Sunday, January 23, 2011

Are church leaders "emptying the cross of its meaning"?

Today’s second reading is from St. Paul to the Corinthians.  In it, Paul speaks about church unity by chastising artificial divisions based upon zealous devotion to factions.  Specifically Paul says, “For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you.  I mean that each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas (Peter),’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:11-13) 

Paul went so far as to say that fanatic allegiance to a faction, including the one he led, must be stopped, “so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning” (1 Cor 1:17). 

Fast forward almost 2,000 years and what do we see?  Some say, “I belong to the pope.”  Others say, “I follow the four united Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople and Alexandria.”  Others say, “I follow Luther”.   Others say, “I follow the Archbishop of Canterbury”.  Some say, “I follow John Wesley.”  Others say, “I follow Calvin”.  Yet others say, “I follow my conscience.”  Sadly, the difference between today’s leaders and St. Paul is that today’s church leaders encourage rather than chastise division based upon factional devotion.  Are they not emptying the cross of its meaning in doing so?

As we look at the major branches of Christianity, they arose because church leaders expelled people with whom they disagreed.  Luther was excommunicated for raising 95 issues, more than half of which the church agreed with.  Henry VIII was excommunicated because he was seen as a sinner not following the pope.  The split between East and West occurred due to church leaders’ failure to resolve differences on a point of minutia and power. 

More recently in the Roman Catholic Church we see people being excommunicated usually due to abortion, “disobedience” (i.e., failure to bow to power) or female ordinations.  For example, Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho in Brazil, excommunicated an impregnated nine year old girl's mother and doctors for terminating her pregnancy due to her underdeveloped body's inability to deliver a child and due to the pregnancy arising from being raped by her step-father.  As an aside, the father who raped the girl endured no ecclesial punishment, much like the thousands of priests who raped children suffered no ecclesial punishment. 

Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix excommunicates almost as a hobby having excommunicated:
  • Rev. Vernon Meyer for participation in the ordination of Elaine Groppenbacher
  • Rev. Dale Fushek and Rev. Mark Dippre for operating "an opposing ecclesial community" seen as disobedience to orders to refrain from public ministry
  • Sr.  Margaret McBride for allowing an abortion that Roman Catholic moral theologians ruled was morally just because it was medically necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman.
  • Rev. Chris Carpenter for affiliating with the “Reformed Catholic Church”

This brings me to my questions for today.  Why has Christianity taken on a country club mentality?  “Here are our rules.  If you don’t like them, you are out.  If we don’t like you, you are out.  If we don’t think you’re of the proper ilk, you are out.  If you ask questions we don’t like, you are out.   If your sins are in one of our ‘pet peeve’ areas, you are out.”  Why do church leaders kick people out and think this promotes unity?  Why do church leaders lop off parts of the Body of Christ and think they are preserving it?

How does this compare to Jesus’ example preferring the company of tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes and sinners over that of the self-righteous religious leaders of his day?


  1. As long as I can remember our Church has had a "Don't ask -- don't tell" policy regarding questions like those you pose.

    So glad you are brave enough to ask them, enlightened enough to elucidate them, & good enough to share them with us.


  2. the clique that is organized religion is NEW?! c'mon weeze...I said it at 12 and i stand by it, "This is not so much a church as it is a business endeavor..." I love ya.