Will Sen. John Kerry allow himself to be photographed taking Holy Communion in a Roman Catholic Church in the coming months?
Will any bishops make a point of this? Will his own archbishop call him out?
What this is all about, of course, is that Kerry is both the first post-Roe Catholic presidential candidate and the first since the Vatican clarified how the Church views politicians who actively support abortion rights. Steven Waldman is asking these timely questions at Slate.com. And he is right to see that this could turn into a major story — even a dangerous photo-op in reverse.
Will America’s Catholic bishops actually do anything about Kerry’s disregard of key church teachings? At minimum, they’ll complain, as will many conservative Catholic and pro-life groups. One of the biggest guns in their arsenal, spiritually speaking, is the refusal of communion. Most Catholics consider receiving the Eucharist to be at the heart of their faith and its most vivid expression. Pro-choice and pro-gay Catholics are still allowed to call themselves Catholic but, according to David Early, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, being recommended not to take Communion means that the church believes “there is something defective about that person’s practice of the Catholic faith.”
The person in the real hot throne, of course, is the still relatively new leader of the Church in Boston, Archbishop Sean O’Malley. It should, however, be noted that he already has a communicant named Ted Kennedy. At the same time, the very national nature of this issue means that other Roman Catholic prelates — perhaps even Rome itself — may be tempted to speak out, risking the wrath of the New York Times editorial page and God only knows who else.
O’Malley has already had this to say, noting that Kerry is not alone in the pews:
“These politicians should know that if they’re not voting correctly on these life issues that they shouldn’t dare come to communion,” the Archbishop told LifeSiteNews.com.
Archbishop O’Malley noted that beyond pro-abortion politicians, that reception of Holy Communion by those not in a state of grace is sadly commonplace. “I think it’s in the context of a greater problem – Catholics feel that everyone is entitled to go to communion all the time. That has to be addressed. You know if a (pro-abortion) politician asked me I would say you shouldn’t go to communion, I wouldn’t go to communion. They don’t understand why.” He explained, “At a funeral sometimes they will announce that communion is for Catholics and people get all offended, so we’ve lost the notion of the sacredness of communion and the kind of disposition we need to have.”
Perhaps there needs to be a sub-blog that ONLY covers press reactions to “The Passion of the Christ.” No, I don’t think so. But Jack Mathews of the New York Daily News does have one of the first takes on the story that will keep this media fest alive for, oh, 11 more months.
If you think the debate over Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” will be over once the movie has taken in its last piece of silver at theaters, consider next year’s Oscar race. Will it or won’t it receive nominations? And if not, true believers will say, why in the hell not? …
It’s brilliantly filmed by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, a four-time Oscar nominee. And given the graphic flesh trauma borne by blood-drenched star James Caviezel, one would think a makeup nomination is in the bag.
But what of the movie itself, and Gibson as Best Director? Is “Passion” going to divide Academy voters along the blue state/red state fault line the way it seems to be dividing the general population? It only takes 20 percent of a branch’s membership to get a nomination.
P.S. Excellent comment from a reader: “Better yet … since the film is almost entirely in Aramaic, will it be nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category?”
I’m sticking with my hot-and-cold stance on The Passion of the Christ. I think it has moments of brilliance, but needed more of a Hitchcock approach to temper the numbing literalism of some of its images. I think Mel Gibson could have made a film that hit just as hard, without becoming such a festival of violence. I know what Gibson was trying to do with this film (stations of the cross for a media-soaked age), but I still question the theological balance of 15 minutes of flogging and 90 seconds of the Resurrection.
That said, I think it is interesting to watch the rage of many critics rise with the box-office numbers. Some people out there in elite-blue media land are getting really mad at folks in red-state pews. For a fine update on this media storm, I can only send you — once again — to the Christianity Today’s Film Forum. Jeffrey Overstreet ranges all over the cybermap, then says:
(W)ith each passing day, more and more film critics are publishing opinions on the film that will, eventually, show them up as reactionaries. … They are so troubled by the intensity and focus of this work that they reveal a great deal of ignorance about Christianity and the way it has been represented in art throughout history. Many — perhaps even most — are showing themselves far more guilty of discrimination and prejudice than the filmmaker they seek to condemn. If they are so willing to assume that Gibson is anti-Semitic, in spite of his claims to the contrary, in spite of the way in which Gibson’s film incriminates those who despise Jews, then why have they remained silent, or even praised other films that exhibit obvious, undeniable prejudice against Catholics and Christians?
In a Baylor lecture the other day on “The Passion and the Press,” I suggested a critical standard for consumers who are still trying to decide whether to see the fim and, thus, are seeking solid reviews. There is no doubt in my mind that Gibson reveals the thesis of his movie in the gripping shot at the end in which Mary is holding the body of her son while gazing out of the frame into the eyes of each and every person in the audience.
This is the defining moment. The meaning is clear: You did this. Each and every one of you.
If a reviewer does not at least mention this image, then I say “move on.” Seek the input of some other critic who is willing — for better or for worse — to wrestle with the actual content of Gibson’s work.
That would be Richard Ostling, the veteran religion writer for the Associated Press. This is the same Richard Ostling who did such high-quality God-beat work for Time in the days before cover stories on the agony of dog overbreeding and the like.
So we are facing months or even years of escalating coverage of political and religious issues linked to same-sex marriage. There is no way around this. Ink will be spilt.
So, WWROD? First of all, he would remember the roots of the story. This is one of the advantages of being a veteran reporter. He would also read books, reports and articles that very few other reporters read. He would, for example, read the work of truly edgy writers on the religious left and the right. The goal is to find on-the-record ideas that have not been reported to death elsewhere, on-the-record statements that illuminate the current debate and, perhaps, show where events might be headed.
Take, for example, Dr. Marvin Ellison, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) clergyman who teaches ethics at the United Church of Christ’s Bangor (Maine) Theological Seminary.
Ostling wrote a column about this openly-gay theologian’s new work, “Same-Sex Marriage? A Christian Ethical Analysis,” published by Pilgrim Press. Ellison is more than willing to peer into the looking glass, so Ostling served up a bracing list of these observations. Ellison, for example, thinks:
“… a lively debate is needed,” for instance, on whether marriage should now be redefined to recognize “polyamorous” people, those involved with “multiple partners.” He wonders, “How exactly does the number of partners affect the moral quality of a relationship? … Could it be that limiting intimate partnerships to only two people at a time is no guarantee of avoiding exploitation?”
Besides pondering marriage for bisexuals, he protests that the narrowly “bipolar” definition of marriage excludes “intersexuality, transgenderism, transsexuality and other sexualities.”
And what about the forthcoming national debate on same-sex marriage? This, it appears, is old news. Perhaps the goal of the self-labeled “queer theologians” should be for the state to abolish marriage, not redefine it.
Ellison notes that some Christian liberals who advocate gay marriage hope to stem “gay male cruising and experimentation with multiple anonymous sex partners” and to foster monogamous commitment. … In his view, strong defense of gay sexuality “requires critiquing the notion that the only moral (and legal) sex is marital sex,” because old sexual categories and moral norms should be reconsidered.
In particular, marriage is based on monogamy, which is “limiting and does not reflect the different ways in which couples structure their partnerships.”
These are not viewpoints that make it into daily newspapers on a regular basis. But fierce debates about the meaning of words such as “monogamy” and “fidelity” are not new. For at least a generation, gay and lesbian theologians have debated whether marriage should be abolished or merely changed.
Once again, Ostling knows this because veteran reporters who are committed to a beat never throw away their notes or their telephone numbers. This is one reason the editors who run newspapers may want to consider hiring God-beat specialists who have graduate studies in this field and resumes that show signs of experience.
While this Ellison book may seem edgy, Ostling already knew this theologian’s name. Why? Long ago, Ellison was one of the authors of a controversial 1991 PCUSA report on sexuality, which made some ripples in the mainstream press by saying:
“Rather than inquiring whether sexual activity is premarital, marital or post marital, we should be asking whether the relation is responsible, the dynamics genuinely mutual and the loving full of joyful caring.”
Meanwhile, Ellison and other members of the committee defined fidelity as “an open-ended process of learning” how to “renegotiate” the character of any given sexual relationship “as needs and desires change.” After all, “a reformed Christian ethic of sexuality will not condemn, out of hand, any sexual relations in which there is genuine equality and mutual respect.”
Large choirs of Presbyterians raised their voices to denounce this report. It was, perhaps, ahead of its time. But it was a sign of where the world of edgy, progressive mainline religious leaders wanted to go then and want to go today.
In the meantime, colleagues, we can keep asking: WWROD?
Gayle White and Tom Baxter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution report on how much the church-and-politics atmosphere has changed since 1960. When John F. Kennedy ran for president 44 years ago, he had to assure skittish Protestant ministers that he wouldn’t let his Catholicism influence his political decisions.
Conservative Christian voters now prefer candidates whose policies are shaped by their faith. Indeed, as White and Baxter report, some bishops have disciplined Catholic politicians (including Kerry) who profess personal opposition to abortion but whose votes are consistently pro-choice.
Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance, treats these changing attitudes as hypocrisy:
“The conservative religious movements in this nation feared that the Roman Catholic Church would dictate Kennedy’s public policy decisions,” Gaddy said. “Now, those same people are pushing vigorously for political candidates who will elevate their commitment to a religiously conservative social political agenda above the responsibilities of their elected position.”
It could just as well be a sign of greater harmony among Catholics and Protestants who share a concern for the public square. It could also have something to do with how many Catholic-fearing Protestant pastors who confronted JFK 40 years ago have since gone the way of all flesh.
Further, could it be that ecumenical pro-life activism of at least two decades helped fellow believers discover each other as allies? Might Evangelicals and Catholics Together have changed some hearts and minds? Must even greater diversity and tolerance between orthodox Christians become evidence of something sinister?
Actually, Gaddy needn’t worry about the excessive mixing of orthodox doctrine and conservative politics. The Hill said in August 2003 that Kerry told the Vatican to pipe down when it spoke against gay marriage:
“It’s important not to have the church instructing politicians,” Kerry, a Catholic, told the Boston Herald.
Savor the irony of this: One JFK had to pledge loyalty to a secularist politics so he could calm fears of a Vatican-controlled White House. Forty years later, another JFK defends this policy, grounded in the fears of another era, as something almost sacred. Clearly the times haven’t changed for everyone.
Talking about yourself at length can be a troubling habit, but Spalding Gray managed to turn it into an art form that transcended mere self-absorption.
Gray’s body was found in New York’s East River on Sunday night and it was identified on Monday. That Gray probably killed himself comes as no shock to those who knew him. Gray had made previous suicide attempts, and his mother killed herself at 52.
Gray, who lived to 62, was a longtime Buddhist. He interviewed the Dali Lama for the first issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review in 1991. (Editor Helen Tworkov later said she was aesthetically appalled at having to use a bar across the top of the magazine to help sell newsstand copies.)
Buddhist Gateway offers a brief video clip (scroll down to the fifth item), an except from a video called Visions of Perfect Worlds, in which Gray recites Buddhist teachings on transciency. A few of its key thoughts:
We should find perfect existence through imperfect existence. We should find perfection in imperfection.
In Buddhism, it is a heretical view to expect something outside this world. We do not seek something besides ourselves. We should find the truth in this world: through our difficulties, through our suffering.
So to find pleasure in suffering is the only way to accept the truth of transciency. Without realizing how to accept this truth, we cannot live in this world.
New York magazine published a lengthy elegy of a feature story about Gray in its Feb. 2 issue. Alex Williams wrote:
The middle of three boys, “Spuddy” Gray was born into an almost quintessential tableau of northeastern Protestantism in Barrington, Rhode Island. The eldest boy, Rockwell Jr., is now a literature professor at Washington University in St. Louis; the youngest, Channing, is a journalist in Rhode Island. Spalding’s father, Rockwell Sr., worked as a credit manager for a local corporation. His mother, Margaret, was a woman of contradictions. A devout Christian Scientist, she prided herself on being the life of any party, who boasted that she could get “more high on cranberry juice than other people could on booze.”
Williams described a family friend’s bleak visit to Gray’s home after both the head-on collision and the horror of 9/11:
I was out at their house for a dinner party one Christmas, and it was just eerie,” says the writer Steven Gaines, a friend. “Most of the time, Spalding was catatonic. He was glowering. One of the few times he spoke, he just looked up at the ceiling and bellowed, ‘God save us. God save us all!’ And he meant it.”
Williams closed his story by describing how Gray attended a screening of Tim Burton’s Big Fish and was moved by its climactic images of death. He quotes Gray’s widow, Kathie Russo:
“Some friends said I shouldn’t see it, but I had to, I went last night,” says Russo. Holding back the tears again, she adds softly, “You know, Spalding cried after he saw that movie. I just think it gave him permission. I think it gave him permission to die.”
Former Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow wrote a bittersweet tribute to Gray on Jan. 16:
I’m in New York, where it was zero degrees last night with a wind that seemed to be hauling some large chunk of the Hudson River with it as it clawed its way down Grand Street. Somewhere out there in that grim dark is whatever remains of my old pal Spalding Gray.
Both seriously and humorously, more often both, he’s been threatening for years to do himself in. Indeed, his jokes about suicide preserved him and certainly entertained me. But now that it’s starting to look like he’s actually gone and done it, suicide is not so amusing.
WACO — Every decade or so a journalism storm hits Baylor University, leading to a wave of ink about Baptists, sex and freedom of the press.
The most famous was a controversy two decades ago about Baylor coeds in Playboy. Right now, folks are hyperventilating about a student newspaper editorial supporting same-sex marriage. The Lariat editorial concluded:
Like many heterosexual couples, many gay couples share deep bonds of love, some so strong they’ve persevered years of discrimination for their choice to co-habitate with and date one another. Just as it isn’t fair to discriminate against someone for their skin color, heritage or religious beliefs, it isn’t fair to discriminate against someone for their sexual orientation. Shouldn’t gay couples be allowed to enjoy the benefits and happiness of marriage, too?
I know how these dramas tend to play out, because back in the mid-1970s there was another blowup in which a handful of students tried to write actual news stories — not editorials, but news stories — that Baylor administrators opposed. In that case, I was one of the journalism students who got caught in the crossfire. It’s interesting to note that some of the administrators who crushed us back them are often hailed in the media these days as the enlightened, progressive voices at Baylor. Times change.
The latest controversy comes in the midst of national headlines about Baylor, headlines focusing on scandals in the basketball program and bitter divisions in the faculty over what is and what is not `Christian education.` There is a lot I could say about all of that, since I speak fluent Baylor-ese. Maybe some other time.
But this is a journalism blog, so let’s pause for a second and consider a different journalism-education scenario for this latest Baylor storm.
Let’s say that the students did not resort to writing an editorial about one of the most divisive issues in American culture. After all, the quick-strike strategy of writing an editorial — when seen in the context of continuing Baylor controversies — was almost certainly a trial balloon seeking headlines in the Waco Tribune-Herald and through that coverage the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle and perhaps even The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Let’s say that, instead of writing that easy editorial, the editors assigned their best reporters to write two news feature stories.
Like any religious institution in the era after James Davison Hunter’s Culture Wars, we can say that Baylor has its `camp of the progressives` (truth is personal and experiential) and its `camp of the orthodox` (revealed truth is eternal and absolute). This is, after all, what the ongoing Baylor academic warfare is all about.
So the Lariat devotes one 2,000-word story to the views of the Baylor progressives, who explain why they think that changing U.S. laws to favor same-sex marriage is a good thing. They also explain how this affects their views of public education, free speech, freedom of assembly and religious liberty. They say what they have to say on the record.
Then the Lariat devotes a 2,000-word story to the views of the orthodox, those who believe that America should not embrace a fundamental redefinition of marriage. Baylor has national-level people who can address this issue. They also are quoted, on the record, answering the same set of questions.
After these stories run, the Lariat editors might want to write an editorial. On an issue this hot, it would certainly help to offer dissenting voices a chance to speak, as well.
This is, in my way of thinking, a more journalistic approach. I also think it would create a different kind of controversy — a more constructive kind. Instead of fostering academic guerrilla warfare and media stereotypes, this would put more information on the record. This might even lead to informed debate.
What is the purpose of having student journalists write editorials that cause news, before they have gone through the journalistic process of writing stories that report both sides of the news? Why not treat this as a subject for news reporting?
Note that this approach would require leaders of both warring Baylor camps to speak on the record, placing their views out in the open for all the world to see — including regents, donors and parents.
I think this would be a good thing, journalistically speaking.
So here is my question, as a battle-scarred veteran of the Christian college journalism wars at Baylor and elsewhere: Which camp at Baylor would oppose this open, on-the-record, journalistic scenario? The progressives or the orthodox?