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Rev. Jeremiah Wright Preaches: What He Said, What I Heard

This is a somewhat more personally pitched post than ones I have shared previously at Open Tabernacle.  It’s a personal—and, as the post says, perhaps idiosyncratic—reflection on a sermon I heard Rev. Jeremiah Wright preach this past Sunday.  I’m sharing this posting (which originally appeared on my Bilgrimage blog) here because a number of correspondents have asked me about Rev. Wright’s sermon and my reaction to it.  Due to Rev. Wright’s prominence as a national religious figure in the U.S., the public has an understandable interest in his understanding of the Christian life and how Christian discipleship yields political decisions.

I’m also posting this piece here because it continues the discussion of a theme that I think churches today have no option except to keep confronting: what will communities of faith that point to Jesus as their founder do about the fact that the world in which they minister includes gay and lesbian human beings?  Who will no longer remain silent about our identities and lives?  And so here’s my response to Rev. Wright’s sermon last Sunday.

When I blogged on my Bilgrimage site about Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermon at New Millennium Baptist church in Little Rock yesterday, I mentioned that I might add a bit later about what Rev. Wright said in his sermon.  I’m not sure that the notes I took are worth sharing with anyone else, because they’re idiosyncratic.  Like most longtime listeners to sermons, I hear what I want to hear in homilies that make a broader and more elegant point than the one I’m receiving—though I have long since trained myself to hear the text even as I weave my own subtext while I listen.

Fortunately or unfortunately (much depends on whether you really want to know my meandering reflections on Rev. Wright’s sermon), the church made it easy to record one’s thoughts, by providing both a program for the service and space in the program for note-taking.  And so note-take I did, copiously, as Rev. Wright spoke.

And here’s what I recorded:

The sermon itself was a meditation on 2 Kings 6:8-17, a passage discussing the prophet Elisha’s intervention as the king of Aram made war against Israel.  Beginning with stories about his own family’s history, Rev. Wright grounded the passage brilliantly in the historic struggles of the African-American community for liberation from oppression, and then moved to conclusions significant to us as we continue the struggle for liberation in the world in which we live today—“we” who are both black and white, American and Pakistani and Iranian, Christian and Muslim, etc.

The passage ends with the king of Aram surrounding Elisha with the Aramean army, to entrap and seize the prophet and stop his intervention in the affairs of Israel and Aram.  But when the king’s army encamps around Dothan, where Elisha is lodged, they discover the mountain on which the city stands full of horses and chariots of fire safeguarding the prophet.

And so Rev. Wright concluded with the following exhortations:

•    When we hunger and thirst and struggle for justice, though we may not see the chariots of fire in which a cloud of witnesses surround us, we are not alone.

•    And though we may not see God’s hand summoning that cloud of witnesses, God is at at work on our behalf as we struggle for justice.

•    And we therefore have nothing to fear as we follow the example of the witnesses who have gone before us and continue the struggle for justice.

That was the heart of Rev. Wright’s moving sermon (one I was surprised to read about in the media as an attack on the president’s [whom he mentioned only once] critics), and I received Rev. Wright’s words with gladness.  Because the experience of the black church is grounded in an actual and longstanding struggle for justice, in which one witness after another has gone before us pointing the way to liberation, it is impossible to worship with an African-American community and not find one’s heart lifted up.

But here’s what was actually going on beneath the words, in my own mind, heart, and soul, as I took notes: I’m thinking first of all of how striking it is that the church housing New Millennium is also a white Baptist church, my aunt’s church (as I’ve shared previously at Bilgrimage).  Because they’re an aging congregation that is not attracting younger members, they have taken the courageous and generous step of joining with New Millennium and sharing their church buildings with this growing, significant African-American church pastored by a dynamic pastor (whose friendship I cherish along with that of his wife Pat), Rev. Wendell Griffen.

As we sit waiting for the service to begin and I start scrawling notes in the program, I think of how different the worship styles of the two Baptist churches that share this space are.  The rafters are already rolling even before New Millennium’s service has begun, as dueling electric organs play a jaunty musical prelude and, all around me, people stop to hug, kiss, welcome, and greet each other (and Steve and me as guests).

The service my aunt attends will, by contrast, be reserved, quiet, far less emotionally engaging: two churches, both Baptist, one white, one black, sharing one space.  A shared religious tradition, but with radically different historical experiences that yield radically different styles of worship.

And yet these two churches are definitely rooted in the same gospel.  My aunt’s church sponsors a food pantry in which my aunt works weekly.  She tells me she increasingly comes home exhausted from that ministry, because the number of people coming to the church to be fed is growing as more breadwinners find themselves out of work.  She and the other elderly members of the church make it their business not just to go to church and hear the word of God on Sundays, but to feed the hungry and tend to the sick during the week.

As do the members of New Millennium, who are involved in any number of ministries of outreach to the surrounding community.  And whose welcome of Steve and me has been insistent and warm.  Who have, in the past year, engaged in repeated intra-church dialogue about where gay and lesbian folks fit into the scheme of things, and how the church should respond to our presence in the world.  To the fact that we’re there.  And any church that claims to be welcoming has to be about the business of welcoming us, too.

Two Baptist churches, one white, one black, with wildly different worship styles rooted in very different histories, both hearing the same gospel and responding to it creatively, according to their own needs and styles.  Both hearing that social gospel that happens to be the real gospel, which Mr. Beck repudiates, and which he has now tagged as Marxist.

I’m glad to be here.  I’m glad to be worshiping with this warm African-American community, though the fingertips of all my nerves are already jangling from the dueling organs that begin the service, and now they are jangling even more acutely as (again, traditional black-church style) we’re exhorted to rise to our feet, give God a loud handclap, greet our neighbors, and engage in the call and response pattern that shows we’re there, listening with our minds and bodies, and trying to respond with every ounce of our being.

And then it strikes me: it’s, in part, my own formative experience in this evangelical church environment rooted in the Anabaptist tradition that makes me question the claim of some American Catholic centrists today that the Catholic church is inherently all about dogma.  That our tradition is, in its very roots, a dogmatic tradition, and this is what sets us apart among other Christian communions.

I don’t doubt this claim for a moment.  I do think it spectacularly misses a very important point about dogma, however.  This is that credal formulations and dogmatic statements are expressions of a religious experience that is more fundamental than, and is essential to, creeds and dogmas in a  foundational way.  Dogma enshrines religious experience in words.  It enshrines in words the lived experience of discipleship of the people of God.

That experience—the experience of the people of God at prayer and in ministry in the world—has primacy of place in our tradition.  Not the words of creeds and dogmas.

Certainly the latter are important.  But their relationship to the Christian community’s lived experience of the divine is dialectical.  They formulate and channel our experience of God, absolutely so.  But they also remain always open to the corrective of that experience, as it unfolds over the course of time and space and radically diverse cultural developments.

The words of dogmas are sacramental, in that they point beyond themselves and channel the salvific experience of the divine that is their basis and raison d’ être.  To make them the center of our religious tradition, our identifying mark as Catholics, is to put cart before horse, to make the sacramental sign primary rather than the communication of the divine to which it points.

And, of course, this discussion has profound implications for how we view the role of the hierarchy as the communicators and guardians of creeds and dogmas.  Those espousing the “we’re-dogmatic-people” reading of the Catholic tradition are doing so to defend the role of the hierarchy in determining who we are as Catholics, what we’re all about, what defines us.

But as I wrote back in July, in response to Michael Sean Winters on these points,as he seeks to defend Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, when George writes that the “Catholic way of life is based on assent to revealed truth and obedience to appointed pastors, both of which create the unity Christ wishes us to enjoy,” the unity of the people of God is created through the shared religious experience of the people of God first and foremost.  The dogmatic declarations safeguarded by the pastors of the church do not create that unity: they serve it and the religious experience to which it points.

And so I scribble in my program, “Here, Catholics stand to learn much from the Anabaptist tradition, if they were willing to listen.”  From people like Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, whose description of discipleship is close, in fact, to the insight of our own much loved saint Francis of Assisi, who told us to preach always, and only when necessary use words.

For that matter, those centrist apologists for the hierarchy today have much to learn from the history of our own theological tradition in the 19th and 20th centuries, from the turn to the subject that took place with theologians like Blondel and then Rahner, which calls into question the definition of our tradition as centered in dogma and not the shared religious experience of the people of God.

And then Rev. Wright begins to preach, and I’m spellbound.  I’m particularly impressed by his roll call of the cloud of witnesses who surround us: Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Barbara Jordan, his own great-aunt Hattie, and on and on.  They’re without number.  And they have never stopped witnessing along with us, surrounding us with their love and encouragement to continue our fight for justice.

At the same time, as I listen to Rev. Wright’s enumeration of the invisible witnesses surrounding us on our journey, I suddenly feel—as I often do in church—like a distant outsider looking in on an experience of communion denied to me and my kind.  Rev. Wright’s roll call does include Barbara Jordan, whose lesbianism was long an open secret in the African-American community.  And I welcome hearing her name in the list of witnesses surrounding me.

But I miss the name of Bayard Rustin, who is also significant for me as a gay man—Rustin, who spent time on the crosses of both racism and homophobia, and who witnesses to the need for justice in both areas.  It would have meant the world to me to hear Rustin enumerated in Rev. Wright’s cloud of witnesses—in part, because I am strongly aware that, while the African-American community mirrors society at large in its willingness to accept lesbians who remain relatively non-demonstrative about their identity, it struggles (again, with society as a whole) to welcome and accept gay men in particular.  Men who are perceived as letting down the side of masculinity, and who are particularly threatening for that reason.

I think, as I listen for Bayard Rustin’s name and do not hear it, of Islamic mystic poet Rumi, about whom I blogged glancingly a few days ago.   As I noted then, Rumi’s line “there is some kiss we want with our whole lives,” haunts me.  It haunts me because it is for me a beautiful articulation of the profound longing of our souls for the divine kiss—a kiss we encounter in the kisses of human beings through whose flesh, a sacramental token, the divine presence shines forth in our lives.

I think today specifically of how Rumi’s observation—“there is some kiss we want with our whole lives”—applies to church and to what churches are called to do by their very constitution, by their nature, by their vocation as signs of Christ’s salvific presence in the world.  I think:

Some kiss we want with our whole lives: We want to be enfolded.  We want to be held in tender and welcoming arms.  We want to be upheld.  We want our dignity to be upheld.  Our human dignity.  We want—desperately—to know we count.  To somebody.  To the universe with its cold, vast, dark, empty space.  Some kiss we want.  With our whole lives.  With the burden of our history.  And our existence.

And that’s what we come to church to find.  And what many of us continue not to find in even the most welcoming churches available to us.  Because, tragically, though we who are gay and lesbian have learned the courage to speak the love whose name we dared not speak before, the churches themselves often dare not speak the name of our love today.

Though we’re sitting right there in the pews as the gospel of love is proclaimed.  And though we’ve always been there, the Barbara Jordans and Bayard Rustins of the world.

Tragically, it is the church itself that now impedes our struggle to become visible in a world intent on making us and our love invisible.  Because the church dares not speak our names, or the name of our love.  Even as it speaks in the name of Love.

Cross-posted from Bilgrimage, 30 August 2010.

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14 Responses

  1. Bill,

    Perhaps you have hit upon the reason for your (and others’) conflicts with Vatican. What you are hearing may not be what they are saying. It makes me wonder if the resolution lies in the speaker changing words or the listener being more charitable in listening.

  2. Thanks for your reply, David.

    I’m afraid you’re not hearing what I’m saying very well at all–perhaps because you keep approaching these discussions from an ideological standpoint designed to turn them into shouting matches.

    Your fixation on the Vatican and on supposed conflicts with it is not one that many of us who are intent on living our spiritual lives have at all. Certainly, we sometimes end up critiquing what the Vatican does–as Catholics should do and have done throughout history.

    But the goal for many of us is simply to live faithfully, to pursue our lives of Christian discipleship. It’s unfortunate–in fact, it’s deeply tragic–that some of our own brothers and sisters are intent on claiming Catholicism exclusively for themselves, as we go about living our Catholic lives faithfully. And are intent on excluding us from your church . . . .

    You must live with the consequences of your exclusivism. You’re certainly not going to stop the rest of us from living our spiritual lives and claiming our rightful place in a church that’s ours, too. And no matter how much you try to tie up our energies in useful (because dishonest) “dialogues” about these issues–as you argue for a conformity to Vatican teaching that is not at all typical of Catholicism at its best throughout history–you won’t stop the movement of history and the Spirit beyond the constricting boundary lines you wish to create for your church.

    Both you and I will one day stand before the Lord at the end of our lives, and here him ask not what we made of the Vatican in our lives, but what we did to him in the least of his brothers and sisters. I feel quite sure that, like me, you’re living your life of discipleship with that question always in the forefront of your mind, and hoping that when you (and I) stand before Christ and answer for our lives, we’ll find we’ve welcomed and loved him in the least among us.

    I’m tickled pink that you listen to and receive with faithful devotion every word that comes from the mouth of a Vatican official. I really am.

    Meanwhile, I have my life of discipleship to live, and as I told you the last time you tried to pull me yet again into a futile, going-nowhere discussion designed to score points and not seek light together, I don’t have time or energy for such discussions. I prefer honesty. I prefer integrity.

    I wish you peace and fulfillment on your journey, and I continue to applaud you for calling your Brother Knights of Columbus to accountability for the huge damage they’ve done through that atrocious gift of a million dollars to remove rights from their gay brothers and sisters in California. If the Lord happens to include those who are gay and abused for being gay among those who count as the least among us, I can well understand why that donation would trouble you–particularly when the million dollars could be doing so much good in places like, say, Pakistan right now.

    • Bill,

      I thought it was a great piece until a couple of paragraphs before the end.

      Even the title was great – What he said, and what I heard.

      The title perhaps speaks the loudest to what is preventing the homosexual community from becoming (feeling?) more integrated and welcomed in many faith communities. In the 21 years in my present parish, I have never heard a word spoken against the homosexuality or the homosexual “community”. I have never heard of anyone being excluded, for any reason.

      But, I have heard of many excluding themselves because the Church holds a creed or dogma to which they disagree. I often hear complaints that if the Church would only change its creed that they would feel more welcome. The complaints often involve opposition on the basis of some social or personal cause – divorce, abortion or even stem cell research.

      As Jordan notes below, the social aspects of the gospel are only one part of the Church. It is not the Church’s task to twist and contort the Gospel so that it can be used as an argument for social changes. There is no free or slave, nor Jew or Gentile in the Church. By the same token, there is no gay or straight.

      • I appreciate the further reflections, David. But they remain unconvincing to me.

        I suspect you’re not hearing of the exclusion of gay and lesbian persons from your parish because they are simply not there: not there as a visible presence in your parish. And not visible because no one is asking those in your parish who are gay or lesbian who they are, what they think, how they feel. Even as you applaud yourself about being welcoming and inclusive and refraining from discrimination.

        Once again: at the end of our lives, you and I will stand before the Lord, and he will ask us not how we responded to Vatican dictates, but whether we saw, heard, and ministered to him in the least among us. The Vatican and the magisterium are not the center of our Catholic tradition. The magisterium exists to serve the Word of God. This is central, venerable, rock-solid orthodox teaching throughout the entire history of the church.

        What needs to resonate in your heart and mind and in the hearts of parishioners are the words of the gospels: Whatsoever you do to the least of these, that you do unto Me.

        The million dollar gift that a Catholic organization with which you are affiliated–the Knights of Columbus–donated to those fighting to remove the right of civil marriage from gay citizens of California scandalizes many Catholics who listen intently to the Word of God, and to Jesus’s words in the gospel. That million dollars would far better have been spent to serve the least among us around the world.

        Many of us who are Catholic today are doing our best to hear and respond to the Word of God in a church in which some of our brothers and sisters (and sometimes the Vatican as well) place strong obstacles in our path, as we week to hear and respond. Thanks for committing yourself to helping to remove those obstacles, and, in particular, to working with your brother Knights to help them recognize the scandal they are causing many of their fellow Catholics.

      • Bill,

        I don’t know if there is any exclusion or not. I’m certainly not aware of any barriers being placed in the way of gays and lesbians worshiping in our local parish.

        I don’t make it a practice of mine to ask people about their sexual orientations or even their sexual life. I know that there are some, especially at the archdiocesean level, who make it practice to proclaim their sexual orientation every chance they get, sometimes even wearing sashs identifying themselves as they go to receive communion. That kind of confrontational style would not be welcome no matter what the issue is.

        All that I ask of you is that you make an effort to listen to what is being said, rather than hearing what you want to hear.

        • David, when I noted that I suspect any gay parishioners who might remain in your parish despite the church’s cold-shoulder to gay people are likely to be invisible, I was responding to your own comment about why people are excluded from parish life. Your comment shifts the blame for the absence or invisibility of gay folks in Catholic parishes onto those who are gay.

          In my view, that is a woefully inadequate pastoral response to the easily documented fact that many gay and lesbian Catholics report that we feel unwelcome in and targeted by our church. A more appropriate pastoral response, it seems to me, would be for a parish to ask if there are, in fact, gay and lesbian people in the parish. Who are invisible because they do not feel welcome to be visible.

          And then to ask how the parish might address that phenomenon, to hold open discussions about this issue. And to bring up the fact that a Catholic organization that is well-represented in your parish gave a million dollars in the recent past to remove a civil right from gay citizens in another state.

          The pastoral approach is never to blame people for being absent, but to look at ourselves as a community and to ask how we ourselves are responding to the gospel–whether we are welcoming, inclusive, affirming, demonstrating Christ’s love and the all-embracing love of God in our lives and behavior.

          You live in a community that is relatively homogeneous–92.57% white as of the 2000 census, and only 0.90% African American, 0.34% Native American, 2.36% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 1.78% from other races, with 1.99% from two or more races. In 2000, your community had 5.73% Latino population. The challenge of dealing with diversity and issues of inclusion is even more profound in communities where a huge majority of people look alike, think alike, and worship in the same churches. Your community is 44% Catholic, 38% Lutheran (of several denominations of Lutherans), 5% Methodist, and 13% “other.”

          You live in an exceptionally homogeneous community, in terms of race and religious affiliation. At the same time, you also live in a community whose median income is well above that of the nation at large. The median income and median house value of your community are both well above those of your state as a whole, and the percentage of African Americans in your community is significantly below that of your state as a whole.

          Not surprisingly, given the homogeneous nature of your community with its strong affiliation to one church, in particular (the Catholic church), which is not conspicuously welcoming to gay persons, census data also show only a minuscule proportion of the people in your town living in households headed by same-sex couples. This is even more interesting to note when one also notes the presence in your community of strong educational institutions that have promoted social justice and visibility for same-sex couples and for those who are gay or lesbian.

          I’m glad that you are interested in making our church inclusive and welcoming–in making it more like Jesus himself. I encourage you to take all of these data to your parish and ask what your parish can do by way of pastoral strategies to assure that those who are “other”–whether racially, socio-economically, ethnically, or in terms of sexual orientation–feel welcome in your parish. I can assure you that if there are no visible gay or lesbian people in your parish (and I strongly suspect that is the case, even though you live in a university community), those gay and lesbian people who are in your parish almost certainly do not feel welcome to be open about their human nature.

          And that’s deeply sad. I can also say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the reason many others who are gay and lesbian are no longer connected to your parish and other parishes is that they feel made unwelcome–and so the burden is on your parish and others to deal with how you make people feel welcome or unwelcome. And not to blame them for their absence–which is a despicable and unpastoral response. I encourage you very strongly to stop blaming those who are gay and lesbian for their absence from parish life, and to begin asking yourself, instead, what you can do to change the situation, as an active and influential parishioner who belongs to an organization that recently gave a million dollars to remove the right of civil marriage from your gay brothers and sisters in California.

          I encourage you to do this because at the end of your life and mine, we will both have to answer to the Lord re: how we have dealt with the least among us. And the church in its institutional and parish life should exemplify outstanding behavior in dealing with marginalized and oppressed communities of people.

          It would also be interesting, by the way, to see a demographic breakdown of the Catholic community in your town by political affiliation and political voting patterns. In other words, it would be interesting to know what percentage of the almost half of your citizens who have voted for Republican candidates in the last two elections are Catholics. I think I know where to find such data, and will work on doing so and will share those data with you, if I can find them.

          P.S. The Catholic church as a whole? Far, far more racially diverse than your small homogeneous largely white, affluent, and Lutheran-Catholic community–despite the concentration of white men in the ruling sector of our church. And far poorer. Which church is it we want to foster and serve as we fight about the definition of Catholicism? By its very nature, the Catholic ethos points to a far bigger world than many of the tiny worlds in which we live, and want to designate as the Catholic ideal.

        • Bill,

          I do live in a homogeneous town. Why it is do, I don’t know. I am guessing that the homogeneous population is due almost exclusively to self-selection possibility going back to Minnesota’s statehood.

          The Hispanic population, which is significant, is probably underrepresented by a factor as large as 2. Based on experience, I would guess that the population is predominately Catholic. This group is also disproportionately poor.

          What does all of this mean? Probably nothing.

          I suspect that many gays and lesbians who don’t feel welcome in the church here, don’t feel welcome because of the Church’s position on gay sex and gay marriage. In that sense, I don’t know if there can ever be an adequate pastoral response. If pastor Wright’s failure to mention the gay struggle alongside the black struggle is offensive, how can a pastor ever refocus the energies to something more constructive?

          Although I live in a homogeneous town, it is a “liberal” town, even by Minnesota standards. There is no doubt in my mind that the conservative Catholic is an “other” in this town. Furthermore, “liberals” don’t seem to be all that tolerant, especially of “conservatives” and Republicans. Atheism and gayness are almost fashionable.

          What does all that mean? Probably nothing. It is just how it is.

          I am a firm believer that the Church needs to avoid involving itself in the struggle for the “social justice” of gay marriage. Frankly, it would be better if it didn’t involve itself in either side. However, because many of those closely aligned with the more conservative aspects of the Church have taken a position, I would think it important that they make clear that the Church’s positions on the sacramental aspects of marriage is a different issue than the justice of having same-sex marriages.

          • David, you say, “What does all of this mean? Probably nothing.”

            What does all this mean? Probably everything.

            You yourself raised the question as to why no gay of lesbian people are visible in your parish. And then you answered it. And I responded by pointing out to you that, from the standpoint of Catholic pastoral theology, your answer was totally inadequate.

            Where your answer blames gay and lesbian people for being absent from parish life, I point out to you that Catholic pastoral theology persistently calls on us to look at ourselves as Christian communities, and to ask what it is about us that may make those defined as “other” unwelcome. And so I pointed you to one of the most important tools that Catholic pastoral theology encourages parishes and other Christian communities to use as they analyze themselves and how they might better respond to a pastoral challenge like making gay people (or people of color, or Latino people) welcome in their community.

            Because we have no option except to make the stranger welcome, since we’re told that, at the end of our lives, the Lord will ask us, “Did you welcome the stranger?” and if we reply, “No,” we’ll learn that in turning away the stranger, we turned Him away.

            Since you are concerned about how your own parish responds to this challenge of welcome, I encourage you to do some study about the use of sociological analysis as a pastoral tool. There are any number of wonderful resources available for this study, starting with the pioneering Jesuit sociologist Joseph Fichter, who was instrumental in establishing an institute for social analysis and social justice at my alma mater, Loyola in New Orleans. And then there’s Fr. Andrew Greeley, who has developed Fichter’s sociological method and written about these issues in a lifetime of outstanding work. You also couldn’t do better than read Joe Holland and Peter Henriot’s book Social Analysis.

            As that book notes (and as I pointed out to you), when a Christian community begins to deal with the pastoral challenges it confronts, it begins by doing social analysis–of the social context in which it ministers, and of itself as a sociological entity. When your parish does such analysis, you discover (I’ve cited hard empirical data for you–and there’s more to be found, if you want to find it) that you are a relatively homogeneous, exceptionally white, affluent parish. Simply because of who you are sociologically, you already have an inbuilt challenge when it comes to meeting and welcoming those who are “other.”

            Because communities that tend to rub shoulders only with others like themselves tend to become small, closed worlds certain that they alone have the truth–impervious to new ideas and those who are “other.” But by its very nature, the church can never be comfortable with becoming such a small, closed, unwelcoming world–since we are told explicitly that we will be judged at the end of our lives on the basis of whether we have welcomed the Lord in those who are strangers. And because the same Lord told us to go out into all the world and proclaim the good news of salvation.

            I am especially encouraged that you yourself want to help your parish deal with the challenge of becoming a welcoming community, when it is so homogeneous, white and affluent. It means much that you, as a white, married, heterosexual man of strong socioeconomic standing, would want to try to understand the experiences of those who don’t walk in your shoes–those who, as the essay to which you’re responding noted, often do not feel the divine embrace in Christian communities. As you do, simply because of who you are. Because of the privilege that your gender, sexual orientation, race, and socioeconomic status provide for you.

            And I applaud you for continuing to call your Brother Knights of Columbus to accountability for that million dollar donation to remove a civil right from a minority community in California. That gift has scandalized many Catholics who believe in welcoming and including gay and lesbian persons, and who wonder why the million dollars spent to do harm to a minority community was not spending reaching out to the least among us around the world.

            P.S. As to your statement that you are a firm believer that the church needs to avoid itself in the struggle for social justice in the area of gay marriage: how on earth can the church ever not involve itself in the struggle for social justice? When the Lord tells us plainly that at the end of lives, we’ll be judged according to how we have dealt with Him in the least among us?

          • Bill,

            I’m not blaming gay or lesbians from being absent. As far as I know, it hasn’t been a serious pastoral concern. It may be that there are significant numbers attending, it could be that there are other secular outlets to address their individual concerns, it could be they don’t want to be known, etc.

            I do know that, at the archdiocese level, gays and lesbians have, at times, been disruptive by protesting at liturgies. I think the goal is to get church officials to change the Church’s teachings on homosexuality.

            There is a pastoral challenge to deal with the gay and lesbian issue, especially if the pastoral “challenge” is address the animosity of the gay or lesbian as it regards the Church’s teaching. One only has to look to the ELCA to see how difficult the pastoral challenges become when hot-button secular issues invade workings of church administration.

            A pastor and the people responsible for the pastoral health of the church need to remember that there are those for and against abortion, those for or against gay marriage, those for or against the social issue de jour. Taking sides in those issues promotes the concept that the Church is about being right or wrong on social issues when the real concern is about being faithful to the Gospel.

            I don’t buy the argument that suggests that the Knights of Columbus are not welcoming because they are fighting a political cause. By the same measure, one could argue that gays and lesbians are trying to create division within churches by dragging churches into the social cause of gay marriage.

            Both sides need to listen more and listen better if there is to be unity of spirit.

          • Thanks for your feedback, David. And for continuing to struggle to learn along with all of us on this blog–since you said in a previous posting that this is your motivation for being on the blog and posting comments frequently.

            It’s a difficult process, isn’t it–learning? It requires us to stretch ourselves, to recognize that the small, comfortable worlds we make for ourselves are not the world as a whole.

            That the church catholic is so much broader, and can’t fulfill its mission without listening to (and welcoming) many different kinds of people who live in worlds entirely different from our own. And that we bastardize and betray the Catholic tradition when we try to make our own tiny comfortable world, the one that affords us power and privilege, synonymous with the church catholic.

  3. Though I wouldn’t say the social gospel is “the real gospel”, as I don’t like to break the gospel into different constitutive parts- radical social change is obviously a feature of the human response to redepmption and grace.

    What struck me about the Radical Reformation, particularly Anabaptism, when I studied it last year was its prophetic stance on the relationship between Church and State, which virtually all major churches have since adopted, as well as its proximity to the Catholic doctrine of salvation as a matter of works and not simply a question of internal assent in faith.

  4. Jordan, thanks. My comment about the social gospel being the real gospel is a contextual comment. I am not intending to “break the gospel” into parts.

    I’m responding to Glenn Beck’s persistent attack on the social gospel in recent months, and in doing so, I’m agreeing with the many churches throughout the U.S. who have responded to Beck with signs, banners, and public statements noting that the social gospel is the gospel, and that the gospel they follow requires them to mend social wounds and address social ills.

    You’re right, one of the significant contributions of the Anabaptist stream of Christianity to all the churches is that prophetic stance on separating church and state. In the Reformation period and for some time after that, Anabaptists paid a very high price for that prophetic witness at the hands of both Catholics and Reformation Christians, including Lutherans and Calvinists.

    And, if I’m reading your final statement right (and please tell me if I’m not), it seems correct to me, too. While Anabaptists strongly resist the notion that salvation comes through works (as do Catholics and Reformed Christians, for that matter), they also equally strongly stress the obligation not only to hear the Word of God, but to do it–to work out and manifest the salvation one has received from God through good works that recognize Christ’s presence in the least among us.

    One of the Sunday-School songs most frequently sung when I was a boy growing up in a Baptist church reminded us, Sunday after Sunday and for weeks in Vacation Bible School, to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.

    And so there’s a strong insistence in the Anabaptist churches that, before a church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, it must engage in a period of soul-searching and relationship-mending, since the body of Christ is obliged to demonstrate through its own communion the Communion being symbolized sacramentally in the Lord’s Supper.

    All the other streams of Christianity stand to learn from the Anabaptist stream in these respects, it seems to me–and from the tradition of warm, open welcome of others that is manifested in evangelical churches of the Southern U.S. in general (though with tragic historic blind spots re: who is really welcome).

  5. It is interesting that Glenn Beck has been attacking the social gospel. Mr. Beck was raised Catholic but has left the Catholic Church. It seems that he has turned his back on the social gospel, which is an important part of the Catholic Church, also. I don’t know what his current opinion is of the Catholic Church. It would interesting to know.

    • You’re asking an interesting question about what it is, precisely, about Christian social teachings that Glenn Beck finds so objectionable, Mareckzu. I’ve seen a few discussions of that topic online–ones asking a similar question: what is it in his Catholic background against which Beck seems to be reacting? But I’ve never seen any clearly explained rationale for Beck’s antagonism to social teaching. He seems to have ended up with a version of Mormonism that buys into American exceptionalism and American values as gospel values. I don’t know enough about Mormonism to know whether that’s typical of Mormons in general, or whether G. Beck has his own special reading of that religious tradition. From all I can gather about his past, his movement away from his Catholic upbringing was a movement away from his own past, in which he struggled with addiction issues. I suspect his conversion to Mormonism wasn’t so much a rejection of Catholicism as it was a choice of a religious community that seemed to represent his salvation from the addiction issues.

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