Thomas Merton on #StayWoke Christians

Thích Nh?t H?nh and Thomas Merton, 1966
Thích Nh?t H?nh and Thomas Merton, 1966

We must awaken Christians to their “grave responsibility to protest clearly and forcibly against trends that lead inevitably to crimes which the Church deplores and condemns.”–Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton on Peace with introduction by Gordon Zahn (1968, pxi)

Maureen Fiedler: How 12 Religious Traditions View Gay and Lesbian People

Sr. Maureen Fiedler offers an excellent overview of where faith traditions are on the question of homosexuality in her article Radio Program Explore Homosexuality in Different Faith Communities. Well worth the read, and tuning in to her 12-part radio series. These radio interviews could offer a great opportunity for small group conversations within your community.

Here’s an excerpt of Maureen’s article:

Public opinion about homosexuality is changing rapidly, and civil law is not far behind. Gays and lesbians are increasingly open about their relationships and accepted. In some states, they now can marry legally and adopt children.

But among those who are people of faith — with a few exceptions — gay men and lesbians wrestle with how to be faithful to their religious traditions while living fully the human reality in which they discover themselves.

That’s why it seemed just the right moment for “Interfaith Voices” (the public radio show I host) to broadcast a series titled “Gay in the Eyes of God: How 12 Traditions View Gay and Lesbian People.” It began this summer and will stretch into the fall. It was made possible by a grant from the Arcus Foundation.

This series offers much more than scriptural or theological conversations, although those are included. We hear the often poignant stories of gay and lesbian people struggling with who they are as they try to stay faithful to their respective traditions. …

Read the whole article.
Find out more about this series and Interfaith Voices.

‘Can Marriage Ever Change? Homosexuality and the Church’

The UK government has recently initiated a “consultation” on same-sex marriage. The Anglican dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral has urged the Church of England to welcome any couple that wishes to take on the virtues of Christian marriage. The senior Catholic cleric in the UK, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has strenuously argued the Vatican’s position and opposes and possible change in British law.

This week’s edition of excellent UK Catholic newspaper The Tablet features three prominent Catholic thinkers–Timothy Radcliffe, Martin Pendergast, and Tina Beattie–reflecting on the issue of marriage in the Church.

See below:

‘Marriage is founded on sexual difference and potential for fertility’ by Fr. TIMOTHY RADCLIFFE, former Master General of the Dominican order and a widely respected spiritual guide, author, and lecturer.

The Catholic Church does not oppose gay marriage. It considers it to be impossible. If it were possible, then we would have to support it since the Church tells us that we must oppose all discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The issue is not gay rights but a wonderful truth of our humanity, which is that we are animals: rational animals according to the medievals, spiritual animals open to sharing the life of God.

In the sacraments, the fundamental dramas of our bodily life are blessed and become open to God’s grace: birth and death, eating and drinking, sex and illness. St Thomas Aquinas says that grace perfects nature and does not destroy it.

Marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility. Without this, there would be no life on this planet, no evolution, no human beings, no future. Marriage takes all sorts of forms, from the alliance of clans through bride exchange to modern romantic love. We have come to see that it implies the equal love and dignity of man and woman. But everywhere and always, it remains founded on the union in difference of male and female. Through ­ceremonies and sacrament this is given a deeper meaning, which for Christians includes the union of God and humanity in Christ.

This is not to denigrate committed love of people of the same sex. This too should be cherished and supported, which is why church leaders are slowly coming to support same-sex civil unions. The God of love can be present in every true love. But “gay marriage” is impossible because it attempts to cut loose marriage from its grounding in our biological life. If we do that, we deny our humanity. It would be like trying to make a cheese soufflé without the cheese, or wine without grapes.

From the beginning, Christianity has stood up for the beauty and dignity of our bodily life, blessed by our God who became flesh and blood like us. This has always seemed a little scandalous to “spiritual” people, who think that we should escape the messy realities of bodies. And so the Church had to oppose Gnosticism in the second century, Manichaeism in the fourth, Catharism in the thirteenth. These all either had contempt for the body or regarded it as unimportant.

We, too, influenced as we are by Cartesianism, tend to think of ourselves as minds trapped in bodies, ghosts in machines. A friend said to me the other day: “I am a soul, but I have a body.” But the Catholic trad­ition has always insisted on the fundamental unity of the human person. Aquinas famously said: “I am not my soul.”

Lynne Featherstone, the Equalities Minister, is right to say the Churches do not have an exclusive right to determine who can marry – but nor does the State, because we cannot simply decide by some mental or legal act what it means to be a human being. Our civilisation will flourish only if it recognises the gift of our bodily existence, which includes the amazing creativity of sexual difference, lifted up into love. Giving formal recognition to this through the institution of marriage in no way disparages the blessings brought to us by gay people.

Timothy Radcliffe OP is a former master of the Dominicans. His latest book is Taking the Plunge: living baptism and confirmation, to be published by Continuum on 28 April.

‘Rather than buying into a marital bond, the sacramentality of such unions is what many of us strive to live out’ by MARTIN PENDERGAST

Timothy Radcliffe is trying to be typically generous to lesbian and gay people in his comments. Nevertheless when he states, in much less strident tones than some religious leaders, that “marriage” cannot be redefined by either State or Church, he has got himself into a double bind. Church and State have frequently redefined marriage and its structures over centuries due to a variety of factors: cultural patterns and religious influences, as well as social and human development. The model of marriage that we have today is rooted more strongly in eighteenth- and nineteenth-­century social patterns than it is in earlier religious traditions.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, David could write of the love shared between himself and Jonathan as surpassing even that of a man and woman. The relationship between the Roman centurion and his beloved “servant” who was healed (made whole) by Jesus in the gospel story is now widely accepted by scholars to indicate an affirmation of the love between the two men. Then there is the love between Ruth and Naomi, between Felicity and Perpetua, if the traditions are to be respected.

I believe Timothy Radcliffe risks idealising marriage too strongly, seeing it through his own dedicated prism of vowed celibacy. He states that “marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility”. But the social and anthropological structures of marriage are rooted not in biology but in relationality. As the Hebrew Scriptures say: “It is not good for a person to be alone.” Also, what of those who clearly have no potential for fertility – are they to be prevented from marrying, limited to a version of civil unions?

Faith communities have redefined marriage throughout their history, countenancing and rejecting polygamous marriage, allowing divorce and remarriage, and the Second Vatican Council stated that the ends of marriage are twofold, not solely based upon procreation. In medieval times the focus was so strongly on betrothal rites that marriage, in some places, was a rarity, since so few people could fulfil the social and economic requirements for a marriage to take place before the altar. And what of all those “sworn brotherhood” rites, adapted also to include same-sex female partners, identified by researchers such as Alan Bray and John Boswell? In spite of all this, I am not a supporter of same-sex marriage for myself. I hold, conscientiously, that the institution of marriage, in spite of all its cultural and social variability, is essentially patriarchal and not a status I wish to adopt.

The essence of civil unions is that they are based on an equality of persons legally expressed in a mutual signing of a contractual covenant, rather than expressed in vows of subjection, one to another. It is this value of equality that same-sex couples in civil unions bring to the common good. Rather than buying into a marital bond, the sacramentality of such unions is what many of us strive to live out. It is to be hoped this will increasingly be recognised by faith communities and their leadership. Happily, many congregation members, parents and families have got this message.

Martin Pendergast is gay, Catholic and a founder member of the Cutting Edge Consortium, which promotes equality and human rights across religions and beliefs.


‘Marriage is not just about sex but about a lifelong commitment to bodily unity in difference with another human beingby TINA BEATTIE

If we allow the marriage between Christ and the Church to become the mystery within which all human loving participates and towards which all human love is drawn, and if we accept that sexual love is good even when it is non-procreative, can we not go beyond this “impossibility” of gay marriage?

Marriage is not just about sex but about a lifelong commitment to bodily unity in difference with another human being in all the interwoven materiality of our lives. Yes, of course, we are our bodies, and in some species (not all) the reproduction of the species depends upon heterosexual intercourse. Yet couldn’t marriage become an inclusive rather than an exclusive sacrament?

A good heterosexual marriage models a fertile way of human loving that entails a lifelong commitment to the other and an openness to the vulnerable outsider (a newborn child is definitely such a person, but so is any person in need of the love and stability that a loving relationship can offer). A sexual relationship – homosexual or heterosexual, fertile or infertile – which is turned in on itself and closed to others, which lacks permanent commitment for better or worse, or which is violent and abusive, is not what Christians mean by marriage.

If we want to understand the sacrament, we need to look to Christ and the Church, not to the abundant diversity of participation within that sacramental love that constitutes our bodily human relationships. I’ve been married for 37 years and I have four children, but the loving relationships of my gay friends have helped me to understand more deeply what marriage means as a partnership of equals. I hope that they in turn have been enriched by their married heterosexual friends, and have better understood what their love means within the sacramental love of Christ and the Church.

In these times of radical change in our understanding of sexuality and human dignity (especially the full and equal dignity of women in this life and not just in the life to come), maybe we heterosexuals need the marriages of our homosexual friends to help us to understand what marriage looks like when it’s not corrupted by traditions of domination and subordination.

Professor Tina Beattie is director of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Catholic Studies at the University of Roehampton.

Read more from The Tablet.

Kerri Powers: Alligator Boots in Church

Kerri Powers’ song “Tallulah Send a Car for Me” (2009) is totally excellent!

With an opening line like “Can’t wear my alligator boots in church … Preacher says all they ever do is drag in dirt. I think I got some dirt on his clean white shirt” you hardly need anything else.

But Powers presses on with more great lyrics and a broken-bourbon bottle bluesy voice that recalls crickets in the holler on the dark of the moon — all with that steel-string guitar keeping up the rest of the conversation.

Thanks to my friend Brenda over at Brenda Prescott Muses for the tip on Kerri Powers.

Michael Moore: ‘If You Fail to Feed the Hungry, You’ll Have a Hard Time Finding the Pin Code to the Pearly Gates’

capitalism_a_love_storyLGEWho knew that shock-doc film producer Michael Moore was Catholic?

The maker of Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Sicko, sent a letter this morning promoting his new movie Capitalism: A Love Story that hit theaters last week. Moore’s e-mail is about as much of a “faith testimony” as you’ll get from most Catholics. (We tend to keep our faith on the inside and wear our “works” on the outside. Show, rather than tell.)

Capitalism: A Love Story is Moore’s version of the Pope’s latest encyclical Charity and Truth (read my cliff notes A Love Letter from the Pope), but alot more fun.  Both deal with the most critical question of our day: Is capitalism a sin?

In Bruce Headlam’s New York Times profile of Moore last month, Headlam teased out an interesting take on Moore’s faith-inspired prophetic vision, including Moore’s claim that he got his street-theater sensibilities from radical Catholic prophetic priests Dan and Phil Berrigan.

Headlam wrote:

As much as Mr. Moore sometimes plays a comic-book version of class warrior—Left-Thing vs. the Republic of Fear!—his politics are not grounded in class as much as in Roman Catholicism. Growing up in Michigan, he attended parochial school and intended to go into the seminary, inspired by the priests and nuns who, at least until Pope John Paul II, inherited a long tradition of social justice and activism in the American church. … Along with a moral imperative, Catholicism also gave a method. Mr. Moore idolized the Berrigan brothers, the radical priests who introduced street theater into their activism, for example, mixing their own napalm to burn government draft records. Their actions were a form of political spectacle that, conceptually, is Marxist—workers seizing means of production and all that—and it influenced some of Mr. Moore’s best-remembered stunts.

So, if you weren’t on the list that got a letter from Michael Moore this morning, read on:

Friends,

I’d like to have a word with those of you who call yourselves Christians (Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Bill Maherists, etc. can read along, too, as much of what I have to say, I’m sure, can be applied to your own spiritual/ethical values).

In my new film I speak for the first time in one of my movies about my own spiritual beliefs. I have always believed that one’s religious leanings are deeply personal and should be kept private. After all, we’ve heard enough yammerin’ in the past three decades about how one should “behave,” and I have to say I’m pretty burned out on pieties and platitudes considering we are a violent nation who invades other countries and punishes our own for having the audacity to fall on hard times.

I’m also against any proselytizing; I certainly don’t want you to join anything I belong to. Also, as a Catholic, I have much to say about the Church as an institution, but I’ll leave that for another day (or movie).

Amidst all the Wall Street bad guys and corrupt members of Congress exposed in “Capitalism: A Love Story,” I pose a simple question in the movie: “Is capitalism a sin?” I go on to ask, “Would Jesus be a capitalist?” Would he belong to a hedge fund? Would he sell short? Would he approve of a system that has allowed the richest 1% to have more financial wealth than the 95% under them combined?

I have come to believe that there is no getting around the fact that capitalism is opposite everything that Jesus (and Moses and Mohammed and Buddha) taught. All the great religions are clear about one thing: It is evil to take the majority of the pie and leave what’s left for everyone to fight over. Jesus said that the rich man would have a very hard time getting into heaven. He told us that we had to be our brother’s and sister’s keepers and that the riches that did exist were to be divided fairly. He said that if you failed to house the homeless and feed the hungry, you’d have a hard time finding the pin code to the pearly gates.

I guess that’s bad news for us Americans. Here’s how we define “Blessed Are the Poor”: We now have the highest unemployment rate since 1983. There’s a foreclosure filing once every 7.5 seconds. 14,000 people every day lose their health insurance.

At the same time, Wall Street bankers (“Blessed Are the Wealthy”?) are amassing more and more loot — and they do their best to pay little or no income tax (last year Goldman Sachs’ tax rate was a mere 1%!). Would Jesus approve of this? If not, why do we let such an evil system continue? It doesn’t seem you can call yourself a Capitalist AND a Christian — because you cannot love your money AND love your neighbor when you are denying your neighbor the ability to see a doctor just so you can have a better bottom line.  That’s called “immoral” — and you are committing a sin when you benefit at the expense of others.

When you are in church this morning, please think about this. I am asking you to allow your “better angels” to come forward. And if you are among the millions of Americans who are struggling to make it from week to week, please know that I promise to do what I can to stop this evil — and I hope you’ll join me in not giving up until everyone has a seat at the table.

Thanks for listening. I’m off to Mass in a few hours. I’ll be sure to ask the priest if he thinks J.C. deals in derivatives or credit default swaps. I mean, after all, he must’ve been good at math. How else did he divide up two loaves of bread and five pieces of fish equally amongst 5,000 people? Either he was the first socialist or his disciples were really bad at packing lunch. Or both.

Yours,
Michael Moore

Holy Health Care! Laying Hands on the Whole System

healthcarecartoonDebates on our national system of providing health care are raging in political and corporate offices around the country. Traditionally, however, churches and faith centers have been the sites of healing, health, and wholeness for a community.

In the 1970s, many churches in the U.S. experienced a resurgence of “healing ministries” that accompanied a renewed charismatic movement. Healing services, laying on of hands, anointing with oil, healing prayer, and many other manifestations all spring from the healing ministry of Jesus. It’s what he did: He healed. He taught. He saved.

This “making people whole again” was a way Jesus prepared those he met for receiving the good news into their lives. Karin Granberg-Michaelson wrote in her article The Healing Church:

In considering the healing miracles of Jesus and the profound emphasis he placed on wholeness, we must ask what Jesus wished to communicate through his healing works in people’s lives. That is best answered in the context of more basic assumptions about the meaning of Jesus’ overall ministry in and to the world.

While many churches are deeply faithful to their healing ministry, it sometimes doesn’t make it past the church doors. It doesn’t flow into a social concern for how we as Christians can serve the common good. “If the church is to reclaim its healing ministry, it must ask the question ‘what constitutes wholeness?’” writes Granberg-Michaelson.

Wholeness is not just for the individual or the community of Christians; it is a gift God gives to us and through us for the larger society. It is part and parcel of how we move as a society “toward healing and reconciliation,” as Granberg-Michaelson puts it.

If healing and wholeness (spiritual, physical, and emotional) is a gift that God gives to the church, then it is our responsibility to find ways to share the workings of that gift in service of the common good. Granberg-Michaelson says:

Whole person health care [the treatment of a person as a unity of body, mind, and spirit] is, therefore, the heritage of the church. We must reclaim our function as the primary mediator of healing in society.

One important way that we as Christians can “reclaim our function as the primary mediator of healing in society” is by educating ourselves on the nitty-gritty of the health-care debate and working to craft a system that allows healing to flow throughout our land.

We want to craft a health-care system that honors a fair exchange of money for services, that redistributes our social capital toward the health and healing of all over the long-term, and that allows for philanthropy and generosity of heart by those who can give freely for the betterment of all.

A generous health-care system that reflects a commitment to healing and wholeness for the sake of securing human dignity is a priority. It’s one way Christians can extend our healing ministry toward our national body.

You can read Karin Granberg-Michaelson’s whole article here.

This article first appeared on Sojourners’ God’s Politics blog on 07-21-2009. Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners.