Friday, August 19, 2016

What Earthly Good Do Churches Do? On Christian Support for Donald Trump, and Whether It's Possible to Remain Christian

Michael Boyle describes, and brilliantly so, the turning that happened inside him after he entered the Dominicans and began preparing for ordination — and then realized that what the Catholic party line was telling him about celibacy, clerical life, and health was not quite cogent:

The origin of this evolution [i.e., to a position that sees something just totally awry about the Catholic magisterial approach to sexual ethics] began during my time with the Dominicans, though this is obvious only in retrospect.  I didn't come to the Dominicans or religious life with an intentional enthusiasm for being celibate (i.e. "yay, no sex for life!"), but I trusted the Church when it told me that being celibate was a healthy lifestyle that could lead to my growth in faith and personal flourishing.  That was the promise, and I trusted in that promise.  Over the course of my time with the Dominicans, I lost that trust, as I saw people around me--both my fellow novices and the vowed community--who were not healthy, not flourishing, not growing in faith.  My decision to leave was founded in a concern that I would not come out of the process of becoming a priest unscathed, and I feared that by the time I realized that things had gone south, I would have given up a large portion of my life that I would never really able to recover. 
I wasn't able to fully vocalize or organize that idea at the time I decided to leave--it has taken years to put the pieces together.  In fact, my decision to leave the Dominicans was probably the first intuitive decision that I made in my life.  Nevertheless, it is clear to me now that the reason I left is that I lost that sense of trust.  And, over time, that lack of trust in the Church in the celibacy question has slowly but inexorably expanded into the rest of what the Church has to say about sexuality.  The final straw, the last line in the sand, was LGBT issues.  The moment I realized I could not and would not defend what the Church had to say about gay folks was the moment that the trust, so seemingly reflexive to someone like Ms. Olsen,* was for me gone forever.

And then, Michael notes, the next step on his journey was to wonder if he could even retain connection to Christianity itself, since the way Catholicism has been packaged for Catholics in recent Catholic history is as a take-it-or-leave-it-package: question anything at all, and you've defined yourself outside the Catholic tradition. The package is complete.

It's all there, neatly tied with bows, in the catechism, which dropped out of heaven as infallible teaching, or so you'll hear over and over from the lips of reactionary Catholics at Catholic discussion sites online. It's all there, neatly packaged in the words that drop out of the papal mouth — as long as those words don't touch on issues like ecology, the need to welcome immigrants, the obligation of followers of Jesus to reach out to the least among us.

It's all there in whatever the pope happens to say decrying contraceptive use, trashing gay** folks, knocking women. Toeing the party line that makes Catholics of the club mentality comfortable . . . . 

Michael notes that his journey has taken him ad fontes, to the roots of Christian faith — to Jesus himself. He encounters the Jesus of the gospels powerfully in the Christian witness of Rev. William Barber of the Moral Mondays movement.

He finds it well-nigh impossible to encounter the Jesus of the gospels in what Archbishop Charles Chaput has recently written about the choice facing Catholic voters in the 2016 presidential election, which defines Catholic identity as "fundamentally a set of rules about having sex" and regurgitates the very threadbare hard-line norm of the U.S. bishops for Catholic voters in the 2016 election cycle: it's all about abortion. Cast your vote on the basis of the abortion issue.

Hint: if you're a faithful Catholic, you'll pull the lever for Donald Trump.

What strikes me in Michael's analysis is how it describes so clearly the choice many Catholics are faced with as we're informed that our identity as Catholics revolves around pretending that those neat catechetical formulae and those papal words (about the select issues we have chosen to define as "moral") are infallible words. Michael's correct: the end result of this logic — and it has dominated the Catholic club both conservative and "liberal" up to the present — is an in-or-out logic.

Question any one of those "infallible" words, and you're out of the club. If you expect those "liberal" Catholics at places like National Catholic Reporter or Commonweal to care about the fact that you and I and huge numbers of other Catholics have been read out of their club, think again. They aren't about to start caring, to start reaching out, to stop their constant harangues about "leftist" "identity politics" that give women and black folks and gay** folks the illusion that what they have to say has some import for the Catholic club.

Some voices count. Some other voices don't count. That's how clubs are set up to function.

Bye. Don't let the door . . . .

The way in which Catholics both conservative and "liberal" have been treating Catholic identity in the American Catholic church for some time now gives many of us no choice except to exit the club. Precisely because we think that listening to Jesus — who says not a word about masturbation but has oodles to say about loving concern for those on the margins — is foundational for Catholic Christian faith . . . .

I have been on that same road whose contours Michael describes so well in his essay. I think I may now be, in the 2016 election cycle, at a point at which I question — very seriously — whether I can stay connected institutionally to any Christian church. When a full half of white Catholics, a full half of white mainline Protestants, and about 8 in 10 white evangelicals support Donald Trump, I have to begin to ask myself seriously, What good do churches do in the world in which I live?

I'm aware that the vast majority of African-American Christians in the U.S., a large percentage of Hispanic Catholics, and half of white Catholics and white mainline Protestants do not support Donald Trump. I value their witness. I'm inspired by it.

Even so, something in the life of churches in the U.S., both Protestant and Catholic, has produced those 8 in 10 white evangelicals supporting Donald Trump (and they predominate in my own region), and those half of white Catholics and white mainline Protestants supporting Donald Trump. This support is the most revelatory, the most drastic possible, indictment of white Christianity in the U.S. at this point in its history.

The people supporting Donald Trump, who are connected to Christian churches, are arguably the most powerful adherents of Christianity in the U.S. right now, in terms of economic clout, social dominance, and the power they exercise within church institutions in the U.S. 

What earthly good do churches really do, if they produce so many adherents who could flock to the likes of Donald Trump? How is it possible to find that vital connection to the Jesus of the gospels that keeps Christian faith alive for anyone who calls herself Christian, given the way in which the churches today — to a conspicuous degree — occlude that connection?

Just asking. And I intend to keep on asking. Because I have no other option, it seems.

*Michael begins his posting by linking to and discussing a post by Marina Olsen on the Patheos Catholic channel that defends Catholic teaching on sexuality, starting with the topic of masturbation, and simply taking for granted that magisterial teaching about sexual ethics is unquestionable.

**I'm using the word "gay" as a shorthand (more felicitous than an acronym) for LGBTQI. 

The graphic is the copyrighted work of Richard Croft, at the Geograph Britain and Ireland site, which he has generously made available for reuse through a Creative Commons license that permits online sharing with attribution of the image's owner and the online source of the image.

No comments: