Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Church and Authority

A bishop and a religious nun were scheduled to have a discussion recently, billed as “Two Catholic views of Gay Marriage.” The bishop began by stating that there is only one Catholic view on gay marriage. Any other position, he said, is dissenting. He blamed the “gay lobby” for putting the Church in a defensive position on this topic, and said that dissenters should become Protestant.
Then he talked about how terrible it was that the murder of his former secretary by a gay man got little coverage in the press, compared to the murder of Matthew Shepard, the gay student murdered by homophobes in 1998. Was he saying that the entire gay population is as responsible for his former secretary’s death as homophobia was for Mr. Shepard’s?
This topic is an important one to both Church and State. It is impressive that it was scheduled. But that is not my topic. My topic is the importance of how people in authority practice that authority.  This bishop lost the audience before he said anything at all relevant to the topic. According to may people present, his approach was legalistic, and not at all pastoral or compassionate. He could have been talking about the importance of caring for the poor, and he still would have lost the audience’s sympathy.

There are numerous Church teachings that are not universally accepted, even by believing, practicing Catholics. Telling such people to go join another religion does not do much in the cause of truth seeking. Honest, open dialogue is the only way to truth. No one is convinced just because someone of rank makes definitive statements in an authoritarian manner. Truth speaks for itself.
This is not to say that there is no room for claiming teaching authority in such discussions. There well may be. But appeals to authority alone never impressed Jesus. He constantly criticized religious authorities for hiding behind their authority and avoiding compassionate interaction. Jesus’ style was to compassionately relate with everyone, even those whose actions He consider to be immoral. There is so much we can learn from Him about the relationship between compassion and authority.

Jesus stopped those who wanted, legally, to stone the woman caught in adultery. He spent time with the woman at the well who had five husbands. He forgave those who crucified him. When any of us exercise authority and responsibility, we need to do so in a manner consistent with who we are and what we believe as the body of Christ.

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