"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Gaudete et Exsultate

Life keeps handing me these things and daring me to look the other way.  Well, with Oscar Wilde, I can resist anything but temptation.  First, Pope Francis:

The document, titled “Gaudete et Exsultate” (a Latin phrase that means “rejoice and be glad”), is an apostolic exhortation, which carries less authority than an encyclical, but more than most other papal declarations. In it, the pope scolds Christians who dismiss social activism as “superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist,” and who claim that “the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.” In addition to the poor, the pope names victims of human trafficking and elderly people at risk of “covert euthanasia” as deserving of the same ardent advocacy that anti-abortion groups offer to fetuses.

And then, among the Baptists:

According to the leaders of Fellowship Baptist Church, the conference’s organizers “repeatedly denied the efficacy of the accomplished work of Christ in matters of sin and forgiveness.”

“Church elders for some time have felt that Russell Moore, a former Democratic staffer and benefactor of and partner with the George Soros’ Open Society Foundation on the Evangelical Immigration Table, has been steadily taking the SBC to the progressive-left on virtually every ethics issue except abortion,” Fellowship’s statement read. “Speakers at the MLK50 Conference — organized in part by Russell Moore — repeatedly denied the efficacy of the accomplished work of Christ in matters of sin and forgiveness.”

The Montana church claimed that some speakers at the SBC were preaching social justice in an attempt to “redefine the Gospel,” Christian Post noted, and did so in order to “gain the applause of the lost and fallen world.”

“Help the oppressed! Do the work of justice!” Fellowship’s statement continued, mocking the SBC’s MLK 50 message. “The church has been doing the work of justice for 45 years trying to hold back the bloodlust of abortion. We are trying to do the work of justice for children so that they might be raised by both mothers and fathers in happy marriages.”

No, the church in Montana doesn't sound much like the Pope, but it does sound like anti-abortion activists who think a single issue is the only issue, and expend a great deal of mental energy to make it so:

 “It is impossible to equate the moral weight of abortion—the direct killing of innocent unborn children occurring on a daily massive scale, here in America and abroad—with any other social justice issue,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, to LifeSiteNews. “The right to live predates or precludes every other right. … Today’s exhortation blurs lines and causes confusion.” At the American Conservative, a writer challenged the pope to put his money where his apostolic exhortation is: “If he really believes what he is saying, let him open the gates of Vatican to as many migrants as want to come. Let him offer permanent residency to them, and provide them and their families with financial assistance.” He went on to argue that European Christians must keep Muslim immigrants out if Christians intend to continue practicing their faith.

The Pope "blurs lines and causes confusion" because he doesn't reduce the complexities of the world to a single issue (which single issue, rather conveniently, doesn't address the plight of the poor at all, but rather discards them precisely because they are not fetuses).  And the writer at the American Conservative?  Well, you could replace his words with those of the Fellowship Baptist Church and not notice any difference.  The only justice is to be unjust to migrants because they are NOK.

I was struck by the words of the Montana church when I first read them because they make an idol of soteriology  ("the efficacy of the accomplished work of Christ in matters of sin and forgiveness."), forcing even common humanity to come second after it.  I simply find that impossible to reconcile with the teachings of Jesus, from the anointing in Luke to the woman about to be stoned in John to the final parable in Matthew ("Lord, when did we see you?").  There's never a question in the gospels or the epistles that turns on matters of sin and forgiveness in the way the Montana church defines it, but that definition makes it easier to deal with a "messy" world (one of my seminary professor's favorite words, and she was right about it).  The anti-abortion activists are no different:  they make an idol of their obsession and force everything to kneel before it.  The problem with idols in the Hebrew Scriptures (like the famous Golden Calf) was not that they were divine objects or competitors with the God of Abraham, but that they stood in place of the Creator of the Universe.  God says God's ways are not human ways, God's thoughts not human thoughts, but idols are mere reflections of human desires, and merely the creation of human hands (and minds).  The position of the Montana church and the anti-abortion activists is a position based on seeking and wielding power.  Is it not the end result of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

Which is one of the acid tests in these matters.  As my seminary professor liked to say:  "Life is messy."  Never more so than when we try to reduce it  to things we think we can control.  Which the Pope also understands, because his apostolic exhortation includes another topic which is really very relevant to even this feeble blog post:

... Pope Francis accuses Christians of getting “caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication.” These people “look to compensate for their own discontent by lashing out at others,” he writes. Huh! Rather on the nose, but good point. “It is striking that at times, in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others,” the pope continues, in what can only be a pointed critique of Twitter. “Here we see how the unguarded tongue, set on fire by hell, sets all things ablaze.”
"Don't judge, and you won't be judged."  Like I say, Christianity complicates all these discussions that should simply be about how I am right, and everyone who disagrees with me is wrong......


Blogger The Thought Criminal said...

Gaudete et Exultate is one of the most user-friendly papal documents I've ever read - still reading it which is why I didn't write about it yet. I learned some interesting things I hadn't know, like JPII more or less endorsed the martyrdom of Protestants and Anglicans as, well he didn't say it but it amounted to, their being saints.

I printed out the PDF so I could really read it. I'm finding I can't read the screen these days.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Thanks for the link, I'll have to read that myself.

1:10 PM  
Blogger rustypickup said...

This morning I followed a link from Lawyers, Guns and Money to this post
on the decline of the conservative economist, and the first comment to that post open with this line:

Galbraith had them sussed years ago when he observed: “The modern conservative is not even especially modern. He is engaged, on the contrary, in one of man’s oldest, best financed, most applauded, and, on the whole, least successful exercises in moral philosophy. That is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

Reading here later, I felt the sympathetic vibration from that comment to this reduction of morality to a single issue. Abortion wasn't an issue for evangelicals until at least the 70's. I can't find the post now, but it was a deliberate political action to make abortion an issue to attract evangelicals to vote Republican. The major evangelical issues all share the similarity that they don't involve spending. Abortion, same sex marriage, etc. It's a morality that literally costs you nothing. Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, looking after the old all require a financial outlay. I find it even worse though, because it is such a lazy and undemanding morality. If you are straight, particularly male, etc., you can be "moral" by doing absolutely nothing. You can do almost exactly as you want and call yourself moral over everyone else. The Crooked Timber post uses the word heresy to describe economists that expound economic theory outside the accepted conservative line. Here we have the Montana church finding its own heresy from the Pope on social justice. I guess I would expand Galbraith's comment to read: That is the search for a superior moral and religious justification for selfishness.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

"I guess I would expand Galbraith's comment to read: That is the search for a superior moral and religious justification for selfishness."

Yes; yes it is.

4:25 PM  

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