Friday, October 23, 2015

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage: "In Our Christian Heritage We Received from the Missionaries, There Is Nothing of That Inclusive Language"

David Gibson writing for Religion News Service today:

"In our Christian heritage we received from the missionaries, there is nothing of that inclusive language," Archbishop Thomas Msusa of the East African nation of Malawi told National Catholic Reporter.

And I'm sure Archbishop Msusa is correct in his assessment of the way in which the Christian (and Catholic) heritage has been mediated to African Christians. As Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia, has repeatedly noted, the religious right in the U.S. (with the full collusion of right-wing Catholic groups in Europe) has actively fanned the flames of anti-gay hatred among African Christians for some time now, with the full intent of driving a wedge between African Christians and LGBT human beings.

Jeff Sharlet has done much to document the many ways in which the U.S. religious right has worked exceptionally hard to export hatred of LGBT people to the continent of Africa. Throughout the current synod in Rome, anyone paying careful attention to the news cannot avoid noticing that Cardinal Dolan, a leader of the anti-gay culture war contingent of U.S. Catholic bishops and a signer of a letter to the pope condemning in advance of the synod any attempts to reshape pastoral policy in a more inclusive direction, has repeatedly praised the African bishops and their interventions at the synod. 

Clearly, Dolan has done this for a reason: the alliance of right-wing U.S. bishops, who long since made common cause with the political and evangelical right in the U.S., with African Christians resisting the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church is not accidental. It's deliberate, political, strategic.

So, yes, the Christian message quite definitely has been mediated to African Christians by those who have exported and continue to export that message to African Christians in a non-inclusive way. Archbishop Msusa's comment about "nothing of that inclusive langue" in the Christian heritage is a direct response to a question about whether or how the Catholic church can fully include LGBT human beings in its life.

And so how to put together this equation of the "Christian heritage" with "nothing of that inclusive language," when there's this? (graphics should enlarge when you click them): 

Or when there's this?

Pace Archbishop Msusa, but "Drink from it, all of you" sounds to me like a whole lot of that "inclusive language" that "our Christian heritage" is said not to value. 

Or there are the classic warnings by one of the most eminent patristic theologians, St. Augustine, against the narrow notion that the church catholic exists only for the washed, the pure, the righteous, etc. Augustine laughed at the Donatists as they sat like frogs around the tiny pond of their small, pure church and, as he stated, croaking that their little pond that it was the entire Mediterranean Sea — the big and inclusive pond that is a church catholic. 

He told the Donatists to think about the story of Noah's ark, and how God instructed Noah to take representatives of all creatures of the world aboard that ark. He told them that Noah's ark is a metaphor for the church catholic, which listens carefully to the parable of Jesus instructing his followers to go out into the highways and byways and invite everyone to their banquet feast.

In his classic work The City of God, he warns against the tendency of many followers of Christ to assume that they — but not those dirty, unrighteous souls on the other side of the fence — will walk with confidence into heaven at the end of their lives. Augustine tells us that we may be surprised at who we see walking through the gates of heaven and who will end up on the outside, when God makes the final decision about these matters.

As the old black spiritual "Walk All Over God's Heaven" reminds us, "Everybody talkin' 'bout Heaven ain't goin' there." The African-American church has long had reason to suspect that the non-inclusive gospel mediated to it by white Christian missionaries is not the full gospel, a gospel that is centered on the notion of good news for the marginalized, the excluded, the poor, and the despised, in particular.

Given this rich legacy, which is foundational to a church calling itself catholic, isn't it odd that Archbishop Msusa assumes that the "Christian heritage" mediated to him and other African Christians by missionaries — and, today, by the U.S. religious right and Catholic leaders of the ilk of Cardinal Dolan — is the authentic Christian heritage? And isn't it strange that Archbishop Msusa doesn't wonder whether those who have proclaimed the good news of Christ to him and his fellow Christians in Africa might have deliberately distorted some of its key implications, particularly in the area of "that inclusive language" — when they have long had political and economic motives for such distortion?

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