Richard Rohr, OFM – The realm of Personal Experience

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

From the Center for Action and Contemplation

Week Twenty-Five: Spiritual Direction

The Importance of Experience

No matter the religion or denomination in which we are raised, our spirituality still comes through the first filter of our own life experience. We must begin to be honest about this instead of pretending that any of us are formed exclusively by the Scriptures or our church Tradition. There is no such thing as an entirely unbiased position. The best we can do is own and be honest about our own filters. God allows us to trust our own experience. Then Scripture and Tradition hopefully keep our personal experiences both critical and compassionate. These three components—Scripture, Tradition, and experience—make up the three wheels of what we at the CAC call the learning “tricycle” of spiritual growth. [1]

Historically, Catholics loved to say we relied upon the Great Tradition, but this usually meant “the way we have done it for the last hundred years.” What we usually consider “official teaching” changes every century or so. Most of our operative images of God come primarily from our early experiences of authority in family and culture, but we use teachings from the Tradition and Scriptures to validate them!

If we try to use “only Scripture” as a source of spiritual wisdom, we get stuck, because many passages give very conflicting and even opposite images of God. I believe that Jesus only quoted those Scriptures that he could validate by his own inner experience. At the same time, if we humans trust only our own experiences, we will be trapped in subjective moods and personal preferences.

It helps when we can verify that at least some holy people and orthodox teachers (Tradition) and some solid Scripture also validate our own experiences. Such affirmation makes us more confident that we are in the force field of the Holy Spirit and participating in God’s sacred work in this world.

Jesus and Paul clearly use and build on their own Jewish Scriptures and Tradition, yet they both courageously interpret them through the lens of their own unique personal experience of God. This is undeniable! We would do well to follow their examples. I will admit that the experiences we have of God—and of our own lives and desires—can be confusing and sometimes even contradictory to one another. This is why it is so helpful to have someone to walk with us as we uncover the deeper meaning of our experiences and what they might reveal to us about God and ourselves.

Christians have always relied on wise individuals to companion them in the process of coming to know who God is for them and who they are in God. As my friend Tilden Edwards, founder of the Shalem Institute writes, “We yearn for a soul-friend with whom we can share our desire for the Holy One and with whom we can try to identify and embrace the hints of divine Presence and invitation in our lives.” [2] Such soul-friends are sometimes called “spiritual directors,” the subject of this week’s meditations.

 [1] I am grateful to spiritual director Rev. Carolyn Metzler for this helpful “tricycle” analogy, a dynamic improvement upon the traditional Wesleyan “quadrilateral,” or four-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason. I hesitate to give reason a full wheel on our model—at this point in history it entirely takes over! Instead, I try to use Scripture, Tradition, and Experience in self-critical and “rational” ways. It took me a long time to come to that hopefully helpful principle. (No offense to dear John Wesley.)

[2] Tilden Edwards, Spiritual Director, Spiritual Companion: Guide to Tending the Soul (Paulist Press: 2001), 2.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . . : Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media: 2013), 5; and

Scripture as Liberation, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002), MP3 download.

 Prayer For Our Community

Loving God, you fill all things with a fullness and hope that we can never comprehend. Thank you for leading us into a time where more of reality is being unveiled for us all to see. We pray that you will take away our natural temptation for cynicism, denial, fear and despair. Help us have the courage to awaken to greater truth, greater humility, and greater care for one another. May we place our hope in what matters and what lasts, trusting in your eternal presence and love. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our suffering world.

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In today’s offering – from Richard Rohr, OFM’s Daily Meditations – we are introduced to a fourth leg of the Faith Process of John Wesley’s ‘3-Legged Stool’ which informs most strands of Evangelical theological piety.

We Anglicans are used to the Wesleyan model: ‘Scripture; Tradition and Reason’, but some of today’s Catholic Scholars, like Richard Rohr, are suggesting that another important – but hitherto negelcted element – is the important faculty of personal ‘Experience’.

When we stop to think about this, it seems natural that without the application of what we have learned through personal experience, our theological basis can be found wanting of the fuller authenticity that is required for us to attach the proper degree of attention to the Scriptures, Tradition, and Reason that has, hitherto, formed the total basis of our theological speculation

One instance of the need for a practical application of our own personal experience of the world as we actually know it – is to consider those people in both Church and society whose gender or sexuality make-up is in any way different from the binary norm! Scripture, for instance (which informs Tradition), may not directly address the pastoral need of members of the LGBTQI+ community, and yet their presence in our world is now publicly recognised as constituting a legitimate sector of society that exists – and probably always has existed in creation – and yet has never been formally recognised and valued by the Church. The Church has, in fact, gone along with the ancient (extant?) understanding that any sexual activity that was not binary (i.e. stricly heterosexual) was ‘against’ God’s plan for humanity and therefore objectively sinful and outlawed. (The fact that same-sex pair-bonding is present in other sectors of the created order was once considered irrelevant)

The one possibility of ‘difference’ from the binary norm for human beings – which accentuates the urge to procreate – that appears in the Scriptures is gleaned from a reading of the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 19, where Jesus is speaking about the exigencies of marriage. In verse 12, Jesus tells his audience that there are those who will not be disposed towards marriage (eunuchs), providing 3 distinct categories of such people: (1) ‘eunuchs who have been so from their mother’s womb; (2) eunuchs who have beenmade so by men; and (3) those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingom of Heaven.

Those in the 3rd category are obviously people who have vowed themselves to celibacy.

The 2nd category includes those who suffered castration for whatever reason.

The 1st category, it has now been deduced through medical science and social research, covers people whose gender/sexual make-up renders them unlikely to take part in the work of procreation – e.g; the intrinsically homosexual community. In the context of this article, it is such people whose own personal experience informs them that they need the important added category of their own EXPERIENCE, in order to deal with the realities of Scripture and Tradition – both of which, until recently, have not included the wisdom of personal experience of being ‘gay’; which modern reason demands should be taken into consideration.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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U.S. Conservative Catholic Bishops – A step too far?

In defiance of Vatican, US bishops vote to advance Communion document

Motion to draft document passes by 75% of the bishops’ conference

Jun 18, 2021by Christopher WhitePeoplePoliticsVaticanThis article appears in the USCCB Spring Assembly 2021 and Bishops, Biden and Communion feature series.

Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, looks on as Msgr. Jeffrey D. Burrill, the conference's general secretary, reads a message to Pope Francis June 16 at the conference headquarters in Washington. (CNS)Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, looks on as Msgr. Jeffrey D. Burrill, the conference’s general secretary, reads a message to Pope Francis June 16 at the conference headquarters in Washington during the opening of the bishops’ three-day virtual spring meeting. (CNS/Bob Roller)

In a vote that was both expected and defiant, the U.S. Catholic bishops advanced on June 18 plans to draft a document addressing Communion for pro-choice Catholic politicians, delivering an extraordinary rebuke to the Vatican’s attempts to slow the process and avoid attempts to co-opt the church’s sacraments for partisan aims.

The motion passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 168-55 with six abstentions, or nearly 75% of the body of bishops, easily achieving the simple majority it needed to move forward. The bishops voted on the measure on June 17, although the results were not announced until the final day of their virtual spring assembly.

The green light for the document is the culmination of efforts that began last November, days after the election of President Joe Biden. At the time, the U.S. bishops’ conference announced the formation of a formal working group to discuss “problems” raised by having the nation’s second Catholic president who supports abortion rights.

Despite an intervention from the Vatican’s doctrinal office last month urging “extensive and serene dialogue” on the matter and outlining a process of consultation among the bishops themselves, with Catholic politicians who disagree on matters of church teaching and with other episcopal conferences, the U.S. bishops voted to advance the drafting of a document after two hours of virtual debate where more than 40 bishops spoke for and against the measure.

John Carr, who worked as top policy adviser for the bishops’ conference for a quarter of a century, said the debate over the document “demonstrated serious division among the bishops and the current proposal and process.”

“A quarter of the bishops are unsatisfied with the process, uncomfortable with the approach and context, and opposed to some of the proposed content,” he told NCR. “A significant number of bishops said this effort has already led to serious ecclesial divisions, pastoral costs and public damage to the church and a different, more pastoral approach is required.

“In my experience, it is unprecedented for the conference to simply push forward when so many bishops are opposed,” Carr added, saying a key question is what the leadership of the bishops’ conference took away from the debate and whether they will “seek an approach that includes more dialogue, greater engagement and less judgment.”

The bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, currently headed by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, will now begin work on the full text of the document ahead of the U.S. bishops’ general assembly in November.

The document, which the Vatican has already cautioned needed more time for dialogue and episcopal unity, will require the support of two-thirds majority of bishops and the Vatican’s approval, known as a recognitio.

During the last seven months, the U.S. bishops have been in a state of open discord, both among themselves and with the Vatican, in regards to their approach to Biden.

Following the formation of the working group, U.S. bishops’ conference president Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles issued an unprecedented 1,200-word statement on Inauguration Day that warned “our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils.”

By contrast, the Vatican marked the occasion with a customary telegram to Biden congratulating him and urging him to pursue policies “marked by authentic justice and freedom.” While some bishops praised Gomez’s elevated focus on abortion in his statement, other prelates labeled the statement as “ill-considered.”

In February, after the 10-person working group on Biden was disbanded, the Doctrine Committee began initial work on a document on “eucharistic coherence.” In recent months, a number of conservative Catholic prelates have fueled the public discussion of the document by releasing their own pastoral letters on the Eucharist and pushing on fringe right-wing websites for the conference to advance a document banning pro-choice Catholic politicians from the Eucharist. Other bishops have published essays warning against the “weaponization of the Eucharist” for political purposes.

Following the Vatican’s efforts to intervene last month, nearly 70 bishops sent a private letter to Gomez asking to delay the vote until the bishops could meet in person to discuss the highly sensitive and divisive matter. The letter was later leaked and Gomez announced the vote would remain on the agenda.

Throughout the three-day meeting, a number of bishops insisted the document was directed toward neither a particular person or political party. Those claims, however, were repeatedly undermined by other bishops, including bishops’ conference committee heads, citing both Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s Catholicism as to why they believed the document is needed now.

Carr said he believed some bishops may have been reassured by commitments by Rhoades that the proposed statement “will not include policy or guidance on denying Communion to the president or other public officials, but rather will be a broader teaching document.” 

“In response to the debate, it seems that the future statement is expanding in scope and shrinking in specific application to public officials,” he said. 

After three days of virtual debate, where phrases such as “Can you hear me?” and “Am I muted?” frequently peppered the discussion, the bishops will convene in person in Baltimore this November for their first in-person gathering in two years.

Christopher White

Christopher White is NCR national correspondent. His email address is cwhite@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @CWWhite212.

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A sign of the more conservative stand of the U.S. Roman Catholic Bishops, is their determination – shown in a controversial Vote at a recent video Conference – to disregard the advice of Pope Francis and the Vatican Dept. in charge of Catholic Doctrine to not continue at this time with the preparation of an American Bishop’s document on The Eucharist that would re-affirm the extant official policy of refusing Holy Communion to politicians and others who do not adhere stricly to dogmatic priinciples that would deny the reception of the Eucharist to such politicians.

When this was first mooted by the conservatives in the U.S. House of Bishops, the Vatican sent a warning that this could cause further disunity in the Church – based on a mistaken general understanding that everyone who was allowed to receive the eucharist must be in a ‘state of grace’ – having confessed any sin of perceived disobedience to the Roman Magisterium. What was given as the reason for caution on this matter was the FACT that the Eucharist (as the Papal Nuncio to the U.S. Catholic Church put it in his message to the bishops); is “food for sinners, not a reward for the righteous” The nuncio also said that the objective of Holy Communion was to meet with a Person – Jesus Christ, Who is the only Mediator and Redeeme – and not merely a ‘thing’ to be accessed by the privileged only.

Perhaps the U.S. Bishops still have to learn that the regressive public policies of former Republican President Donald Trump are no longer ‘fit for purpose’ under the presidency of Joe Biden, a practising Catholic, who has already been welcomed by Pope Francis as the new American President – despite his open acceptance of legal abortion and LGBT+ human rights.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Richard Rohr, OFM – Shadowlands 2

This further exploration by the Franciscan author, Richard Rohr, OFM, gives us a practical guide on hiow do deal with our ‘shadow side’ in further maturation

(Father Ron Smith, Christchurch).

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Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

From the Center for Action and Contemplation

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.

Week Twenty-Four: Shadow Work

Learning in the Shadows

Usually sometime around midlife, we come to a point where we’ve seen enough of our own tricks and we come to feel that my shadow self is who I am.We face ourselves in our raw, unvarnished, and uncivilized stateThis is the shadowland where we are led by our own stupidity, our own sin, our own selfishness, by living out of our false self. We have to work our way through this with brutal honesty, confessions and surrenders, some forgiveness, and often by some necessary restitution or apology. The old language would have called it repentance, penance, or stripping.

In a teaching I recorded with Sounds True about a decade ago, I shared that it wasn’t until I was in middle age, fully embarked on my vocation—a formally celibate priest evangelizing a gospel of love—when I had the courage to ask,

Richard, have you ever really loved anybody more than yourself? [Is there] anybody in particular you would die for?. . . I realized I did not have to do that, that my so-called celibacy which told me that if I did not love anybody particularly, I would automatically love God was not necessarily true. I worried that all I did was love myself in a very well-disguised form.

Much of my forties and my fifties was shadowboxing, seeing my own mixed motives, seeing my own inability to believe and to practice these very things I teach to others. I had become known as a spiritual teacher; and then I would see that very often I had dark thoughts, violent thoughts, lustful thoughts, and then would get up and talk to other people in more mature stages of spiritual development and I was not really there myself. I could point toward those further stages, but I was not really living them. [1]

I believe the darkness in which we find ourselves when facing our shadow can also become the shadowland of Godor what the saints call “the dark night”—if we can see God in it. Maybe this is even the most common pattern. The wound can become the sacred wound, or it can just remain a bleeding, useless wound with a scab that never heals. As I teach in The Art of Letting Go,

The work of the shadowland can go on for quite a long time and if you do not have someone loving you during that period, believing in you, holding on to you, if you do not meet the unconditional love of God, if you do not encounter radical grace, being loved in your unworthiness, the spiritual journey will not continue. You have to discover God as unearned favor, unearned gratuity, or you will regress, you will go backwards. But in the shadowlands, you learn to live with contradiction, with ambiguity. This is true self-critical thinking. [2]

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The Shadow in Christianity – Richard Rohr, OFM

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

From the Center for Action and Contemplation

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.

Week Twenty-Four: Shadow Work

The Shadow in Christianity

We can patiently accept not being good. What we cannot bear is not being considered good, not appearing good.—St. Francis of Assisi

If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter. —St. Thérèse of Lisieux

The two Christian mystics quoted above have helped me to escape the trap of perfectionism which always leads to an entrenched shadow. The wise Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast describes this common ploy:  

In its enthusiasm for the divine light, Christian theology has not always done justice to the divine darkness. . . . We tend to get trapped in the idea of a static perfection that leads to rigid perfectionism. Abstract speculation can create an image of God that is foreign to the human heart. . . [A God that does not contain our shadows.] Then we try to live up to the standards of a God that is purely light, and we can’t handle the darkness within us. And because we can’t handle it, we suppress it. But the more we suppress it, the more it leads its own life, because it’s not integrated. Before we know it, we are in serious trouble. 

You can get out of that trap if you come back to the core of the Christian tradition, to the real message of Jesus. You find him, for instance, saying, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Matthew 5:48]. Yet he makes it clear that this is not the perfection of suppressing the darkness, but the perfection of integrated wholeness. [Richard: Emphasis mine.] That’s the way Matthew puts it in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus talks of our Father in heaven who lets the sun shine on the good and the bad, and lets the rain fall on the just and the unjust alike [see Matthew 5:45]. It’s both the rain and the sun, not only the sun. And it’s both the just and the unjust. Jesus stresses the fact that God obviously allows the interplay of shadow and light. God approves of it. If God’s perfection allows for tensions to work themselves out, who are we to insist on a perfection in which all tensions are suppressed? . . .

[As Paul writes,] “By grace you have been saved” [Ephesians 2:8]. That’s one of the earliest insights in the Christian tradition: it’s not by what you do that you earn God’s love. Not because you are so bright and light and have purged out all the darkness does God accept you, but as you are. Not by doing something, not by your works, but gratis you have been saved. That means you belong. God has taken you in. God embraces you as you are—shadow and light, everything. God embraces it, by grace. And it has already happened.

David Steindl-Rast, “The Shadow in Christianity,” in Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, ed. Jeremiah Abrams and Connie Zweig (Jeremy P. Tarcher: 1991), 132, 133. 

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.

Image inspiration: Shadows are always influential if not always obvious. Some, in focus in the foreground, are easier to name while others remain hidden in the background. How might we attend to the lessons of our own inner shadow landscapes?

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The first quotation in this article from Richard Rohr, OFM, offers a conundrum:

“We can patiently accept not being good. What we cannot bear is not being considered good, not appearing good”—St. Francis of Assisi

This echoes the response of Jesus in human form when he was addressed as “Good Master”. Jesus’ words were “Who are you calling good, there is One Alone who is good?” – indicating that, in our falen human form, we need the power of God to be restored into the perfect ‘Image and Likeness of God‘, that was God’s intention for each one of us at our creation.

We Christians sometimes forget that the attainment of salvation is not all about us. The God who created us is solely responsible for our salvation, through the world’s redemption by God’s Incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ. What we are invited to do – through our Baptism into and feeding on Christ in the Eucharist – is to acknowledge the God who has secured our redemption, by responding to the invitation of Jesus to share in the Divine Life in The Word and Sacraments of the Church. In doing this, we are equipped by God’s Spirit to proclaim God’s salvation to the world, so that ALL may have the opportunity to hear and believe!

God’s power and will to save is not subject to our becoming ‘perfect’ by our own power and will – but only by our sibmission to the power and will of God, that we accept our own human weakness and submit to God’s mercy and forgiveness which has already been made available to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Even the great Saint Paul himself has to acknowledge his own dependence on God’s grace and mercy in order to carry out his mission of revealing Christ to others: “Why do I do the things I know I shouldn’t do, and why do I not do the things I should do?” He had no answer to this reality in his life, so that all he could say was this “But thanks be to God for the victory in our Lord, Jesus Christ!”

The prayer of The Church, in coming to terms with our own need of God to lift us above our own tendency to fall short of the perfection God has designed for us to share is this:

“Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison; Kyrie eleison”

Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Making Ourselves ‘Other’

Posted on June 15, 2021 by Jayne Ozanne

by the Very Revd Nicholas Henshall, Dean of Chelmsford

It is a privilege to respond to the Via Media series of moving and challenging reflections on LGBT+ Christians experience of the Church and the wider implications of that experience for the LGBT+ community, and for the identity of the Church as a genuinely inclusive culture. As a straight white male, I feel inadequate to the task. These are (in Thomas Merton’s phrase) conjectures of a guilty bystander, offered in the hope that together we can navigate the map of the new country faithfully, inclusively, and assured that Jesus takes us as we are because we can come no other way.

In 1968 Pope Paul VI announced the infamous Catholic ban on artificial contraception. That came as a surprise. The aggiornamento of the Second Vatican Council was going into reverse. A young Catholic woman wrote later: “that was the day I took control of my own morality”.

Over recent decades the drip feed of fearful intolerance about human sexuality has had an equally toxic effect. LGBT+ Christians have long since taken control of their own morality. Like the popular response to the Vatican ban, this is corrosive for all of us and gradually erodes the ability of the Church to be heard seriously on a wide range of ethical dilemmas. Why should anyone listen to the churches on major biblical issues such as the evil caused by borrowing and lending money at interest (about which the Bible says so much) when it seems incapable of addressing issues of human sexuality (on which the Bible as a whole says almost nothing, and on which Jesus is completely silent)?

More disturbing still is that the landscape and rhetoric have become increasingly contested. A decade ago, when I was an acting Archdeacon, my evangelical colleague asked me to put together some resources that we could make available to clergy for the blessing of same sex partnerships. We – and our Bishop – saw this as completely uncontroversial. That today we are formally not permitted to bless same sex couples seems astounding. The recent outspoken decision of a hundred Roman Catholic priests in Germany to defy the latest Vatican ban on blessing same sex couples is a standing rebuke to our own lack of courage here.

In his 2006 collection, The Other, the Polish Nobel Prize winning journalist and commentator Ryszard Kapuscinski critiques the Western response to the non-European and says something absolutely crucial about what happens when we “other” people who are different. At best it harms both the other and the other-er. At worst it leads to genocide. Othering may have been theologically validated by parts of the Dutch Reformed church in South Africa, but excluding people on the grounds of taste and culture dressed up as principle is both common and deeply corrosive both for living faith and for wider community cohesion. So-called “conversion therapy” is an extreme form of othering, and responding with compassion is necessary but not sufficient, certainly for churches with a very uneven track record in their response to diversity.

Once again, Jesus in the Gospels gives us startling counter examples. Jesus loves and welcomes the “other” (and those othered by Jesus’ own community): a Jewish tax collector; a pagan centurion and his boy; a Canaanite woman; and so on. Instead of judging them, he holds them up to others as examples for us to imitate. The exception here of course is when it comes to the religious elite. Most extraordinarily, Jesus others himself in extreme ways in order to stand with the other.

Multiple pathologies hover around human sexuality among many Christians. These are inexplicable by reference to Bible, tradition or reason. Sexuality stirs up a much more visceral reaction. Some years ago a senior church leader said that he felt physically sick when people talked about homosexuality. That is not good theology!

Why is sex the stumbling block? At what point did sexual identity and orientation become the touchstone of an entirely novel understanding of biblical orthodoxy?

For western Christians, the double whammy of Original Sin (a doctrine unknown to patristic and orthodox theology, and – I would suggest – unknown to the Bible) plus the linking of that doctrine to genital activity have left a toxic legacy which constantly threatens our ability to have sane and faithful conversations about human sexuality. There is a related and consequent inability to recognise the damage we inflect on others. We still have a significant way to go to climb our way out of an Augustinian pessimism about sex, and indeed about human flourishing more generally.

Pope Francis’ made a splendidly inclusive statement in the context of Black Lives Matter: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of human life.” Fantastic logic, but – as a comedian quipped recently on the radio – banning the blessing of same sex couples was not the obvious way to follow that up. And as a young woman involved annually in Pride, my youngest daughter has developed a wonderful sense of irony as year by year she faces fellow Christians (of rather different convictions) yelling at her that she’s on the road to hell. Really?

It would be helpful if we were a bit more honest – that for most of us there is very little theology in our response to most issues in human sexuality, but rather a visceral response. At least the medieval church – hardly sympathetic to LGBT+ rights – recognised that there was very little in Scripture to support their position and largely resorted to arguments from natural law.

In a beautiful comment recently on the BBC World Service a devout Moslem lesbian described the resolution of her own struggle with her sexuality. She came to the conclusion that because Allah did not make mistakes, Allah could not have made a mistake in making her. Those are words of deep reassurance that the Christian churches need to say unequivocally to all of those it has “othered” – not simply expressing a vague liberal tolerance of difference but insisting that all of us are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139) and intended by God. Our failure to see that is part of our own alienation.

Traditional Christian moral teaching takes seriously both the sensus fidelium (i.e. what most Christians are thinking) and personal conscience. These have not been so obvious in contemporary Anglican discourse. The challenge of the experience of so many of those whom we have “othered” – so powerfully expressed in the Via Media testimonies about conversion therapy – suggests strongly that churches need to go rather further than therapeutic listening and have the boldness to embrace the “other” as the lost part of ourselves.This entry was posted in Conversion TherapyHuman SexualityMental HealthNicholas HenshallSafeguardingSpiritual Abuse. Bookmark the permalink.

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This valuable contribution by the Very Revd Nicholas Henshall, Dean of Chelmsford outlines the reasons for the need of the Church of England to speedily come to terms with the reality of the number of people in the Church whose gender/sexuality status is other than the binary majority. his theological reasoning should help faithful Christians to understand that just being ‘different’ in this important area of one’s life does not prevent one from taking one’s full part in the Good News potentiality of the Christian Gospel.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Bishop David Walker (Manchester) on ‘Conversion Therapy’

I proffer this latest update on the Church of England’s debate on ‘Conversion Therapy’, which claims to be the ‘answer’ to the supposed ‘problem’ of a person’s gender/sexuality status being different from the binary ‘norm’. Bishop David is a wel’known advocate for the inclusion of LGBT+ people in the Church and in society. His reflections are an important guide to those who want to understand the situation of homophobia and sexism that, sadly, still exists.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

New post on ViaMedia.News
Banning Conversion Therapy Must “Focus on the Victim Not the Perpetrator”by Jayne Ozanne by the Right Reverend Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

The General Synod debate on Conversion Therapy was easily one of the hardest it fell to me to chair. We were allowed something like 75 minutes in which to deal with the substantive motion, several amendments and even one amendment to an amendment. So many members wanted to speak that it was vital not to lose sight of the thrust of the motion amid the practical issues of moving of amendments, motions for closure, and voting.

When I came to leave the chamber, I could hardly move for members wanting to thank me for having managed the debate with pace, clarity and good humour. Not everyone was happy; there are always some who think a balanced debate is one where half of the speakers are advocating their particular view, and the other half cover all remaining possible views. But, outshadowing the process, was the outcome. Synod called for a ban on Conversion Therapy by massive majorities in all three Houses.It has taken a while for the proposal to go further, but in the recent Queen’s Speech, opening the new session of Parliament, the UK government has given a clear commitment to progressing matters.

When the debate on the Speech took place in the House of Lords, I took the opportunity to remind Parliament of the Synod vote and was delighted when the government minister responding to the debate, Baroness Susan Williams, endorsed my comments.Progress, but not as yet victory. The government have continued to send out mixed messages, saying there will need to be consultation before legislative proposals are formed. Consultation, of course, but that has all too often been a phrase used to excuse foot-dragging.

We are never going to achieve legislation that everyone agrees is perfect, especially when balancing potentially conflicting human rights. Sometimes we need to just get on with things, and make any necessary changes later, in the light of experience.So, if there’s going to be consultation, let’s make it as short and snappy as we can. In which spirit, let me offer a couple of starter points, to see if we can get the conversation going. I’ve shown my theological working, but you do not need to agree with all my beliefs in order to engage with the rest of the argument.First, let’s focus on the victim not the perpetrator.

As Mary’s wonderful song, the Magnificat, illustrates, our God does not side with the powerful but with the weak and outcast. He is the God who seeks remedy for the oppressed not protection for the strong.In the nineteenth century, when Parliament raised the Age of Consent to 16, it did so in the teeth of considerable opposition from members who were worried that their attraction to young girls would land them in trouble, for failing to distinguish a 14 year old from a child of 16. If the children featured in their conversation at all, it was as temptresses, looking to lure unwary older men into criminality. It never occurred to them that the onus to ensure their proposed partner was of age fell on them, and if in doubt, to refrain.If the consultation on Conversion Therapies (and I confess I’d rather call it Conversion Abuse, rather than dignify it with medical terminology) spends too much time and effort on trying to define exactly how far a perpetrator can go, or what procedures they can use, before breaking the law, then we will have lost that vital victim centrality. We need to focus on the wounding not the weapon.

What matters in a victim centred approach to law is the severity and durability of the harm done, not whether that damage was done by prayer, hypnosis or psychological techniques.There is now a massive pile of evidence to support how damaging these abuses are in general. When it comes to the particularities of an individual trial and conviction, the discretion of judges to sentence at an appropriate level provides ample scope to distinguish between levels of severity of abuse. Let it remain the responsibility of those who wish to carry out “therapies” to ensure their actions will never cause harm.

Secondly, consent is only consent if informed and freely given.At the heart of the Gospel lies the love of God, shown fully in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This love, freely given, invites every person to respond equally freely. Love forced or coerced is not love at all.The harrowing stories of those damaged by attempts to change their sexuality usually begin in the victims’ early or mid teens. Pressure from parents, or from church leaders, has all too often played a major part in them feeling they have to change.

The procedures to which they are exposed are then often led by those same individuals who have applied the pressure. There is a deep irony in the fact that the voices who argue most stridently that a teenager cannot give consent to life changing gender therapies, in the highly controlled and monitored environment of the NHS, are often the very voices who believe that same teenager can give free and informed consent to Conversion Therapy, in the far less transparent and accountable environment of a prayer meeting or attempted exorcism.

Putting it bluntly, I struggle to see how any child judged not old enough to make an informed and free enough judgment to place a cross on a ballot paper can be considered capable of giving informed consent to attempts to change their sexual feelings, outside of a setting at least as managed and monitored as that provided by public health services

.Finally, we don’t have to get everything right in a piece of legislation prior to publishing a Bill. Parliamentary process allows many opportunities to reflect and consider, and for those interested to lobby for amendment to this or that clause. Even when a Bill becomes an Act, it doesn’t have to be the last ever word on a subject. If a law is not working well enough, it can readily be amended or repealed. Meanwhile, whilst we fail to press on with draft legislation, young people are continuing to suffer abuse disguised as therapy. Their harm is real and immediate. For their sakes we need to make this consultation both short and to the point

.Jayne Ozanne | June 9, 2021 at 12:00 pm | Categories: Conversion Therapy | URL: https://wp.me/pcMzsm-1gg
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Conversion Therapy – a godly exercise?


Trigger Warning!

Posted on June 8, 2021 by Jayne Ozanne

by the Venerable Peter Leonard, Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight and Chair of OneBodyOneFaith

Have you noticed how often this warning appears on social media posts or blogs in recent years? A friendly statement that there may be material which can ignite a past issue or make an old wound start hurting again. I am relatively tough and generally don’t pay much attention to these, partly because I assumed I haven’t experienced some of the things which far too many of my LGBTQ+ siblings have.

I have been reading the Via Media posts on conversion therapy and have experienced the horror and revulsion that many of you will have at how the church has abused so many for so long. I shared one of these, ‘Peter’s Story’, on Facebook. Within a very short space of time, I received lots of comments from friends offering support and care because I had gone through such an awful experience. I realised with horror (and emotion that people were so caring) that people assumed the Peter referred to was me! I quickly responded that it wasn’t my story but, in the end, took the post down to stop any further confusion. It was then that a cold realisation crept over me, and I went back and re-read Peter’s story.

It was not my story, but it wasn’t that different to my story. I didn’t believe I had gone through any form of “conversion therapy”, even though I grew up and spent many years in churches where I regularly heard that being gay meant you would burn in hell, that you were dirty, evil and perverted and God hated you. I knew I was gay but couldn’t accept it so sought help and was offered prayer ministry in a couple of different settings. People commanded demons to leave me but of course nothing changed, except I developed a deep self-loathing of myself and who I was. A legacy of emotional and spiritual damage which into my fifties I am still working through. This prayer ministry was not a consistent experience of course, it was a few isolated incidents between the ages of about 15 and 27, but what was consistent throughout that time were the prayers I said, no pleaded, for myself on my own because I thought I had to. The prayer ministry I sought to do to myself to get rid of the homosexual thoughts and urges and make myself straight. The conversion therapy I sought to exercise on myself because I believed I had no other choice if I wanted to be accepted, loved and fulfil the calling to ordained ministry which I had.

The evil of conversion therapy comes in many different forms.

Prayer which is offered seeking to change someone’s sexuality is conversion therapy. It is damaging and it is abusive. The fact that I continued to try this prayer for myself because I believed I had to doesn’t make it less abusive or less damaging. It is a direct result of the teaching and the homophobia I experienced within the Church of England. I have always assumed I had not undergone conversion therapy – I was wrong – I have but it was dressed up as prayer and the abusive atmosphere I found myself in forced me to continue to hurt myself even when the perpetrators had ceased to actively hurt me themselves.

I am currently working with a counsellor and the legacy of shame and damage which this experience has left me with forms a significant part of that work. I hadn’t realised the extent to which it has impacted me because at the time I chose to do it. I wasn’t coerced into it other than the fact that I thought I had no choice if my family, my friends, my church and indeed God were going to accept me, if I wasn’t going to become an outcast. I, and many others in my position, were and are sadly still presented with a twisted version of the gospel. There are too many places where lives are still being damaged and where the name Jesus Christ is used as judgement, condemnation and for psychological harm instead of for love, acceptance, and freedom to be the people God created us to be. There are too many people who still need trigger warnings.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love your neighbour as you love yourself. We celebrate a God who exists in Trinity, and we are called to trinitarian relationships. Called to love God by being the people God created us to be, called to love others by offering them our authentic selves and called to love ourselves by accepting and nurturing who we are, including our sexuality. It is only then that we are living as Jesus commanded us to live.

Anything done to try and change someone’s sexuality, including prayer, is conversion therapy. It is abuse and needs to end now. It is without doubt another serious and significant safeguarding issue for the church and any and every time I discover it going on I will report it to the diocesan safeguarding team, and I would encourage anyone else to do the same. It has no place in the church and is contrary to the gospel of love we have in Jesus Christ.

Thank you to those of you who have shared your stories on here or in the press. Thank you to those of you who are campaigning hard to ensure that ALL forms of conversion therapy are banned. We know that all of this comes at a personal cost, and we are grateful.

If like me you are finding the conversation about conversion therapy, which includes abuse masquerading as “prayer ministry”, triggering let me share how I am coping:

  1. I’m talking about it – to God in prayer, to a counsellor and to trusted friends. OneBodyOneFaith of which I am Chair is currently working with the Ozanne Foundation to pull together a list of counsellors/therapists who can offer help and support to LGBT+ Christians. Look out for this resource or please be in touch if you can help.
  2. I’m campaigning and calling for this evil practice to be banned.
  3. I’m listening to myself and taking a break from it when I need to.
  4. I’m doing my best to love myself and in doing so to love God and love others.

The Psalmist says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” – we are also “queerfully and wonderfully made”. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

____________________________________________________________________________

This is a very brave and heartening testimony to the dangers of the actions of a few no doubt well-meaning Christians who sincerely believe that one need only desire to be rid of one’s Same-Sex attraction and be ministered to by prayers with other Christians in order to be enabled to conform to the majority binary sexual identity. However, this would require nothing less than a certain knowledge of the expressed will of God to perform a miracle! If one believes that miracles are granted to achieve the will and purpose of God; then a deliberate intent to radically alter the parameters of one’s given sexual-orientation – which may be quite ‘natural’ to the person concerned – may not actually accord with God’s will for that person’s life.

Now that there is a lot more known about the given situation of a minority of people whose gender/sexuality is different from the binary ‘norm’; the wider society has recognised the need to understand and deal with the reality of the needs and aspirations of the individuals involved – without resorting to the historic prejudice and disdain that issues from homophobia and sexism – both of which characteristics have traditionally been exercised in both Church and society – before a new age of tolerance came into being through a process of biological and clinical research and theological exploration in the area of anthropology and a renewed spirituality.

The problem with the former attitude towards LGBT+ people in the Church was that those affected – perhaps naturally in the circumstance of their possible exclusion from the ministry and worship of the Church – resulted in their being prone to either one of two possible exigencies:

1: To resort to counsel and advice, spiritual or psychological (with the prospect of undergoing the process of either ‘Conversion Therapy’ or, even more drastic, exorcism, which can be counter-productive, sometimes bringing more harm than good) ; OR:

2: To ‘soldier on’ without mentioning their ‘difference’ with anyone in authority which could lead to their dismissal from any role in the Church. This, of course, has its own consequential problems, not least of which is the spiritual and emotional fear of being ‘Found Out’, which could lead to either dismissal from their employment with loss if income and status in the Church OR, even more problematically, if the person concerned has a continuing guilty conscience about their gender/sexuality identity and the suspected burden of hypocrisy that automatically follows; leads to mental and physical breakdown of the person concerned

The Church needs to access, and promote, a more accepting understanding of the realities of gender/sex differences in creation – through the medium of medical, biological, psychological and spiritual research – a process unavailable to either the writers of the Scriptures or the formulators of the original doctrinal ethics concerning human behaviour – in order to redress its apalling history of homophobia and sexism that has caused untold misery to a significant minority of the population, and the odious culture of an institutionalised aura of hypocrisy that has grown up around the enforced denial of one’s personal inability to measure up to an impossible standard of behaviour that has been dictated by generations of blissful ignorance.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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“Another Way is Possible….”

Posted on June 5, 2021 by Jayne Ozanne

by the Revd Nick Bundock, Team Rector of St James & Emmanuel, Didsbury

I just want you to re-read that phrase again because it’s really important.

Another way is possible. 

I’m able to say that not as a theologian theorising about some future destination as yet unreached.  I say it as one sent out over the boundary wall, as someone who has been to the future and has come back onto these pages to tell you what it actually looks like. I have become part of a new way of being the whole people of God and I want to share that with you.  I’ve come on here to tell you that the stories of failure, hurt and exclusion on these pages don’t need to be put on a repeat loop.

I say ‘tell’ when actually I mean ‘show’.  My skill with words is insufficient to tell, so I want to show you what the future looks like through a series of images.  These are pictures that contrast sharply with the lived experience of those brave and wonderful LGBTQ+ siblings who have shared on these pages the horrific stories of malpractice and hurt.  These images are all I have to offer.  I cannot undo the wrongs that have been recounted on this blog, but I give what I can: hope.

This is hope borne of my own failure as a priest and church leader; the suicide of Lizzie Lowe in 2014.  I come onto these pages not as an heroic white knight but as a repentant sinner, as one snatched as though through the flames.  When I look at these images, as I sit here and type, I feel myself overwhelmed by the grace of God.  Having been at the centre of a tragedy I am now privileged to be part of a radical and loving community of believers here in Manchester.  We’ve crossed over the boundary wall and I’m only coming back here to tell you that there is plenty of room for everyone on the other side.

As you look at the photographs that follow, I invite you to dwell on them for a moment.  Notice the expressions on people’s faces.  Notice the poses, the position of each person relative to another.  These are, of course, all pre-covid and that in itself is a source of emotional content, pay attention to that too.  All of these images were taken on Easter Day 2019 by photographer Hannah Beatrice, I want you to notice one thing above everything else: the joy.

I’m not sure what first brought Adelaide and Kathryn (centre) to St James and Emmanuel but they are newly married and very much in love.  Old and young, white and black hands reaching out to other hands in joyful unity.  Nobody in this image is arguing about the meaning of Romans 1!

I have just said the words ‘The Peace of the Lord be always with you’ and the community is living out that peace as ministers of reconciliation.

This photo reminds me of Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…’ (2 Cor 15:18). This, my friends, is what reconciliation looks like when robed in flesh.  What a contrast to the mean, thin theology of exclusion that has imprisoned so many churches – ironically a kind of anti-evangelicalism.

The second photo shows me with Augustine Ihm, who is soon to be a curate here at St James and Emmanuel (subject to visa).  Again, notice the joy, notice the harmony of black and white, young and old.

The penultimate photo shows a long-standing member, Mike (left) who has joined me in moving from a conservative to an affirming position.  He has his arm around one of our many Iranian members (right).

One of the miracles of inclusion is that once you make a community safe for the LGBTQ+ community you find that other minority groups feel safe in your church.  Heck, I feel safe in my church these days.  Since we became inclusive we’ve baptised nearly two-hundred Iranians and Kurds at St James and Emmanuel and many have stories of miraculous conversion.

In my final photo, Paul is reading us a prayer he has written.  Paul lived in a sheltered community with other adults with learning difficulties.

Paul died this year and is deeply missed.  I don’t know why we now have a community of adults with learning difficulties.  All I know is that we didn’t have one before we welcomed our LGBTQ+ friends into our church.

—–

I want you to see in this small selection of photographs a picture of hope.  The Church has perpetrated a great harm upon our LGBTQ+ siblings, but another way is possible and, more importantly, it’s possible for even previously ambivalent or hostile communities to enter this new emancipation – we did.

I remember a conservative member, just before he left the church in horror at our move to inclusion, warn me that St James and Emmanuel would become like Jerusalem in Ezekiel 10.  The Spirit was grieved and would leave us and take us into exile for our sins.  What I have joyfully discovered – the paradigm shift is so profound I can still barely understand all its implications – is that we were in exile and it’s Lizzie’s death that has led us back to Jerusalem.

Over the past year we have founded the Church for Everyone movement as a place to share the Good News of inclusion and reconciliation and to share practical insights and good practice.  Not just in the area of sexuality but also race, gender, disability and age.  We’d love to include your stories so that alongside the exposure of genuine hurt, misery, manipulation and abuse we can also begin to chart our way to a better future.  My vision for the Church of England is that it be a Church for Everyone.

I don’t want a future where people have to point to one or two inclusion successes but to an entirely new way of being God’s people spread from one corner of the land to the other.   My aim is for St James and Emmanuel to simply disappear into a sea of inclusive and loving churches where love means love and inclusion is the rule rather than the exception.  Perhaps that’s something we can do together?

I’ve read Annie’s story, Peter’s story and those of Kate, Yve, Stephen, Jamie and all the others and here I address them personally.  I’m so sorry about what has happened to you and I’m also sorry that I haven’t addressed your stories directly.  I hope that my reflection and response is helpful.  I am both a penitent – I’ve been part of the problem and I acknowledge the harm and pain I’ve caused you, but also a bearer of hope – it’s your emancipation into the full life of the Church that will become its salvation and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to behold when it happens.

For more information about Lizzie Lowe please visit https://stjamesandemmanuel.org/beyond-inclusion/

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The Rev. Nick Bundock, a Church of England parish priest, had his pastoral caring objectives turned upside-down by his parish experiencing the suicide of one of its young members in 2017. Formerly a conservative Evangelical parish, Ss: James and Emmanuel, in the Manchester Diocese, was traumatised when Lizzie Lowe, a parishioner, took her own life because of her problems with her innate sexual orientation.

As a direct result of the trauma, Fr.Nick and the people of the parish felt compelled to look at the culture of homophobia and sexism that had, albeit indirectly, helped to bring about this tragic outcome from one of its LGBT+ young people. From his story here we can understand the circumstances that have brought about a radical change in the way the clergy and people of the parish have dealt with the reality of non-binary sexual identity that may affect up to 10% of the human race.

The consequences for this parish have been quite dramatic. Abandoning its former rejection of people who are ‘different’ in any way; whether by their sexual identity or their physical or their mental disability; or, indeed, any perception of difference that might set them apart from the simple majority; the clergy and congregation have adopted a policy of outreach to those who happen to be different; including everyone into an atmosphere of loving acceptance that reflects the example and call of Christ in the Gospel.

This is proving to be a model of Christian behaviour that is attracting otherwise marginalised people of the local community into the family of the local Church; a paradigm of what the Church is meant to be in a world of ‘difference’ that has been created by the God of Love.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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N.C.R. Challenges U.S.Bishops to Deny Communion to the President

Editorial: Why we support the bishops’ plan to deny Communion to Biden

Jun 3, 2021by NCR Editorial StaffOpinionPeopleVaticanThis article appears in the Bishops, Biden and Communion feature series. View the full series.

President Joe Biden waves as he departs Holy Trinity Catholic Church April 10 in Washington. (CNS/Erin Scott, Reuters)President Joe Biden waves as he departs Holy Trinity Catholic Church April 10 in Washington. (CNS/Erin Scott, Reuters)

Well, it looks like — barring a last-minute intervention by Pope Francis himself, and maybe not even then — the U.S. bishops will consider and vote on a proposal for a teaching document about Communion that includes denying the sacrament to politicians who support pro-choice policies, including our nation’s second Catholic president, Joe Biden.

The bishops’ discussion — if you can call it that — and vote will happen at the virtual assembly June 16-18.

We say: Just do it.

Just do it, so that if there happens to be a Catholic remaining who is not convinced that the bishops’ conference, as it stands today, has become completely irrelevant and ineffectual, they will be crystal clear about that reality after the conference leaders move forward with this patently bad idea.

Despite plans to bury the real reason for the document in language about “eucharistic coherence,” this move is clearly aimed at Biden and the practice of his faith. Although Biden has said he is personally opposed to abortion, he has, as a politician, supported his party’s stance on the issue, including the most recent proposal to remove the decades-old ban on federal funding for the procedure.

The bishops’ plan is a terrible idea, first and foremost, because such excessive attention to the worthiness of those receiving Communion is contrary to a proper, traditional theology of the sacraments, which sees them as “not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” as Pope Francis said in Evangelii Gaudium. (And don’t let speeches about how no one believes in the Real Presence anymore sway you, as those pontificators will likely be quoting a flawed survey. Most Catholics still know to genuflect when they cross in front of the tabernacle.)

We can think of no one who needs this “powerful medicine and nourishment” more than the president, who is faced with a pandemic, massive income inequality and racial reckoning, and the most serious threats to our democracy since the Civil War, not to mention the prospect of irreversible damage to the planet. That he happens to be a lifelong, churchgoing Catholic makes this all the sadder.

Let’s be honest: The bishops’ proposal has little to do with theology and much to do with politics. If the bishops were actually looking for coherence of a moral sort from political actors, they would be issuing excommunication notices faster than Republicans suppress the vote.

The most tragic reality about moving forward with this proposal is that it will seal the deal on the branding of Catholicism in the United States as a culture war project.

The decision of the bishops’ conference to adopt an adversarial stance toward Biden is not only pastorally wrong, it is politically stupid, given the number of areas of agreement between this administration and the bishops’ own priorities. But the leadership of the conference is willing to sacrifice real accomplishments on immigration, child poverty and global warming to preen as preeminently pro-life and insist that one’s stance on the politics — not even the morality — of abortion be the linchpin for reception of the body of Christ.

The most tragic reality about moving forward with this proposal is that it will seal the deal on the branding of Catholicism in the United States as a culture war project. Like much of Protestant evangelicalism in the U.S., Catholicism already is perceived by many — including many of our young people — as an extension of that portion of the Republican Party that believes the “Big Lie,” promotes conspiracy theories about vaccinations and is willing to abandon all other principles to overturn a nearly 50-year-old court case — a judicial decision, by the way, that will not stop abortions from happening.

This culture war on the part of some members of the hierarchy, supported by donors with big pockets and personal economic agendas, and by right-wing media outlets that produce more propaganda than journalism, is not the church of mercy and encounter that Pope Francis is trying to offer the world. Nor does it resemble what the carpenter’s son from Galilee preached and died for. Those who try to insist that denying Biden Communion is in line with Francis’ earlier thought in South America may want to recall that this pope previously tried to expand — not narrow — reception of Eucharist for divorced and remarried Catholics. And they need to read all of the 2007 Aparecida document from CELAM (the Latin American bishops’ council), not just cherry-pick one paragraph.

This new “MAGA church,” with Donald Trump instead of Jesus as its savior, has already divided U.S. Catholics. Its symbol: a pastor who is removed by his bishop after spouting anti-immigrant, racist and medically false statements, only to raise $320,000 (and counting) from right-wing supporters who refer to other Catholics as the “false church of the modern Judas.”

From the Fortnight for Freedom during the Obama administration, to anti-gay marriage political campaigns and firings of LGBTQ teachers at Catholic schools, to Trump worship at the March for Life — this church for whom opposition to legal abortion is the first and only commandment will finally be complete once all those who have not prioritized Roe v. Wade in their voting decisions are banished from the Communion line.

The machinations to get this proposal through — despite interventions from within and without — are also dividing the bishops’ conference itself, such that our religious leaders are serving as Exhibit No. 1 during this period of polarization, rather than as examples of how to overcome it.

Some 67 U.S. bishops — about one quarter of the conference — put their names to a letter pleading with their brothers to delay this foolhardy plan. We suspect there are more — including some, such as Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who first signed the letter then had his name removed — who agree with the plea to slow down this process. This means the document is unlikely to become actual law, since it needs both a two-thirds vote in favor plus approval by Rome.

The latter seems impossible, given the previous intervention from the Vatican, which tried to help the conference save itself by sending a politely worded warning to slow down on this rush to judgment. In fact, last month’s letter from Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, might have been too polite, as some conservative bishops and their in-the-pocket media have tried to spin the letter as saying the exact opposite.

A bishop holds a prayer book during the morning prayer on the second day of the U.S. bishops' annual fall meeting in Baltimore Nov. 13, 2012. (CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)A bishop holds a prayer book during the morning prayer on the second day of the U.S. bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore Nov. 13, 2012. (CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

So, go ahead: Use this virtual meeting — in which the bishops won’t really have the chance to talk frankly and freely with one another, whether in the meeting hall, at coffee breaks, or during dinners and other get-togethers — and ram through a document that will forever brand the church in the U.S. for the out-of-touch, cultural warrior-obsessed organization it has become.

The June vote will only be about an outline, but the script is already written. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen down the line, the media will have already run the story: “Catholics judge and deny Biden the practice of his own faith.” The damage will be done. TV crews will follow Biden (and other Catholic Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and others) to see if they are being escorted out of church or not.

Those of us who follow internal church politics for a living have known for a long time that this current flock of bishops — a large majority still named during the papacies of John Paul II or Benedict XVI — is either lazy, out of touch, in the pockets of wealthy donors pushing a political agenda, or all of the above. (Yes, there are wonderful individual men who serve in the U.S. episcopacy, but we are talking about the official body of the conference, which represents them all.)

Maybe some everyday Catholics — in their busyness trying to put food on the table, raise kids in the faith and keep everyone alive and well during a global pandemic — have missed that their leaders would rather play politics and pick a schoolyard fight to distract from their own ineffectiveness.

If the U.S. bishops are not going to act like true followers of Jesus and leaders of his church on earth, then they might as well go ahead and pick that fight. At least then, it will be clear to all what they’re really about.A version of this story appeared in the June 11-24, 2021 print issue under the headline: Why we support the bishops’ plan to deny Communion to Biden .

_________________________________________________________________________

The Last paragraph of this Editorial from the U.S. National Catholic Reporter highlights the Editors’ frustration with the conservative Roman Catholic Bishops in the U.S. in their dogged determination to politicise the accessibility of the Holy Communion, so that only Catholics politicians who actively oppose abortion and the secular human rights of LGBT+ people would be authorised by the Catholic Church to receive the Eucharist.

In accordance with sound theology; that the very purpose of the Eucharist is to help ‘sinners’ – as we all are – to have access to the life-giving virtue of Christ in the Mass. Pope Francis, in fact has already reminded these recalcitrant bishops that the ministry of the Church is towards SINNERS; in which status we ALL approach ‘The Throne of Grace’ in the Sacramental life of the Church. Faced with the reality that only Christ Himself can claim to be free from all sin; even the most gracious and loving Christian should present themselves at the altar knowing their need of forgiveness.

What now remains to be seen is whether these ultra-conservative bishops of the U.S. Catholic Church will go ahead with their determination to ban President Joe Biden from receiving the Eucharist – on the grounds of his ‘unfitness’, because of his eirenic approach to certain moral issues of the day. If they do this, they will be attesting publicly to their political loyalty to the previous President of the U.S., Donald Trump, whose own moral stance on these issues was at odds with his own personal morality.’ The point is: if they issue an interdict on this matter, it could well be countered by the action of Pope Francis himself; culminating in a distinct “Loss of Face” by the R.C. Bishops who are trying to find cod-theological reasons for this purely political undermining of their national President.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Richard Rohr, a Franciscan take on Doubt & Faith

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

From the Center for Action and Contemplation

Week Twenty-Two: An Evolving Faith

An Evolving Faith Includes Doubt

In my mind, one of the markers of an evolving faith is an ability to integrate doubt—to hold the tension between what we’ve been taught and what we’ve come to know as true. When grounded in an experience of Love, doubt does not represent a step backwards, but is a necessary condition for any movement forward. CAC teacher Brian McLaren speaks of his personal journey with doubt as the essential ingredient in the evolution of his faith from “orthodoxy” or right belief to “orthopraxy” or right way of life.

Before doubt, I thought that faith was a matter of correct beliefs. My religious teachers taught me so: that if I didn’t hold the right beliefs, or at least say that I held them, I would be excommunicated from my community, and perhaps, after death, from God’s presence. They taught me this not to be cruel but because they themselves had been taught the same thing, and they were working hard, sometimes desperately, to be faithful to the rules as they understood them. I tried to do the same, and I would still be doing so today if not for doubt.

Doubt chipped away at those beliefs, one agonizing blow at a time, revealing that what actually mattered wasn’t the point of beliefs but the clear window of faith, faith as a life orientation, faith as a framework of values and spirituality, faith as a commitment to live into a deep vision of what life can be, faith as a way of life, faith expressing itself in love.

For all those years, when I said, “I believe,” I thought I understood what I was doing. But more was going on, so much more. . . .

Looking back, I now see that underneath arguments about what I believed to be true factually, something deeper and truer was happening actually.

For example, whether or not the creation story happened factually as described in Genesis, I was committing myself to live in the world as if it actually were a precious, beautiful, meaningful creation, and as if I were too. . . .

What mattered most was not that I believed the stories in a factual sense, but that I believed in the meaning they carried so I could act upon that meaning and embody it in my life, to let that meaning breathe in me, animate me, fill me. . . . Whether I considered the stories factually accurate was never the point; what actually mattered all along was whether I lived a life pregnant with the meaning those stories contained. To my surprise, when I was given permission to doubt the factuality of my beliefs, I discovered their actual life-giving purpose. . . .

Doubt need not be the death of faith. It can be, instead, the birth of a new kind of faith, a faith beyond beliefs, a faith that expresses itself in love, a deepening and expanding faith that can save your life and save the world.

Brian D. McLaren, Faith after Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do about It (St. Martins: 2021), 206, 207, 212.

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Rather than regarding DOUBT as the opposite of FAITH; Father Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan theologian, here explains the seeming necessity of doubt before faith can take on a reality that holds – even in the face of contrary and changing cricumstances.

He explains that the Church teaching he received as a young person – in common with most other Catholics of his day – seemed to present as FACTS stories that are often apochryphal rather than historical – a situation calculated to be prepare God’s people to be able to to think for themselves – in terms of logic and common sense, together with a sense of the Divine Mystery – which is necessary in order to be able to come to terms with all that is unknown about the God of All Creation.

It doesn’t take long for a growing individual to realise that the probablility of the world being only a few thousand years old is no longer feasible to believe. Any modern study of basic astronomy opens up the reality of millions of solid objects floating around the cosmos, and that the planet earth is only one of many visible through the medium of a decent telescope. These objects in space can now be proven – even from a geological study of our own planet, Earth – to have been in existence for a lot longer than the millions of years the human mind can imagine as being possible.

When Jesus entered the scene in the New Testament Scriptures, his method of teaching about God the Creator was condensed into a situation of a divine family in which he, Jesus, was intimately involved, and had been clothed in human flesh in order to reflect the Image and Likeness of God in which all humanity has been created. His stories were not so much about the immensity of Creation, as they were about the behaviour of the human beings that had been placed on earth to reflect – if they would only understand it – the Love and Dignity of the One who had brought them into being.

The parables of Jesus, mentioned by his immediate followers the disciples; were stories that were not necessarily of historical happenings – although some of them relating to the people he was talking to would be recognised as factual by them – but rather of the sort of behavioural attitudes that each human being ought to have towards God and towards one another. Jesus’ deeper understanding of the origins of life and death (realities common to all of us) led him to relate how it was possible for we humans to best show forth in our lives the sort of attitudes and behaviour that had been designed by our Creator/God to serve the purpose for which we were designed: To Love God, and to Love our neighbour as we ourselves were beloved of God.

On course the theologians of our world have cogitated among themselves and alone, about the nature of God and of the Creation, and have bult up a formidable body of theological speculation that fits in with their, then current. understanding of how Creation came into being and how we humans differ in nature from the rest of the creation – animals, birds, plants, etc.

In their belief – expressed in the Scriptures – taught by Jesus during his lifetime of 33 years in Palestine, God can be described as present to us in 3 separate modes – as Father, Son, and Spirit – but with a UNITY of Personhood that can be distinguished by their actions: Father – Creator; Son – Incarnate Redeemer; and Spirit – the enigmatic partner in the God-Head that empowers enlightenment and empowerment to human beings who seek the Truth about God’s-self.

(n.b. is can be noted that the human conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary was by the express action of the Spirit of God. Jesus was also raised from the dead by the action of the Holy spirit)

Different people may have different understandings of these realities; but each one, according to their capacity for Faith, Jesus promised would come to understand all that would be necessary to live peacably here on earth, and then to achieve eternal presence with God after the death of the body.

Doubt is a human capacity for disbelief. The paradox is that, only through doubt – and the engagement of our human faculty for the discovery of Truth – can we reach beyond our human doubt, to discover that; as Mother Julian and English Mystic once said: that in God, “All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well”. FAITH IS A GIFT, TO THOSE WHO SEEK IT.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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