Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus

This past Sunday, Jesus covered quite a bit of ground. Too much ground for one sermon, really. He hit on points of marriage, divorce, gender, and children. Any one of those topics could have been a book, let alone a fifteen-minute homily.

And because this week’s texts have been used as a cudgel to bludgeon rather than as a balm to soothe the afflicted, it’s important that we spend more time with the text.

Luckily, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Here are some highlights from other preachers. Continue reading “Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus”

Cutting Off the Hand, Plucking Out the Eye

I’ve long wondered how fundamentalists justify certain stances. I can only conclude that it’s because they take Scripture literally but not seriously.

Consider this past week’s Gospel reading from Saint Mark:

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

Fundamentalists often use this as a text to support their evidence for the Dante-esque vision of hell as eternal conscious torment in a burning lake. And indeed, that description is in the text as plain as day: a place of unquenchable fire and gnawing worms. In his essay on the matter in Four Views on Hell, SBTS professor Denny Burk points to precisely this passage in Mark 9 as proof of his argument that hell “is an experience of judgment that has no end.” Continue reading “Cutting Off the Hand, Plucking Out the Eye”

“Any Mixture of Error”

I spend a lot of time around self-described fundamentalists — perhaps because I live in the Southeast, in the land of Southern Baptist churches. One of the defining doctrines of the modern SBC (and of fundamentalism in general) is their belief in a literal interpretation of Scripture; this tenant is spelled out in the first article of the Baptist Faith and Message, the SBC’s statement of faith:

It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. [Emphasis added.]

It is worth noting that fundamentalism is a new position, dating back less than two centuries, and it would not come to dominate the Southern Baptist Convention until a concentrated campaign called a “resurgence” by its champions (men like Albert Mohler and Paige Patterson) and a “takeover” by its detractors.

Scripture, according to fundamentalist Baptists, must be absolutely and in all ways true otherwise it is worthless. Continue reading ““Any Mixture of Error””

Immoral Majority

Our modern political era can easily be traced back to a single heinous decision: when the newly-resurgent fundamentalist movement within Christianity decided to seek political power through an alliance with the Republican Party.  The Rev. Dr. Randall Balmer, a historian and Episcopal priest, gave a concise and well-researched presentation on the history of this movement that is well worth viewing.

The Moral Majority has been defined by its rigid defense of one particular sexual ethic. For over forty years now, pastors have taken to the pulpit and warn their flocks about the dangers of  the Gay Agenda™ and women’s rights. In the 1990s, these same leaders decried one Bill Clinton for repeated allegations of sexual harassment and an affair with a White House intern. Bill Clinton’s actions, these pastors said, disqualified him from holding elected office.

In 2016, these very same pastors were presented with a presidential candidate who bragged about committing sexual assault. Donald Trump has reveled in his numerous affairs and he faces at least one law suit for sexual harassment. The Moral Majority has embraced Donald Trump like it has no other president — not George W. Bush, not Ronald Reagan, and certainly not the famously devout Jimmy Carter. Continue reading “Immoral Majority”

“Additional Duties as Required”

Question: What exactly do you do?

Most parishioners see their clergy for two hours once a week. What is it that we do with the rest of our week? What do pastors do when they aren’t in the pulpit? What do deacons do when they’re not setting the Altar?

As one person asked me, “What is ‘work’ for you?”

I’ve gotten this question from a lot of people — but strangely never any members of my own parish. It’s almost as though folks are nervous to ask their own pastors but really, really want to know.

Before we dive in, though, some caveats:

  • Every pastor or deacon will have a different answer based on areas of expertise,  theological perspective, and setting. Someone called to  youth and family ministry will answer differently from a solo pastor who will answer differently from someone on a synod/diocesan staff. An Episcopal priest will have a different answer from a United Methodist elder. A priest serving in downtown Manhattan will divide their time differently from the pastor serving three churches in rural South Dakota.
  • I serve a part-time call. This necessitates that I delegate more work than a full-time pastor or deacon.
  • I’ve been at this for just about a year now. I bet I’ll have a different answer in a year and in five years and in a decade and when I retire. Or at least, I’ll probably have different wording.

So, what is it that I do when I’m not in the pulpit?

Short Answer: “Additional Duties as Required”

Continue reading ““Additional Duties as Required””

Abuse, Gay Priests, and the Real Problem

As #ChurchToo continues to unfold in what Whispers in the Loggia has dubbed “Crisis 2.0” (a reference to the major abuse cover-ups unveiled in 2002, most notably in Boston), most of the focus has been on the horrifying details of child sexual abuse.

A quieter narrative has focused sexual harassment and abuse of seminarians and younger clerics. Indeed, the key theme of Abp. Vigano’s “nuclear” letter is former-Cardinal McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians, which the former nuncio blames on a conspiracy of “homosexual networks.”

Cardinal Raymond Burke has furthered this line of thinking:

Now it seems clear in light of these recent terrible scandals that indeed there is a homosexual culture, not only among the clergy but even within the hierarchy, which needs to be purified at the root.

Such claims ignore the evidence in favor of arguing for ecclesial partisan ideology.

First, they ignore the presence of celibate gay priests and deacons who have neither violated their vows nor abused their parishioners. Instead, hacks like Vigano and Burke would have us believe that all gay men are abusers. There is no evidence to suggest this is the case, nor is there evidence to suggest that gay men abuse children at higher rates than heterosexuals.

Second, these claims also ignore the rampant sexual abuse of women within the Church. While much has been said about abusive Protestant pastors, the scandal in the Catholic Church has quietly ignored the rampant abuse of women.

The heartrending report from Pennsylvania focuses primarily on child abuse but points out that the investigation also uncovered rampant clerical abuse against women. The Daily Beast has reported on several women who were assaulted, abused, and harassed by Catholic church leaders, including the horrifying allegation that one woman was assaulted during a private Mass. Just as in the case of abuse against minors, the hierarchy conspired to cover up these crimes.

What we see unfolding in the Catholic Church, as in so many other religious communities, is not some sinister cabal of gay priests. Rather, it’s an abusive power structure more dedicated to the institution than to the protection of its members.

Until bishops like Burke and Vigano can identify the real problem and stop blaming ideological bogeymen, the abuse will continue.

“Prominent Among the Apostles:” Women in Ministry and #ChurchToo

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St. Junia, “Prominent among the apostles”

As #ChurchToo continues to unfold, the call for women in leadership has grown both in traditions which ordain women and traditions that do not. Even before the latest round of abuse revelations, the Catholic Church was beginning a conversation about ordaining women as deacons. Now is the time for full equality, and that means ordination. Continue reading ““Prominent Among the Apostles:” Women in Ministry and #ChurchToo”

On Allegations Against the Pope

The scandals of the Catholic Church continue to unfold, and they have now come to the Vatican itself.

The past two months have seen a harsh light unveiling more and more corruption within the Church. Even as many struggle to grasp the scope of abuse in Pennsylvania, new investigations are beginning in Saint Louis. Other states may be next, including Minnesota (which has already seen major scandals in two diocese). An author at America reminds readers that as horrific as the clerical abuse scandals are, there is likely a larger abuse scandal looming in Catholic homes. Bishops continue to claim that abuse is in the past, willfully ignoring survivors and family members still struggling in the present. The Faithful, kept in the dark and put in danger by their shepherds, are confronting a legacy of violence and facing the difficult decision of whether or not to leave the Church. Brother Casey Cole, a Franciscan deacon approaching his priestly ordination, has voiced his own struggle to comprehend the myriad sins of the Church he loves so much, going so far as to tell his audience that he understands if they want to leave. Continue reading “On Allegations Against the Pope”

A Response to #ChurchToo: Giving Rise to Women’s Voices

Given what has become a near-daily horror show of sexual abuse allegations in the Church* and across the theological spectrum, what hope is there?

I hear the critics now. “Our only hope is in Christ! We are wretched sinners, and this crisis is because we don’t place enough trust in God!”

Ok. Yeah. Sure. That’s true. So let’s follow this line of thought to its conclusion. Let’s put our hope in God and listen for the Spirit. What’s she calling us to do? If we are the Body of Christ, what healing work are we to do with his hands?

More than empty apologies, more than mass resignations, more than long-delayed exploratory committees, we need women’s voices. Continue reading “A Response to #ChurchToo: Giving Rise to Women’s Voices”