Archive for January, 2010


Someone recently asked me, as if my opinion mattered, what I thought of the Pope recruiting dissident Anglicans – actually soliciting whole communities of, among others, disaffected and out of joint Episcopalians. I said I thought it was a great idea – very entrepreneurial of him. In fact, I have no problem with what is often referred to pejoratively as proselytizing. I grew up when people were always talking about a “free market of ideas.” And I guess that made sense to me. I believe in a world wide free market of ideas — especially political, religious, and automotive ideas. As teenagers my friend and I frequently debated whether a Chevy or a Mercury was a better (faster) car, that is until my little suped up 1950 Chevy left his big 1955 Mercury choking dust on Lahore Road. Why shouldn’t someone be allowed to share what he or she is most passionate about? I think people ought to be free to hear the best arguments for any idea and then come to their own uncoerced conclusions. It seems to me that being an authentic person means, at least in part, owning one’s deepest convictions and living into them – understanding and acting consistently with one’s own inner guiding principles.

This means of course, that what is good for the Vatican is also good for Canterbury. I have thought for a very long time that Episcopalians and other Anglicans ought to be more demonstrative in their welcome of liberal Roman Catholics. Wouldn’t it be exciting if we could arrange some sort of mega swap — conservative Episcopalians for liberal Catholics? I for one would be willing to immediately trade Mark Lawrence, Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina for, say, Congressional Representative Patrick Kennedy. And that brings me to a rather serious problem I do have with the Catholic Church.

No one who takes his or her faith seriously can separate his or her religion, or spirituality if you prefer, from politics. War, healthcare, ecology and budgets are moral issues. Moslem Mosques, Jewish synagogues, Buddhist temples, and Christian Churches of every denomination ought to be free, based on the insights of their faith, to argue their moral and ethical case on any issue. The problem is when pressure is applied directly to the adherents of any faith who are in positions of power or public trust, as it has been to Patrick Kennedy or was to John Kerry in 2004 — pressure, to speak, act, or vote according to the dictates of a religious authority on penalty of excommunication or other religious sanctions. That is a point at which the principle of separation between church and state has been violated, and where tax-exempt status ought to be revoked.

Martin Luther once said, “I would rather be ruled by a competent Turk than an incompetent Christian.” Apparently what Luther meant was that he would trust a wise and generous Moslem more than an autocratic and mean spirited Christian lacking common sense and good judgment. So, while I am willing to listen to anyone presenting an intelligent and coherent argument on any subject, I simply do not trust the integrity or wisdom of the Pope and his bishops, or of James Dobson, or of C Street, or of Ralph Carmichael with the future of this nation – not in light of their use of religious intimidation.

I have no insider understanding of other world religions which would allow me to address their use of intimidation, or their accommodation to it. But I have now been a Christian long enough to know, at a minimum, that weapons of enmity and coercion are antithetical to the Spirit of Christ. Among other things I am thinking of the “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8” slogan emblazed on t-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, and teddy bears. Psalm 109:8ff says:

Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
Let the extortion catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour.
Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favor his fatherless children.

Fundamentalists apparently think it quite hilarious. I assume because Christians are urged in Scripture “to pray for their leaders” (1 Timothy 2:1-3) So get it? They are faithfully praying for President Obama. It’s really not a very good joke, but then there are always people who think really dumb things are terribly funny when they are only terrible. The problem here, of course, is not merely one of poor humor, but one of evil. From both a clinical and spiritual perspective evil is what destroys, or attempts to destroy, life in any form – physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual. There is no point in rambling on, so let me say as unequivocally as possible: No Christian can produce, laugh about, or wear such a shirt, for the simple reason that whatever is contrary to mercy, to life, to kindness, to love and compassion is contrary to the person of Jesus Christ. These people may very well meet Barna’s definition of an evangelical, but spiritually they have no connection to Jesus of Nazareth or the Christ of Heaven. And if someone wants to market biblical verses on t-shirts how about this one from the prophet Zechariah?

Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another (Zechariah 7:9-10).

I understand that a constantly and swiftly changing world is not merely unsettling, but deeply disturbing for many people. “I want my country, or church, back!” they fiercely growl. Their assumption appears to be that if we could just criminalize all abortions, prohibit gay partnerships with legal rights (maybe adopt the same law proposed in Uganda to execute homosexuals – a law given tacit support by American fundamentalist preachers), and get rid of that black man in the White House who just thinks he is president, the world would once again be a comfortable and safe place in which to live. The truth is, of course, that the world is in constant flux and, in spite of the delusion of a few privileged individuals, has never been comfortable or safe (see my essay “Navigating the Ever Changing River” ).

This rather “nostalgic” orientation to life and the world is bad theology and totally unrealistic. Furthermore, it tends toward pathology. Emotionally and spiritually healthy people are able to say who they are, what they believe, and where they are going without trying to force what they think or feel on anyone else. They respond appropriately to the realities of the present moment instead of reacting out of their own anxieties and inner turmoil. People who can do that, people of faith, people who can be a non-anxious and non-angry presence, become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

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