Chuck Colson Dies at 80

Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports for NPR: “Watergate Figure, Evangelist Chuck Colson Dies at 80

Charles Colson, who served time in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal and later became an influential evangelical Christian, has died. Colson went from being one of the nation’s most despised men to a hero of conservative Christians.

Colson passed away at a Northern Virginia hospital on Saturday afternoon following a brief illness, according to a news release from his media representatives.

… In 1974, Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and served 7 months in federal prison.

… Soon after his release, Colson started Prison Fellowship, which served prisoners and their families. It became the world’s largest prison ministry; it’s now in more than 100 countries.

But not everyone is impressed. Barry Lynn, who heads Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, has criticized Prison Fellowship — in fact, he’s sued it and won — for pressuring prisoners to convert to Christianity by offering them better conditions. Lynn says Colson never changed his methods, just his boss.

“Sadly, when he went from being Richard Nixon’s hatchet man, he turned into a man who thought he was God’s hatchet man,” Lynn says. “Literally turning these very formidable political skills that he had in the service of very far-right religious and political agendas.”

Michael Cromartie of the conservative influence tank Ethics and Public Policy Center said the same of Colson, but viewing it as a positive:

“He took the dynamism he carried into politics and brought it into the world of Evangelical Christianity and became, next to Billy Graham, probably one of the leading spokespersons of evangelical Christianity in America today,” [Cromartie] says.

And like Graham, Colson lived without scandal — since his conversion.

As “one of the leading spokespersons of evangelical Christianity in America today,” Colson helped to identify Christianity with a vicious, mean-spirited, and thoroughly dishonest culture war against women and LGBT people. He worked, passionately, to make that the core and the bedrock of American Christianity.

I don’t think that counts as living without scandal. I think that counts as being at the center of one of the worst scandals of this generation of the church.

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  • P J Evans

    Colson helped to identify Christianity with a vicious, mean-spirited,
    and thoroughly dishonest culture war against women and LGBT people.

    If they actually wrote something like that, they’d be fired because they made the Very Serious People unhappy.

  • Lori

    Colson is one of those people who remind me that I do not believe Donne was strictly correct when he said,“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind”.

  • http://atthewelcometable.blogspot.com/ Lori

    Part of me feels like, if I were a better person, I’d be sadder about this.  The other part of me feels like, if I were really a better person, I would feel no guilt over not being sad about this.

  • P J Evans

    ‘ Colson is dead. Good.’

  • Lori

     Maybe it’s the name, because I feel exactly the same way.

  • schismtracer

     I have to side with the latter part.  Some people simply go out of their way to leave the world a worse place than when they entered it.  I see no reason to sugercoat that or be – happy? content?  whatever – that they can’t do any more damage.

  • Helena

    1. So sitting around Nixon’s office exchanging anti-Semitic slurs does not count as scandal for Graham?

    2.”As “one of the leading spokespersons of evangelical Christianity in America today,” Colson helped to identify Christianity with a vicious, mean-spirited, and thoroughly dishonest culture war against women and LGBT people. He worked, passionately, to make that the core and the bedrock of American Christianity.”–And he succeeded (together with many others like him). Slactivist had better get used to the idea that that is what Evangelical Christianity is and try something else.

  • Lori

     

    Slactivist had better get used to the idea that that is what Evangelical Christianity is and try something else.  

    What is it with you? If you have such a problem with Fred’s beliefs why do you read his blog? Are you really so insecure in your beliefs, or lack thereof, that you just can’t restrain yourself from being a total jerk about someone else’s? 

    You’re so persistently obnoxious in exactly the same way as aggressive Evangelical conversion attempts that it kind of makes me wonder if you actually are a Christianist masquerading as an atheist in an attempt to make the just of us look bad.

  • Amaryllis

    Helena said:

    Slactivist had better get used to the idea that that is what Evangelical Christianity is and try something else. 

    Mildly OT, but I just want to say that the thing I’m having the most trouble with about Patheos’s new look is the way it plays into that idea.

    What does give us for Christianity options?
    “Evangelical”
    “Catholic”
    “Progressive”

    …as though Catholics and Evangelicals can’t be progressives. As though “progressives” and “conservatives” can’t be found in all denominations. As though no other denominational traditions are worth exploring.

    “You don’t like what Richard Land says?, Well quit calling yourself an Evangelical!”

    “You don’t like what the archbishops are doing? Well, just leave!”

    I hate that.

    (Although I haven’t explored on the main Patheos page to see if any of their contributors are multiply-listed, that is, if there are any Catholic progressive who write here, and are linked under both “Catholic” and Progressive.”. But from what I’ve seen, I sort of doubt it.)

  • JonathanPelikan

    1. Probably not, really. And I think the full line was ‘after his conversion’. Which is also a lie, but…

    2. Do you legitimately fail to realize how your one argument is never going to work on Fred, ever? And that it also renders you irritating and offensive to people who believe other people should be free to keep their own religion or lack thereof without hostile and ignorant proselytizing? 

  • EllieMurasaki

    Oh, so there being lots of atheist assholes means I should get used to the idea that that is what atheism is and try something else?

  • Jonathan

    Ah, yes, you can just feel the Christian charity in these comments.  Unlike that mean, nasty Mr. Colson.

  • Nathaniel

     That mean old nasty Mr. Colson who started off his professional career as an unethical criminal and ended it as an unethical liar for Christ.

    If its rude to tell the truth about someone, that says a lot more about the subject than the speaker.

    But go ahead, clutch your pearls for Liar Colson. I’m sure the lurkers will support you in emails.

  • Satchel

     It ain’t libel if it’s true.

  • JonathanPelikan

    We sure are getting a bunch of tone-argument concern troll bullshit lately, it seems. Not ‘you liberals have it factually incorrect’ but ‘your tone of voice offends me’. Driftglass of the Professional Left says that when the Right starts going after tone (see Paul Ryan’s ‘The President is dividing the country!’) Then it’s a pretty clear sign that we’re winning.

  • Jonathan

     I really don’t see this as a tone issue.  God doesn’t delight in the death of the wicked.  Call the man wicked all you want, but grieve over the death of another human being.

    What I suppose I’m bothered by is this idea that “Someone who makes the world a worse place (according to me) is better off dead.”  In my mind that’s pretty much the definition of hateful bigotry.  Maybe we should have just lynched Colson a few years ago.  Yee-haw!

    I don’t mean this to apply, of course, to comments like David Coulter’s or Charity Brighton’s, who are loving in their opposition of the man.  It isn’t a tone issue, it’s a love/hate issue.

  • LectorElise

     Must I mourn a man who dedicated his life to waging war against me? He
    was a hateful man who hated me and everyone like me. Am I not allowed to
    rejoice that he can no longer try to harm me? Why must I pretend that
    he was not a force of evil in my life? I never wanted him to die, but my
    life is improved by his death. It’s rank dishonesty to say any
    different.
    I didn’t want him dead. But yes, the world is a slightly better place now that he’s not in it. I can hold both those beliefs at the same time. Being hateful and cruel isn’t a hanging crime. But you can’t expect mourners at your funeral if you are.

  • P J Evans

     You’re still trolling. You realize that a lot of us remember Colson from the 70s and didn’t buy his miraculous conversion?

  • mirele

    That mean, nasty Mr. Colson made a point of saying some pretty nasty stuff about GLBT persons. In fact, he said that if the government didn’t stamp out gay marriage, Christians would need to revolt. This is from a man who went to law school and took an oath at some point to uphold the Constitution. He was not ignorant.

    His organization, Prison Fellowship, also made a point of recruiting only certain kinds of Christians. To work with PF, you had to sign a statement of faith acknowledging creationism as the only way, for example. My boyfriend refused to sign the statement, because it was a lie and (to quote the bf) “Not Catholic.”

    Colson was not a nice man. He went from being a thug for Nixon to being a thug for Jeebus (not to be confused with that guy in the Gospels). I feel for his family, in losing someone they loved, but I am not sorry to see his malign influence depart this world. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Edo-Owaki/1268185670 Edo Owaki

    “So it goes.”

  • Jonathan

    I’m just saying, Nathaniel.  If someone said who knew only fundamentalists said, “Gee, those Christians suck.  They’re so mean-spirited.  Maybe I should try more progressive Christianity.”  Would this sort of thing change their minds?

  • EllieMurasaki

    If I’d already come to the conclusion that Colson and his ilk were assholes, and I found people who were trying to decide whether his assholeness (not an immutable trait) or his humanity should rule their judgment of him (in contrast to Colson and his ilk, who had already decided that queerness, which if not an immutable trait is certainly very hard to change, trumps all else in their judgment of others), yeah, this sort of thing would encourage me in the belief that there are some people who are not assholes. You and Helena, however, are not helping.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I can’t bring myself to be very upset over Colson’s death. I mean, if nothing else, that contemptible little weasel was part of Richard Nixon’s group of gangsters helping him conspire to use the President’s office in very wrong and illegal ways.

    The fact that, unlike John Dean, he doesn’t seem to have changed his basic outlook is what makes me conclude that he should be called a contemptible little weasel.

  • Jared Bascomb

    And many years after his so-called conversion, Colson lied about and virtually slandered John Dean the same way he lied about and slandered LGBT people and others.
    Good riddance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    I would find it hard to trust or respect someone who refused to acknowledge that some people dedicate vast amounts of their time, money, and charisma to torment the marginalized and the downtrodden.

    You don’t have to be jumping for joy or dancing on his grave to acknowledge the wrongs that he did in his life and pray that his successors (in faith, not necessarily in his office) will make better choices so that when they pass away they leave the world a better place than when they found it.

  • LouisDoench

     My reply would be that Chuck Colson was a political criminal, a christian hypocrite and an person with considerable temporal power. We’re people saying mean things on the intertubes, the lack of equivalence should be fairly obvious. 

  • dxmachina

    Another Christian — air-quote it if you want — who confused the Church with a tree house, and replaced the eucharist with the pulling-up-the-ladder ceremony.

  • Jonathan

    So, a fundamentalist says (of some departed liberal)  “That liberal is dead? Good.”  Meanwhile, a liberal is saying (of Colson, perhaps), “That fundamentalist is dead?  Good.”

    You guys are telling me that there’s a genuine moral difference between those two statements, because the liberal is right and the fundamentalist wrong?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Are you saying that you can’t tell the genuine moral difference between acknowledging the harm that a person has caused over the course of their life and gloating over their death? By that logic, we should never speak ill of anyone who has ever died. That’s not what you’re saying but you’re getting really close to suggesting that.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Are you saying there’s not a genuine moral difference between truth and lies?

    Besides, I’m just glad this guy’s not able to cause any more harm. Right-wing Christians and their ilk think people they don’t like are being tortured for eternity after death. There’s a pretty big difference between those two things.

    Also, accusing people who are not Christian of not having “Christian charity” is pretty silly. 

  • Phil_Malthus

    Yes. And if you claim not to understand this, your disingenousness is preposterous.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So,
    a fundamentalist says (of some departed liberal)  “That liberal is
    dead? Good.”  Meanwhile, a liberal is saying (of Colson, perhaps), “That
    fundamentalist is dead?  Good.”

    You guys are telling me that there’s a genuine moral difference
    between those two statements, because the liberal is right and the
    fundamentalist wrong?

    Colson is, as previously stated, personally responsible for a great deal of the anti-QUILTBAG animus in the US. Therefore, he is responsible for a great deal of pain and suffering and death.  Had he lived longer, he would likely continue that legacy of extending systemic oppression. Your hypothetical liberal–let’s say MLK so we have something of an equivalence in name recognition. Worst thing MLK ever did was have sex with someone not his wife when said wife was unwilling for said sex to occur, and had MLK lived longer, he would likely have continued his legacy of working to end systemic oppression, particularly with regards to race. So MLK’s death was not a good thing, and Colson’s was not a bad thing.

    So yeah, there is a genuine moral difference between the two. Has to do with the way the decedents lived their lives.

  • octopod42

    Er…yes.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RSLXRYUTH72RSHW7AC7NDDJXK4 billr

    Eh.  I’m not a proponent of that crazy notion that because someone is dead, you have to pretend they were nice and had a good life.  No need to be nasty about it or anything, but no need to hide truths.

    So, much like with Breitbart, the world is now a little bit better off.

    Once a con man, always a con man.

  • veejayem

    A human being has died. And that’s the most/best anyone can say about him.

  • Cactus_Wren

    It rather pleases me to realize that most people younger than I am will react to this announcement by repeating, verbatim and unintentionally and in absolute seriousness, Robert Redford’s line from All the President’s Men:

    “Who’s Chuck Colson?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/EarBucket David Coulter

    I hope that Chuck’s Lord forgives him his sins against others, just as I hope he forgives me my own. I’m not glad he’s dead, but I am sad he didn’t get nicer before he died.

  • Jonathan

    By no means, Charity.  There are examples of both in these comments.  David Coulter is courteous in his disagreement.  The first Lori and PJ Evans are quite malicious.  I actually think David Coulter is the only person who expressed sorrow over this death.  Shouldn’t, as Christians, grief for death be the first thing out of our mouths?  Compassion for the mourning friends and family?

    Or are these Christians duties thrown out the window because he was a bad guy?  “Hate your enemies.  Delight in the deaths of those who persecute you.”

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Why are you assuming everyone here is Christian?

    Don’t tell me that I should behave in a certain way because your god supposedly wants me to. I don’t believe your god exists. That argument is therefore a nonsensical one to me.

    And you really need to learn what “bigotry” means.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    I know you’ve probably already left, but I feel like this needs to be emphasized. You can’t expect everyone in the world to interpret everything according to a Christian perspective. If someone dedicates a good portion of his life and his considerable political power and influence to stripping you of your rights and trying to take away your essential dignity, sure, it would be nice if you could find it in your heart to grieve for him and his family in their time of loss but if you can’t, that’s perfectly human and reasonable. Not everyone here is a Christian, and even those of us who are are not robots.

    I can’t and won’t judge anyone — especially an LBGT person or one of the other people that Colson spent his life persecuting — for feeling some small sense of relief at having one fewer tormentor. I mean, yikes, this isn’t some historical abstraction — Colson’s support for things like Proposition 8 hurt (and is still hurting) people right now. ‘Turn the other cheek’ is a noble ideal but you can’t condemn people for not doing that, even if they are Christian (which you can’t assume, of course).

  • LectorElise

     I’d like to note that ‘turning the other cheek’ was, in fact, an instruction to engage in non-violent, but incredibly passive-aggressive resistance. A roman centurion would hit an inferior with the back of his palm, but only an equal with the face of it. ‘Turning the other cheek’ was a goad, and a dare. ‘Go on then! Have a go, if you think you’re hard enough. Hit me and mark me your equal, or walk away, knowing everyone saw you back down.’
    Jesus didn’t command people to make victims of themselves. He told them to push back. That little fact always makes me happy, and it seemed appropriate to share during a discussion of the proper response to an abuser’s death. Loving ones’ enemies never meant not opposing them.

  • hagsrus

     Sorry to be dim, but wouldn’t the centurion be likely to use the back of his hand on the other cheek?

  • LectorElise

     If I’m remembering correctly, there was an issue of ritual uncleanliness associated with the left hand. (Toiletry stuff, basically.) It’d be basically the equivalent of whipping out your dick and slapping somebody with it today. You just didn’t do that. Lemme dig up the wikipedia page. Relevent quote:
    “A literal interpretation of the passages, in which the command refers
    specifically to a manual strike against the side of a person’s face, can
    be supported by reference to historical and other factors.[2]
    At the time of Jesus, striking someone deemed to be of a lower class
    with the back of the hand was used to assert authority and dominance.[3]
    If the persecuted person “turned the other cheek,” the discipliner was
    faced with a dilemma. The left hand was used for unclean purposes, so a
    back-hand strike on the opposite cheek would not be performed.[4]
    The other alternative would be a slap with the open hand as a challenge
    or to punch the person, but this was seen as a statement of equality.
    Thus, by turning the other cheek the persecuted was in effect demanding
    equality.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turning_the_other_cheek#cite_ref-left_hand_3-0

  • Lori

    If someone dedicates a good portion of his life and his considerable political power and influence to stripping you of your rights and trying to take away your essential dignity, sure, it would be nice if you could find it in your heart to grieve for him and his family in their time of loss but if you can’t, that’s perfectly human and reasonable. 

    I’m not even sure it’s all that nice. Ignoring the reality of Colson’s life for the sake of some idea of propriety or because it’s the “Christian” thing to do essentially values politeness and the feelings of Colson’s friends and family over the feelings of all the people who Colson damaged. I not only don’t feel obligated to do that, I actually think it’s wrong in a way.  Nice is not the same thing as good. I feel like a lot of tone arguments happen because people can’t tell the difference.

    Beyond that, if Colson wanted people to be nice when he died then he should have been a whole lot better when he was alive. Those of Colson’s friends and family who supported his hurtful work doubtless don’t care what I think or say about his death. If he had family or friends who didn’t support his hatefulness, but retained an affection for him in spite of it then I can’t imagine that they’re surprised that people feel a certain relief that he’s gone.

  • Green Eggs and Ham

     I fear, however, that his passing will not reduce the hate and damage.  There will be another of Mr. Colson’s ilk eager to take his place.

  • P J Evans

    You must have missed the quotes around it.
    It’s hard to not speak ill of someone who broke laws and never admitted he was wrong to do so, even after getting out of prison. If he’d owned his actions for Nixon, I’d think better of him.

  • Tricksterson

    As someone already stated you should keep in mind that a large percentage of people here are not Christians and therefore are not being hypocritical about being happy he’s dead.  Whether they’re being nice, that’s another question as is whether Colson derves nice..
    Myself I’m a pagan and my reaction is, what is is, what happens happens.  I will also say that I almost certainly don’t speak for other pagans.  We are a very diverse group.

  • hapax

     

    Shouldn’t, as Christians, grief for death be the first thing out of our mouths? Compassion for the mourning friends and family?

    I dunno.  This guy and I tend to respect his opinion about what “Christians” should do and say.

  • hapax

     Err.  Make it “this guy thought not”.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I must not speak ill of the dead, I must not speak ill of the dead, I must not speak ill of the dead… 

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    Why waste a minute of sorrow for someone who used his high profile notoriety and influence to make the world an objectively worse place? 

  • Erista

    I find this whole thing sad. His life. His death. The pain he caused
    others. The fact that he could have been more, but wasn’t. Now he never
    will be. He was a shard of the cosmos, and now all he can ever be is a
    person who hurt others. He’ll never transcend that, and the people he
    did it to will have to live and die with it. We’re all diminished by
    that.

  • Jonathan

    Well, it’s clear I’m not being helpful here.  I’ll bow out.  Apologies if I’ve hurt anyone.  I hope you’ll take my comments as they were meant, as encouragement to love our enemies.  Certainly not to pretend like they were our friends, but to love them anyway.  Good night, all.

  • Nathaniel

     I feel no need to love someone who’s punching me in the face. Especially after people have told him to stop repeatedly, and he doesn’t.

    I find that if you’re serious about loving people, then you have to stop those who insist on harming those you love. Colson was someone who needed to be stopped. Unfortunately, none of us could. So death ended up doing it for us, as it does everyone.

  • reynard61

    “Colson was someone who needed to be stopped. Unfortunately, none of us could. So death ended up doing it for us, as it does everyone.”

    Then again, probably not. Remember; Colson had a whole, rather large, organization of co-true-believers to help him spread his peculiar brand of “Christian love” around. That’s not going to come tumbling down overnight. It will carry his “message” long after his corpse rots away as long as one set (or sub-set) of people tries to claim moral, if not numerical, superiority over the rest of us and they’re willing to back those claims up with their money.

  • Nequam

    Hmm… I’d give it about a 5.6 on the flounce scale.

  • http://twitter.com/Rhysdux Rhysdux

    As I’m not a Christian, I refuse to grieve for Colson. I would not have said that he was wonderful before today; why should I lie about him now that he’s no longer breathing?

  • hagsrus

    I wonder how his grandmother is greeting him…

  • TheDarkArtist

    When I saw a thread about this on FreeRepublic*, with a big picture of him at the top, all I could think of was a line from an episode of the Simpsons:

    “He’s bad, but he’ll die. So, I like it.”

    * I only go there to make screenshots of the most insane posts for the amusement of other lefties, I swear!

  • Ursula L

    If one doesn’t want to say the many unfortunate but true things about Colson’s life in his obituary or when discussing him in the aftermath of his death, that doesn’t excuse lying and saying he lived a good life, one without scandal.

    His behavior was scandalous, in that he worked to create scandal, spreading lies intended to damage others.  

    His behavior was scandalous, in that it was disgraceful – no decent person dedicates their life to harming others in the way that Colson apparently delighted in harming women and QUILTBAG folk.  

    To say he lived a good life, without scandal, is to erase all the harm he has done to countless numbers of people.  Harm he chose to do deliberately, and dedicated his life to.  In erasing that harm, pretending it never happened, you’re hurting all those people again, by saying the harm he did to them doesn’t matter.  

    Someone who is hurting people by ignoring and denying real harm done to them, by treating them as if they are unharmed rather than helping to alleviate the harm, is acting scandalously.  Disgracefully.  

    Calling out the writers of obituaries and eulogies when they tell scandalous lies that harm real people alive in the world today is not the same thing as delighting in the death of the recently departed.  Journalists have an obligation to uncover and report the truth, and the ones writing about Colson today and calling his post-Watergate life “without scandal” are shameful and scandalous failures at the task of journalism.  

    If you must say only nice things about Colson after his death, say his parents loved him. 

    It might even be true.  

    But even if it isn’t true, at least its a lie that harms no one still living.

  • Erista

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to try to dictate people’s feelings. If someone is happy that Colson is dead because Colson spend his life trying to hurt said person (or people like said person), I respect that. If someone hurts you, you shouldn’t have to feel ashamed that you are having a natural emotional response to being hurt. And being happy/relieved/etc that someone can’t you any more than they already have IS natural.

    Colson is dead, and one way or another that means that our actions aren’t impacting him anymore. We should focus our compassion on the living, including the living who bear the wounds he inflicted. It is not necessary or helpful to further burden the wounded by insisting that they should be over their wounds by now.

    If you’re sad because of the loss of human life, because of the life wasted, or any such thing, that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to feel the same way. Feeling differently is also fine.

  • bad Jim

    I once heard Garrison Keillor say something like this, probably in character: “I was devastated to hear of his death. For years, the only thing keeping me alive was the hope of seeing him hanged.”

  • Worthless Beast

    I really don’t know dip about Colson – he’s just one of those names that registers in the back of the mind of “the name comes up when people are disscussing right wing evangelical stuff,” so my response is kind of “Meh?”

    Maybe the “without scandal” bit of the obit was just referring to “was not caught entering and leaving seedy motels with young women or young men,” or something to that effect? Obituary writers are supposed to be either “good” or “neutral” in regard to their reports…

    This reminds me that I’ve decided that if I screw up enough in life to be well-hated, that so long as the people who felt no love for me leave those who did alone, I’d rather have honest spit-stains on my grave from them than the stains of forced, fake tears.

  • e julius drivingstorm

    As he was one of the five signers of the ‘Land Letter’ giving President Bush so-called religious cover to wage a ‘just’ war against Iraq, I would judge (by the same standard where I would be judged) that Charles Colson was more interested in bringing Christian followers to Republican secular politics than Republicans to Christianity.

  • christopher_young

    “People wish their enemies dead, but I do not.  I say, give them the gout; give them the stone.” – Lady Mary Wortley Montague

    Colson is dead. It comes to us all, so it’s scarcely worth remarking on, especially at 80 years old. He did much harm and I am glad that he will do no more. If there is anyone who mourns him, I am sorry for their grief. But as for Colson, he has ceased to be, and that is all.

  • Erista

    “You don’t like what Richard Land says?, Well quit calling yourself an Evangelical!”

    “You don’t like what the archbishops are doing? Well, just leave!”

    The first statement I disagree with; I think it is perfectly reasonable for the progressive evangelicals to try to at least partially reclaim the term “evangelical” from the the conservative evangelicals.

    The second statement I have a harder time with. If an organization (say, the Catholic church) is doing really bad things and the people of that organization continue to support it (example: by tithing), then the person is, unfortunately, supporting the bad actions of that organization. To give a specific example, if you oppose the Catholic Church’s actions in relation to birth control but tithe to the Catholic Church, you’re stuck in the sad position were your money is being used by the Catholic Church to fight access to birth control. It’s the same with things like abortion, gay marriage, and women’s equality. And there’s a very real possibility that the Catholic Church is doing more with the money you give them to perpetrate these injustices than you have the ability to actually balance out through personal opposition.

    Now, if you don’t tithe, things get more misty and vague, and we have to get into more intangible things like whether or not the archbishops are using the authority that you grant them to perpetrate injustices. To pull back to my birth control example, people wouldn’t be inviting archbishops to speak before congress about birth control if the archbishops hadn’t been granted authority by the Catholic faith. While these kinds of situations are less cut and dry, they are real. And as much as I’d like for the progressive Catholics to reclaim Catholicism from the conservatives, I don’t know how you can do that within a Catholic framework that grants special authority and money to the people you are trying to oppose.

    But maybe you have a better answer than I do.

  • Ursula L

    Even if a Catholic doesn’t tithe or give money to the Church hierarchy in other ways, there are still problems.

    The deeply corrupt US Conference of Catholic Bishops has considerable political power in the US.  And the reason they have that power is because they can truthfully say that they are the official leadership of an organization with many millions of members.

    When you’re officially a member of an organization, it is implicit that the official leadership of the organization may speak for you in certain ways.

    Maintaining membership in the organization allows the USCCB to claim they speak for you on matters that they consider related to your religious belief.  

    Fixing this isn’t just a matter of individual Catholics deciding whether the good the church does outweighs the bad. 

    More importantly, they need to decide if the same good can be achieved through membership in and support of other organizations, without the associated bad. 

    Particularly when the “bad” includes protecting rapists, denying care for the poor and sick, and promoting the codification of church law as part of the civil law of the land.  It isn’t the minor corruption that is sadly almost inevitable, such as a treasurer making mistakes in bookkeeping, or someone siphoning off small amounts of money for personal use.

  • Guest-again

    To give an idea of the sort of obituary Colson deserves, this one, regarding the death of his boss, is pretty good –

    ‘If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket
    would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that
    empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man
    and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he
    needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his
    funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should
    have been burned in a trash bin.

    These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President
    Clinton and my old friend George McGovern — but I have written worse
    things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked
    him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with
    mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.

    Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon
    was an evil man — evil in a way that only those who believe in the
    physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without
    ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him —
    except maybe the Stalinist Chinese, and honest historians will remember
    him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship.’

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1994/07/he-was-a-crook/8699/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     Richard Nixon was a horrible man, not to mention the Worst Quaker Ever, but I do feel the need to say this: he expanded Medicare to fully provide for renal patients. In terms of lives saved versus lives destroyed, this isn’t still doesn’t do much for him, but I feel it is wrong to say his Presidency was entirely without merit.

    I’m alive because of that evil man.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Check out the way Nixon tries to convince everybody he’s totes an honest dude.

  • Amaryllis

    If an organization (say, the Catholic church) is doing really bad things
    and the people of that organization continue to support it (example: by
    tithing), then the person is, unfortunately, supporting the bad actions
    of that organization.

    That’s a hard one. And yet, what’s the alternative? For many progressive Catholics…okay, maybe I’m not the best person to be speaking here, because I don’t go to Mass much any more, or contribute financially much any more, for reasons mostly but not entirely unrelated to the actions of the hierarchy…okay, is that waffling enough? But when I say “my” in the following paragraphs, read “my, formerly” or “liberal Catholics’.”

    To continue, I think many Catholics think of contributing to their parish, and through it to the wider Church, as something like paying taxes as a citizen. Some of my tax money goes to things I approve of; some of it, not so much. I don’t get to pick and choose how much of my money goes to which parts. My country, my responsibility to contribute to it. My church, same thing. My money goes partly to fund the obnoxious episcopal publicity campaigns. It also goes to support efforts to feed the hungry and care for the sick and educate the young. But those things don’t make news the way the latest graceless statement from the Pope makes news, or the latest inexcuable episcopal political meddling makes news, or the latest failure to care for the sick makes news. (And yes, I think the American bishops from very shame should keep their mouths closed in public for a generation while they reform their own houses.)

    And at least the Church, unlike the IRS, gives you a choice about how much to contribute, and to which collections or fund drives. “Tithing,” strictly defined, is not a Catholic tradition.

    “The Church is not a democracy,” as the smug conservatives and the appalled leftists both proclaim? Also true. But, democracy is no guarantee that I won’t end up supporting something I find abhorrent. Just ask the Americans against the Iraq war, who voted and wrote letters and protested in the streets, and none of it did any good. All you can do is go on making your voice heard, whether or not you’re listened to, and hope it does some eventual good. At least, progressive Catholics raising their voices might counteract, at least a little bit, the public identification of “Catholic Church” with “Church hierarchy.” Because, it’s our Church too. “Love it or leave it” is rightly scorned as a response to political protest; why isn’t it scorned as response to religious protest? It’s my church too.

    Which gets back to the issue of the Sunday collection. Yes, some of that gets sent to the diocesan coffers. And some of it gets spent on charitable efforts. But the people in the pews are also supporting their local parish, buildings and salaries and general operating expenses. If you want your church to be there for you, you need to support it: the money has to come from somewhere to pay the bills.

    Why does the church need to be there? As someone said on the other thread, you can pray and read the Bible anywhere. You can find ritual and community in services in churches of other denominations. You can find dozens of ways to contribute to charity. But for the sacramentally-minded Catholic, well…if I need the viaticum the waybread (as I understand it), to be available,  there has to be some kind of structure in place to support that. There are probably other ways for that to happen other than the parish-diocese-Vatican hierarchy that we’ve ended up with, and I doubt that that structure will prove eternal, but…there’s got to be some channel, and that’s the one we’ve got now.

    For some of us, the pronouncements of the bishops or the more debateable areas of the catechism are not the point.  The point is, well, to retreat to poetry for what I don’t know how to say in prose:

    This eternal fountain hides and splashes
    within this living bread that is life to us
    although it is the night.

    Hear it calling out to every creature.
    And they drink these waters, although it is dark here
    because it is the night.

    I am repining for this living fountain.
    Within this bread of life I see it plain
    although it is the night.

    (Seamus Heaney, paraphrasing St. John of the Cross, from “Station Island”)

  • Ursula L

      But for the sacramentally-minded Catholic, well…if I need the viaticum the waybread (as I understand it), to be available,  there has to be some kind of structure in place to support that. There are probably other ways for that to happen other than the parish-diocese-Vatican hierarchy that we’ve ended up with, and I doubt that that structure will prove eternal, but…there’s got to be some channel, and that’s the one we’ve got now. 

    It’s an interesting form of spiritual blackmail.  No matter how corrupt the hierarchy is, the laity needs access to the sacraments now for their spiritual health, and they cannot have access to the sacraments now without supporting the hierarchy.

    Are there other ways an individual can give money?  Such as a directed donation which is earmarked for use at the local level, but which can not be sent upwards in the organization or used for certain categories of expenses (such as the legal defense of church employees accused of sexual crimes against minors, or the defense of the church organization in civil claims by the victims)?

    Because as long as the hierarchy can use access to the sacraments to coerce financial support for the status quo from the faithful, they’ll have no incentive for genuine reform. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    It’s an interesting form of spiritual blackmail.  No matter how corrupt
    the hierarchy is, the laity needs access to the sacraments now for their spiritual health, and they cannot have access to the sacraments now without supporting the hierarchy.

    Is a sacrament administered by someone whose own spiritual health is poor still a sacred thing?

    I mean, obviously I’m an atheist and should maybe not be trusted on such matters, but if I were a Catholic and I knew I belonged to a diocese that had protected a rapist priest, I’d like to think I’d say “all right, I’ll GO to hell” and make sure the diocese knew it. Might go to church,  but not receive communion, and if I had the nerve I think I’d walk up to the priest during communion and shake my head so he knew I was refusing communion. The Eucharist coming from a representative of that diocese would be, at least in my eyes, tainted.

    (Unitarian Universalists don’t have these problems.)

  • Lujack

    Not at all to defend the reprehensible conduct of the Catholic Church when it comes to sexual abuse claims, not at all.  But SHOULDN’T accused priests have some kind of a legal defense?  I mean, the bishops who willfully covered this up and the priests who perpetrated it ARE the scum of humanity…but isn’t it possible that some of the men accused are mistakenly or wrongfully accused?

    I’ll say that the bishops have lost the presumption of innocence (from me personally) when it comes covering up sexual abuse because they are a smaller group and they’ve virtually all participated in the cover-up; but individual priests losing the presumption of innocence when it comes to actually committing that abuse…that seems to me very different, since the vast majority of them weren’t involved in either the crimes or the cover-up.

  • Ursula L

    The priests should have appropriate legal defense in court, paid for by themselves, or by using public defenders, or by donations given specifically to pay for their defense – so that the donors know and intend that the money is being used that way, etc.  

    But general donations to the church should not be used to fund their criminal defense.  

    And general donations to the church should certainly not be used to fund a cover up to “protect” the church, to facilitate further abuse by continuing to pay accused priests when they’re transferred around, or to attack the church members who have already been harmed.  

  • Nathaniel

     Whenever people make the comparison between tithing to a church and paying taxes I wonder if they understand its a wee bit easier to switch churches than it is to switch countries.

  • Ursula L

     Whenever people make the comparison between tithing to a church and paying taxes I wonder if they understand its a wee bit easier to switch churches than it is to switch countries. 

    Well, both my parents are immigrants.  It’s not that hard, and when it is hard, it is often artificially so, due to poorly designed and discriminatory immigration law.

    What they went through, moving, is in no way comparable to someone who genuinely believes their faith is the path to salvation, choosing eternal damnation rather than supporting a corrupt church institution.  

    Moving to a new country is often exciting, filled with hope for a better life.

  • Syfr0

    EllieMurasaki,

    The sacraments are sacramental no matter what the state of the priest is.  Believing that the state of the priest matters is a heresy called Donatism – St. Augustine of Hippo was one of the big names against it.

    -syfr

  • EllieMurasaki

    The sacraments are sacramental no matter what the state of the priest is.

    Thanks. I wonder how I grew up Catholic without ever hearing this.

  • Ursula L

    The sacraments are sacramental no matter what the state of the priest is.  Believing that the state of the priest matters is a heresy called Donatism – St. Augustine of Hippo was one of the big names against it. 

    Huh.  So one more excuse when ignoring the need for reform – the laity can’t accuse the hierarchy of fraud in the sacraments, no matter how corrupt or criminal the hierarchy becomes.  

    So corruption and crime cannot affect the spiritual authority or validity of the hierarchy.  

  • hapax

     

    So corruption and crime cannot affect the spiritual authority or validity of the hierarchy. 

    No.  Corruption and crime of the hierarchy cannot affect the spiritual authority or validity of the sacraments, since those derive from the grace of God.

    Because if the validity of the sacraments depended upon the character of those administering them, it would be hard to argue that anyone performed a valid baptism since Jesus died.

    Of course, the Roman Catholic hierarchy seems to have no problem arguing that the validity of the sacraments DOES depend upon the morphology of the genitalia of those administering them, which is a bit of a puzzlement.

  • Matri

    Of course, the Roman Catholic hierarchy seems to have no problem arguing
    that the validity of the sacraments DOES depend upon the morphology of
    the genitalia of those administering them, which is a bit of a
    puzzlement.

    Isn’t it obvious? The power is in their genitalia.

  • Syfr0

    Corruption and crime cannot affect the spiritual authority or validity of the sacraments.  

    It saves the sacraments, generally a good thing, from whatever evil the church is up to at any given time.

  • Ursula L

    However, as pointed out by 
    Amaryllis  earlier, the church hierarchy enjoys a monopoly and control over access to the sacraments.  It’s a specific problem she mentioned – if she wants the sacraments, she has to get them through the current hierarchy, which in turn means providing them with a certain level of support.  

    This spiritual monopoly brings with it what I am calling spiritual authority, spiritual power. Control of access and distribution of sacraments gives the power to limit distribution, to demand concessions for access, to use the sacraments as a lever of spiritual, political and social control.

    And the system is set up so that this control is absolute.  It can’t be taken away by people fed up by corruption, so that they set up an alternative, non-corrupt system for access to sacraments.  (Short of going protestant, which has its own issues.)  

    But it also can’t be forfeit by any level of corruption or crime.  There is, literally no limit to what the church hierarchy can do without loosing the spiritual power and control of being the gatekeepers to access to the sacraments.  

    ***

    By contrast, I’m remembering a story I heard on NPR a few weeks ago, about the supervision and certification of a factory that made matzo for Passover. 

    Observant Jews absolutely need access to properly prepared matzo to celebrate and worship properly for Passover.  And the standards both for making the matzo and for supervising and certifying the matzo are very strict.  

    But they’re also humanly possible. And they’re designed with human fallibility taken into account.  

    The factory had strict training for employees.  It also had a large number of official outside observers, paid for by donations by ordinary Jewish people to established certification organizations.  The official observers had the ability, at the touch of a button, to stop the manufacturing process at any point, diverting all of the current batch of dough to be wasted, and followed by inspection, ritual cleaning, employee training, and whatever else was needed to restart production in an appropriate manner.  

    ***

    It strikes me as being an absurd thing, to claim that either the sacraments are valid only if the people performing them are perfect or else the sacraments must be valid no matter how evil, criminal and corrupt the people controlling them are, as long as they’re affiliated with the proper organization and hierarchy.  The either/or fallacy means that any real effort to ensure purity is rejected.

    It ignores the basic way in which people go about ensuring the quality of important tasks.  Careful training, meticulous inspection with the authority to stop mistakes and insist on getting things fixed, control of the inspection financially and socially independent of those doing the actual production.  

    It keeps food kosher.  It’s how USDA inspection and certification works, when it is done right.  It transfers well to other areas, such as workplace safety – outside inspection with real power to stop abuse, training at every level focusing on appreciating the importance of the standards and meeting the standards in every situation, and the valuing of quality above quantity.  

    People at every level of the process having the power and authority to say “stop, this is wrong” and be taken seriously, to insist upon the system being corrected, and people being respected for taking action rather than being pressured to look the other way so the system can keep going as it is.  

    And the whole system gets stopped, whatever the cost, if someone points out a problem.  With the system restarting only when the observed problem has been investigated and fixed.  

    ***

    People should be able to feel happy and confident about the quality of the sacraments, both physical quality and spiritual quality.  

    I doubt many people trust a sacrament provided by a priest who is known (by  the hierarchy) to  rape children, who is supervised by a bishop who transferred the priest to that posting because him raping children was  about to become public at his last assignment, and that under an upper hierarchy which knows what is going on and thinks it a wonderful thing, because it avoids the public embarrassment of holding the priest legally and morally accountable for raping children.  

    If you’ve got to gag down the communion wafer knowing that it was held and consecrated by hands that held down a child to be raped, it can be, at best, a very ambiguous experience.  

  • Syfr0

    Also, give me a call when you get the chance?  Want to go see Princess Ida next month?

  • Amaryllis

    Is a sacrament administered by someone whose own spiritual health is poor still a sacred thing?
    Yes.

    its a wee bit easier to switch churches than it is to switch countries.
    Perhaps. But what I object to is the line that the church-switcher isn’t losing anything worth grieving over.  Because she is.

    And I don’t mean “being saved,” either. I never felt blackmailed in that sense. It’s not about going to heaven; it’s about one kind of connection to heaven here on earth.

    Where to draw the line, when staying becomes more harmful to one’s conscience than leaving is a grief to the spirit, is going to be different for all of us. And I can’t tell you how absolutely, bone-deep furious I am, at the hierarchy for putting so many into that impossible position.

    Because, dammit, it’s our church too.

    And what I meant to say about the OP, is that Chuck Colson was one of the leading men in helping to turn the post-Vatican2 American Catholic hierarchy into an ally of the most conservative type of Evangelical and of the Republican party. So, no, I have no strong feelings for him personally any more, but I agree with Fred that “living without scandal” is an indefensible claim to make about him.

  • Erista

    I’m sure the church switcher is losing something, something that is probably important to them.

    But there are a lot of people who don’t have any choice in whether they will lose something important to them, because the Church used the power, money, and influenced granted to it by its members to take that choice away. They forcibly took something important from those people, and they have made it terribly clear that they will use every iota of power, money, and influence to keep that important thing stolen away. That is truly tragic.

  • Lujack

    The problem with saying that Catholics should leave their church if they don’t like what’s being preached is that to a degree…they do.  I wouldn’t go to a Mass celebrated by the reprehensible Archbishop in Illinois or in New York City or in Philadelphia.  But I will go to Our Lady of 7th Avenue where I went to high school, because I know what is preached THERE and what is done THERE.  I go to that parish.  And I support that school.  I don’t go to Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

    And also I am not particularly worried about the Church falling into crazy Tea Party conservatism over the long term.  Pius X, a retrograde in many ways, was followed by Leo XIII, who was good to the unions.  Piuses XI and XII, who were just about fascists, were followed by John XXIII, who was a genuinely kind man, and by Paul VI, who was the same way with the exception of his encyclical on contraception.  That’s a pendulum that will swing back and forth as the years go by; I’m fairly confident that my lifetime will see multiple more nasty popes and multiple more admirable popes.

    The other thing, though, that should be accounted for is that when the hierarchy of the Church says something conservative, the fiercely conservative crowd will shout from the rooftops “THIS IS WHAT HAS BEEN SAID AND IT MUST BE DONE”; when the hierarchy of the Church insists that immigrants should be treated humanely (and they do this frequently, to be fair to them), the liberals who support it aren’t typically prone to that kind of authoritarian thinking and so won’t be shouting from the rooftops, while the conservatives will be finding some way to weasel out of it.  And if there is one thing that Catholic laypeople have gotten good at, its weaseling their way out of rules that they don’t like.  Again, the liberal crowd isn’t so prone to authoritarian thinking, so instead of spending their time legalistically worming out of things, they just ignore the conservative proclamations.  So the impression is often left that when the Catholic Church talks about poverty, it intends for that to be optional and really cares only about abortion/contraception, which isn’t as much the case as it often appears (although it is sometimes in fact the case). 

    The current pope’s most recent encyclical is an example of that, specifically calling out free market worship, calling for better stewardship of the environment, and a concerted effort to reduce unemployment.  That was a papal encyclical; as far as things the Vatican does, its just about the biggest deal that you can get outside of calling a Council.  Who paid attention to that?  Nobody; the liberal crowd amongst the laity doesn’t wait for the Pope to speak before deciding what they believe, and the conservative crowd amongst the laity was quick to find ways that they could weasel out of having to listen to it.

    I’m concerned in the short-term because of the damage that the current crop of bishops is determined to perpetrate, but that isn’t going to be enough to make me leave, because I know that my parish does good, and the school that my parish runs does good, and I don’t want that parish and that school to close.  And if my parish gets a new pastor who changes that…then maybe I’ll have to leave that parish, but I’ll just find another one that does good.

  • Guest-again

    ‘ Corruption and crime of the hierarchy cannot affect the spiritual authority or validity of the sacraments, since those derive from the grace of God.’

    Talk about summing up Protestantism up in a nutshell. Unless, of course, ‘sacrament’ can only be defined by one group of people, who don’t include various flavors of Orthodoxy, or various ‘schismatic’ Catholic groupings (including the non-pope following, women ordaining Old Catholics) – because in that case, communion from an ordained old Catholic priest is just as valid as that from a Vatican approved minion. (Sounds better than ‘tool,’ just like James Joyce is reputed to have said that ‘spittoon’ was the most gratifying word to speak in the English language.)

    Here is a description of Old Catholics which neatly sums up how ‘sacrament’ can be defined when talking about a group of people whose claim to administer them is considered unfounded (do note the second word to give an idea of how this piece views a group of Catholics rejecting the less than 2 century old idea of papal infallibility)-
    The sect organised in German-speaking countries to combat the dogma of Papal Infallibility.

    Filled with ideas of ecclesiastical Liberalism and rejecting the Christian spirit of submission to the teachings of the Church, nearly 1400 Germans issued, in September, 1870, a declaration in which they repudiated the dogma of Infallibility “as an innovation contrary to the traditional faith of the Church”. They were encouraged by large numbers of scholars, politicians, and statesmen, and were acclaimed by the Liberal press of the whole world. The break with the Church began with this declaration, which was put forth notwithstanding the fact that the majority of the German bishops issued, at Fulda on 30 August, a common pastoral letter in support of the dogma. It was not until 10 April, 1871, that Bishop Hefele of Rotterdam issued a letter concerning the dogma to his clergy. By the end of 1870 all the Austrian and Swiss bishops had done the same.

    The movement against the dogma was carried on with such energy that the first Old Catholic Congress was able to meet at Munich, 22-24 September, 1871. Before this, however, the Archbishop of Munich had excommunicated Döllinger on 17 April 1871, and later also Friedrich. The congress was attended by over 300 delegates from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, besides friends from Holland, France, Spain, Brazil, Ireland, and the representatives of the Anglican Church, with German and American Protestants. The moving spirit in this and all later assemblies for organization was Johann Friedrich von Schulte, the professor of dogma at Prague.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11235b.htm

    The end section of the article contains this gem – ‘The abrogation of compulsory celibacy showed the utter instability and lack of moral foundation of the sect.’

    Of course, as this wikipedia link shows, the Old Catholics really don’t seem like today’s Catholics at all, seeing as the Old Catholics consider the pope to be nothing but another Christian (at best, considering the ongoing child abuse scandals) –
    ‘Because of this approach, Old Catholics hold an open view to most
    issues, including the role of women in the Church, the role of married
    people within ordained ministry, the morality of same sex relationships,
    the use of one’s conscience when deciding to use artificial
    contraception, and liturgical reforms such as open communion (because no human can presume to exclude any Christian from communion). Its liturgy has not significantly departed from the Tridentine Mass, as is shown in the English translation of the German Altarbook (missal).
    In 1994 the German bishops decided to ordain women as priests and put
    this into practice on 27 May 1996; similar decisions and practices
    followed in Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands.[44] The Utrecht Union allows those who are divorced to have a new religious marriage, and it has no particular teaching on abortion, leaving such decisions to the married couple.’

  • Tricksterson

    I met a woman once who was an Old Catholic (She called herself an American Catholic but it soinds like he same thing under a slightly different name) who was studying for the priesthood.  She was a lovely person but I haven’t heard about her branch of Catholicism or found any mention of it since.  Nice to know I didn’t hallucinate.

  • Lujack

    “The end section of the article contains this gem – ‘The abrogation of
    compulsory celibacy showed the utter instability and lack of moral
    foundation of the sect.'”
    In all fairness to the Catholic Church, huge portions of that NewAdvent site were from the original Catholic Encyclopedia, which was published in 1917 and written before then.


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