This is not unrelated to the discussion of Amoris Laetitia that I began in my first two postings this morning: I'd like to recommend to you as a companion piece to that discussion a posting Michael Boyle made yesterday at his Sound of Sheer Silence blog. Michael's responding to the David Gushee essay about which I blogged earlier in the week.
Michael notes that Gushee's essay struck a chord with him. He shares Gushee's sense that "Christianity is coming apart" today around issues some people might view as doctrinal, but which are at heart about the very identity of Christianity as it is proclaimed to the world through the lived witness of Christians themselves. He writes,
It is a serious claim, especially for an evangelical, to say that people would be better off with no religion than to be part of certain Christian bodies and that the religion of these folks is "abhorrent." And yet, I agree with him. And it's not just hardcore evangelical Christianity that falls into that category for me. I look at many of my fellow Catholics the same way. I think Austin Ruse would be a better person if he could not rely on his Catholicism to justify his bigotry. Perhaps Bishops Jugis and Burbidge of North Carolina would not have publicly applauded naked (and, by the way, clearly unconstitutional--read Romer v. Evans) discrimination in their state if they were not knee deep in a toxic soup that facilitated their positions. It's not that these position seem wrong or misguided; they seem to be shameful, and even "abhorrent."
These insights lead Michael to the recognition that in the historic moment of "coming apart" through which Christians are living today — around issues of Christian identity as lived out through witness to core Christian values (purity and judgment or love and inclusion?)— he finds himself, as a Catholic, discovering that he has more in common with some non-Catholic Christians than with some fellow Catholics:
When I read people like David Gushee, or Brian McLaren, or Rob Bell, or Rachel Held Evans, I feel like my Christianity is much more like theirs than the religion of Austin Ruse and the North Carolina bishops and the Rorate Caeli folks. On many days it seems like the things in which I would differ from these former evangelicals is far less significant than the things on which we agree. Isn't it more important that we agree on what we mean when we say "God is love" than on how we understand the precise status of the Eucharist? It seems that way to me.
And then he concludes,
I guess it would say it this way. Catholicism is a real part of who I am, and I think that Catholicism as I know and understand and (by and large) experience it is the way to go for me. But, if you forced me to choose between the Catholicism of Rorate Caeli or the Protestantism of David Gushee, there is no doubt in my mind I would find my way to where Professor Gushee is located. And, likewise, I have a feeling that those North Carolina bishops would be more comfortable with their conservative evangelical counterparts than in the Catholic Church that I believe in. That would have been inconceivable 100, or even 50, years ago. But, it seems to me like this is a new day.
You see the point Michael's making here, don't you? The Rorate Caeli Catholics and the gentlemen who run the Catholic enterprise in North Carolina, Peter Jugis and Michael Burbidge, do not give fellow Catholics the option to disagree with them. They purport to represent the Catholic tradition with perfection and in toto.
Because they say so.
And so their version of Catholicism, which prioritizes purity and judgment over love and inclusion, necessarily excludes others. Rather than accepting this judgment about his own Catholic faith, however, Michael Boyle turns the tables on a purity-obssessed and judgment-wielding Catholicism and suggests that the real point that we need to discuss these days, as Christianity comes apart due to the fixation of its staunchest defenders on purity and judgment is whether this representation of Christianity adequately represents what Christianity is all about in its core significance.
What any flavor of the Christian bradn is all about . . . .
Bluster though they might about their right to define the Catholic brand, Catholics like the Rorate Caeli crowd, Mr. Ruse, and the gentlemen bishops of North Carolina aren't representing Catholic Christianity in any way that causes Michael Boyle to conclude that he recognizes Christianity, period, in their representation of Catholic Christianity.
Whereas he does recognize Christianity in the approach taken by David Gushee, Rachel Held Evans, Brian McLaren, and Rob Bell . . . .
And to connect this to the discussion of Amoris Laetitia: to the extent that Catholics reading this papal exhortation hear echoes of the voices of the men running the state of North Carolina in its analysis of queer lives and women's lives — men whom Bishops Jugis and Burbidge have just praised — they won't hear much good news at all, especially if they are LGBTQ or female. There will be many attempts made in coming weeks to convince us that this papal exhortation really is good news for all of us, that it really does open the floodgates of mercy within the Catholic church to all sorts of people, including LGBTQ ones and women.
As I listen to that rhetoric, I keep applying test cases in my mind to determine whether it's real or not: I ask myself, for instance, "Will Pope Francis in any way seek to counter the public statement of thanks that the two North Carolina bishops have just made to the North Carolina legislature for its anti-LGBTQ hate legislation?"
Or will he silently stand with those two bishops, and will they continue to have every confidence that, in thanking their state legislature for this hate bill, they stand with Pope Francis?
I'm not really under any illusion about who stands where, when all the talk about mercy is over and done with. And that "where" — the place in which both Pope Francis and the North Carolina bishops stand — is decidedly not a place of good news for me, for people like me, and for women.