It is that “don’t knowness” that is now bringing me to a breaking point. I, deeply educated as I am about the Holy Scriptures, about church history, about the nature of theology, am aware that when I declare something about God with absolute certainty, I am also most certainly lying–or at least not offering the whole truth.
It has been a tough week for the religiously faithful people.
Let’s start here: On the front page of the Friday, Feb 15, 2019, Wall Street Journal, we read about Pope Francis’ ongoing lack of concern for the victims of Roman Catholic priests rampant sexual abuse.
An appeals panel set up by the pope had reduced the punishments of a number of Catholic priests found guilty of abusing minors. In some cases, the panel canceled their dismissal from the priesthood and gave them short suspensions instead.
Now, it did come to light that the egregiously sexually abusive Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is not only no longer a Prince of the Roman Catholic Church, but he is also no longer a priest. However, nothing will yet stop him from going after little boys still. He will spend zero, that is zero, time in prison.
Furthermore, none of his many enablers, those high up in the Roman Catholic church who carefully covered his tracks over the years, will see any censure at all.
McCarrick could become a Southern Baptist and keep abusing
McCarrick, then, remains free to keep abusing, just not as a priest. He might seek to become a Southern Baptist clergyperson and have at it again.
But before we get to his likely admittance into the Southern Baptist ranks of sexual abusers, let us also note that the longstanding practice of priests routinely raping nuns has also finally come to light. From the New York Times article on the situation:
The sexual abuse of nuns and religious women by Catholic priests and bishops — and the abortions that have sometimes resulted — has for years been overshadowed by other scandals in the Roman Catholic Church.
Now, let’s head back to the Southern Baptists and their probable open arms to Theodore McCarrick. Superb reporting by the Houston Chronicle exposed for all to see that many ever-so-holy Southern Baptist preachers can’t keep their hands out of the panties of the children and teens in their care.
More than 100 Southern Baptists described as former youth pastors or youth ministers are now in prison, are registered as sex offenders or have been charged with sex crimes, the newspapers found. Their most common targets were teenage girls and boys, though smaller children also were molested, sometimes in pastors’ studies and Sunday school rooms.
Here’s what happened after the giant Second Baptist Church in Houston hired a guy as a youth pastor who was then found to be doing the nasties to the teen girls:
Second Baptist quietly fired him in 2010 after receiving complaints about lying and other inappropriate behavior, court records show. Church members and employees were among those who pointed out problems before his dismissal.
But church leaders did not inform youth group members and parents that Foster had been fired or why. Nor did they tell leaders of another church, the Community of Faith Church in Cypress, a non-SBC church that hired Foster to run its youth group in 2011. He found more targets there, court records show.
Gosh, isn’t that nice of the folks at Second Baptist–carefully protecting a predator to go after another set of teen girls? And since there is no larger accrediting body for the Baptists, any local church can, and does, ordain anyone they wish to do anything they want. No background checks needed.
So, why not welcome Mr. McCarrick with open arms? If he can draw a crowd, they’ll take him. No need to know more.
Two more Roman Catholic scandals emerged
After the above revelations, two more scandals emerged from the Roman Catholic mess. First, the exposure of a secret document detailing what to do with the many offspring that are sired by their “celibate” priests. Here’s the legal situation for those particular priests:
Canon lawyers say that there is nothing in church law that forces priests to leave the priesthood for fathering children. “There is zero, zero, zero,” on the matter, said Laura Sgro, a canon lawyer in Rome. “As it is not a canonical crime, there are no grounds for dismissal.”
Here’s one example:
Rev. Pietro Tosi was 54 when he raped Erik Zattoni’s mother, who was 14, Mr. Zattoni said. Her family tried to force the priest to recognize their son, but he refused. The family was evicted from their parish-owned home in a tiny town outside Ferrara, Italy, where they often bumped into each other.
Rev. Tosi faced no repercussions and died, still a priest, in 2014.
When investigators swept in and raided the religious Antonio Provolo Institute for the Deaf, they uncovered one of the worst cases yet among the global abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church: a place of silent torment where prosecutors say pedophiles preyed on the most isolated and submissive children.
And the Pope, hearing about it, chose to ignore the situation and impose no punishments. Need to protect those priests above all.
Not to let the United Methodists off the hook
Not to let my denomination off the hook. Starting Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, 864 voting delegates from around the world will meet for a four-day specially called General Conference of The United Methodist Church to decide the fate of a denomination that has long been a powerful force for social reform coupled with the goal of personal holiness through faith in Jesus.
The Conference will determine whether the United Methodist Church can recognize those who are not rigidly heterosexual as fully human with all rights and responsibilities that go with being fully human.
It is sadly likely that this conference, no matter the decisions made, will end with an implosion of the UMC and a general exodus of churches and clergy.
It is still all about SEX
Notice the theme running through all these situations: SEX. Yeah, sex. Who is having sex with whom? Who is ruining the lives of innocents because of sex? Who is hurting no one by their sexual activities between consenting adults but who, nonetheless, face accusations of being unrepentant sinners by others, whose sexual peccadillos probably have not yet seen exposure?
Peeps, this has got to stop if any Christian message is ever to get through. Is there any wonder that a report by the well regarded Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) titled a recent article, “Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back.”
The whole article with its associated statistics is worth the read, but here’s a quick summary of their findings:
While non-white Protestants and non-Christian religious groups have remained fairly stable, white Protestants and Catholics have all experienced declines, with Catholics suffering the largest decline among major religious groups: a 10-percentage point loss overall. Nearly one-third (31%) of Americans report being raised in a Catholic household, but only about one in five (21%) Americans identify as Catholic currently. Thirteen percent of Americans report being former Catholics, and roughly 2% of Americans have left their religious tradition to join the Church. White evangelical Protestants and white mainline Protestants are also witnessing negative growth, but to a much more modest degree (-2 percentage points and -5 percentage points, respectively).
Simply put, the younger generations are jumping ship. Do you blame them? How, with this kind of craziness and hypocrisy surrounding normal human sexuality, would anyone want to walk in the doors of churches any longer? The younger generations live in a gender-fluid world and place high value on recognizing individual differences.
The church can and should embrace these values as we proclaim the hope of redemption in the name of a loving and compassionate God, one who suffers with us in the brokenness of the world.
It would be helpful if we could acknowledge that sex happens and is part of normal human existence.
Sex becomes evil when forced upon another, and especially when the “forcer” is a person who claims spiritual authority. It brings irretrievable damage when consent is not possible.
Sex also becomes evil when the act results in children whose fathers will not acknowledge them and participate in their upbringing and when the mothers are not ready for the responsibilities of child-bearing and child-rearing. That’s the definition of irresponsible, not normal, sex.
All I wanted was to serve God
I admit I ache as a Christian today. Since I was twenty years old, I have lived from one driving principle of my life: to serve God in any way possible. That, for me, meant living in service to the church, the representative of the presence of God in the world.
Over the years, I was able to obtain a superb biblical and theological education. I used those studies, my years of volunteer service, and my eventual ordination to pastoral leadership, to hone my theology. The deeper I went and the more I studied and worked, the more I exposed how much I don’t know.
It is that “don’t knowness” that is now bringing me to a breaking point. I, educated as I am about the Holy Scriptures, about church history, about the nature of theology, am aware that when I declare something about God with absolute certainty, I am also most certainly lying–or at least not offering the whole truth.
Why? Well, how about because God is like, maybe, an infinity worth more wise, holy, powerful and big than I am? If this God that we claim to worship is indeed the Creator of an apparently infinite universe–unless you are a science denier and think that the stars and galaxies are just there to confuse us about the nature of time and space–then I actually don’t know a whole lot for sure about the nature of God and most certainly can’t read God’s mind.
And before you jump on me and insist, “Yeah, but God gave us all we need to know in the Bible,” I say to you: that is so not the case. From the very beginning, religious experts have known that what we call the Holy Scriptures holds just an entry point into the world of unknown mysteries. Anyone who holds their Bible up and declares, “This is all I need” displays dangerous ignorance.
Furthermore, what I do know, I hold with tentative hands because I could be wrong. Now, I admit I doubt God smiles brightly on the supposedly celibate, “I hold the keys to heaven and hell” priesthood as they routinely destroy the lives of the vulnerable in their care. I can’t see God leaping for joy when God’s creative work in the many varieties of human experience is denounced as “evil” and “irredeemably broken.”
I also ask, “What happened to humility?” Where is the recognition that when the real light comes, we will all be shown to be abysmally ignorant about the true nature of God as all of our flaws will be exposed?
First Corinthians 13 transformation
Who among us can stand in front of true and absolute Holiness and Love and say, “Hey, there, I belong at your right-hand side! And since I do, I can freely judge anyone who disagrees with me–and freely use all these lesser creatures that You supplied me with to satisfy my sexual urges?”
Well, a number of clergy have apparently decided they can do this. I hope God has mercy on them because I have run out. As I said, I am near my breaking point.
In the midst of my despair and as I was writing these thoughts out, a wonderful long-time friend decided to give me a call. In our conversation, he mentioned to me a way to read a section of First Corinthians 13 in an unusually transformational way.
After the call, I decided to give it a try. Here’s the result, adapted from The Message version:
Christy never gives up. She cares more for others than for herself. She doesn’t want what she doesn’t have. She doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force herself on others, isn’t always, “me first.”
Christy never flies off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel. She takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end.
I want to keep going to the end, despite my current despair. I choose now to continue to trust and look for the best, to live with humility and genuine concern for the other.
I admit it is hard to look for the best in those who have so abused their positions of truth to harm others but am also aware that can hardly claim to a perfect past that may have indeed caused harm, mostly by declaring with certainty that which was anything but certain.
And so I say again, May God have mercy upon all of us. I, too, need it. And so do you.