evils of tribalism is Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable in the Gospel According to Luke (10:25-37). A traveler, probably a Jew, as the story goes, was robbed, stripped of clothing, beaten-up, and left half dead along the side of the road. Along comes a priest. He looks at and ignores the miserable traveler. Then another religious functionary comes along: a Levite. (Levites helped around the temple and had some political responsibilities as well.) He leaves the bleeding traveler along the roadside and moves on. Then a Samaritan comes along.
In Jesus’ day hatred between Jews and Samaritans was fierce and long-standing. “Good” Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. Jews and Samaritans were divided by racial and ethnic barriers. Different tribes. In our own days, we know very well what that means. Just stand up and say “Black Lives Matter.”
In Jesus’ parable the Samaritan is deeply moved when he sees the injured fellow at the side of the road. He bandages his wounds, puts him on his own donkey, and takes him to an inn where he will be safe and recover. Since the injured man had been robbed of everything he had, the Samaritan even pays the man’s bill at the inn and pays the innkeeper to take good care of him.
Jesus told the Samaritan parable in response to a Jewish lawyer’s question. Jesus had reminded his audience that “Love your neighbor as yourself” was part of their biblical law (Leviticus 19:18). Many of those listening to Jesus, however thought a “neighbor” meant only a Jew: someone belonging to their own tribe. So a lawyer asked Jesus: “Just who is my neighbor?”

What to do about the new tribalism:
(1) First of all each of us needs to do some serious self-examination. Have I become a member of a closed-group, narrow-minded tribe? Have I become or are my leaders more authoritarian control freaks than genuine leaders?

(2) We need to be and to support prophetic people. Prophetic people speak out. Prophetic people courageously criticize. Prophetic people are positive change-makers. A lot of contemporary political rhetoric is pure nonsense; and a fair amount of extreme religious commentary is ignorant and often cruel. Prophetic people need to say so. The Archbishop of Philadelphia has just issued new regulations for Catholics in his archdiocese. Divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, as well as cohabitating unmarried couples, must “refrain from sexual intimacy” if they wish to receive Holy Communion in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The archbishop from the city of brotherly love leaves little room for informed and rational discourse here. And then….. I wonder who is going to check-up to determine whether or not couples have “done it” before going to church.

(3) We do need to be anchored in Scripture and Tradition; but a proper understanding of Scripture and Tradition requires historical critical awareness and insight. A young priest told me recently that Jesus condemned homosexuality. That is an ignorant statement. Jesus said absolutely nothing about being gay or straight or about transgender people. He did say “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus’ exhortation covers a lot of moral behavior.

Yes the tribes are restless. We need to be clear-headed people of faith. We need to really support one another in the days ahead.

Next week some more thoughts about change……

What Young Millennial Christians Believe

As vice-president of ARCC, I am pleased to announce an important conference this coming October in the Washington DC/Baltimore area. I would appreciate your passing on the information.


“Changing the Conversation — The Millennial Generation: Their Values, Belief, and Thoughts about Church.”

               Date and Time:       October 29, 2016 — 1:00 to 3:00 PM

               Location:                   Best Western at BWI — 6755 Dorsey Rd, Elkridge, Maryland

Our Presenter is Todd Salzman — Professor of Theology at Creighton University


Todd has a PhD in Theology from the Catholic University of Leuven. He completed his dissertation in 1994, taught at the University of San Diego from 1995-1997, and came to Creighton in 1997. He has published six books and over 50 scholarly articles, and presented numerous papers at national and international conferences.

One of his special interests is the belief and ethical values of the Millennial generation.

He is married to Katy Salzman, and they have identical twin boys and a daughter.

To help with our planning, we appreciate a pre-conference registration and a donation of $5 per person, payable on site at the conference.

To register or for more information, please write: 

For more information about ARCC:

At My Desk Again: Another Voice

For this older historian, July is a good month to resume Another Voice reflections. My travels are over for a while and I am back home a bit more relaxed and ready to observe, reflect, and type. And — of course — great changes are certainly in the air. 
          First of all a moment of reflection about today: on July 1st 1916 the Battle of the Somme began. Also called the Somme Offensive, it was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front. The armies of the British and French empires at war against against the German Empire. They slaughtered each other until November 18th, leaving more than one million wounded or killed. It was one of the bloodiest battles in human history. I am re-reading Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, as my spiritual reading. Still… the war cries continue; and it is difficult convincing people that war never resolves human conflicts.
          As this July begins, the implications of BREXIT are breaking out. Once upon a time Great Britain may soon be just a not so merry old England: a former UK island, holding hands with Wales. On July Fourth, of course we citizens of the USA will celebrate and reflect once again on the meaning of our independence. On July 14th the French will celebrate “La fête nationale” — the French National Day commemorates the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789: a key event in the French Revolution. And closer to home, this July 2016 we will know for certain the identities of the Republican and Democratic candidates for the White House. (My preference would be HC rather than DT, although many still consider DT the solution to all our problems and a stalwart Christian on top of that.) 
          After July 28th, when the Democrats conclude their convention in Philadelphia, the tempo and the temperature of the USA 2016 presidential race will shape just about everything on the Internet. Heated election rhetoric. Much of it unfortunately will be anchored in fear, anger, paranoia, and ignorance. Vices proclaimed as virtues for people seeking security in a changing world. “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” is getting an authoritarian new twist.
          In coming weeks I would like to reflect more seriously on the meaning, scope, and implications of our changing world: human, social, cultural, theological, and religious — and where a person really finds security today and tomorrow. A special area of reflection will be where “God” fits into change and who God is for us today.
          I would like to reflect as well on the immense problem of historical and contemporary ignorance. It really is a problem. Ignorant people (even the “well- educated” ones) are frantically working to put a mask on change and convey a false sense of security. Thinking is always dangerous, because thinkers eventually start asking questions. (I was fortunate in my education. In my first year of high school — at a seminary at that — my religion teacher encouraged me to question everything.) I suspect a lot of political propaganda from both parties, in the coming months, will be based on and promote historical and contemporary ignorance. And I know very keenly the dangers created by religious leaders who proclaim their religious falsehoods as faith.
          A third area for my reflections will be the whole area of leadership: political and religious. We have far too many civil and religious leaders, these days, who are simply blind guides. Their vision stops at their noses. One of my earlier Roman Catholic heroes, Theodore Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame University for thirty-five years, said it very well: “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” Well, there is a lot of uncertain trumpet noise these days.
          More July re-launch comments……An old acquaintance said a couple weeks ago that I am really an “old leftist liberal.” I chuckled and said that words like “leftist” and “liberal” really cannot capture my take on life. Nor do words like “conservative” or “traditional.” I know as well that some friends — and even some members of my family — dislike and take issue with some of my theological and political positions. 
          I mean no offense, but I have to interpret reality the way I experience it. Everyone has to do that. 
          And we all have to practice a kind of mutual respect and tolerance based on the realization that no one has or sees all the truth. No one. No single political party. No single church. No single religion. We are all travelers on the human road, discovering for better or for worse as we move along. God is much greater than all of our religious constructions; and I think the historical Jesus of Nazareth would have been in agreement with that.  
          How would I like to be described? I am an 65+ guy — husband, father, theologian — with an historical critical approach to understanding the human journey. That journey entails interpretation, reflected experience, new discoveries, and new interpretations of old truths. I see no other way to live.
          I look forward to traveling with you once again!

(Brief comment about the attached photo: An earlier photo of my wife and me, as we were looking across the River Tarn in Albi, France — thinking about the tenth century Albigensian Crusade, a 20-year military campaign initiated by Pope Innocent III, in 1209, to uproot and eliminate Cathar heretics. Arnaud-Amaury, the Cistercian abbot-commander in the crusade, reported to the pope that more than 20,000 heretics were put to the sword.)

Catholic Complexity

During her early adventures in Wonderland, Alice cried out that things were becoming “curiouser and curiouser.” Her statement could be applied as well to the contemporary Roman Catholic Church, which is becoming a complex cacophony of ecclesiastical sounds. Three observations:

Stern Warnings for Americans 

Tuesday, May 17th, was the twelfth annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. About a thousand prominent Roman Catholic clergy and lay people gathered at 7:00 am in the Marriott Marquis hotel and conference center to pray, have breakfast, and listen to Cardinal Robert Sarah, U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Sister Constance Veit, from the Little Sisters of the Poor.  

This week, as you recall, the United States Supreme Court “vacated” all of the lower court cases and required them to reconsider the claims, brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor, that regulations promulgated by Obamacare violate their freedom of religious exercise, in light of the government’s admission that it could indeed provide contraceptive coverage, without the Little Sisters’ collaboration.  

In his address, Paul Ryan, echoed the position and concerns of the Sister Constance and her community, stressing that “religious liberty is under assault” in the United States and that the Obama administration “has shown a total misunderstanding of faith.” 

Cardinal Sarah, however, was the keynote speaker; and he was strongly condemnatory of a contemporary American culture disfigured by gender ideology and relativism. Cardinal Sarah was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Pope Francis in 2014. Is he also part of the “Francis effect”? 

In his address, the Cardinal said: “Sadly the advent of artificial reproductive technologies, surrogacy, so-called homosexual marriage, and other evils of gender idolatry will inflict even more wounds in the midst of the generation we live with.” The Cardinal warned the Prayer Breakfast group about signs of “the Evil One” in the United States: “The legalization of same-sex marriage, your beginning to accept contraception within healthcare programs, and even bathroom bills that allow men to use the women’s restroom and locker rooms.” His comments about “bathroom bills” drew applause and chuckles from his audience. 

Curing Pseudo-homosexuality 

According to a report, this week, from Religion News Service, over a period of several years, superiors of seminaries around France sent seminary students to Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a prominent French priest and therapist, to counsel them about their struggles with homosexuality. (Anatrella, as I mentioned in an early blog, was also the Vatican appointed speaker at a conference for new bishops. There he told the new bishops that they did not have to report clerical sexual abuse to civil authorities.) 

Monsignor Anatrella has long condemned homosexuality and argued that gay men cannot be ordained as priests. In 2005 he helped the Vatican, then under Pope Benedict XVI, to draft guidelines aimed at keeping gay men out of the priesthood. Around that same time, he wrote an article for L’Osservatore Romano, stating that homosexuality demonstrated “an incompleteness and a profound immaturity of human sexuality.”  

Today, Monsignor Anatrella’s former seminarian clients are coming forward with accusations that the highly-respected-at-the-Vatican monsignor therapist tried to cure their “pseudo-homosexuality” by engaging in sex acts with them. One former client, again a former seminarian, said he was counseled by Anatrella for 14 years, from 1997 to 2011. After the first few years, the client said, Anatrella began “special sessions” with him that included episodes of mutual masturbation. Curiously, in February 2016, Monsignor Anatrella was the chief organizer of a major conference on priestly celibacy, held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.  

Women and Women Deacons in the Church 

As Jamie Manson wrote in the National Reporter this week, “(Pope) Francis’ theological imagination makes it impossible for women to achieve equal decision-making power and sacramental authority in this church. And its time we faced it.”  

Last week Pope Francis agreed to launch a commission to study the role of women deacons in the early church. Immediate press reactions greeted this with hopeful observations that the Catholic Church would soon be welcoming women to diaconate ordination. The Vatican quickly dispelled such expectations. 

What journalists failed to observe was that, in his remarks about women deacons in the early church, Pope Francis reasserted all of the old Roman Catholic theological arguments that prevent women from any kind of ordination in the Catholic Church.  

“There is no problem for a woman — religious or lay — to preach in a Liturgy of the Word…” Pope Francis said, “But at the Eucharistic Celebration there is a liturgical-dogmatic problem, because it is one celebration: the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic Liturgy. There is unity between them; and he who presides is Jesus Christ. The priest or bishop who presides does so in the person of Jesus Christ. It is a theological-liturgical reality. In that situation, since women are not ordained, they cannot preside.” As Manson observes, there is still a phallic problem in the Catholic Church. Women do not have the same kind of genitalia that Jesus had.  
Curiouser and curiouser for sure. Reflections this week are neither anti-Catholic nor anti-Francis. They are simply expressions of serious concern. We are united in one faith, one Lord, and one baptism. I am not convinced however that everything coming from Rome these days is truly holy, catholic, and apostolic. Seriously hypocritical behavior has no place in church leadership; and everyone in church leadership, even the pope, seriously needs broad-range biblical and historical theological updating.  

Thoughtful Catholics need to think through the contemporary Catholic cacophony. They need to chart a new course for the Catholic Church. They can do that. They can speak out. They can change the conversation. They can continue to transform the venerable institution. If they fail, the eclipse of the Roman Catholic Church is sure to succeed.  

[With this week’s reflection I am shutting down my computer for a few weeks, to once again do some vacation research about Christianity in post-communist Eastern Europe. I hope to return in early July.]

Donald Trump and Pentecost 2016

I don’t believe we are now in the end times; but we are certainly living in strange times. In his 2015 article, “Terrorism, Violence, and the Culture of Madness,” the Canadian cultural critic Henry Giroux stresses that “malevolent modes of rationality” are starting to be imposed on everyone.

So far Donald Trump has alienated large numbers of Hispanic, Asian, and college-educated voters. He calls for temporarily banning Muslims from America. He is not much of a bridge-builder and supports building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. He advocates the deportation of 12 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S., people have come to represent a substantial segment of the American labor market. (Trump prefers to hire undocumented Polish workers in his enterprises.) Nevertheless, his support among likely U.S. voters has surged, and he is now running about even with Hillary Clinton. Although they themselves are the descendants of immigrants, Trump supporters strongly believe that “immigrants threaten American customs and values.”  

Whether holy or not, Trump has a lot of spirit and he knows how to fire up his supporters. His campaign appeals to their hatred, anger, bigotry, and racism. 

Some foreign Trump supporters are OK, however. According to the Associated Press, the presumed Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency has picked up some strong foreign support from India, where, this Pentecost week end, fundamentalist Hindus are trying to get their gods on his side. These people put their faith and hope in Donald Trump. 

Already on Wednesday, May 11th, about a dozen members of the right-wing Indian Hindu group “Sena” lit a ritual fire and began chanting mantras asking Shiva and a variety of other Hindu gods to help Trump win the U.S. presidential election. “The whole world is screaming against Islamic terrorism, and even India is not safe from it,” said Vishnu Gupta, founder of the Hindu Sena nationalist group. “Only Donald Trump can save humanity….he is our hope for humanity.” 

In other parts of the world, Christians are gathering this week end to celebrate Pentecost and the Holy Spirit. 

Pentecost (the fiftieth day) is the Greek name for Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, for centuries an important Jewish feast. According to Jewish tradition, Pentecost commemorates God’s giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, 49 days after the Exodus. According to a later Jewish tradition King David was born and died on Pentecost. In the Apostle Peter’s first sermon, recorded in Acts 2:14-39, Peter linked the life, death, and Ascension of Jesus to King David’s death, burial, and hope of immortality.  

For Jewish people, Pentecost came fifty days after Passover. For Christians, fifty days after God raised Jesus from the dead. We find the earliest Christian celebration of Pentecost described in the second chapter of Acts of Apostles. About one hundred and twenty followers of Jesus (Acts 1:15) were present, including the Twelve, Jesus’ mother, various other women disciples, and Jesus’ brothers (Acts 1:14).  

We used to call Pentecost the birthday of the church. Some still do. The church, the community of faith in Jesus Christ, began right after the Resurrection. Mary of Magdala was the first church-woman, the apostle who really got things going, when she witnessed Jesus alive and raised from the dead. She was the first to proclaim the Goodnews. (In the light of Mary of Magdala’s inaugural ministry, all discussions about whether or not women can be ordained becomes meaningless chatter.) 

Pentecost proclaims that, with Jesus raised from the dead, a new age had begun: life in God’s spirit, characterized by love, unity, compassion, and understanding. Pentecost contrasts with the arrogant and narcissistic way of life portrayed in the Tower of Babel Genesis story. 

The Babel story is found in the first nine verses of Genesis 11. It narrates how, after the great flood, humanity became proud, self-centered, and arrogant. People tried to take God’s place in the world by building a tower that would reach into God’s heavens. God punished their arrogant self-centeredness. The result was confused speech, disharmony, and people scattered around the world in tribal conflict. Hatred, anger, bigotry, and racism enter human history. Not God’s way.

Pentecost is the undoing of Babel. At Pentecost people from every nation under heaven were brought together. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Pentecost built no arrogant tower and no walls. It broke the barriers of race, religion, and nationality. Peter announced that this event was the beginning of a new life in the Spirit that would be available to all believers from that point on, Jews and Gentiles alike (Acts 2:39). 

Happy Pentecost.  

May we all grow in God’s Spirit.



Future Change: Millennials Surpass Baby Boomers

David Burstein, just under twenty-five, is a writer, political-action organizer, filmmaker, and passionate believer in the Millennial generation. In his 2013 book, Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World, Burstein illustrates how his generation is simultaneously shaping and being shaped by a fast-paced and fast-changing world. Now I wish someone like David would write a book about how the Millennial generation is shaping and being shaped by Christian belief.

According to population estimates released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau, Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation; and the Millennial generation continues to grow, as young immigrants expand its ranks.

The U.S. Millennial population is projected to peak in 2036 at 81.1 million. Millennials are expected to live longer than any previous generation; and new research suggests that old age may actually begin for them at age 74.  Before the Millennials, the Baby Boomers had always had an outsized presence compared with other generations. They were the largest generation and peaked at 78.8 million in 1999. There were an estimated 74.9 million Boomers in 2015. By midcentury, the Boomer population will dwindle to 16.6 million.

Born between 1980 and 2000, Millennials have grown up in a time of rapid change, giving them a set of priorities and expectations sharply different from previous generations. Pearl Harbor or the assassinations of President Kennedy or Dr. Martin Luther King are historic events that they cannot relate to. They were greatly touched by 9/11. That was their big event. They have also learned to live with terrorism and the thought that they could be shot at school, as they learned early that the world is not a safe place. For Roman Catholic Millennials, the 1960s Second Vatican Council is as important for their lives as the sixteenth century Council of Trent. And they are not interested in either of them. Their big Catholic turn-offs have been the ongoing sex abuse scandal and the church’s opposition to women priests and gay marriage. 

More than a few people in my peer group consider the Millennials entitled, lazy, unmotivated, and technology addicted. From what I have read and from what I have experienced teaching and working with Millennials at my university, I have to disagree with such a negative stereotype. There are extremes in every social grouping. I find Millennials generally compassionate, socially concerned, inquisitive, and creative. They have a lot of understandable anxiety about their own lives and their future; but they also have a lot of care for the larger world and life’s big questions. For them a lot of church rhetoric sounds hollow or is anchored in fighting human sexuality issues that for them were resolved long ago. 

Millennials belong to a generation eager to make its own mark on the world. And they will make their own mark on the church, one way or another. For many that mark may very well be to simply ignore it as antiquated and irrelevant. 

With each generation since WWII, U.S. Church attendance has been decreasing. The Millennial generation illustrates and strengthens that trend. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) rarely or never attend religious services. About one-fourth (24 percent) are active in church (meaning they attend at least once a week). A number of Millennials who do attend church do so as seekers.  

For Millennials knowledge is not so much what is passed down from authorities as what is derived from personal experience and shared group discovery. They neither need nor respect a church leader who hands them a package of beliefs to be accepted. They would rather sit down with church members and church leaders and explore the meaning of Christian belief for people today. Mutual respect, shared decision-making, grounded in the realization that no single person, and no single institution has all the answers. For a quick check on factual data they turn to the Internet more than to the local library. They are current events focused and concerned about tomorrow. In no way do they see Jesus as an institution man; and their perception is correct of course. Jesus was concerned about people. 

According to the Public Religion Research Institute, Millennials’ feelings toward present-day Christianity are rather ambivalent. Church is ok if it is helping people to be happy and to have meaningful life experiences. Church hypocrisy, misogyny, and self-defensive authoritarianism leave them cold. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of today’s say that “anti-gay” somewhat or very well describes present-day Christianity for them. More than 6-in-10 (62%) also believe that present-day Christianity is “judgmental” and much too involved in politics. In their social and political views, Millennials are clearly more accepting than older Americans of homosexuality and a broad range of gender and sexuality issues. They are scientifically oriented, more inclined to see evolution as the best explanation for human life; and they consider all sacred scriptures as human attempts to express deeply felt human spiritual experiences. In that respect, Jesus makes sense to them — often much more so than the churches that claim to embody his spirit and emulate him.  

In the Prophet Joel and in Acts of the Apostles, we read: “God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young will see visions, your old will dream dreams.”  

I often day-dream about the Millennials: about what their lives will be like…. the bridges they will have to cross…. the struggles that will mark their lives. I hope their visions will help them confront climate change with dramatic sea-level changes and environmental changes impacting water supplies and food supplies. I hope their visions will enable them to confront employment and unemployment problems we can only imagine as more production and maintenance tasks are taken over by robots and technology. With their visions they will have to learn what it means to live long lives in cultures that are multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-lingual, etc.  

I would hope that the Millennials will also shape and be shaped by new forms and patterns of Christian life and ministry. Perhaps any meaningful church for the Millennials will have to be a humble human-service organization, pointing to deeper spiritual realities and experiences, anchored in an open and welcoming spiritual wisdom, while still very much a shared traveler and a shared discoverer and a shared truth-seeker on the human journey. I think Jesus would like that: truth-seekers on a contemporary road to Emmaus. 

When Prophets Die: Daniel Berrigan RIP

A brief and very personal reflection.

Father Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest whose anti-Vietnam-War protests shaped and challenged many an American, like me, starting in the 1960s, died on Saturday in the Bronx, New York. He was 94.

As Daniel Lewis observed in his New York Times Article on April, 30th: “The United States was tearing itself apart over civil rights and the war in Southeast Asia when Father Berrigan emerged in the 1960s as an intellectual star of the Roman Catholic ‘new left,’ articulating a view that racism and poverty, militarism, and capitalist greed were interconnected pieces of the same big problem: an unjust society.”

On May 17, 1968, just six weeks after the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and race riots in dozens of U.S. cities, nine Catholic protesters, led by Daniel and Philip Berrigan, entered the local draft board offices in Catonsville, Maryland and seized hundreds of draft records. They carried them to a parking lot and set them on fire. It was an American Catholic prophetic turning point. A prophetic turning point in my life. 

The statement, that had been given to reporters ahead of time, read: “We confront the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies, and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country’s crimes.” Berrigan landed in prison. That would happen many times over the next decades.

Thank you Father Berrigan……..At the time you burned draft records in Maryland, I was an “ex-seminarian” emerging from being a politically conservative and pious, fundamentalist Roman Catholic young man. Yes I do understand fundamentalism. Your prophetic gestures alarmed me at first; and then they helped me to realize that asking questions was neither anti-Christian nor anti-American. A revelation. Perhaps I was simply a slow learner.
Over the years, I have tried to pass on to my students not just packets of information but the skills for critical thinking. That is real education — especially when students can now find all kinds of information data on the Internet.

May you rest in peace. May we continue to learn from your example.

A Meditation about the “Francis Effect”

At a dinner party a couple nights ago, a good friend commented that, with Pope Francis, Catholics could now stop arguing about church reform, stop criticizing recalcitrant bishops, and let the “Francis effect” do its work. I respectfully disagreed…. 

The issue is far more complex than just wanting Francis to reform the church.
First of all, if one wants to speak of the “Francis effect” as a positive solution for a number of contemporary church problems, there is still much unfinished work. And the Vatican is a good place to start.

The clerical sexual abuse crisis is not over and the Pope Francis Vatican remains sexual-abuse-schizophrenic. It refuses to remove abuse-cover-up bishops, like Bishop Juan Barros, defended by Pope Francis and assigned last year to Osorno, Chile, despite allegations that he covered up clergy sex abuse by a priest in the 1980s and 1990s. Victim testimony also indicated that Barros was present and witnessed sexual abuse by the abusive priest Fernando Karadima. 

Perhaps the self-defensive old boys club mentality still prevails behind Vatican walls? In February 2016, at an instructional presentation for newly appointed bishops, Tony Anatrella, a psychtherapist and consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, stressed that bishops DO NOT have a duty to report clerical sexual abuse to civil authorities, because going to the police is the responsibility of victims and their families. 

More recently, as we consider contemporary Vatican behavior, there is the strange case of Father Joseph Jeyapaul, a priest from India who admitted to raping two adolescent girls in Minnesota, when he served in the Crookston diocese from 2004 to 2005. 

After being charged with sexual abuse, which included rape and forcing one of the girls to perform fellatio on him, Jeyapaul fled to India, where he was arrested. Extradited back to Minnesota, he admitted his crimes. The man was then suspended from the priesthood and served a year and a day in prison in Minnesota. After his release in July, he was deported back to India. Then came an interesting turn of events.

In February, the Vatican approved lifting Father Jeyapaul’s suspension from the priesthood and agreed that he could be reassigned to a new parish in India. Later he was even appointed head of a diocesan education commission.
Pope Francis has focused appropriate attention on caring for the environment and continues to get positive acclamations for his encyclical Laudatio si. Perhaps, however, one could suggest that he has been less attentive to the spiritual and ministerial environment in our Catholic parishes. The priesthood is in crisis. Morale is low and priests are getting older and older. Calls for dropping clerical celibacy are routinely ignored; and bishops continue to shut down parishes. Not a very positive scenario. 

Contributing to the ordained ministry problem is an antiquated priestly formation process in our seminaries that, sorry to say, no longer attracts some of our best and brightest young people. Even the pope has complained about a new group of overly conservative young presets; but there has been no major overhaul of the seminary structure. It is time to stop closing parishes and start ordaining zealous and pastorally-minded young men, who are or would like to be married. We need more — not fewer — sacramental communities in our church. We need to re-think and re-make creative structures for pastoral ministry. A major complaint from millennial believers is that the church is out of touch, impersonal, and out of date. To date, 33 million Americans have dropped out of the Catholic Church.

And there is nothing positive about the still enshrined, hard-nosed old boys club structural mysogynism in our church. It is wrong; and there are absolutely no valid theological or historical reasons why women cannot be ordained as deacons and priests. For your summer reading I strongly recommend an excellent study: Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future by Gary Macy, William Ditewig, and Phyllis Zagano.

Looking at Catholic belief and practice these days, too many church leaders, including the Bishop of Rome, continue to bemoan the “tyranny of relativism.” They miss a nuanced understanding of what is happening. As theologians Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler noted, in their April 19th article in the National Catholic Reporter: “Concern about relativism is undoubtedly warranted in the 21st century, but the magisterium fails to discern the difference between relativism, which rejects objective, universal moral truth, and what we shall call perspectivism, which acknowledges objective, universal moral truth, but also insists that truth is partial and always in need of further clarification.”

Yes contemporary church leadership needs help comprehending that truth is developmental; and a good place to benign remedial education would be the entire range of issues involving human sexuality and gender. A lot of our bishops need to go back to school. It might help as well if some of them would just get married, and others come out of the closet. 

In this week’s reflection, I have no desire to denigrate Pope Francis. I am not ready to pre-canonize him either. The old gentleman can only do so much. He only wants to do so much. Frankly (no pun intended) I think Francis knows exactly what he is doing with his warm remarks followed by minimal institutional change. But do we know what we are doing? Perhaps there is too much focus on the pope? After all, it is Jesus Christ — not the Pope of Rome — who is “the way, the truth, and the life.”

It is time for all of us to realize that when it comes to church reform, in the days of the “Francis effect,” the major task belongs to you and me.

Church history is clear. Church reform is always from the bottom-up and only secondarily from the top-down. The voice of the people is where it begins and gets its energy. Popes come and go, but the institutional church remains…..continually in need of reform.

Let’s start to really think, talk, organize, and get on with the project.

Islamophobia: Muslims in America

Directly after the March 22, 2016 terrorist bombings at the Brussels International Airport and in downtown Brussels, an American friend sent me an urgent email. “Now,” he wrote, “I hope you understand why we must restrict and diminish the Muslim presence in the United States…..Those people are evil.”

I am a committed Christian and an historical theologian. I have worked for decades, promoting inter-religious dialogue and understanding, especially with men and women belonging to one of the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Nevertheless, Islamophobia is hard to combat. It is often true that if one calls for a factual and well-researched understanding of Islam in our contemporary world, that person is often labeled “unChristian” or “unpatriotic,” or simply “dangerous.”  

“Islamophobia” warns Georgetown University researcher Nathan Lean. “is sort of like the ocean. It is working, it is churning, it is ebbing, it is flowing, even when we are asleep. There are larger systems of power and structures of power in place.” I recommend his most recent book: The Islamophobia Industry. 

According to a 2016 estimate, there are about 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States, and most see no contradiction between being American and being Muslim. About 1% of Americans, therefore, are Muslim, compared to 70.6% who are Christian, 22.8% unaffiliated, 1.9% Jewish, 0.7% Buddhist, and 0.7% Hindu. 

Interestingly, in this election year, 63% of Muslim Americans identify as Democrats or say they lean Democratic. About one-in-ten (11%) identify as Republican or lean Republican, and 26% say they are unaffiliated. 

Given the recent “Islamic terrorism,” it is not surprising that Muslims have become the target of attacks by people who feel anxious and insecure in a world of tremendous cultural change. It reminds me of nineteenth century anti-Catholic discrimination in the United States, when Catholics were perceived as foreign infiltrators and the pope was seen as an evil emperor out to destroy “Christian” America. 

After seeing and reading a lot of anti-Muslim political rhetoric, I started thinking: just what are the truths and the falsehoods behind entrenched beliefs that Muslims simply do not belong in the United States; and that they threaten U.S. security? 

1. The first falsehood is that American Muslims are not truly Americans
In fact, Islam was in America even before there was a United States; and Muslims didn’t peaceably emigrate to America. Slave-traders brought them to the New World. 

Historians now estimate that up to 30% of enslaved blacks were Muslims. The West African prince Abdul Rahman, liberated by President John Quincy Adams in 1828 after 40 years in captivity, was only one of many African Muslims kidnapped and sold into servitude in the New World. Muslim runaway slaves were among the pro-USA soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Muslims later fought to preserve U.S. independence in the War of 1812; and they fought for the Union in the Civil War. There are currently two Muslim members of Congress and thousands of Muslims on active duty in our USA armed forces. 

2. The second misunderstanding is that American Muslims are ethnically, culturally, and politically one solid block, who all think and act the same way
Actually, the American Muslim community may very well he the most diverse Muslim community in the world. U.S. Muslims believe and witness to their faith in different ways. A great many American Muslims, for example, have absolutely no problem with an historical-critical understanding of their sacred scriptures. Contrary to a popular misconception, the majority of Muslims in the United States are not Arabs. At least one-quarter, for example, are African American.  

Muslim Americans are also diverse in their beliefs and religious affiliation. They range from highly conservative, to moderate, and to secular in their religious beliefs and practices — just like members of other American religious traditions. 

With above-average median household incomes, American Muslims are also an integral and important part of the U.S. economy.  

3. One still hears the false claim that American Muslims oppress women
According a Gallup study, American Muslim women are more educated than Muslim women in Western Europe, and also more educated than the average American woman. More U.S. Muslim women report incomes closer to their male counterparts than do American women, belonging to other religious traditions. American Muslim women hold key leadership positions in religious and civic organizations, such as the Arab-American Family Support Center, the Islamic Networks Group, and the American Society for Muslim Advancement. 

4. A fourth major falsehood is that American Muslims often become “homegrown” terrorists. 
Many American Christians condemn Islam as an evil religion. Why are those Christians so silent when confronted with terrorism in the name of their own religion? Why can’t they acknowledge that parts of their religion are used for evil, just like any other religion? In fact, most of the terrorist activity in the U.S. in recent years has come not from Muslims, but from radical Christians, white supremacists, and far-right militia groups. 

According to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, more non-Muslims than Muslims have been involved in terrorist plots on U.S. soil.  

In 2011, for example, analyst Daryl Johnson of the United States Department of Homeland Security said that the Hutaree Christian militia movement possessed more weapons than the combined weapons holdings of all Islamic terror defendants charged in the US since the September 11 attacks. In 2015, Robert Doggart, a member of a private militia group, informed an FBI source (and was later indicted) that he intended to gather weapons for an attack on a Muslim enclave in Delaware County, New York. In November 2015, Robert Lewis Dear, a member of the Army of God, killed three and injured nine at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Dear had often expressed his support for radical Christian views and interpretations of the Bible, saying he was doing “God’s work.”  

Feisal Abdul Rauf, a Kuwaiti American Sufi imam, who worked with FBI agents on countering extremism right after September 11, 2001, has expressed strong fears that identifying Muslims with terrorism threatens American Muslims’ civil liberties and promotes the perception that Islam is a terrorist religion.  

5. American Muslims do not want to impose Sharia law on the United States
In the contemporary United States there is a strongly-promoted “Sharia Scare.” It is part of a larger Islamophobic campaign sponsored by an organized network of conservative foundations, religious leaders, media outlets, and politicians. 

Sharia is the Muslim ideal of justice and compassion, similar to the concept of natural law in the Western tradition. Sharia is characterized by flexibility depending on the context and the people interpreting it. Yes radicals exist on the fringes of Islam, as they do in every religion. Most Muslim jurists, however, agree that the principal objectives of Sharia are the protection and promotion of life, religion, intellect, property, family, and dignity. None of this includes turning the United States into a caliphate.  

For centuries, Muslim scholars around the world have agreed that Muslims must follow the laws of the land in which they live. American Muslims have no scriptural, historical or political grounds to oppose the U.S. Constitution. Muslims already practice Sharia in the United States, as they worship freely and follow U.S. laws. Muslims in the United States follow Sharia in the same way that Americans of other religions (Jews, Catholics, Mormons, etc.) follow their sacred laws and traditions. The First Amendment allows complete freedom of belief and freedom of religious practice, so long as believers respect other people’s rights. 

Today some people falsely equate Sharia with criminal or hudud laws, which are centuries-old specific punishments for major crimes such as killing, adultery, or theft, which are generally not applicable in a modern context. (One can find similar archaic laws in the Old Testament.) Unfortunately, contemporary Muslim fanatics in the Taliban and ISIS generally contradict both the letter and spirit of Sharia and have given it a bad name. In their ignorance, some American politicians and religious leaders continue as well to give it a bad name. 

6. Historically, people wishing to exercise authoritarian control over other people have misused their religions.  
One cannot defend the religious fanatic misuse of Muslim belief or Muslim scriptures to justify killing or torturing other human beings. Christians of course have to humbly acknowledge what fanatic Christians have done over the centuries in the name of Christ. 

A couple weeks ago I was in the South of France, doing some research on French Protestantism and my paternal grandmother’s family. In 1562 “Riots of Toulouse” Roman Catholics battled members of the Reformed Church of France (the Huguenots). The violence, taking place in about a week, ended with the deaths of at least 3,000 (some researchers say 5,000) citizens of the French city of Toulouse. About three hundred years earlier, in 1209 in the nearby town of Béziers, 7,000 Cathar heretics were killed on orders from the pope in Rome. The Papal Legate, Arnaud-Amaury, wrote to Pope Innocent III: “Today your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex.” 

7. Yes we need to combat terrorism and fanatic religion.  
It is a complex issue; and it will take time to effectively deal with issues of economics, politics, group identity, cultural change, religious and ethical values, and feelings of lost self-worth or inferiority. Here religiously healthy Muslims need to work to combat Muslim fanaticism. And all of us, coming from a variety of religions and humanist perspectives, need to think, probe, research, and work together.