Tuesday, December 26, 2017

What Christmas Means, and Why (White) U.S. Christianity Is in Crisis Now (Hint: It's about Pretend, as Opposed to Real, Pastoral Behavior)

Celia Wexler, author of Catholic Women Confront Their Church: Stories of Hurt and Hope (Rowman & Littlefield), in an essay just before Christmas entitled, "Cardinal Law's Papal Sendoff Shows Church's Laxity On Sex Abuse Scandal":

Law had one thing going for him: He was a company man. Defend the institution, no matter what. If there's a scandal, bury it. If there’s a predator, transfer him and hope he stays out of trouble. If questions are asked, lie. If a victim tells you his story, lay your hands on his head as if you'd just heard his confession, and order him never to reveal the secret. This is a church that rewards institutional loyalty above all else. It demands conformity with the laws and rules that reinforce its power. 
Pedophilia, as long as it is hidden, doesn't challenge the clerical status quo. In fact, the whole women-hating band of brothers that comprise too much of the clergy will hang together, no matter what. 
But the church has little tolerance for those who challenge the party line, and its views on sexual morality. 
If a Catholic is gay and in a loving relationship, the church not only does not recognize the value of that union, in some dioceses, priests are directed to deny that Catholic a church burial. 
A brilliant woman theologian who writes a book on sexual ethics that presents a scholarly examination of how to adapt gospel values to our scientific understanding of sexual behavior is not applauded, she’s censured. 
A sister who is a hospital administrator and agrees to permit an abortion to save the life of the mother of four is publicly excommunicated. She only is allowed to return to the fold after resigning from her post and seeking forgiveness. 
I had thought that this pope might be different, and in some ways, he is. He's called for more social justice and made protecting the planet a moral obligation. But he's been tepid when it comes to facing the true repercussions of pedophilia in the church. 
Just this month he apparently let his own sex abuse commission lapse, after failing to deliver on its promises, including a pledge to create a tribunal to judge bishops accused of failing to police sex abuse in their own dioceses. 
Despite charges that he failed to address the child abuse crisis in his own diocese, Cardinal George Pell was accepted into the pope's inner circle. Pell was charged with "historical sexual assault offenses" by Australian authorities this summer, but Pope Francis has remained loyal to the cleric, who has denied the charges. His critics charge that Francis simply has a "blind spot" when it comes to these accusations, particularly when they concern friends and colleagues.
In his continuing reluctance to confront the true evil of priestly pedophilia, he's showing that he's not much different from the popes of the past – willing to sacrifice almost everything to remain a member in good standing of the old boys' club.

I grew up in Alabama, and I don't doubt the sincerity of my fellow believers on the other side of the political aisle, but when faithful Christians vote for a man credibly accused of child molesting, something is terribly wrong with Christianity. (With white Christianity, that is: Black Christians overwhelmingly supported the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones.) Eighty percent of white born-again Christians voting in Alabama backed Roy Moore, and there is no skirting the damage they’ve done to their own moral standing. 
The day of the election, the editor in chief of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, identified the biggest loser in Alabama: Christian faith itself. From now on, Mr. Galli wrote, "When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation." . . . 
What Christians need is a new right-to-life movement, one in which we agree to disagree about contentious issues of sexuality and focus instead on what we share, on what we all believe. Jesus had nothing to say about birth control or abortion or homosexuality. He did have quite a lot to say about the poor and the vulnerable, and maybe that’s a good place to start.

Bryan Mealer, "How I became Christian again: my long journey to find faith once more," writing about how and why he reclaimed Christianity after the "gross distortion of Christ’s message" by people like Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick and "decades of culture wars had sullied the whole institution for me and millions of others":

Around the time I started running with David [Peters, an Episcopal priest], my family and I began attending a progressive Methodist church here in Austin, one committed to social justice and offering sanctuary to the LGBT community. Our first Sunday, a man stood up and testified about being ostracized from his previous congregation because he was gay. All he'd wanted to do was worship, and the God who'd met him at Trinity did so with compassion and love, not judgment. I knew I'd found a home, one whose Christian values were suitable for my children. 
People might say that my answer was simply finding a church that was liberal, but it's more than that. I'm reclaiming my faith at a time when American Christianity is in crisis, when the institution of Jesus Christ – a radical humanitarian who was killed by the police – has been co-opted by corporate conservative interests, culture warriors, and the false religion of Fox News, just as it was by slavers and segregationists. 
Reclaiming the title is a moral protest against those who attack immigrants, refugees, minorities, and the poor and the sick, the very people whom Christ instructed us to help along the road, and without question. Those stubborn red-letter directives are the same in Roy Moore's Bible as they are in mine – and yes, I too will fall short in carrying them out. 
But at least my path is clear now, the one that I'd been seeking. As scripture tells us, and as Tillich and my father both understood, this journey of faith is best done down a narrow road. There is no room for pulpit politicians or yammering pundits. It's just God and you – and maybe a priest who met you under the streetlight – putting one foot in front of the other in the dark.

 Chris Hedges, "What Christmas Means":

The story of Christmas—like the story of the crucifixion, in which Jesus is abandoned by his disciples, attacked by the mob, condemned to death by the state, placed on death row and executed—is not written for the oppressors. It is written for the oppressed. And what is quaint and picturesque to those who live in privilege is visceral and empowering to those the world condemns. 
Jesus was not a Roman citizen. He lived under Roman occupation. The Romans were white. Jesus was a person of color. And the Romans, who peddled their own version of white supremacy, nailed people of color to crosses almost as often as we finish them off with lethal injections, gun them down in the streets or lock them up in cages. The Romans killed Jesus as an insurrectionist, a revolutionary. They feared the radicalism of the Christian Gospel. And they were right to fear it. The Roman state saw Jesus the way the American state saw Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Then, like now, prophets were killed. 
The radicalism of the Christian Gospel would be muted, distorted and denied by the institutional church once it came to power in the third century. It would be perverted by court theologians, church leaders and, in the 20th century, fascists. It would be mangled by the heretics in the Christian right to sanctify the worst aspects of American imperialism and capitalism. The Bible unequivocally condemns the powerful. It is not a self-help manual to become rich. It does not bless America or any other nation. It was written for the powerless, for those the theologian James Cone calls the crucified of the earth. It was written to give a voice to, and affirm the dignity of, those being crushed by malignant power and empire.

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