History Questions Us


November 17, 2018

So far this month, November 2018, we have observed two sobering anniversaries.

On November 9 and 10, 2018, we had the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht: an immense rage of murder and violence that devastated Jewish communities across Nazi Germany in 1938. Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked. The Nazi paramilitary SA and civilian rioters demolished 267 synagogues; and 7,000 Jewish businesses were either destroyed or damaged.

The following day, November 11, 2018, we observed the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I — the hideous, and needless, conflict that killed millions, and prepared the way for an even more devastating Second World War, a generation later.

My wife and I, and many friends, observed the WWI commemorations in our current hometown Leuven (Louvain) Belgium. Our university library and great sections of the city were burned and destroyed by the enemy in 1914. The local people said you cannot crush the human spirit. Leuven was rebuilt; and a handsome new library arose, thanks to generous US donations. Then in WWII the city was nearly destroyed again.

In WWII Leuven was bombed by allied forces who made “a tactical mistake,” with major human loss and great destruction of buildings. The people said “we will rebuild.” And many Americans helped them. Today Leuven is alive and flourishing. The great human spirit!

I really don’t believe history repeats itself. It does question and challenge us. The questions which history asks are: why did people think and behave in specific ways back then, and how should people think and act today? The great historical challenge of course is that if we don’t learn from our predecessors, we are doomed to repeat some of their mistakes.

Henry Ford was good at making cars but thought “history is more or less bunk.” I am not an auto mechanic (although, in my high school years, I did restore a Model A Ford, thanks to help from my father and older brother). I would suggest, however, that people who ignore, or who are ignorant about their history, are like trees without roots.

Preparing, a few days ago, for a university seminar, I reviewed the first five hundred years of Christian history. Some thoughts about that today…..

Today we certainly have a better understanding of our Christian history and our Sacred Scripture in specific historical and cultural contexts. We appreciate, better than people did, even fifty years ago, that the church is historical. It changes from age to age.

Ongoing education is absolutely essential for church leaders and believers. I would have little confidence in a cardiologist whose education stopped fifty years ago. Why follow directives from cardinals whose theology is fifty years out of date and grounded in exaggerated clericalism?

Christian Faith = A living personal relationship (individual and communal) with the Transcendent, made known and present in a unique way in the person of Jesus Christ. Theology and church structure (institutional forms) are interpretations of Christian Faith = putting into word and gesture how we talk about and live our Faith and pass it on to the next generation.

When we think about the “Early Church,” we mean three distinctive periods of Christian history: (1) The Apostolic Christian Community = from time of Jesus’ Death/Resurrection until around the year 100. (2) The Greco-Roman Christian Church as distinct from Judaism from around 100 to 313 (Edict of Milan); and (3)The Post Constantinian Church until 476 (Fall of Rome).

Each historic period challenges us today and asks us specific questions.

The APOSTOLIC COMMUNITY was really a community of those following the way of Jesus after the Resurrection. The word “ekklesia” used at this time should not be translated as “church,” but rather as “the assembly” or “community” of believers. Those early Christians had great freedom to structure their lives, since they understood that the historic Jesus did not ordain anyone nor did he lay down any “blueprint for the church.” Ministries were shared by men and women, even the ministry of presiding at the Eucharist.

The big question for us today: how do we regain the Apostolic Community sense of freedom to be creative in church structure and to share equally as men and women in all ministries? They did it back then. Why can’t we do it today?

In the GRECO-ROMAN period, we see a growing separation between the ordained and the non-ordained to maintain “holy order,” and gradual limitations being established on the roles of women in the Christian community. The questions this history asks us are clear: why did they separate the community into clerical and lay classes and why the limitations on women? Who influenced their thinking back then? Who influences our thinking today? Was it good back then? Is it good today?

In the POST CONSTANTINIAN CHURCH, the identity of the Christian church institution changes dramatically. Christianity becomes the official religion of the Roman Empire and the church as institution takes over the Roman governmental structure (like having “dioceses” for instance) and Roman imperial court liturgy! (We still see remnants of that in today’s papal ceremonies.)

In this historic period as well: bishops become not just church leaders regional judges; liturgy and sacraments become more standardized; women are edged to the back of the church; and we see the start of a real and powerful clerical culture. And yes – the once pacifist church becomes militarized and, within five hundred years, will launch wars against Muslims.

The Post Constantinian Church asks us some big contemporary questions: Is it healthy for Christian belief when the church and the state become the same thing? Is it healthy when a powerful clerical caste speaks and behaves like it alone is the church? What happened to our understanding of the church as the people of God? And what happened to the church as a prophetic voice for peace and understanding?

May we all listen to our history, reflect on its questions, and find good answers…..

— Jack

Elections Are Over: Leadership Challenge Continues….


November 9, 2018

Our early American predecessors 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.

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 as I mentioned last week, is diminishing as a new form of American culture is evolving: multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious. These elements, in fact, are what makes America great.

The changing U.S. cultural landscape is more our challenge than our danger. We have always been a country of immigrants.

Human problems require human solutions, people need to work together. Otherwise, we disintegrate in feverish polarized chaos.

We all need to refine and exercise constructive leadership skills. At the same time, we need to critique and disempower those “leaders,” in religion as well as in politics, who do not lead but control. They are not real leaders, but self-promoting authoritarian managers, whose values and behavior oppose genuine Christianity and authentic democracy.

What qualities characterize genuine and constructive leaders?

(1) Genuine leaders are honest and transparent. They have integrity. They neither manipulate people nor play with the truth. They do not fear criticism, but understand criticism as a call to evaluate personal goals and behavior.

(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 part of the human experience and an ongoing human challenge. They understand the socio-cultural changes on the horizon as new opportunities for human transformation and growth.

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

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

(8) Some leaders, sad to say, are mis-leaders. They use and abuse people to advance their own self-promoting agendas or destructively racist and xenophobic programs. We must work to eventually remove them from office. The more important and more immediate task, however, is to impede their programs and projects right now.

(9) We are all called to exercise leadership: it is called individual and social responsibility. Power over people is not a virtue; and history shows again and again that in religion and in civil society absolute power corrupts absolutely.

(10) Jesus of Nazareth was a genuine and constructive Leader. In his life we find our Way, Truth, and Life.

– Jack

White Christian America


November 2, 2018

In just a few days we will have the 2018 midterm elections. No. I am not writing about politics this week end. My concern, rather, is to take a look at the contemporary American (USA) religious landscape.

My airport experiences seem to be memorable….During a long wait at the airport in Atlanta, last week, as I was waiting for my flight to Brussels, I was re-reading the 2016 book by Robert Jones: The End of White Christian America. When I put the book down to check an email on my phone, the fellow sitting next to me saw the cover and practicality yelled at me: “That’s our problem. That’s why I voted for President Trump. He will bring white America back to its senses.” I told him I had no desire to get into a political discussion; but that the USA was undergoing a major cultural and religions re-configuration. He gave me that “you crazy old liberal” look, then said he had to catch his plane and got up and walked away. Just as well.

Recent political campaign rallies have been marked by vitriolic and racist outbursts, harsh rhetoric, and even violence. Recent events in Pittsburg are symptomatic. The United States is undergoing major cultural-religious changes that make some people anxious and fearful. Others hateful. The changes of course are not going to disappear. We can only turn our clocks back one hour. On Wednesday, just four days after 11 people were fatally shot in the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history, anonymous posters on a website popular with white supremacists, Stormfront, claimed the bloodshed at Tree of Life synagogue was an elaborate fake staged by actors. The site’s operator, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, said traffic has increased about 45 percent since the shooting. Ignorance rules. Hatred is growing.

Thanks to research done by Robert Jones’ Public Religion Research Institute, as well as the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, we can point to twelve major changes in the US religious landscape. The future is now, becoming tomorrow:

(1) White Christians now account for fewer than half of the USA public. Today, only 43% of Americans identify as white and Christian. In 1976, 81% of Americans identified as white and Christian.

(2) White evangelical Protestants are in decline—along with white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. About 20% of today’s Americans self-identify as Catholic, which is a drop from 24% in 2007. The Catholic decline continues, due especially to clerical sexual abuse revelations. Revelations are not over, and the Catholic eclipse has begun…

(3) Non-Christian religious groups in the USA are growing, but still represent less than one in ten Americans. Jewish Americans constitute 2% of the public while Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus each constitute only 1% of the public. All other non-Christian religions constitute an additional 1%. Please note: a Muslim takeover of the United States is not just around the corner.

(4) America’s youngest religious groups are all non-Christian. Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, for example, are all far younger than white Christian groups. At least one-third of Muslims (42%), Hindus (36%), and Buddhists (35%) are under the age of 30.

(5) The Catholic Church in the United States is experiencing a major shakeup and an ethnic transformation. Twenty-five years ago, 87% of US Catholics were white, non-Hispanic. The figure of white non-Hispanic Catholics today is 55%. Currently 36% of US Catholics under the age of 30 are non-Hispanic white, and 52% are Hispanic. (In the 2016 election, 56% of white Catholics voted for Trump, compared to only 19 percent of Hispanic Catholics.)

(6) The cultural center of the Catholic Church is shifting south. The Northeast is no longer the epicenter of American Catholicism. Today, a majority of Catholics now reside in the South (29%) or West (25%). Currently, only about one-quarter (26%) of the U.S. Catholic population lives in the Northeast, and 20% live in the Midwest.

(7) Jews, Hindus, and Unitarian-Universalists stand out as the most educated groups in the American religious landscape. More than one-third of Jews (34%), Hindus (38%), and Unitarian-Universalists (43%) hold post-graduate degrees. Notably, Muslims are significantly more likely than white evangelical Protestants to have at least a four-year college degree (33% vs. 25%, respectively).

(8) Asian or Pacific-Islander Americans have a significantly different religious profile than other racial or ethnic groups. There are as many Asian or Pacific-Islander Americans affiliated with non-Christian religions as with Christian religious groups. And one-third (34%) are religiously unaffiliated.

(9) Nearly half of LGBT Americans are religiously unaffiliated. Nearly half (46%) of Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are religiously unaffiliated. This is roughly twice the number of Americans overall (24%) who are religiously unaffiliated. Many Americans no longer feel at home in their churches.

(10) Politically, white Christians have become a minority in the Democratic Party. Just 29% of Democrats today are white Christians, compared to 50% one decade earlier. Only 14% of young Democrats (age 18 to 29) identify as white Christian. Forty percent identify as religiously unaffiliated.

(11) Curiously, white evangelical Protestants remain the dominant religious force in the GOP. More than one-third (35%) of all Republicans identify as white evangelical Protestants, a proportion that has remained roughly stable over the past decade. Roughly three-quarters (73%) of Republicans belong to a white Christian religious group.

(12) Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Fully one-in-four adults under age 30 (25%) are unaffiliated, describing their religion as “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.” In their social and political views, Millennials are clearly more accepting than older Americans of homosexuality, more inclined to see evolution as the best explanation of human life, and less prone to see the Internet as threatening their moral values

And so, alert to the signs of the times, we move ahead. We must move ahead. We cannot regress.

And I conclude this reflection with just one pre-election reminder: Power over people is not a virtue; and history shows again and again that in religion and in civil society absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Jack

Prophetic Women


October 27, 2018

Sometimes we need to change the conversation, shifting from wayward bishops and abusive clergy. They will get what they deserve. We need to speak as well about positive issues and movements in today’s church. Life goes on and there are indeed signs of new life.

Right now I look to courageous women for signs of new life. This week’s editorial from the National Catholic Reporter says it well: “Sidelined for too long, women aren’t going away. Perhaps the utter scandal to which an all-male clerical culture has subjected the church will finally force a change.”

For me one of the most encouraging movements in contemporary church ministry is the prophetic “Roman Catholic Womenpriests” movement: RCWP. Prophetic movements always shake-up institutional managers; and sometimes that is a good thing. The prophetic leaders of course, especially those who condone women’s ordination, often incur excommunication…..In every institution it often takes time for top management to acknowledge and appreciate the change makers. The historical Jesus discovered this in his early thirties.

RCWP began with the ordination the “Danube Seven” in 2002. The Danube Seven are a group of seven women from Germany, Austria and the United States who were ordained as priests on a ship cruising the Danube river on 29 June 2002. It was an historic moment. A year later, two of the original group were ordained bishops. Today there are a several women bishops and the worldwide RCWP membership is 264, with 138 members for the USA, of whom 6 are also quite active internationally.

Nancy, a friend of mine, is a woman bishop; and I asked her for some reflections on the movement. “Roman Catholic Womenpriests take as our model the worker priests,” she said. “Many of us have other occupations since we are not salaried from our respective parishes/house churches. These include: lawyers, professors, hospital chaplains, librarians, spiritual directors, accountants, physician’s assistant, inner city social workers, nurses, retreat directors, etc. Many of our women hold masters and doctorate degrees not only in theology and Sacred Scripture but many other fields as well. Our vision is a new model of ordained ministry in a renewed Roman Catholic Church.”

A new model for ordained ministry is just what we need. It doesn’t need to be created. It exists already.

I find Nancy’s observations contemporary, realistic, and very encouraging. For example, she observes: “The mission of RCWP is to prepare, ordain, and support qualified women from all states of life who are committed to an inclusive Church. Our values include equality, justice, collegiality, accountability, and prophetic obedience. Our model of governance is communitarian based, which encourages empowerment and generous service. We continue to reject all forms of hierarchy and domination. (This is a continued call to each of us since we all have experienced this type of authority most of our lives). We are called to the priesthood by the people of God and the Holy Spirit working in us.”

Unfortunately some old guard RC bishops, at home, abroad, and particularly in Rome, still consider the ordination of women a “grave crime” as offensive as, or even worse than, the scandal of priests who sexually abuse children. This will change, however, because the winds of change are blowing through the church and gathering more energy.

Looking historically at change in the Catholic tradition, we see a three stage development: (1) When a big change starts, the change is condemned. (2) Later, if the change continues to develop and prosper, it is officially “tolerated” and often as “an experiment.” Finally, (3) once the change is fully established and flourishing, it is labeled “good and really a part of our tradition.”

The RCWP movement stresses a ministry of inclusive participation. It clearly speaks and beckons to contemporary believers, searching for new and fresh vitality in our Christian tradition. It is growing now in the United States and in Canada, South America, Europe, and South Africa.

As Nancy observed in a recent email: “There is an energy and passion to move the RC Church forward in its inclusion of all peoples.”

Amen

Jack

Theology: Stones or Bread


October 20, 2018

A few years ago my wife and I were invited to a family reunion with our Dutch relatives. It was a pleasant and delightful gathering. While having a before dinner drink, one of my wife’s uncles approached me and said he had an important question for me. He then withdraw from his pocket a small stone with very colorful lines in it. “Now,” he said “can you explain this to me?” I looked at it, rubbed my fingers on it, and said with a polite chuckle: “a lovely little stone and very colorful, but that’s all I can say.” VERY disappointed he turned away from me and walked over to my wife. “I thought you said your husband knew something about geology!” “No!” She replied: “Not GEology but THEology!”

Yes I do theology… and we all should do theology… We cannot survive without theology. Up-date-theology helps us understand and live our Faith. Outdated theology distorts Christian belief and misconstrues Sacred Scripture. Our theology has to be contemporary and credible. Retro-theology and ritual are more like geological stones. Human life, however, is nourished with living bread not colorful old stones.

Good theology interprets our Faith experience in contemporary language, symbol, and ritual. It leads to life-sustaining ministry and healthy institutional structures. It promotes authentic Christian behavior. Good theology helps us grow in our understanding of who God is for us and who we are with God for each other. Good theology stimulates us, sustains us, and calls us to growth. Defective or often passé theology disorients people and distorts the Gospel. God is not a hard-nosed old judge, ready to send people to hell. God is, to use a Jesus theological image, a loving “abba” – “Father” not an imperial disciplinarian. And no, women were not created inferior to men. Wives are not divinely ordered to be subservient to their husbands, nor are women ministerially inferior to men. (One really does not need male gonads to be a Catholic priest. The whole idea is preposterous if not downright disgusting.) Protestantism is not inferior to Catholicism. Gays are not innately disordered.

Outmoded and defective theology, at the institutional level, creates a loss of credibility and a moral leadership vacuum.

A very disordered theology of ordained ministry that stressed clerical power over people, rather than service, has directly contributed to the decades-long sexual abuse of children. Sex abuse is first about power and then sex. According to a recent CBS News report, a quarter of U.S. Catholics say that clerical sexual abuse reports have now made them personally question whether or not they will remain in the Catholic Church. The Catholic ecclipse.

+++

Right from the beginning, our early Christian communities were nourished by a number of different theologies, each addressed to a specific Christian and culturally-based religious group. The four Gospels are the prime example.

The Gospels evolved from oral traditions, passed on from person to person and from place to place. More than one single person (i.e. Mark, Matthew, Luke, John) composed the final versions of the Gospels as we have them today. Each time the authors adapted their accounts to the needs, understanding, and cultural-religious backgrounds of their listeners.

Mark’s Gospel was written for Gentile Christians in Rome. They suffered Roman persecution but

also discrimination from Judaeo-Christians, who considered themselves superior to Gentile converts. Mark portrays Jesus as the authoritative Son of God, with little reference to the Hebrew Scriptures. The Gospel According to Matthew, on the other hand, was written from a Judeo-Christian perspective. For Matthew Jesus is the great embodiment of all preceding Hebrew history.

While Mark focused on the mostly Gentile Christian community in Rome and Matthew was

more focused on the Judeo-Christian community in Antioch, Luke stresses that Christianity is

a way of life for Gentile as well as Judeo-Christian believers; and that it warrants legal

recognition in the Roman Empire. Luke is about healing and reconciliation: actions greatly

needed in our own contemporary society. The Gospel According to John differs from the Synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) in style and content in several ways. John uses a “post-resurrection” point of view. The author looks back on the Jesus events and emphasizes the inability of the apostles to understand the things that were happening at the time they occurred. The Johannine community was greatly concerned with hot issues in the church–synagogue debate and defined itself primarily in contrast to Judaism.

A variety of theological viewpoints is basically good, as long as people are (1) in conversation with each-other, (2) understand and acknowledge that a variety of viewpoints is legitimate, (3) don’t get locked into just one viewpoint, and (4) remember that the focus of any theology is our Faith experience.

When I was a younger Catholic growing-up in Michigan in the 1950s , the church was locked in a nineteenth century theology that, by way of example, still had a hang-up about sex. (Some Catholics still do, especially some who wear colorful uniforms.) I remember a page from our 1950s “Baltimore Catechism” which basically said that if you wanted to be a really good Christian you should avoid sex. Married life was “good” but no-sex religious life was “better.” (You can still find the illustration on the Internet.)

Theology changes and evolves as does our understanding of Christian tradition and human self-awareness. Theology must always change so it doesn’t get locked in a static particular cultural time frame. Theology challenges contemporary culture. It doesn’t canonize it, however. I have many Asian Christian friends who ask why they have to worship using European liturgical symbols and rituals….A good question. We must remember as well that the historical Jesus was not a pale-faced European but much more black than lily white. And, by the way, he had no problems accepting women as his disciples. So what is the basis for contemporary sexist prejudice and hangups? Send a letter to Rome.

Time-bound theology often tries to squeeze God into a narrow theological box. (My opening illustration.) God is bigger and richer than any theology. We are made in the “Image and likeness of God.” Distorted theology says that God is made in OUR image and likeness. We need liberation theology, black theology, queer theology, feminist theology, etc. to express the broad range of reality.

We need to disconnect from old theologies that supported patriarchy, power, sexism, and homophobia. Christianity is not about power over people but empowering people to take responsibility to love the other as oneself. Power over people is not a virtue, whether in Rome or Washington DC. History shows again and again that, in religion and in civil government, absolute power corrupts absolutely. My comment, by the way, is not about being a “Republican” or a “Democrat.” It is about being a decent and ethically responsible human being.

The contemporary theological challenge calls out to all of us. Contemporary believers – you and I — need to continually reflect and ask the big questions: who or what is God for me today? How do I understand Jesus today? How can I be a genuine follower of Christ today? And….where do I find the joy and support of a community of believers, who share my hunger for living bread?

– Jack

[The God in a box cartoon is by David Hayward and used here with his explicit permission.]

Authoritarianism


October 13, 2018

Authoritarianism has always bothered me because it uses and abuses people. It destroys human freedom to think, act, and live. It manipulates people and often destroys the “undesirables.”

The historical Jesus stressed that human greatness is based on compassion and service. His authority was used to motivate and guide people, to heal, support, and call to conversion. Some “Christian leaders” still don’t get the message.

In contemporary political and religious life, we are confronted with a creeping authoritarianism that seeks to dominate and control – and often displace and destroy. A very unhealthy kind of leadership.

It is not just in the United States, but around the world. We see it in Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and other countries. And I see it and study it in fanatic and fundamentalist manifestations of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Cultural change and human migration make some observers anxious and fearful. They feel threatened. They neither hear nor understand the words of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Instead they prefer to circle their wagons, or build their walls, to protect “us against them.” In ignorance, fear, and anxiety they surrender to the exaggerated rhetoric and growing influence of authoritarian leaders.

This is becoming our contemporary leadership problem. “Leaders” who should be be trusted for wisdom, intelligence, and humanitarian service are becoming hard-nosed autocrats, surrendering to the psychological and mental disorder of authoritarianism.

Honesty and integrity are replaced by self-promoting deceit and dishonesty. Self-centered authoritarians are self-stroking and need to feel good. Life for them boils down to what one can get and what one can get away with. Life is jungle warfare in a world of lazy and evil “losers.”

My immediate concern right now, however, is creeping authoritarianism in the U.S.A. It is becoming a destructive and sinister social virus that shows itself in increased racial violence, increased anti-Semitism, extreme political and social polarization, and the rise of militant Neo-Nazi groups.

Some symptoms of this contemporary social virus:

1. Ongoing efforts to intimidate and discredit the media, except for Fox News. The distinction between information and misinformation disappears.

2. Truth becomes fake news….and the actual fake news becomes the to-be-accepted real news. As George Orwell (1903-1950) predicted years ago: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

3. Police surveillance and violence against ideological “enemies” is accepted as a contemporary and necessary public safety necessity.

4. “Foreigners” are arrested, families are torn apart, and children and adults are incarcerated fir indefinite amounts of time in military camps. They are not yet called concentration camps.

5. The Supreme Court is being questionably stacked, with questionable judges, to promote a narrow authoritarian political ideology.

6. White supremacism, sexism, homophobia, far-right extremism are not criticized but promoted.

7. Fear mongering is stimulated and prompted in the name of national safety and security.

8. And, of course, the opposition is demonized.

Authoritarian “leaders” can only succeed because because authoritarian followers applaud and support them. Much more so than the average person, authoritarian followers go through life with impaired thinking. Their reasoning is often sloppy and based on prejudiced beliefs and a fierce dogmatism, that rejects evidence and logic. These cognitive defects in authoritarian followers enable them to follow any would-be dictator. As Hitler reportedly said,“What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.”

So what does one do?

Well, we must first of all acknowledge that authoritarian followers are extremely resistant to change. The more one learns about authoritarianism, the more one realizes how difficult it will be to reach people who are so ferociously aggressive and fiercely defensive. Polarization is now extreme and deeply rooted.

We need to educate and promote (starting at home with little children) a balanced education which is: (1) handing on authentic information, (2) teaching people where to find correct information, and (3) giving people the skills to be well-informed critical thinkers.

Our Christian communities, more than ever, must become, in the Spirit of Christ, compassionate and supportive gatherings of multicultural, multi-ethnic, and all-gender, brothers and sisters.

We need to courageously speak out and we need to help other people courageously speak out. If something is wrong or something untrue, people need to strongly and clearly state that it is wrong or untrue. Those who courageously speak out need the strong support of friends gathered around them. Going alone is increasingly difficult if not impossible in our cyber-linked world.

We need to be on guard, as well, that we do not become promoters of polarization and vicious partisanship. We need to learn how to work together for the common good….As Jesus said in Matthew (chapter 12): “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”

Together we move forward.

Jack

Catholic Crossroads and Catholic Conflict


October 5, 2018

The Pew Research Center reports this week that, as allegations and investigations of sex abuse in the Catholic Church continue to become more widespread, U.S. Catholic confidence in how Pope Francis is handling the crisis has plummeted. Only three-in-ten Catholic adults say Francis is doing an “excellent” or a “good” job. This is down 24 points since 2015 and 14 points down from when the Pew Research Center last asked the question in January of this year.

The declining confidence in Pope Francis is broad-based, occurring across a wide variety of subgroups of U.S. Catholics. Since 2015, for instance, the share who gave the pope “excellent” or “good” ratings for his handling of the sex abuse issue has declined by 24 points among Catholic men and 23 points among Catholic women. Similarly, both younger and older Catholics have become increasingly critical of the pope’s handling of the still growing problem.

Even among Catholics who say they attend Mass regularly, the share who give Francis high marks for his handling of the sex abuse crisis has been cut in half since 2015. Just 34% in this group now give him “excellent” or “good” ratings. In 2015, 67% gave him a positive evaluation.

Meanwhile, within the American Catholic Church, the culture war is about to get even stronger and much more problematic.

A group of wealthy American Catholics, called “The Better Church Governance Group,” have banded together to fund what they describe as a public investigation into every member of the church’s College of Cardinals. They want to prevent a repeat of the 2013 conclave which elected Pope Francis.

As the Catholic news site CRUX reported on Monday, October 1st, the group has assembled almost 100 academics, investigators, journalists, and former FBI agents to produce what it’s calling the “Red Hat Report.” This Catholic watchdog group plans to spend more than $1 million in its first year, with the goal of naming “those credibly accused in scandal, abuse, or cover-ups.” They will also check what they consider the orthodoxy of the world’s cardinals. A contemporary Catholic witch hunt?

The goal of the new Better Church Governance Group, as the CRUX story makes clear, is to influence the election of the next pope, who will be chosen by a subset of current cardinals. “What if we would have had someone else in 2013 who would have been more proactive in protecting the innocent and the young?” the group’s operations director, Jacob Imam, asked attendees at the group’s inaugural event at the Catholic University of America. In other words: What if we could have prevented the 2013 selection of Pope Francis?

The wealthy Americans behind Better Church Governance are crusading not just against Pope Francis’ leadership, but against cardinals who do not adhere to “traditional values”— particularly against homosexuality in the church.

There are two Francis issues here and people are not making distinctions: (1) the clerical sex abuse issue and (2) an issue of moving beyond a rigid nineteenth century Catholic theological ethos. One can ask serious questions about the leadership of Pope Francis; but I see people, without critical reflection, using Francis as the scapegoat for both problems. The situation is much more complex. Too many people today would rather not think and just react according to their feelings. Frankly, I think Pope Francis has indeed opened some important doors. I also see Francis as an older fellow who is stuck in the theology of his years-ago seminary formation. If one looks at his administrative actions — and not just his airplane interviews and offhand remarks — he is basically homophobic and sexist in an old-fashioned clerical way. (Yes, many of my friends get angry when I say these things; but I try to be objective.) Regardless, we need to look at issues in a calm, rational, and mutually respectful way. When I look at movements like the Better Church Governance Group, I see more signs of clandestine suspicions maneuvering than mutually respectful behavior.

Contemporary Catholic intrigue is indeed becoming curiouser and curiouser. The American arch-conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke is now collaborating closely with the arch-conservative, and former White House chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, to promote the agenda of the far right Dignitatis Humanae Institute.

Benjamin Harnwell, the founder and director of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, located in the ancient Abbey of Trisulti, 75 miles south-east of Rome, told Reuters that Bannon has been helping to build up the institute for about half of its eight-year life. Cardinal Raymond Burke, president of the Institute’s board of advisers, said Bannon will hold a key position within the institute and his collaboration reinforces the Dignitatis Humanae Institute’s intention to create a new Catholic leadership movement far from what Burke considers to be Pope Francis’ questionably orthodox ideas: leaning towards an old style conservative and traditionalist establishment. Very Burkean for sure.

Cardinal Burke told Reuters he looked forward to working with Harnwell and Bannon “to promote a number of projects that should make a decisive contribution to the defense of what used to be called Christendom.”

The third millennial Catholic game change is underway…..

Jack

(PHOTO: Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke attends a consistory as Pope Francis elevates five Roman Catholic prelates to the rank of cardinal, at Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo)

Airplane Mode


29 September 2018

This week end, looking for a bit of calmness in the storms, an adaptation of an older reflection.

Current political and religious world events remind us that it is time to refocus and develop new ways of seeing, thinking, and living. Not everything is falling apart. Socio-cultural autumn has returned with lost credibility and new uncertainties. Spring, however, with sanity and new life, WILL return.

Waiting for a flight from Washington DC to Brussels, not so long ago, I was re-reading Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth Johnson. A young passenger, with earphones tucked into his ears and texting on his iPhone, looked over at my book and me. “I used to believe in that God stuff,” he said. “I can’t believe in the old guy up there in heaven, running the show down here,” he continued. “I can’t either,” I replied with a chuckle.

Then he glanced at the name-tag dangling from my attaché case, which identified me as an ‘historical theologian.’ (The fellow had good eyesight!) “You are a theologian,” he said. “But you don’t believe in God?” “I do,” I said “but not the old image of God we inherited from the Middle Ages….I think God is right here with you and me and all the people waiting for the flight to Brussels.”

He pulled his earphones from his head, put his iPhone down, and for the next half hour we talked about faith experiences, contemporary life, his lack of interest in any religion — he was raised a Belgian Catholic — and yet his real desire to experience something ‘deeper in life….something spiritual.’

I told the young guy, on his way home after two weeks in Washington DC, that I meet a lot of people who are turned off by institutional religion. They are turned off by lost institutional credibility and feelings that the institution does not speak to them in a language they understand; nor does it speak about human life issues they find important. As one of my friends said, the church needs to change the conversation……

Over the noise in the airport, our boarding group was called. We were both in group three but our seat numbers were far apart. As we started walking to the gate, I remembered a quote from my spiritual guide, Richard Rohr: “In solitude, at last, we’re able to let God define us the way we are always supposed to be defined—by relationship: the I-thou relationship, in relation to a Presence that demands nothing of us but presence itself. Not performance but presence.”

“You know,” I said to the young guy as we got closer to the agent checking boarding passes, “I really think you will find the divine presence you are looking for if you put yourself on ‘airplane mode’ from time to time. We all need quiet time to simply be and reflect. We need to disconnect, occasionally but regularly, from all the noise around us.”

“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living,” Richard Rohr once said. “We live ourselves into new ways of thinking…”

Sometimes it takes a long time for us to ‘really get it’: What makes something secular or profane is precisely whether one lives only on the surface. It’s not that the sacred is here and the profane is over there. Everything is profane if you live on the surface of it, and everything is sacred if you go into the depths of it. Now is the time for deeper exploration.

We cannot not be in the presence of God. God is either in all things, or God is in nothing. As Richard Rohr again once said: “Jesus spent a great deal of his ministry trying to break down the false distinctions between ‘God’s here’ and ‘God’s not there.’ He dared to see God everywhere, even in sinners, in enemies, in failures, and in outsiders…..God is patient with all of us and with history itself.”

Jack

Reality in an Historical-Critical Perspective


September 22, 2018

This week-end a brief reflection, as a follow-up to my comment last week that we need “a broad-based implementation of an historical-critical understanding of Sacred Scripture, church teaching, and church history.” A number of people have asked me for more explanation…..

The historical-critical method, also known as historical criticism or higher criticism, began as a way to investigate the origins of ancient biblical texts in order to understand the world and meaning behind those texts. It gained broad recognition in the 19th and 20th centuries. It begins with an examination of the cultural and religious background of the authors of biblical texts and the meaning of their words written back then. Next the focus shifts to: (1) how one should understand the narrated past events today and (2) the best way to translate those scriptures into contemporary language.

Not everyone is happy with an historical-critical approach. Opponents, I would say often unfairly, accuse historical-critical scholarship of reducing Sacred Scripture to just a collection of old myths and pious legends. I don’t agree with that but In my writing and speaking I try to avoid the word “myth” because it is often misunderstood and can create more confusion than illumination.

Certainly, the historical Jesus did exist. The Gospels honestly attest to what he said and did. A the end of his life, as a man in his early thirties, he was tortured and crucified by Roman soldiers in Jerusalem. He was judged to be a threat to Roman control of the area and some Jewish religious authorities found him to be a dangerous trouble-maker. He challenged the authenticity of their faith. But then, God raised Jesus from the dead; and today we strive to live with and in his abiding Spirit. He is our way, truth, and life.

As we read the Scriptures, we do indeed find various kinds of “literary forms”: historic accounts, symbol, parables, and creative imagination. When we read the Jesus infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, for example, we find not much historic detail but much creative imagination, used to convey the great meaning and significance of Jesus’ birth. God with us. Rich symbols contribute to the narration: a guiding star, angels singing in the sky, surprised shepherds in the fields, wise men with rich gifts, a census that is not historic, and a long journey over rough terrain to King David’s city with a very pregnant wife about-to-give-birth.

When one takes a serious historical-critical look at Sacred Scripture, our understandings develop and change. Today, for example, we no longer say, as was taught when I was a young man, that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Contemporary scholarship stresses that those scriptures evolved from various oral and later written traditions over a period of centuries, in a process that was not concluded until long after Moses (whether a legendary or an historic person) would have been dead and gone. Nor do we understand Adam and Eve as an historic couple who launched humanity on our planet. (There are still occasional interpretive exceptions. Yesterday I read a paper written by a young, British, Catholic ordained minister. Therein he explained that Adam was created a MAN directly by God; but that, since Eve came from Adam’s rib, she and all women do not come directly from God but are basically DEFECTIVE males! I am glad he is not one of my students….)

I am an historical theologian and suggest, as we examine our Christian tradition and contemporary belief, that we need to apply an historical-critical analysis to church teaching and church history. Today I can only indicate some selective examples of what I mean.

Some time ago I was chatting with a well-known U.S. East Coast cardinal and suggested, with a chuckle, that perhaps the Nicene Creed should be changed to “I believe in God the Almighty Mother…” he was not amused and sternly reprimanded me and reminded me that, “as the church teaches, God is a MAN!”

God of course relates to us very personally, but God is not a person. We can use many analogies to describe our experience of God: Father, Mother, Lover, etc. Right now, in my life, I understand God as my close and supportive traveling companion. God keeps me going.

The early translators of the Bible and early and medieval theologians were all men. An historical-critical analysis today reveals their strongly male and occasionally misogynist bias. Today we would say, they looked at reality through male-tinted glasses. It is important to understand this when church authority — not the teaching and witness of Jesus — limits the roles of women in the church. Some “Fathers of the Church” were extreme, to say the least. Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240 CE) thought a woman was not only “the gateway of the devil” but also “a temple built over a sewer.” And he is often called “the father of Latin Christianity.”

Gathered around Jesus at the Last Supper were his disciples. We know that he had male and female disciples. Contemporary scholars suspect the Last Supper had men, women, and children present: very different from the Leonardo da Vinci image that has come down to us.

In Paul’s letters as well as in Acts of Apostles, we find the names of several women who were Jesus’ disciples and apostles and ministers in the early church. This is historic fact. Some biblical translators over the years have tried to masculinize there names. Today we know better. They were women. I still remember an early Christian mural in Rome, clearly showing a woman presiding at Eucharist. A few years ago, before people could visit and see the actual mural, a reproduction of that mural was made and displayed in a public viewing area. What a surprise. In the public-display reproduction the breasts were removed and the person presiding at Eucharist became a flat-chested man with a beard. This was done of course so that “the faithful would not be confused.”

For centuries, Western Christianity depicted Mary Magdalene as a one-time licentious prostitute. This misogynist calumny began in the sixth century, when Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604 CE) asserted that Mary Magdalene was in fact the anonymous sinful woman mentioned in the Gospel of Luke. Fortunately, contemporary scholarship today presents a very different understanding of Mary Magdalene and regards her as one of Jesus’ most prominent disciples. She stood by him to the end, while his most devoted male disciples did not. Don’t forget: she was the first disciple to testify to Jesus’s resurrection. A woman!

Today we need to clean-up our liturgical language, our biblical translations, and our ecclesiastical publications: removing sexist language and replacing it with inclusive nouns and pronouns. We are brothers AND sisters in the community of faith. It is “humanity” not “mankind.” Jesus did not come to bring salvation only “for us men.”

With an historical-critical awareness, we also need to challenge falsehood. Today in my Catholic tradition there are still very high-placed churchMEN who insist that women, because they are women, cannot be ordained. Pope John Paul II was very firm about this. Pope Francis is still firm about this. History demonstrates, however, that they are wrong, because their knowledge of historic realities has been so one-sided and incomplete. Indeed a major shortcoming in the Catholic tradition has been the hierarchy’s inability to accept women as fully capable human beings. The exclusion of women from all forms of leadership and service is no longer acceptable.

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Take care. May the Holy Spirit guide us with her wisdom, strength, and support.

Jack

The Third Millennial Catholic Reformation


September 15, 2018

Melinda Henneberger is an editorial writer and columnist who, reporting from Rome, used to cover Catholic issues for the New York Times. On September 8, 2018, CRUX published and interview with her by Charles Camosy, Associate Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University. I open this week’s reflection with a citation from that interview.

When asked about her opinion of Catholic Church reform after six years of Pope Francis, this was Melinda’s reply:

Until recently, I would have given a nice mixed answer. But in the current context, the ship is on fire and sinking while the captain chooses this of all moments to stay silent, the crew argues on like nothing has changed, and the passengers are jumping into the lifeboats. Bye!

“I’ve been very supportive of Francis, but doesn’t he have anyone around him who will tell him how serious this crisis is? Bottom line, the last three popes and who knows how many before that have failed to protect children. They haven’t seen how central a failing that’s been, either, or why if the Church can’t get that right, nothing and I mean nothing else matters.”

Sorry to say, I do believe the Catholic ship is on fire and sinking; and the passengers are jumping into lifeboats, or just jumping to get off. The Catholic crisis is serious and world-wide; and I fear we are only seeing the beginning of a major institutional breakdown. The Protestant Reformation was small stuff in comparison to what is now happening.

Constructive change and rebirth are possible; but it will require some major changes and a born-again Christian faith experience.

This week end I have three sets of observations: Ethical, Structural, and Theological.

Ethical Observations:

(1)Large numbers of Catholic ordained ministers — priests and bishops —over a period of several years have engaged in or supported gravely sinful behavior, sexually abusing children, adolescents, and adults. It continues today: a pernicious moral malignancy. The most recent revelations have been shocking, sickening, and terribly demoralizing.

So now we have the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report about sexual abuse and the episcopal cover up of sexual abuse in six Catholic dioceses. You can be sure that more disturbing reports will be coming out from the remaining nearly two hundred dioceses. Several state attorneys general have already launched investigations in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and New Mexico. More will come. We still see just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Then we have the case of (former-cardinal-still-archbishop) Theodore Edgar McCarrick. There is now bonafide proof (I am not writing about the questionable observations from the disgruntled old papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.) that the Vatican was informed in 2000 that McCarrick, AKA “Uncle Ted,”was fond of playing sex games with seminarians and young priests. The Vatican was informed in 2000…….. That means reports were available to the “saintly” Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis.

Finally, the scandal and the scourge of clerical sexual abuse is hardly limited to the United States. In India Catholic sisters have broken ranks with the church by openly protesting in the streets of the Kerala state capital against a bishop accused of raping a nun. Former nuns have raised allegations of sexual exploitation by priests and other male clergy in the state’s church; but the latest case has prompted unprecedented publicity and calls for investigation. It is like a long-ignored virus. In Germany a new report reveals that more than 3,600 children have been sexually abused by Catholic clergy over the past 70 years.

(2) For me the big ethical issue is a morality — and an immorality — based on a distorted understanding of human sexuality. (I wrote about this on August 17th.)

Perhaps if we had had married priests and bishops as well as women priests and bishops the situation would have been better? A healthy understanding of human sexuality is not based on power over people to achieve personal gratification. Healthy human sexuality is about intimacy, mutual respect, shared pleasure, love, affection, and an openness to new life in a variety of ways.

I still recommend a book that came out in 1977: Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought, a study commissioned by the Catholic Theological Society of America and edited by the Reverend Anthony Kosnik. Yes this book was condemned by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1979. The problem here was not the book but a flawed understanding of human sexuality within the CDF.

(3) Yes indeed, the hierarchical homophobic rhetoric is strong these days. Prominent bishops are condemning and scapegoating gays as the source of sexual abuse. This explanation is unfair, unfounded, and rejected by professionals researching sexual abuse. Heated homophobic rhetoric always makes me wonder. Of course I would never make any personal accusations; but, from what I have read and seen over the years, those who so often are publicly condemnatory and homophobic are often privately very actively gay. Some people protest too much..

(4) The Catholic Church needs to humbly acknowledge, confront, and do penance for gross immorality and decadent behavior. The guilty priests and bishops should he defrocked and sent to jail.

(5) At all levels, Catholic Church leadership is in dire need of remedial sex education. I would suggest that the Catholic Theological Society of America take on the project of re-educating U.S. bishops about “Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought.” They could organize workshops, conferences, and produce contemporary study guides that could be used across the country for ongoing education programs for lay and ordained.

Structural Observations:

The Catholic Church still has an imperial monarchical structure, with the pope at the top of the pyramid. Power and obedience are key ecclesiastical values. As the Franciscan spiritual writer, Richard Rohr, stressed not so long ago, it all began in Rome!

Before 313, the church was on the bottom of society, which is the privileged vantage point for understanding the liberating power of the Gospel for both the individual and for society. Within the space of a few decades, the church moved from the bottom to the top, literally from the catacombs to the basilicas….When the Christian church became the established religion of the empire, it started reading the Gospel from the position of maintaining power and social order instead of experiencing the profound power of powerlessness that Jesus revealed…..

“An imperial system needs law and order and clear belonging systems more than it wants mercy, meekness, or transformation. Much of Jesus’ teaching about simple living, nonviolence, inclusivity, and love of enemies became incomprehensible.”

Today, much of the old imperial Catholicism is crumbling; and some Catholic traditionalists are working feverishly to resuscitate it — and dump Pope Francis in the process. Reuters reported this week that former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon is helping to draw up the curriculum for a leadership course at a right-wing Roman Catholic institution in his efforts to promote conservative thinking in the church. Benjamin Harnwell, director of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, not far from Rome, told Reuters Bannon had been helping to build up the institute for about half of its eight-year life.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, a leading Catholic conservative, who is president of the Institute’s board of advisers, told Reuters he looked forward to working with Harnwell and Bannon “to promote a number of projects that should make a decisive contribution to the defense of what used to be called Christendom.” Bannon and Burke of all people.

Nevertheless, there are some healthy structural steps people can begin to take right now:

(1) Starting at the local level, let our parishes be genuine communities of faith in which male and female equality is our ministerial practice, and shared decision-making our rule of pastoral life. For our leaders there should be clearly agreed upon ministerial goals and objectives. Based on these goals and objectives, there should be annual performance appraisals. Perhaps we should return to the early American Catholic practice of lay trustees, which Catholics learned from Congregational churches.

(2) In every diocese there should be a pastoral leadership council, composed of lay and ordained representatives from each parish. Their role would be to oversee diocesan ministerial projects, finances, and performance appraisals of their bishop. The prevent their becoming too anchored in their own power machines, bishops should be appointed for a six year term, with the possibility of a second six year term. After that a new bishop should be appointed, based on recommendations from the pastoral leadership council.

(3) To clearly demonstrate that church leadership is about service to people and not paternalistic power over people, all medieval ecclesiastical titles should cease immediately. Just stop using these titles. I did years ago. No more “monsignor,” “your excellency,” “your eminence,” etc. Certainly no more “princes” of the church. When I write to a bishop, I say “Dear Bishop,” or if he was one of my friends or former students, “Dear Ed, Dear Paul, etc.”

(4) The dress and comportment of church leaders should be contemporary and simple. No more crushed silk cloaks and gowns in purple and red. No more colorful slippers. No more fancy episcopal walking sticks (croziers) that cost thousands of dollars. When Cardinal Raymond Burke dresses-up for a Pontifical High Mass, it costs about $30,000 to outfit him……… But on the other hand, plain old bishops can be much less expensive.

(5) How about the Jesus perspective? “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The religious authorities (scribes and Pharisees) sit in Moses’ seat but their deeds are done for people to see. They broaden their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love the places of honor at banquets, the chief seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces….Woe to you religious authorities (scribes and Pharisees) you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness.’” (Matthew 23)

(6)These days the church needs not just a face-lift but a heart transplant. Getting back to the heart of what we should be about: Jesus and the Gospel

(7) The bigger institutional church needs of course a major restructuring. The old Roman imperial model is finished. Reform and restructuring do take time. In our USA history we know, by way of example when the founders rejected monarchy, that the Declaration of Independence came in 1776; but the United States Constitution was not ratified until 1788. Our first president, George Washington, was inaugurated in 1789.

(8) I strongly suggest that the Catholic Church needs not a Third Vatican Council of bishops from around the world. It needs a THIRD MILLENNIAL CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION.

This Catholic constitutional convention, with lay and ordained theologians, historians, pastors, and sociologists must (1) draw up a constitution for the Catholic Church and (2) delineate a new administrative structure that covers all aspects of ecclesiastical governance and (3) clearly establish that the pope — elected for a limited term of office by an international body of lay and ordained representatives — is not a monarch but the chairperson of the board of directors.

Yes, I think “cardinals,” as the papal electoral college, are a relic of the past. The old gentlemen should be retired, and the College of Cardinals permanently abolished.

(9) The new process for electing the pope should rely on lay and ordained representatives from every diocese around the world. No need to use the Sistine Chapel and the smoking stove. These can remain historic tourist attractions.

Votes can be cast around the globe by secure Internet connections.

Later, papal performance appraisals could be done the same way. The days of papal monarchy should be brought to a close.

Theological Observations:

The big theological issues will only be resolved by a broad-based implementation of an historical-critical understanding of Sacred Scripture, church teaching, and church history.

(1)Catholics need to move away from their barrel-vision self understanding as the only “one true church.” The Church of Christ is large indeed with many traditions: Christians as a broad-based community of faith under “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God who is Father of all.” (Ephesians 4:5-6) In the 1950s, I attended a Catholic grade school in SW Michigan. Our local priest regularly told my religion class that Protestants were members of a “false religion.” Once we were even told to search our homes for “heretical Protestant Bibles” and to “throw them in the trash.” My Mother was Catholic but my Father was Protestant. I never thought of my Bible-reading and prayerful Dad as belonging to a false religion. When I told him that the parish priest told us kids to rid our homes of Protestant Bibles, my Dad replied “Father C. Is a kind but stupid old man. You will not throw God’s Word in the garbage can.”

(2) Catholics have said for centuries that only their priests were validly ordained through an imposition of hands going back to the Apostles. “Apostolic succession” was a big issue. Today of course we know that Jesus did not ordain anyone in his group of disciples. We know that ordination was a creation of the Christian community many decades after Jesus’ death and Resurrection. Apostolic succession has nothing to do with a tactile imposition of hands. It is succession in the faith, witness, and ministry of the Apostles. Yes, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, etc., along with Catholics, have apostolic succession.

(3) The historical Jesus did not establish or lay down ANY pattern or plan for church structure. He did not establish the papacy nor the first pope. Christians can and must adjust their institutions to meet contemporary needs. And as I said above there is absolutely no virtue in copying the long-dead and not-so-holy styles and structures of the Roman Empire.

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Well friends these are my thoughts right now. The situation is grave. Big steps are needed. Let’s move ahead…..

Take care

Jack