Wednesday, October 14, 2015

As Talk of Mercy Continues in Rome, U.S. Archbishop Restricts Communion to Righteous, Another Gay Employee of a Catholic Ministry Is Fired, Etc.: There's the Church World, and Then There's the Real World

I wrote yesterday that while the men in Rome are nattering on about mercy and fashioning a church that's a field hospital for the wounded, something else, something quite different, continues to unfold for many of us in the real world at a distance from the Vatican. For LGBT people and for women, that something else is a decided signal from the men talking about mercy and healing that some people count more than others in their church. And that the bread heaped on the Catholic table is for some people and not for others.

And then today I open the newspaper (a metaphor: I read my news online now), and read the following:

As David Gibson reports for Religion News Service, the Opus Dei archbishop of the Newark archdiocese has just issued a memo to his priests telling them to bar from communion Catholics who support positions forbidden by the church. Gibson's headline reads, "NJ Archbishop Sets Rules for Barring Catholics from Communion." He writes, 

Even as Pope Francis and Catholic leaders from around the world debate ways to make the Catholic Church more inclusive, Newark Archbishop John Myers has given his priests strict guidelines on refusing Communion to Catholics who, for example, support gay marriage or whose own marriage is not valid in the eyes of the church.

As Timothy Kincaid notes at Box Turtle Bulletin, Myers's policy would effectively ban the large majority of Catholics from Communion. Kincaid notes that about a quarter of sacramentally married U.S. Catholics have divorced, and some nine percent have remarried. As he also notes, a majority of U.S. Catholics (the figure seems to be now near 60%) support same-sex marriage, and the vast majority of married Catholics use contraceptives and support their use as moral.

The table may be piled high with bread for the world, but in the view of Catholic leaders like Myers, that bread is decidedly not given for all. It's not, so to speak, bread for the world. It's to be jealously guarded for a tiny minority, for the righteous. The message such leaders keep giving and keep wanting to give to LGBT Catholics: you are not welcome in our church.

Then, as my eyes keep browsing the headlines of the day, I read the following headline in U.S. News and World Report:  "Virginia Man Says He Was Fired from Job at Catholic Assisted-Living Home Because He's Gay." Alanna Durkin of AP reports in this article,

A Virginia man said the bishop of a local Catholic diocese forced his removal from the top job at a diocese-owned assisted living home because he's gay and married to his partner of 30 years 
John Murphy filed a discrimination claim against the Catholic Diocese of Richmond with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last month. He said he served as executive director of the Saint Francis Home in Richmond for about a week before two deputies of Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo told him that he was being fired because his marriage goes against church doctrine. 
Murphy was terminated without severance pay and he and his husband, a retired clinical social worker, are relying primarily on Social Security benefits to get by, he said. The 63-year-old lifelong Catholic said the incident has shaken his faith in his church.

Nor is the message to LGBT human beings that they are second-class citizens who are decidedly unwelcome in the Christian church an exclusively Catholic message: Catholic leaders intent on sending that message to LGBT people are working hand in hand right now with right-wing evangelical Christians representing other Christian denominations. Case in point: my Facebook feed this morning contains a copy of a letter recently sent to a church member by a Baptist church in Arkansas, informing him that he is no longer welcome in his church because he's a sinner.

Well, he's a specific kind of sinner — he has embraced "the homosexual lifestyle." And his name will now be expunged from the church "role" [sic]. 

Do any of you readers know of churches anywhere in the U.S. sending such letters to any other sinners on the church rolls? (Something makes me suspect that this poor man is hardly the only sinner on the rolls of a church.) 

Do any of you know of churches sending letters like this to, say, people who despise and attack the poor, or have actively worked to support politicians seeking to deny access to healthcare to those at the bottom of the economic ladder of society? Or to people who preach and practice racism? To people who divorce and remarry (the bible's big on that behavior as a no-no)?

Or is it only gay folks who are sinners in the eyes of good Christian people right now? And why, I ask myself, do good Christian people feel they have the right to say and do the ugliest, most hateful things possible to gay folks, while patting themselves on the back and telling themselves how loving they are? Just asking . . . .

Finally, as I browse the news this morning, I come across this fascinating article at Bill Moyers's blog, reporting on a conversation last month between President Obama and novelist Marilynne Robinson, part of which has appeared in the latest issue of New York Review of Books. As many of you will know (I've talked about this here before — click Robinson's name in the labels below for my previous postings about her), a primary concern of Marilynne Robinson is to understand the complex interplay of Christian ideas and democracy in American culture.

As Robinson tells Obama in this interview, 

Well, I believe that people are images of God. There's no alternative that is theologically respectable to treating people in terms of that understanding. What can I say? It seems to me as if democracy is the logical, the inevitable consequence of this kind of religious humanism at its highest level. And it [applies] to everyone. It's the human image. It's not any loyalty or tradition or anything else; it's being human that enlists the respect, the love of God being implied in it.

And yet as President Obama points out to her, Christianity in the U.S. has often fostered an us.-vs.-them mentality, and that, too, has attracted Robinson's attention: to be specific, she has written about the dangers to American democracy posed by the abuse of religious ideas and the way in which not a few U.S. Christians revel in viewing some targeted groups as the enemy and themselves as the righteous. 

Robinson readily agrees with the president's analysis. She speaks specifically of the danger of viewing certain targeted others as the "sinster other," and of basing that assessment of targeted others in religious texts. As she notes, 

When it's [i.e., the idea of the "sinister other"] brought home, when it becomes part of our own political conversation about ourselves, I think that that really is about as dangerous a development as there could be in terms of whether we continue to be a democracy.

And as a Catholic archbishop in New Jersey instructs his priests to tell divorced and remarried Catholics, Catholics supporting same-sex marriage, Catholics using contraceptives (Myers's memo doesn't spell all of this out, but it's implicit in his position) that they are not welcome at the Catholic table, as another LGBT employee of a Catholic institution in the U.S. is fired (without severance pay) because he's gay and married, as a church in Arkansas tells a gay man he's a sinner who will be removed from the church's "roles," and as Marilynne Robinson warns us against the danger of abusing religion to turn some fellow human beings into "sinister others," the men in Rome keep on talking about mercy and healing.

And talking and talking.

I find the photo of the synod gathering at various blog sites, with no clear indicator of its origins.

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