Elton John and the five stages of Intentional Discipleship

Elton John and the five stages of Intentional Discipleship November 3, 2014

Since my post on Elton John admiring Pope Francis, lots of people are writing me to ring various changes on “Elton John is gay.  Don’t you realize that is a sin?” and “He has very false ideas of marriage and thinks the pope supports them.  You can’t evangelize on the basis of a lie.” and “Pope Francis does secretly support gay marriage and we should all set our hair on fire and run in circles” and “The new evangelization is for Catholics, not for non-Catholics” and various other statements that generally suggest that a lot of Catholics regard the attraction Francis has for disaffected people, not as an opportunity, but as a threat.

No one is talking about creating illusions in order to evangelize, or affirming people in their delusions that this or that sin is really just ducky. We are talking about the fact that Francis is an obviously genuine and good person and that this is attractive to many hitherto disaffected people. For those focused on evangelism, it should be seen as good news and an opportunity when a member of the aggressively secular Brit elite breaks with the peer pressure and deep anti-Catholic hostility of his confreres to say of the casually and conventionally hated pope, “He is a compassionate, loving man who wants everybody to be included in the love of God.”  That’s not the done thing in those social circles, where hatred of Catholics and Christ is as conventional and expected as wine and cheese soirees. It is, in fact, remarkable: like hearing Richard Dawkins suddenly round on Daniel Dennett and say, “Why are you so *hard* on Christians? They aren’t so bad.” It’s not a salvific profession of faith, but it ‘s not nothing either. It’s a start.

Does Elton John (or the millions of other people attracted to Francis) have anything like a clear grasp of what Francis actually believes or is trying to do? Of course not. (But then again, neither do the many conservatives and Reactionaries panicking about him.) But though many attracted to him are wildly wrong in their belief that he seeks to usher in the Great Pelvic Millennium, they are not wrong in seeing in him somebody who a) lives an obvious life of goodness, holiness, and integrity; b) somebody who loves them and c) somebody they can trust. To quote one very irreligious Seattle kid’s impression, “He seems like somebody I’d share a joint with.” This sort of remark is, to many highly pious conservative Catholics with their deeply Calvinist sense of rectitude and their conviction that man was made for the law, not the the law for man, an indictment of the pope–just as the popularity of Jesus with whores and collaborators was an indictment of Jesus. But that is because many highly pious conservative Catholics conceive of their faith primarily in culture war terms: purging sin from their own souls, sinners from the Church, and repelling boarders who seek to *invade* the Church in order to soil and sully it. For such a mentality, evangelism is intolerably dangerous because if you just go out into the highways and byways and invite any old riff raff in, they will invariably behave exactly as Elton John and so many others are behaving: reading the Church through God Knows What Personal Agendas and screwing everything up. So instead of seeing the interest and admiration of an Elton John as an opportunity, it is responded to as a threat. And the hostility very quickly transfers to Francis himself since, let’s face it, he is the one who keep saying and doing things that attract the admiration of these upsetting sinners with their alien agendas.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, exactly why the Pharisees were upset with Jesus too. They had a conception of holiness primarily as a thing requiring quarantine, not as a conquering power. It is notable that the very first miracle of healing recorded by Matthew is that of a leper. What is even more notable is the method Jesus chose to perform this miracle. He could have said, “Be healed!” and that would have been enough (as he showed when he healed the centurion’s servant (8:5-13). But instead Jesus does something very deliberate and significant: he touches the leper (8:3).

Now under the old covenant, such an action was regarded as defiling. Touching a leper meant you were ritually defiled and could not go up to the Temple to worship. It meant you had to go through a whole week of purification. Uncleanness, sin, and defilement were understood to be more powerful influences than cleanness, sanctity, and purity. In the old covenant, sin was the superior power. When someone afflicted with some ritual uncleanness that symbolizes sin touched someone who was clean, the “flow” of power went in one direction only: the clean person was defiled but the unclean person was not sanctified.

However, when Jesus touched the leper something astounding happened: the leper became clean and Jesus was not defiled. The flow of power was, for the first time, reversed.

But not everyone can see this. For the Pharisees have learned the right lesson but drawn the wrong conclusion from the law of Moses. Under the old law, ritual defilement was intended as a kind of sign or shadow. It was meant to show us in our pride that we could not, by our own strength and power, keep ourselves clean from sin. The power of sin is greater than our power of sanctity. So the Pharisees understand sanctity in only one way: separation. Indeed, the word “Pharisee” comes from the Hebrew term meaning “separate”. They reasoned that if the power of sin is greater than our power of sanctity then the solution was to separate themselves from all that was unclean and even all that had touched what was unclean. In short, they apply to their personal lives a ritual code that was originally intended only for the Temple. They attempt to keep themselves as pure as the priests serving in the Temple. And so they separate themselves from the Gentiles, from touching the dead and dying, from lepers, and from menstruating women. They are right to see in these ritual prohibitions an image or sign of lifelessness. But they are wrong to conclude that by separating themselves they can avoid the sin which ritual uncleanness signifies. And so in an ironic way, they take the mirror of ritual uncleanness that God has given them in the Mosaic Law, and instead of seeing in it an image of their own uncleanness and defilement by sin, the turn it around and say to those around them, “See how unclean you are!”

Naturally then, when Jesus appears on the scene, they simply do not know what to do with him and are motivated by their pride to misunderstand him. Jesus, in Matthew 8, turns the Pharisaic understanding of the law on its head. He touches lepers and they are healed (8:1 4), receives Gentiles and they receive faith (8:5-13), consorts with demon-possessed people in a cemetery and they are restored (8:28-31), and, in the next chapter, permits the touch of a menstruating woman and she’s healed (9:18-22), touches the dead and she is raised (9:25), and eats with tax collectors and sinners and makes them saints (9:9-13). Yet, in all this, they see only the ritual defilement, not the revolutionary reversal in the flow of power. For, as Jesus points out elsewhere, pride has blinded them (John 9:35-41). They are so certain they are clean they cannot say, “Lord, if you’re willing, you can make me clean.” And so they miss the crucial lesson that the time for separation is past. In Israel’s childhood, separation from uncleanness and sin was necessary just as it is necessary for us to keep our children from “bad influences” lest they become imitators. But with the dawn of the power of the Kingdom of Heaven, it is the bad influences that are to be conquered with good ones, sin that is to be conquered with virtue, and death that is to be conquered with life.

This conception of the power of the kingdom to overcome sin is often forgotten in our culture war approaches to evangelization. We see a sinner who doesn’t get it completely, and instead of seeing an opportunity, see only a sinner who confirms our fear that the pope is affirming sinners in their sin, just as the Pharisees saw only a deciever who confirmed whores and collaborators in theirs.

But all such discussion is disconnected from how conversion works as a rule. Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples describes five stages through which people pass on their way to becoming intentional disciples of Jesus Christ (initial trust, curiosity, spiritual opennness, spiritual seeking, and intentional discipleship). Please read this to get the general hang of this.

Elton John and millions like him are at the stage of initial trust. Of *course* they are not disciples and of *course* they do not see any need to repent at this stage. But they have a basic trust in one of Jesus’s friends and are, many of them (including, for all we know, Elton John) developing a curiosity about what makes this man tick. What makes this man tick is Jesus Christ. So the smart approach to this is to let grace build on that by inviting people to come to know Jesus better. The foolish approach to that is accuse the person with a flickering sense of trust of being a liar who is twisting the truth and then demanding that they shut up, or turn their lives upside down instantly because we say so, or just leave because their sinful kind are not wanted here. Much of what conservative Catholics are doing is imagining that we need to grab somebody by the lapels, shove them against the wall, and hiss, “You have to change.” Christianity is about the encounter with Jesus. When that encounter happens, it is the *sinner* who says “I have to change” (as, for example, when Peter says “Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man!” Notably, Jesus does not say, “Go away from me, Peter, for you are a sinful man”, the very thing so many Catholics are eager to tell Elton John and other disaffected-but-curious people) Indeed, Jesus does not begin conversations with sinners by telling them what’s wrong with them. He begins by eliciting trust and curiosity, precisely like Francis does. This is why Francis said that the faith cannot be reduce to a disconnected set of moral preachments apart from the person of Christ. We have to get that.

Will the sinner have to repent? Of course! But sinners repent when they realize they cannot live their lives in a way pleasing to Jesus by going on as they are. Jesus does not begin his relationship with Peter by telling him he is a gutless coward who will deny him. He begins it by revealing himself as somebody Peter trusts and feels compelled to follow despite his own sense of inadequacy. And he begins by calling Peter to mission–to be a fisher of men.

At present, many people are merely at the stage of trust and curiosity. Our task is to cultivate that, not stamp it out–and not to accuse the pope of being a heretic or threat because sinners find his witness attractive.

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  • Jared Clark

    “Holiness as conquering power” is a beautiful remark, Mark!

  • Zippy

    Mark:

    No one is talking about creating illusions in order to evangelize, or affirming people in their delusions that this or that sin is really just ducky. We are talking about the fact that Francis is an obviously genuine and good person and that this is attractive to many hitherto disaffected people.

    That is how you are trying to spin it; but you are just wrong here. If it was a bunch of neocons expressing affection for the Pope because they thought he was going soft on torture, you wouldn’t be spinning it as a positive.

    • Marthe Lépine

      How do you know? Can you now read Mark’s mind? Neocons being attracted to the Pope would be a good thing, even if they were mistaken in their conception. You sound as if you only read Mark to find something wrong with everything he has to say. I would point out that it is YOUR problem not his!

      • Zippy

        Marthe Lepine:

        Mark and I have known each other for many years. He has stayed at my house a couple of times. He and I collaborated for more than six years in arguing against the neocons and their war-and-torture putsch.

        I’m not just some random commenter, Wormtongue.

        • Be polite

          Wormtongue? Seriously? You should be ashamed of yourself Marthe.

          • Marthe Lépine

            “I” should be ashamed? Thanks a lot.

            • Evan

              Just a heads up to avoid a pointless argument:
              Earlier Zippy’s reply to you was listed under your name, so it looked like someone else named Marthe was calling you Wormtongue.
              When I refreshed this page, Zippy’s name was on the reply.

              • Marthe Lépine

                Thank you.

            • Be polite

              Yes, you should. I get it. You disagree with Zippy. Guess what? From what I’ve seen he disagrees with you. Yet, he’s went out of his way to not get personal. You’ve done a pretty fair job of that yourself up to this point. Your frustration has apparently resulted in your feeling justified in labeling “dissenters” as demons. Shame shame shame

              • Be polite

                Ahhh, I see. I withdraw my criticism. I apologize Marthe. Zippy, I’ve agreed with pretty much everything you’ve written. You’ve made great points. There’s no need for cheap shots. Tsk tsk tsk.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  Apology accepted. Let’s pray for each other.

        • freddy

          Marthe is a serious commenter and a gracious lady. Zippy, you do your cause no good with juvenile name-calling.

          • Zippy

            Feeding delusions is serious business. Wormtongue is a perfectly appropriate literary allusion.

            • freddy

              No, actually, it’s not. Marthe’s comment was neither sycophantic nor untruthful nor an attempt at fear-mongering; all characteristics of Wormtongue. You’re just digging yourself in deeper when the best action would be an apology.

        • ivan_the_mad

          My heuristic is that truth engenders charity and magnanimity.

          Perhaps Mark unknowingly wrote this just for you.

          • Zippy

            Who are you to judge? I’ve learned a lot from rude people.

        • Zippy

          All the Wormtongue-twisted knickers don’t change the fact that if it was a bunch of neocons expressing affection for the Pope because they thought he was going soft on torture, Mark wouldn’t be spinning it as a positive.

          • chezami

            Apples and oranges. Catholic neo-cons at least knew perfectly well what the Church had to say about torture and spoke from within the household of faith to undermine it. People like Elton John have only the crudest understanding of what the Church has to say and imagine it to be a sort of political body like the Anglican communion. They are observers from the outside whose knowledge of the faith comes entirely from media. From that media they have gleaned two things: 1) the impression that Francis wants to change in some undefined way the Church’s view of homosexuality; 2) the impression that Francis is a good and humble man who loves people. The first impression is wrong, the second one, right. It remains to be seen whether the second impression leads to an encounter with the Christ who motivates Francis or if the first impression lead to him saying “This is a hard saying: who can hear it?” My point is that Jesus did not say to the curious crowds “Leave. You totally misunderstand me and are just projecting your agendas on to me.” He led them as far as they were willing to be lead. Our task is to attempt the same. The net drags up the good and the bad fish.

            • Zippy

              Suppose the neocons in question were, say Jewish, not Catholic. Like many of them in fact are.

              How about them apples?

              • chezami

                They would be wrong, as EJ is wrong in assuming that the Pope is going to change the Church’s teaching on the nature of the sacrament of marriage. But they might also be deeply ignorant as EJ is deeply ignorant. I did not regard it as a threat that Midge Decter and various other Jewish neocons in the orbit of First Things love JPII from the bottom of their hearts. I regarded that, as I regard this, as an opportunity.

            • antigon

              ‘Apples and oranges. Catholic neo-cons at least knew perfectly well what the Church had to say about torture and spoke from within the household of faith to undermine it.’
              *
              A lot of self-identified Catholics – Andrew Sullivan comes to mind, tho one suspects there are large numbers of clerics as well – seem to love the current Pontiff for reasons comparable to the less savory that may be motivating the presumably more ignorant Mr. John.
              *
              Within the at least formal household of faith, these folk very much speak with the intention of undermining said teaching despite a most acute awareness of it, & indeed the hope of seeing it repudiated, & do not hide that their enthusiasm for Papa Francesco is the view of him as an ally of those efforts.
              *
              So comparable fruit with Zip’s point it would seem, no pun intended.

    • HornOrSilk

      Here comes Zippy’s Inquisition Against the Pope.

      • Zippy

        This isn’t about the Pope. It is about precisely why aggressive sodomites admire (or think they admire) the Pope, and whether or not this in fact represents an evangelical opportunity.

        • HornOrSilk

          Of course it does. And yes, it is about the Pope. Please, stop your games.

          • Zippy

            Replied above.

          • antigon

            Really, Mr. Horno, can the FoxNews partisan shtick. Zip & Mark are obviously having a serious discussion here, the first on this site in a good while actually, & Mark has no need of an amen corner shouting Pope-Hater! Fraud! or (inevitably) Hitler! at anyone with an intellectual vocabulary beyond o hallelujah.

            • HornOrSilk

              Serious discussion? I don’t see it with Zippy. I see absolutist who ignores distinctions, forces equivocations, and makes false dichotomies.

              His complaint reminds me of the Pharisees against Jesus who said he was always sticking around sinners. Of course, Jesus said he came for the lost sheep, to save those who needed saving. The Pope is doing the work of Jesus here.

              A part of that work is showing care and concern for the sinner. While I believe previous Popes had such care, I don’t believe Benedict’s style made it easy for some to see. Pope Francis, however, radiates it and it is drawing people in. Instead of being afraid, angry, and pushing them back, we should be happy. For this is also something the Pope wanted. He wanted them to feel welcomed, not because he is changing doctrine, but because he is re-encouraging a loving stand toward them instead of just shouting out their sins. This is what the Pope has wanted, it is effective, and people complain. Seriously, no one is saying there is a change in doctrine, nor that it was necessary to be liked. However, it is clear the Pope likes them as people and they like that! Zippy’s approach doesn’t make it clear.

              Now Zippy then says “then they must convert or else.” Not everyone Christ showed love to necessarily converted. We can only welcome them, bring Christ to them, we can’t make them convert. But even if EJ doesn’t convert, his change in stand in relation to the Pope might make others think who might then look more closely and find Christ. It’s like all the people I know who were converted to the Catholic faith in part due to CS Lewis. Lewis didn’t convert, but the fruit is there.

              • antigon

                Well, a-men then, that’s all there is to it, any discussion otherwise may not be considered serious, period, but especially should it come from Hitlerites, I’m sorry, Pharisees like Zip & no doubt Ross Douthat, Chaput, Pell, Burke, indeed a veritable host of legalist stormtroopers to be dismissed for their inability to grasp the proper ‘loving stand.’
                *
                On the other hand, ‘The human race can be pretty much divided into those who want passionately to be up to date & those who want to keep in touch with the permanent & the eternal.’

                • Marthe Lépine

                  Sounds to me that name-calling is also not the sign of a serious discussion… And “presuming” name-calling from the side you are opposing does also sound insulting. And, about your last paragraph: you seem to be sure about what side you are on, but you might be surprised to discover, some day, who is actually on each side.

        • Zippy

          Please, stop your games.

          I’ve been around long enough that most folks know I just say what I really think, whether or not they agree with it. And no, for my part this isn’t about the Pope at all. Unlike most people I don’t pretend to know the Pope or his mind.

          It is about (1) why aggressive sodomites find the Pope attractive, in the full context of his media portrayals etc; and (2) if their reasons for finding him attractive are objective falsehoods, whether celebrating objective falsehoods (disorders in relation to the truth about the good) as a means to the end of selling “Jesus” (or some peoples’ caricatures of Him) to aggressive sodomites should be seen as a positive good.

          • Steve P

            Zippy, you go on insisting that the ONLY reason gays find Francis worth listening to is the “who am I to judge” comment. Could it possibly be that SOME of them are a LITTLE bit influenced by OTHER things he has said and done? It’s not 100% OBJECTIVE FALSEHOOD being touted as the foundation of evangelization. Break out of some of these Vulcan boxes you’ve put things in!

  • Zippy

    Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples describes five stages through which people pass on their way to becoming intentional disciples of Jesus Christ…

    Hopefully you realize that invoking Sherry Weddell’s work this way actually amounts to the opposite of an endorsement, if viewing the Elton John thing through the lens of Intentional Disciples results in becoming as deluded and dismissive of the obvious on the subject as you have become.

    • chezami

      I’m not dismissing the obvious. I am noting that many Catholics are missing the unobvious: that there is more than simply agenda projection going on with Francis’ attraction for millions of disaffected people and that this is an opportunity, not a threat.

      • Zippy

        there is more than simply agenda projection going on

        Of course there is more going on, generally speaking. There is always more going on, generally speaking.

        But at what point do you think that people being attracted to objectively false perceptions of the faith (not merely ignorance, but objectively contrary ideas about grave intrinsic evil) stops being a good thing? Where does it stop? If not at sodomy, does it stop at murder? Torture? Where?

        • chezami

          As a general rule, you would have to ask the person attracted to Francis (or whoever). I can’t tell you how much Francis attracts an Elton John because he is a screen upon which “acceptance of my sins” is projected and how much he does so because he is perceived to be a good decent and loving human being. I’m certain it’s both. I’m not certain EJ has any idea of how much of which it is, nor even that he is aware that there are two distinct kinds of attraction there. All I’m noting is that there is a small bond of trust there that was not there a few years back when he was calling for the indiscriminate destruction of religion. That’s an improvement and an opportunity. It’s not a guarantee of conversion, nor a suggestion that he needs to be told that sodomy is not a sin.

          • Marthe Lépine

            And, maybe I am stretching here… It could even be that EJ does not even “need” to be told that his sin of choice is not a sin, because he possibly already knows, and his aggressive promotion of that sin might be in part fueled by a certain level of discomfort or defensiveness.

            • Marthe Lépine

              My sentence above was not clear: by “he possibly already knows” I meant that EJ possibly already knows that it is actually a sin and that’s a fact that cannot be denied, therefore part of his attitude might come from defensiveness.

        • Marthe Lépine

          I don’t think the subject matter here is “being attracted to objectively false perceptions of the faith”. It is rather being attracted to a person who radiated something that seemed good and kind and welcoming.

  • Dave

    The real question is whether these people are actually attracted to the Pope, or to the media caricature of him.

    • Marthe Lépine

      Actually, maybe it does not matter. I suppose you have not forgotten that the Holy Spirit works in mysterious, and sometimes surprising ways… He could very well use a caricature.

      • Dave

        Certainly, that is true, but I suspect that once people realize that the Pope is actually Catholic, they will be disillusioned. There are some who are open, but many are just looking for approval of their actions. I would be delighted to be found wrong on this matter.

        • Marthe Lépine

          But… just maybe… it is not your place to make judgements on what reaction people might have once they realize that the Pope is actually Catholic. Actually, I think that the only proper thing to do in such a case is to pray that people will be open…

          • Dave

            Also true…my main question is whether it is objectively a good thing or a bad thing that there is a false impression of Pope Francis being circulated. Certainly the Holy Spirit can use it. He can use anything.

  • Silly Interloper

    As far as I can tell, the fourth paragraph on are irrelevant to the concern whether or not EJ is being misled by the pope’s words. Jesus was always clear spoken and when he associated with sinners, his unequivocal message was “sin no more,” and there would be no nonsensical conversations that tried to minimize sin.

    I also think you are avoiding some things here by improperly characterizing them. When you say, “No one is talking about creating illusions in order to evangelize, or affirming people in their delusions that this or that sin is really just ducky,” you seem to be intentionally deflecting those critiques regarding the pope’s lack of clarity and the misperceptions that are being propagated on the basis of that lack of clarity. Zippy, for example, didn’t say anything about intending to “create illusions” as far as I can tell. But allowing those misunderstandings to inform homosexuals who obviously object to the true Catholic teaching is allowing it to propagate as a lie. Does anyone doubt that EJ would reject Pope Francis vehemently if he were not under the impression that Catholicism was moving toward allowing sodomy? Is it charitable to either EJ or the Church to allow such a festering misunderstanding to corrupt the clear and honest communication between them? A thousand times no!

    You said: “We are talking about the fact that Francis is an obviously genuine and good person and that this is attractive to many hitherto disaffected people.”

    I think that’s nonsense for a couple reasons. First, it’s a misdirection from what the man says that causes confusion to the perception of his character. Second, it implies that Pope John Paul the II and Pope Benedict the XVI were not so obviously genuine and good people, and that’s just uncharitable hokum. It’s really just an attempt at reverse ad hominem. “He’s nice, so he must be right.” That dog don’t hunt.

    And what happens to EJ’s trust in the pope when Francis clarifies things enough to make EJ realize he rejects his sodomy completely, not to mention the other reproductive tampering he has engaged in? For that matter, if Francis does not make it clear to him, what happens to trust for the Church when the next pope makes that clarification. A perfectly kind and generous man will now get the full brunt of the sodomites’ wrath for “turning back” the “progress” of Francis.

    The majority of your OP here seems like a smokescreen that tries to minimize the problem with allowing misperceptions to seduce sodomites into the church. If we respect their dignity as human beings, we will treat them as human beings and not only tell them the truth, but disabuse them of any misperceptions they have regarding the Church. Otherwise, when the church tells them “Hah! Fooled ya!” it will not be pretty.

    • petey

      “whether or not EJ is being misled by the pope’s words”

      crikey

  • ivan_the_mad

    I’m reminded of GKC’s biography of St. Aquinas, especially seeing Francis compared with his predecessors:

    “The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age. Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need.”

    The Petrine office is endowed with peculiar charism and grace. I personally think it prudent and wise to listen to Peter rather than presume of him.

    • Zippy

      Is someone arguing that we shouldn’t listen to the Pope, or presuming anything of him?

      This discussion first and foremost rests on disagreement about the facts: specifically, differing premises about why Elton John and people like him admire Francis.

      Mark keeps insisting that EJ admires Francis because “Francis is an obviously genuine and good person [presumably in contrast to Benedict and JPII] and that this is attractive to many hitherto [under Benedict and JPII] disaffected people.”

      But it is far more plausible that EJ admires Pope Francis because EJ perceives Francis as accepting and tolerant of sodomy.

      The proof in the pudding is of course in the eating. If Mark is right, in a few years Elton John will have publicly renounced gay sex and will be working for Courage. Or at the very least, we will be able to point to large numbers of aggressively homosexual liberals who have made that transition because of Francis.

      Get back to me when that actually happens.

      • ivan_the_mad

        “Is someone arguing that we shouldn’t listen to the Pope, or presuming anything of him?”

        Of course. This whole discussion stems from Elton John listening to the pope (however imperfectly), and has been chock-full of presumptuous opinions on whether and how the pope should speak.

        Regarding the proof in the pudding, I can only remark that it is imprudent to put God to the test. There are myriad ways in which salvific grace may work and hearts be converted.

        • Zippy

          This whole discussion stems from Elton John listening to the pope (however imperfectly), and has been chock-full of presumptuous opinions on whether and how the pope should speak.

          Fair enough. I don’t speak for other peoples’ arguments, just my own. And my own arguments presume pretty much nothing at all about the Pope himself, what he should and should not do, etc.

          I can only remark that it is imprudent to put God to the test.

          Back at you. Trying to speak for God is a dangerous business. I am not arguing with God, or the Pope. I am arguing with Mark and some of his commenters.

          • Marthe Lépine

            I don’t perceive Ivan as trying to speak “for” God… He maybe trying to explain what he has obviously well learned from the CCC and other Church teaching, such teaching, of course, based on what God has been saying.

            • Zippy

              Marthe Lepine:
              Ivan straightforwardly suggested that I was “imprudent[ly] put[ting] God to the test.” I was just responding to his plain words.

              But I’m not arguing with God, or the Catechism. Heck, if I was to collect quotes from the Magisterium and Fathers and Doctors of the Church on sodomy and post them here, my own words would look positively mild mannered by comparison.

              Folks should not pretend that they speak for God. As I said, that is a dangerous business. I certainly don’t pretend to speak for God; or the Pope, for that matter. When I cite Popes I almost always quote them.

              • ivan_the_mad

                As I was responding to “If Mark is right, in a few years Elton John will have publicly renounced gay sex and will be working for Courage. Or at the very least, we will be able to point to large numbers of aggressively homosexual liberals who have made that transition because of Francis.”, and the implicit constraint on the operation of God’s salvific grace.

                • Zippy

                  Ivan:

                  I have implied no constraints on God.

                  I disagreed with the plausibility of Mark’s argument. Any disagreement about evangelization could be construed as ‘implicit constraint on the operation of God’s grace’, the way you employed it here. And an argument that can prove anything proves nothing.

                  • ivan_the_mad

                    Where did Mark assert that “in a few years Elton John will have publicly renounced gay sex and will be working for Courage. Or at the very least, we will be able to point to large numbers of aggressively homosexual liberals who have made that transition because of Francis”?

                    • Zippy

                      He didn’t. I did – and I didn’t attribute it to him – as a way of demonstrating the implausibility of his whole thought process.

                      Because if he is right, that is exactly what we should expect to happen. If the people who are arguing against him are right, that won’t happen.

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      Yes, your assertion, your constraint on what we should expect to happen. QED 🙂

                    • Zippy

                      If every expectation about what we should expect to happen implies a ‘constraint on God’s grace’, we’d better just stop thinking about evangelization at all.

                    • Zippy

                      The notion that if we just full-throated thunderously denounce sodomy constantly from every pulpit that will prevent some people from coming to Christ is an expectation about what will happen. So people who adopt the theory that expectations about what will happen inherently represent limitations on God’s grace have no grounds to object to full-throated and constant denunciation of sodomy from every pulpit.

                      Otherwise you are just begging the question, and trying to pretend that your question-begging speaks with God’s voice.

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      No. You’re all about the false dichotomies today 😉

                    • Zippy

                      Ivan:
                      Next time I need to know what God thinks, I’ll be sure to ask you.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      But it would be an idea to first sit down with copies of the Gospel and the CCC and read carefully, and you probably not need to ask someone else…

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      I think that in such a case a number of people might get offended and be thus prevented from coming to Christ since it would only be natural too conclude that “we”, who are representing the Church in the ears and eyes of those people, and that is in no way an expectation about what will happen. It is rather a matter of common sense…

                    • zoltan

                      Common sense? The Church is growing in Africa in leaps and bounds where her sons stand strong against sodomy. Where her Western milquetoast sons ignore or accept it, the Church suffers in attendance–what is likely the center of sodomy in America is now having to close down how many churches?

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      Or, alternatively, we could consider that our expectation is wrong 😉

      • Marthe Lépine

        Alternately: Or, if Mark is right, Elton John might have a conversion on his death bed… and he would be saved nonetheless, and maybe even enter heaven earlier than some of those who keep harping about his habitual sodomy…

        • Zippy

          And again, even habitual sodomy isn’t the same thing as being a militant public advocate of sodomy, any more than habitual masturbation is the same thing as being a militant public advocate of masturbation. If Elton John is the representative stand-in for the group of people we are talking about then folks should stop arguing against straw men.

          • Marthe Lépine

            “Militant public advocate” is just another category of sins that Mr. John might repent from on his death bed…

      • Cas

        Is sodomy so near and dear to Elton John that he would give a rip about whether or not the pope approves of his beliefs/behavior, to the point where he would publicly declare his fondness for the pope based on only this one thing? It is definitely possible, even likely, that Elton John is mistaking Francis’ position on homosexuality, but even if that were the case, I would bet that this misperception is only one aspect of the pope that Elton John finds so appealing and likable.

        • Zippy

          Cas:
          I think that is probably, centrally, where a lot of the disagreement arises. I think that if everything about Pope Francis remained the same, except that he started regularly denouncing sodomy-the-action in his homilies and speeches, that militant sodomites like EJ would no longer be expressing admiration for him. So the basic issue is whether the perception that Francis is soft on sodomy is a necessary (though not the only) reason for the admiration that militant sodomites express.

          • Cas

            “So the basic issue is whether the perception that Francis is soft on sodomy is a necessary (though not the only) reason for the admiration that militant sodomites express.”

            Yes, this does seem to be the crux of the issue, thank you for distilling it down to this point. I don’t have a strong opinion about the correct answer to this question, so I’ll bench myself for the time being to think about this one.

    • Joseph

      While I agree with you in the context of the Popes in my lifetime (at least since I’ve been a Catholic and have actually cared), I have to disagree that the Petrine office is, by necessity, endowed with peculiar charism and grace. There have been very bad Bishops of Rome in the past.

      • capaxdei

        We distinguish between the charisms and graces with which an office (or person, or religious congregation) is endowed and the fruitfulness with which an individual makes use of them.

      • ivan_the_mad

        There’s the rather noteworthy charism of infallibility 😉 which “[t]he Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office” — CCC §891.

        “Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church” — CCC §892

        Yes, there have been bad popes, but a bad pope no more invalidates the Petrine office than a bad priest invalidates Holy Orders.

        • Asbury Fox

          Papal Infallibility has only been used twice since the formal definition of Vatican I. Outside of Pius XI’s definition of the Immaculate Conception, and Pius XII’s Assumption of Mary, no Pope has used it. The last Pope to use Infallibility was Pius XII. I do believe that the Petrine office is, by necessity, endowed with peculiar charism and grace, but the Pope is still a man and a free agent who can reject this grace, because he has free will.

          • ivan_the_mad

            I don’t think that anyone is arguing that infallibility and impeccability are the same thing 😉

  • HornOrSilk

    Don’t you get it, gays shouldn’t like the Pope. That way we can make sure they go to hell! (I mean, really).

    • Zippy

      Here is a thought: how about actually addressing something that someone actually said?

      Or not, as it may be. Sometimes it is more self-affirming to just ignore reality, including the reality of where others actually disagree with you.

      • HornOrSilk

        Here’s a thought: listen to the Catholic Church on gays. They are not to be discriminated against. They are not to be hated. They are to be welcomed. If gays like the Pope, they like the Pope. Good. As many said, it makes them open to listening to the Pope then. Whether or not they will, we do not know, but it is always good when someone is favorable of the Pope, for it does make an opening.

        As for ignoring reality, that is what your whining here is about. You are ignoring the way evangelism spreads. It starts with one little softening of the heart. You don’t go “slam” to those who have it. Well, you seem to want to.

        • Zippy

          I fully agree with the Church on charity toward those afflicted with disordered sexual desires. In fact I’ve been known to defend homosexuals on the grounds that they are often exploited as a lightning rod to distract us from the much more massive problem of heterosexual misbehavior.

          It is a basic mistake to conflate struggle with disordered desires and militant support of sodomy, though, and people tend to use the blanket term “homosexual” to refer to a wide variety of things. I recommend that people use the term “sodomy” and “sodomites” for clarity, since those terms refer unambiguously to actions and people who advocate and engage in those actions, as opposed to desires or inclinations.

          • Mariana Baca

            So we should focus on their sin even more, not on the person who may or may not be sinning?

            Why is this clarity desired? What does it serve? Ok, the average homosexual off the street that you will evangelize will likely not be a “go to bathhouse every night” guy. He probably won’t be 100% chaste, either, but if single, might not be doing anything wrong day to day. But the average non-Catholic single heterosexual will likely have a militant support for contraception, fornication and masturbation, too, even if they don’t do it themselves. But we don’t think they should identify themselves as fornicators when they are just curious about the church. We don’t know if and when they will convert *until* they hear the message and are welcomed.

            • Zippy

              Why is this clarity desired? What does it serve?

              Truth and charity, as I explained in my previous comment. (I think you posted while I was composing it).

              • Marthe Lépine

                I strongly disagree about “charity” in this context, including charity towards your readers, but it’s just me!

                • zoltan

                  Zippy, the sharply logical masculine knife cutting through effeminate, emotional butter! If you’d only get back to blogging.

            • Zippy

              But we don’t think they should identify themselves as fornicators when they are just curious about the church.

              That is an invalid attempt to reframe the discussion. There is no question about Elton John being a militant sodomite, a public advocate of sodomy, and demonizer of those who object to sodomy morally, as a public figure. Nobody has suggested that people ‘off the street’ inquiring about the Faith should be interrogated, etc.

          • Zippy

            There are other reasons why “sodomy” and “sodomite” are better, more honest terms. For example, sodomy is not exactly unheard of among heterosexuals, including married heterosexuals. It is perfectly conceivable that there may be many more ‘heterosexual’ acts of sodomy than homosexual. And while contraception may not be sodomy strictly speaking according to some folks’ dictionaries, in essence it involves the same sort of mutilation of sexual acts against the natural law. “Sodomy” therefore doesn’t single out those with SSA as somehow unique in having or carrying out disordered sexual desires.

            So “sodomy” is better terminology than “homosexual” for a whole variety of reasons, all of which are ultimately rooted in fairness and honesty, which themselves are rooted in charity.

            • Marthe Lépine

              I don’t think that blunt honesty is always necessary. As well, I don’t think that one should describe a person specifically by their sins of choice any more than by their profession or way of life. And… Even the worst sinner (and I am not sure pelvic sins are the worst sins anyone can commit anyway) has been created in the image of a loving God, and I don’t think it is showing charity to define that sinner by the perceived kind of sin we think we know… Finally, I personally find the repeated use of the word “sodomy” repellent to my delicate ears or eyes and I don’t think it should be used in polite company.

          • Marthe Lépine

            Some people might find the use of this more graphic word rather offensive, and we don’t need to use it here in order to understand what we are talking about.

            • Be polite

              What’s offensive about the word sodomy?

              • Marthe Lépine

                Maybe you cannot understand this because you are a man. Women sometimes have more delicate sensibilities. Check this out with your wife – or whoever is the most important woman in your life if you are single.

                • Be polite

                  Yeah, ummm, I’ve read plenty of female philosophers/theologians. They used the word to describe a certain act that’s relevant to the discussion here. Toughen up gal.

                  • petey

                    citations, please.

                • Women only have more delicate sensibilities sometimes. They can be as gross as any frat boy and abusive as any cad. Men who have any significant experience with women understand this because they’ve seen it. I’ll pass on the gross and just relay something that happened two weeks ago.

                  There’s a restaurant chain called Cracker Barrel. If you’ve never been, they have a kind of gift shop to amuse yourself while you wait for your table. I saw a nice cast iron skillet and thought it might make a good addition to our collection (I do maybe half the cooking in the house). I headed off to divert my wife from the scarves to see if she’d like the skillet instead. An older lady in the store’s uniform ‘joked’ that they were really good for braining husbands. When my wife replied that she was the bad one and more likely to be in need of a good wallop, the woman replied that then we should get a really small one because that was the only one I should be allowed to use on her. It threw me off my previous good mood. Then we sat down to eat and the very competent (and flaming homosexual) waiter restored my good mood.

                  Delicate sensibilities are a province of women? Please. Both sides have their own tendencies but there’s major areas of overlap. Not understanding that is not determined by genetics or genitals. It’s just a matter of experience.

            • anna lisa

              I agree that the word “sodomy” is used to insult people, certainly not to evangelize them! The Sodomites were a pack of violent would be rapists.

      • Joseph

        Old habits die hard.

  • Matthew

    Mark, you cite the young Seattle hipster who said of Pope Francis “he seems like a guy I could smoke a joint with.” and went on to compare this to Our Lord. So you really think Magdalene’s first thought about Jesus was “Hey, here’s a hot guy that I’d like to take back to my place.” Or perhaps Zaccheus thought “I think I could have a great time bilking innocent tax payers with that guy.” Really??

    • chezami

      No. Not really. My point is, rather obviously, that the kid felt he could trust Francis; that Francis was not somebody who was there to judge, scold or humiliate him, but somebody who loved him. I don’t assume that somebody who loves me is never going to disagree with me, but that when they disagree with me, they won’t make me feel like a piece of garbage. Why is this so complicated?

      • Rob B.

        Because in this age especially, self-righteousness masquerades as true righteousness. Keep fighting the good fight, Mr. Shea!

    • Marthe Lépine

      Actually, about Magdalene, it is quite possible, and as far as I am concerned, I would not be scandalized. However, before you accuse me of sharing some of those ideas about Jesus and Margdalene being a couple, I would add that it seems to me that most single women, except maybe those who have already made a serious commitment, and even some married ones… have probably, at one point in their lives, looked at an attractive man and wished that they could attract his attention. And if they were women of “little virtue” such as Magdalene was probably on the very first time she saw Jesus, there would be a good chance they would have thought “I’d like to take him back to my place”. It is only being human, you know (or maybe you don’t since you are a man). I would also surmise that, following that first impression, Magdalene would have started to pay attention to what Jesus was saying, which was probably not an immediate condemnation of Magdalene’s lifestyle. A bit later,she might have become curious about what kind of guy he was, then listened more attentively, etc. Then she decided to not try to seduce him, but also to not turn her back on his teaching… and the rest is history.

  • Newp Ort

    It is clear that Francis and John have conspired to piss off everyone across the political spectrum, and succeeded.

  • CJ

    TL;DR

    • Dan F.

      Too bad, it was worth it

  • Rebekah

    Great post. Francis flies in the face of those who want to categorize, label, and pack away in a tidy little box. Thanks for your always refreshing and hope-inducing perspective.

  • David Naas

    Wow! This is still going on?

    Mark, your essay is grand, but, if I might, allow a brief summation for the reading impaired (which includes most trolls).

    MY DEAR FELLOW CATHOLICS:
    Sinners get saved on God’s terms, not on Yours.
    Thank You.
    Regards,
    A Sinner.

  • Dave G.

    I guess all I would say is this: did I react to this the way I always react when someone praises a pope because of a misunderstanding or likely misunderstanding of what the pope says or stands for? If so, fair enough. If not, I might ask myself why my reaction to this is different than it is to someone else who misunderstood this or another pope and ended up praising the pope because of it.

  • Mark R

    The Desert Fathers and other Church Fathers taught that so long as we are preoccupied with the faults of others rather than with our own we will make no spiritual progress, in fact we will harm ourselves through lack of true repentance and make ourselves more vulnerable to the Evil One. As Christians we should first of all rejoice that our names are written in heaven, and consider ourselves the worst of sinners and others we meet as angels. This is very difficult, but this was done by great saints.

  • Is this the type of thing that you mean?

    Dear Elton John,

    I hear you like Pope Francis. I do too. I hope you really pay attention to what he’s saying because, besides the message he’s sending to the world at large, the inside baseball stuff he is doing is full of awesome.

    There’s always room at the inn for you if you want to come by and better understand that other side of Pope Francis.

    • chezami

      No. Next question.

      • Thank you for your in depth engagement. Way to live what you’re advocating.

        • orual’s kindred

          I don’t know what the baseball reference is supposed to mean, but what a great illustration that joke turned out to be! It shows the difficulties of engaging with people in general. It shows how difficult it can be to determine an actual question, and how even straightforward answers can be misconstrued. It shows how easily people can get discouraged. And it shows how easy it is to use other people’s words against them, how unseemly it can come across and how quickly it can end a conversation. What a humorous yet clear demonstration of related points in this topic 🙂

          • When the Pope is speaking to the world that’s his public face. When he’s speaking to the Church and especially the institutional Church, that’s inside-the-organization talk and in the US, it’s often referred to as “inside baseball”. Leaders of large organization often communicate two messages simultaneously this way.

            I actually wrote the post as a kind of lighthearted implementation piece as a way to have fun. I actually agree with Mark here and wanted to not have our interactions be so dominated by the times when we disagree. It looks like I’m going to have to figure out a different way to do that.

            • orual’s kindred

              That may be, but since I did say that I find the whole thing a humorous exchange that also illustrates various points in the general discussion, there actually might not be so much disagreement here at all 🙂

              • I wasn’t disagreeing with you. I assumed you’re not familiar with the phrase I used and was… trying.. to explain the joke.

                snickerdoodles.

                • orual’s kindred

                  I don’t get to watch a lot of baseball, so yes, I kind of fumbled on that pitch.

                  *rimshot*

                  😀

  • PalaceGuard

    Yep.

  • rentonrain

    It is interesting that Elton John and Kiki Dee were born in the same month and the same year.

    Elton: March 25, 1947

    Kiki: March 6, 1947

    Their duet stands the test of time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teA6zRyeEEQ

  • Ilya

    Jesus said: “(…) the world loves its own. But you are not of the world since I have chosen you from the world; because of this the world hates you.” (John 15: 19)
    The godless say: “He [the righteous] has become a reproach to our way of thinking; even to meet him is burdensome to us. According to him we have low standards, so he keeps aloof from us as if we were unclean.” (Wisdom 3: 14; 16)
    Of course a true faithful (who is also a repentant sinner) knows very well that he stand by God’s grace and he should avoid the traps of Phariseeism, Jansenism, Puritanism, etc., but he also knows that a rebellious and unrepentant sinner don’t love the Gospel, neither people who preach the unadulterated Gospel.

  • Auntie Euphemism

    “No sin has greater power over the soul than the one of cursed sodomy, which was always detested by all those who lived according to God….. Such passion for undue forms borders on madness. This vice disturbs the intellect, breaks an elevated and generous state of soul, drags great thoughts to petty ones, makes [men] pusillanimous and irascible, obstinate and hardened, servilely soft and incapable of anything. Furthermore, the will, being agitated by the insatiable drive for pleasure, no longer follows reason, but furor…. Someone who lived practicing the vice of sodomy will suffer more pains in Hell than any one else, because this is the worst sin that there is.”
    –Saint Bernardine of Siena

  • Auntie Euphemism

    Just one last quote from another “homophobe”, Saint, Doctor, Pope Gregory the Great delving deeper into the symbolism of the fire and brimstone that God used to punish the sodomites: “Brimstone calls to mind the foul odors of the flesh, as Sacred Scripture itself confirms when it speaks of the rain of fire and brimstone poured by the Lord upon Sodom. He had decided to punish in it the crimes of the flesh, and the very type of punishment emphasized the shame of that crime, since brimstone exhales stench and fire burns. It was, therefore, just that the sodomites, burning with perverse desires that originated from the foul odor of flesh, should perish at the same time by fire and brimstone so that through this just chastisement they might realize the evil perpetrated under the impulse of a perverse desire.” (St. Gregory the Great, Commento morale a Giobbe, XIV, 23, vol. II, p. 371, Ibid., p. 7)

    • zoltan

      Sounds like a total Pharisee, Calvinist and reactionary! /sarcasm

  • Whether Elton John and others like him are in the first stage of discipleship, or are rather misled to think that they’ve found a way to have both Christ and sin; time will tell. Let us permit time to tell instead of telling it ourselves.

  • Gene Tobola

    What if Elton John dies while in this first “stage” of conversion? What will happen to his soul? Right now he has no reason to even consider that he is living in objective mortal sin. He believes, even though wrongly, that Pope Francis is supportive of his lifestyle. Before it’s too late shouldn’t someone tell him to “go and sin no more?”

    • chezami

      Beats me. I leave such matters to God.