A few weeks ago, a reader commented on my post in which I expressed my support for the ordination of women:
One is either Catholic or he (purposely did not write “he/she” here) is not. One cannot be 99.9% Catholic. You either are or you are not. Obedience is better than sacrifice, and is best when it is a sacrifice.
In other words: the cafeteria is closed.
For those of you who don’t get the allusion: when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected to be Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, conservatives and ultra-traditionalists within Catholicism adopted the motto “the cafeteria is closed” as a way of expressing their belief that it is not okay for Catholics to differ with church doctrine on contentious issues, usually those involving gender or human sexuality. It refers to the pejorative label “cafeteria Catholic” which the purists use to denigrate those who have conscientious disagreements with the church.
“Cafeteria Catholic” and “the cafeteria is closed” are insults, typically used to imply that conscientious dissidents are traitors — disloyal to the church. I find it odd that the traditionalists would dare to accuse others of being traitorous, since Christ suggested that the one who calls another a traitor will answer for it in hell fire (Matthew 5:22).
Meanwhile, statements like “one cannot be 99.9% Catholic” are forms of judgment. So anyone who says something like this appears to be disobeying Christ’s command as laid out in Matthew 7:1.
Forgive my nitpicking; I merely wish to make a simple point. Those who take delight in attacking other Christians because they “pick and choose only what they want to believe” are, ironically, doing the very thing they are accusing others of doing.
The accusers are quick to obey what they consider to be the important purity laws (as they understand them), but appear to ignore the hospitality commandments, such as forgiving others, refraining from judging others, and even refraining from calling others names.
I’m not trying to suggest I’m better than people who would dismiss me for being a pick-and-choose Christian or a cafeteria Catholic. All I’m saying is that when it comes to being less than 100%, we’re all pretty much on a level playing field. None of us are pure. There are no pure Christians, no pure Catholics, no pure Bible-believers. I’m not saying that we should just be cavalier when it comes to religious authority, nor am I defending those who blow off church teaching for no other reason than they don’t like it. But there are times when committed people of faith recognize that their sincere and well-informed conscience simply calls them to disagree with religious authority. If we ideologically insist that external norms must always trump conscience, we become no better than the Pharisee who judged Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.
We’re all stumbling through this world, making mistakes left and right but pretty much just trying to do the best we can. I hope we can all learn how to be kind to each other as we’re stumbling along. To start, it would be good for us to refrain from calling each other names or passing judgment (of the “I’m pure and you’re not” variety, or, for that matter, “I’m committed to hospitality and you’re not” — the error I’m at risk of making with this post). I’m not saying that we should avoid talking about our disagreements and concerns. On the contrary, we should be honest with one another, even though it’s painful to do so. And it will be painful. It’s painful to disagree, and particularly painful to disagree about matters of faith. Faced with such painful division, it’s tempting to retreat into “I’m right and you’re wrong” thinking. But such a mindset merely undermines true community, so it ultimately creates great harm. It’s harmful because it is willing to destroy relationships in its zeal to hold on to a singular (and therefore, partial) understanding of truth. But truth, in its fullness, cannot be avoided. And the truth is, we don’t agree, often with both “sides” of a conflict sincerely convinced of the reasonableness and Godliness of its position.
The same person who told me that 99.9% isn’t good enough to be Catholic also sneered at the Anglican Communion for its deep internal struggle over questions of morality, faith and practice. These are perilous times for Anglicanism. But at least it’s a community of faith that is trying to be honest about its disagreements.
I think other churches — my own included — could learn a lot from the Anglicans.