Shared Belief: Ethics and Sexuality

Part of Shared Belief, a series responding to Alisa Childers’ article on progressive Christianity and atheism.


In the previous post, we examined Alisa Childers’ claim that progressive Christians ignore Scripture and instead focus on their own preferences to create an ethical framework. We examined the role of Scripture, reason, experience, and Church Tradition in shaping a distinctly Christian ethic. We further considered the distinction between a holistic approach to Christian behavior — that is, a concern for the impoverished, the oppressed, and the marginalized — over and against a narrow focus on what my colleague termed “pelvic issues,” or matters pertaining to human sexuality.

Let us turn now to the elephant in the room. Continue reading “Shared Belief: Ethics and Sexuality”

Come So Far, So Far To Go

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The Risen Christ Appears to Saint Mary Magdalene

It’s remarkable to sit back and think about this past summer and the historic wave of women elected to the episcopacy within the ELCA. In less than fifty years (forty-eight this month), the mainline Lutheran tradition went from not ordaining women to going six-for-six on new bishops.

Let that sink in: fifty years ago, women were not ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Now, they make up just over a quarter of  our Conference of Bishops.

As the Religion News Service reports, the percentage of women in ministry is on the rise across mainline Protestantism. Continue reading “Come So Far, So Far To Go”

Unfolding Scandal in the Vatican

As #ChurchToo continues to unfold — and even brushes up against American partisan fights — the Vatican is finally responding to accusations leveled against Pope Francis and his predecessors.

As a reminder:

  • Ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was long rumored to abuse priests and seminarians. When allegations emerged that he had also sexually assaulted minors, he was removed from the College of Cardinals.
  • His successor in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, was implicated both in cover-ups in Pennsylvania and suspicions about how much he knew vis-a-vis McCarrick. Wuerl has since resigned his cathedra in DC.
  • Former nuncio to the United States and noted “culture warrior” Archbishop Carlo Vigano published a letter accusing Pope Francis of knowingly covering for McCarrick and even rescinding sanctions against the disgraced cleric.
  • For all of his indignation, Vigano himself has been implicated in cover-ups and was repeatedly seen publicly alongside McCarrick. Which is to say, his credibility is lacking.
  • All of this is mired not only in the latest round of abuse and cover-up scandals but also an ecclesial cold war between “traditionalist” Catholics suspicious of Francis’ reform agenda and more progressive Catholics cheering on the pontiff‘s program.

The Vatican has taken over a month to respond to these allegations. Vigano has written a second letter. Both sides have dug in, and the culture war wages on. Continue reading “Unfolding Scandal in the Vatican”

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”

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”

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”