Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Reader Writes: If You Disagree, Start Your Own Church

Two days ago, in response to my posting about the pain the Catholic church continues to inflict on gay human beings around the world, even as the anti-gay moral arguments employed by the church are increasingly exposed as weak and unpersuasive, a reader, Greg K., replied:

Islam teaches that it's wrong to worship Christ as a God. I don't give a s--t because I don't believe in Islam. And I don't go around on some crazy crusade to tell Moslems what they can and can't teach.

If you don't like what the Catholic Church teaches about homosexuality, fine. Start your own church, or associate with one that teaches what you like, or forget about church altogether.

In a reply, I thanked Greg K. (who is a convert to Catholicism) for inviting me to leave the church. But I stated that I'm of a mind to stay--though I stay as a faithful dissenter who refuses to lend energy to structures that, in my view, sorely need to implode, so that something vital and new (and at the same time, firmly rooted in tradition) can grow up in their place.

Now I'd like to say more. The first thing I'd like to note is that I really have never quite grasped where Catholics who taunt others to leave the church are coming from. Taunts like this are so deeply antithetical to everything I understand catholicism to be about, that I wonder what kind of theological foundation those issuing the taunts can possibly think they have. It is certainly not a catholic theological foundation.

Catholicism is either about inviting everyone to the table, or it's not catholicism. It's not about weeding out, driving away, doing God's work of sorting the righteous and unrighteous prior to the eschaton. It's about welcoming and affirming everyone, inviting everyone, making room for everyone.

And this means (my second point) that catholicism needs--positively demands, if it hopes to remain catholic--alternative points of view, including dissenting ones. Without alternative points of view and faithful dissenters, the catholicity of the church is imperiled.

Those who are certain that they and they alone own Catholicism, truth, tradition, do a tremendous disservice to the church they claim to love. Without careful critical thought that applies the traditions of the church in new ways in new cultural settings, the church stultifies and dies. Without careful critical thought that applies the traditions of the church in new ways in new cultural settings, tiny groups within the church end up proclaiming themselves as the exclusive owners of Catholic truth and tradition, when they are, in fact, merely representatives of an exclusive (and hardly catholic) group within the church.

When a tiny group within the church, no matter how powerful, believes that it and it alone represents Catholic truth and Catholic tradition in toto, the catholicity of the church is undermined.

As my postings in recent days have been emphasizing, and as the postings you'll be seeing in the days ahead also note, one of the primary problems the church grapples with at this point in history is the claim of men--of heterosexual or heterosexual-posturing men, and often of white men, at that--that their viewpoint and their grasp of things represents Catholic truth and Catholic tradition in toto.

Until that claim has been vigorously opposed and finally overthrown,by dissenters whose dissent is firmly rooted in viable catholic traditions ignored by the minority who hold all power in their hands, the future of the church is in peril.

The challenge today is not to drive people out.
The challenge today is not to coerce everyone to toe a patriarchal line and call that line the gospel.

The challenge today is to invite in, and to make room for those who seek to hold the rich, diverse traditions of the church in dialogic tension with each other, as we build a church for the future that will welcome everyone to the table.

So again I say, Greg, thanks for the invitation to leave, but I'm of a mind to stay. It's my church, too, and I have a right to be in it. And a right to open my mouth and speak out when I know that what I am saying is worth saying, reflects my experience of God, and does not contradict but serves the tradition.