My contemporary fantasy of Christian soldiers marching onward as to war, is a combination of the Catholic hierarchy in their medieval regalia, led by Cardinal Dolan, and whatever of his flock he can gather, hand-in-hand with their political partners the Evangelical Fundamentalists.
Unfortunately that army of Christian soldiers is growing and becoming more vociferous. What I wish to question in this commentary is the increasing militaristic tone of the United States Conference of Bishops (USCCB) and the unsuitable lines of attack, which I believe cross over the boundary of conveying their beliefs, and are tantamount to telling their constituents who they should vote for. If I’m correct, their conduct could backfire and put their tax exemption status in jeopardy.
A New Campaign
In my commentary of March 8, 2012 in the Australian website Catholica, I expressed my concern for how the (USCCB) had been abusing its power of the political pulpit to defeat Obama’s re-election in November. But since then the bishops have ratcheted-up the tenor of their attacks, and have initiated a new campaign to convince their constituency to get out there and prove their power at the ballot box.
In order to put the bishops’ strategy for change in perspective, I will go back to the mid-sixties, when I was director of Catholic Charities in Schenectady, New York. One of my assignments was to be a member of The New York State Catholic Conference, which was and is, “The Official Voice of the Catholic Church in the Empire State.” The purpose of the Conference as stated:
The New York State Catholic Conference represents the Bishops of the state in working with government to shape laws and policies that pursue social justice, respect for life and the common good. We provide a unified voice for the eight dioceses of the state to speak on such issues as education, marriage, health care, poverty, abortion, euthanasia, social services, criminal justice and the environment. We apply the principles of Catholic social teaching to critical issues of the day and encourage citizen involvement in the legislative process.
During the time the state legislature was in session, we met on a regular basis to discuss any proposed legislation under the categories listed above. Each of the eight New York dioceses was represented by their bishops or assistant bishops, and the directors of Catholic Charities from each diocese. There were no women members of the conference, and the only lay person was a lawyer, hiredas a strategist/lobbyist to represent us with the legislators. It never occurred to me that I was part of the “good old boys club”.
Our policy was to dialogue with legislators rather than use other approaches such as putting pressure on them by demonstrating or mounting campaigns to mobilize parish members, or other more aggressive social action methods. It wasn’t because we didn’t believe in social action; remember this was the 1960ies. I was a member of several groups that demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. To put it in perspective, here is a speech that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave in 1967 to one of the groups I was active in, the Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam; his speech was entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Dr. King supported our goals, and shared his own views on the war in Vietnam. I also had the privilege to demonstrate with Fathers Dan and Philip Berrigan; marched with the local civil rights groups; was a card carrying member of the NAACP; became involved with the abortive War on Poverty and was active in the Schenectady Community Action Program (SCAP) etc. My participation was as a person who happened to be a priest. I did not use the power of the political pulpit to tell parishioners whom to vote for or whom not to vote for.
That’s far from what is happening today. I mentioned in my first commentary in this series that, I was shocked when I read in our parish bulletin that the pastor actually compared the Obama administration to the Nazi regime under Hitler. Who is going to vote for a Nazi? Well, I’m still shocked! In our parish bulletin for May 6, the pastor’s usual letter to the parishioners (often promoting such issues as the Tridentine Latin Mass that goes back to the Council of Trent in 1507 or Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, that also dates back to the fifteenth century) was replaced by the USCCB Nationwide Bulletin Insert for April-May, 2012. After giving a little history of their version of separation of church and state, which I believe is debatable, the bulletin goes on to claim, “It is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by government to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization, even when it violates our religious beliefs.” As Frank Brennan points out in his article in the Australian website Eureka Street on-line, US Bishops’ Toxic Tussle with Obamacare,
There is a risk that the US bishops are escalating a campaign of civil disobedience in the name of conscience when they are not willing to allow members of their own church to act according to a rightly formed conscience on matters relating to their own faith and morals but to civil entitlements of others in a pluralistic democratic society.
He goes on to suggest that calling upon conscience against Obama, while enforcing an unyielding Vatican will on all church organizations raises questions, not just with secularist public square. Fr. Brennan also expresses his gratitude that none of the bishops in Australia has had cause to sound as shrill as the bishops in the United States.
At the bottom of the Insert the bishops asked, “What can you do to ensure the protection of religious freedom?” The question is rhetorical, since they answered their own question. which they expect the faithful to follow in blind obedience, “…send your message to HHS and congress telling them to stand up for religious liberty and conscience rights…”
This nationwide Insert for all parish bulletins is just one of the devices designed to defeat the democrats in November. On April 12, 2012 the USCCB issued a statement, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty. The bishops’ statement starts with their reminding us that, “We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both…” It’s as if they were trying to convince everyone that Catholics are just as patriotic as any other religious organization. It reminded me of the lyrics of the satirical song Motherhood from the Broadway musical Hello Dolly when Dolly and the cast sang, “I stand for motherhood, America, and a hot lunch for orphans, take off your hat boys while your country’s flag is passing …” Listening to that song again, I was almost inspired to stand up and sing, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which I thought of using as a marching song when I wrote a letter to the editors of our local newspaper to tell them I was planning to start the Apple Pie Party to challenge the Tea Party. They never published it. Sorry, I digress!
After sharing their little history lession about catholic patriotism, the bishops list a number of examples of what they believe are threats to religious freedom, to convince catholics and other fellow travelers to join their campaign of political and legal resistance. An Editorial in Commonweal Magazine on-line,Religious Freedom & the U.S. Catholic Bishops doesn’t agree. It states that,
The USCCB’s statement vastly exaggerates the extent to which American freedoms of all sorts and of religious freedom in particular are threatened. Church-state relations are complicated, requiring the careful weighing of competing moral claims. The USCCB’s statement fails to acknowledge that fact. Worse, strangely absent from the list of examples provided by the bishops is the best-documented case of growing hostility to religious presence in the United States: hostility to Islam.
The article goes on to point out that the bishops can’t have it both ways. If they don’t correct the oversight of the animosity against Muslims, their campaign for religious freedom will be seen as being a “political tailored” event. The editorial’s position is that, “This silence is especially striking in view of the parallels between anti-Muslim sentiment today and the prejudice encountered by Catholic immigrants in the nineteenth century.”
I find the editorial’s line of reasoning very persuasive, mainly because I believe the bishops are so intransitive in their positions (my way or the highway!) that in their efforts to protect their religious freedoms, they would impose their beliefs on peoples of other religions or no-religions that don’t hold the same beliefs, eg. contraception. This is not surprising, since the bishops get their marching orders from the Vatican, whose monarchial government still follows the Latin dictum, Roma locuta est-causa finita est! (Rome has spoken-the case is closed!) That doesn’t work in a pluralistic society.
Another line of attack the bishops have planned is what they call a Fortnight for Freedom (FFF). I suspect they’ve hired some super-expensive Public Relation firm to come up with that catchy title. If it wasn’t for my grandfather using the word fortnight, when he would tell us that he and my grandmother were “going on a fortnight vacation”, (two weeks), I would have had to look it up in a dictionary. The section on the FFF in their Religious Freedom document, starts by the USCCB urging that, “…we focus all the energies the Catholic community can muster…” in supporting the FFF’s agenda. It will basically be an opportunity for urging Catholics and others to participate in fourteen days of study, prayer and resistance against the alleged efforts of the government to curtail the free expression of religion, leading up to the Fourth of July holiday. If you want to learn more about the FFF, you can scroll down to the section on the webpage above, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.
PS: I couldn’t help but wonder why the bishops didn’t muster all those energies to attack the problem of pedophile priests? And how about those bishops who covered up for the pedophiles?
Skating on Thin Ice
Apparently there are some bishops and Public Relation folks who got a head start on the campaign. One such bishop, Daniel R. Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois appears to be on the very far right of most of his colleagues, at least I hope so. Here is the full April 12th text of Bishop Jenky’s “homily” (seems more like a call to battle than a homily) as it appears on the Diocese’s website. The title of his “homily” is A Call to Catholic Men of Faith. He first challenges the men, (I’m not sure if there were any women in the congregation), by saying, “We must be a fearless army of Catholic men, ready to give everything we have to the Lord, who gave us our salvation.” Sounds like another Onward Christian Soldiers battle cry to me. He goes on to talk about Bismarck closing down catholic schools in Germany, Clemenceau the “priest eater” in France, and Hitler and Stalin of unhappy memory. All geared to scare the hell out of the Catholic men of faith. And for a real clincher he reminds them,
This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic conscience, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries—only excepting our church buildings—could easily be shut down.
There’s much more fear mongering language in his homily, but towards the end he offers some solace, “We have nothing to fear,…St. Michael the Archangel, and all the hosts of heaven, fight on our behalf.” I wondered if that’s the same St. Michael that the church has been praying to for peace since I was in grammar school?
One thing that Bishop Jenky might need to fear is the charges in a letter that the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) filed against him on April 19, 2012 with the director of the Exempt Organization Division of the IRS. The complete letter is available above and can be enlarged to a more readable size. The author of the letter Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the Executive Director of Americans United, and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, presents a clear case to the IRS of how the bishop has violated the IRS publication “Election Year Activities and the Prohibition on Political Campaign Intervention for Section 501(c)(3)Organizations” (FS-2006-17, February 2006), which reminds tax-exempt entities not to engage in any advocacy that “functions as political campaign intervention”. Rev. Lynn goes on to remind the readers that “Even if a statement does not expressly tell an audience to vote for or against a specific candidate…(they are) at risk of violating the political campaign intervention prohibition if there is any message favoring or opposing a candidate.”
Lynn closed by summing up his case to the IRS with a reminder that Bishop Jenky “…compared Obama to Hitler and Stalin and accused Obama of pursuing policies that will close Catholic institutions.” Not only that, but in Jenky’s homily “…he exhorted members of his flock not to vote for candidates who fail to uphold Catholic values.” I’m sure the USCCB has gaggle of high priced lawyer who will try to punch holes in the Lynn’s arguments, but if you’re interested in supporting AU’s position against Bishop Jenky, there is a page on AU’s website where you can take actionIRS Should Investigate Catholic Diocese For Illegal Election Intervention .
Final Example of Abuse of Power
This example is one of the most provocative, offensive, seditious, political ads I’ve ever seen. It outdoes even the most obscene commercial that both political parties have been using during this election season, mainly because it appeals to catholic voters’ quilt and fear.
The commercial below was prepared by Creative-Lab. Among their other productions are: 1) Obama Admits He is a Muslim; 2) 53 Seconds that Should End a Presidency, which is a series of snippets of President Obama struggling with getting the right words out in a number of unrelated interviews; 3) Confirmed: Obama’s Birth Certificate Not Confirmed (2012). So, now that you have an idea of the type of the commercials they produce, here’s the commercial created for the USCCBs’ campaign, titled Test of Fire: Election 2012 (Catholic Version). But before you view it let me give you a synopsis of the plot.
The setting is a blacksmith’s shop. The room is dark and dismal. The only light is from the flickering fire in the hearth that the smithy is using to forge metal letters, which eventually will become three key words: MARRIAGE—LIFE—FREEDOM! The whole scene and background music create a spooky setting.
As the screens scroll on, each scene has a different message. One of the first messages is:
Skipping to the end of the commercial. At this point the screen shows a women coming out of a voting booth, she looks rather downcast the text continues “…Your vote will affect the future and will recorded in eternity!” Recorded in eternity! Shades of fire and brimstones!
I’m not a lawyer, ladies and gentlemen, but I rest my case!
In paraphrasing the patriotic slogan, “My country right or wrong” and substituting church for country, I think it portrays what many of us learned in from our Catholic culture, and followed for years. It’s another way of saying, “you gotta go along with the church, even if you don’t agree with it, if you want to be a loyal citizen.” It also reminds me of G.K. Chesterton response to the quote, “…it’s like saying my mother drunk or sober.” I think what Chesterton meant was, that however much we love our country or church, it’s necessary to temper that love and loyalty with a good dose of reality. I believe many of us have struggled with that dose of reality. Some conscience say, you need to take a stand, but for others, after years of submitting to authority say I have hope that the authorities will shape up and get it right; in the meantime, I’ll wait and see. Others answer, not in my time, I’m out of here!
It’s not surprising to read that many cradle catholics have already made their decision and left the church of their youth, and that the largest number of christians in the United States is former catholics. I suspect that the majority left because they had no hope that those same members of the hierarchy would stop treating them as the “lowerarchy”, and expecting them to docilely ignore their conscience and let the feelings of guilt that is embedded in every cell of their catholic DNA take over. By the way, I have a friend from my catholic grammar school days, who up to his forties, swore his mother had the east coast franchise on guilt.
“Whiter goest thou…?”
After having discussed what I consider the abuse by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, (USCCB) of the power of the political pulpit to kick off their campaign on contraception in my first commentary; and the in the second commentary the insanity of infallibility peddled by Pio Nino, that is the basis for the authority to condemn contraception. and many other teachings of the Roman Catholic Church; I want to turn to some of the options that we have for reform or revolution. First, I will briefly outline the different positions that several theologians have taken on the future of the Catholic Church and on the Hamlet-like dilemma of whether “to stay or not to stay”? Finally, I will share my point of view on these issues, and hope to hear your response.
I’ll start with Gregory Baum, who of the two other theologians I’ll consider, is the most hopeful that the church has and can make significant changes. I suspect that’s apparent from the very title of his book, Amazing Church: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change. Fr. Baum has a rich back ground as a theologian. He served as an expert for the Vatican II from 1962 to 1965; taught theology both at St. Michael’s College in Toronto and McGill University in Montreal.His academic writing has been mostly on ecumenism and Catholic social teaching. In case you don’t have easy access to his book, there is a very thorough review of it in the end notes. 
Baum admits in the preface of his book that “My enthusiasm for the evolution of the Church’s official teaching is at odds with the mood presently expressed by many Catholics, who lament the ecclesiastical bureaucracy’s indifference to a number of urgent pastoral problems.”  He’s got that right! But when he describes other theologians’ positions as “moods”, it sounds like he expects that the mood will pass and they’ll come back to his way of thinking.
Throughout most of his book he brings up documents from Vatican II, partly to show how pastoral the documents are compared to those of other ecumenical counsels, but at the same time exhibit how the church made changes in Vatican II. He also focuses on issues that I think are bureaucratic, and not of much interest to the faithful in the third millennium. For examples, Baum spends several pages on a Nota published by the Congregation of Faith and signed by Cardinal Ratzinger, that lifts the censure of 40 propositions of a philosopher by the name of Antonio Rosmini, who lived between (1797-1855) and whose work had been condemned posthumously. I suppose it does demonstrate that the church can change its mind, nice for Antonio, but I just wish the Ratzinger and his curial colleagues had been spending more time on the pedophilia problems with priests that was breaking out in the USA about the same time they were engaged in head games with revising a church decision from the 19th century.
Although Baum proudly reminds us of the documents that excited most of us at the time, and did promise change, unless I missed something, he doesn’t spend any time exposing how Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI launched campaigns to scuttle many of the reforms that Vatican II accomplished.
Despite decades of disagreements with the Vatican on numerous doctrines , Hans Kung still considers himself to be a Catholic, and even though his license to teach in Catholic universities was revoked, he was never burned at the stake as a heretic, or even excommunicated. He still can celebrates Mass, and administer the sacraments. He confirmed his commitment to the church in a recent book, What I Believe when he said, “I am and remain a loyal member of my church.”  And makes it perfectly clear that his years of strict education in Rome taught him not to allow himself to be intimidated even by the church authorities.
At age 83 Kung still maintains his integrity in spite of the Vatican looking over his shoulder and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, targeting him from the far right. Here are a couple of examples of the slings and arrows from conservative websites: The first one is Protect the Pope.Fr Hans Kung Exhorts Catholics to Reject the Authority of Magisterium as a ‘Duty’ It’s not just the article that attacks the “Dissident Catholic priest…”, it’s the vitriolic tenor of the comments by readers. Here’s another website entitled, Catholic Culture, Hans Kung Issues New Book Attacking the Church Notice how this article introduces Kung, “The dissident theologian Hans Küng…” They love the word dissident to disparage Kung. I’d suggest they read Robert McClory’s book, Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church. McClory has a different take on dissenters. “These dissenters challenged fossilized traditions and seemingly irreformable doctrines, opened locked widows, and pushed the Church (sometimes kicking and screaming) into the future.” 
Perhaps there is still hope! Kung seems to thinks so. He expresses this hope as a vision of the future that most likely wouldn’t fit well with the Vatican as we know it today. His vision is reminiscent of the tone of Martin Luther King Jr’s I have a dream speech, which he gave in 1963 when he presented his vision of civil rights for Black Americans. There is one section in Kung’s book What I Believe, which captures his vision. After saying he’s not giving up hope that an ecumenism between the Christian churches is possible, but it will have to grow from below, not from reluctant church authorities. He lists a number of components of that vision. Rather than trying to encapsulate what he has in chapter 10 of his book, I will just mention two items of his vision that I think are the most important as he looks into the future:
- Man-made dogmas that divide the churches will retreat behind the truth of God and the message of Jesus. Medieval pre-modern structures that deny people above all women their privileges, will dissolve.
- ‘Infallible’ papalism and pseudo –Christian idolatry of the Pope will give way to a Petrine office which stands at the service of Christianity and functions in the framework of synodical and conciliar structures. 
He closes the chapter with a biblical quote that I also used in my memoir to underscore our need to move from the blind obedience of a child, to a responsible faith of an adult.
When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. –I Corinthians 13:11, New Living Translation, 2007.
So, keep showing up, Father Kung!
Just so you’ll know my possible bias, I need to confess I’ve been a fan of Matthew Fox since I read the first edition of Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality in 1980. Currently a group we call the Seekers, that I’ve met with twice a month for the last 13 years, is reading The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance. AndI just finished reading The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and how it Can Be Saved. Oh, I almost forgot, I found his book, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, very inspiring.
Two interviews with Matthew Fox by Jamie Manson where recently published in the National Catholic Reporter. Her interviews focus on Fox’s recent book the Pope’s War. If you haven’t read the book, the articles might be helpful to bring you up to speed on his latest thinking. In the first article, Former Dominican Sees Church’s Demise as a Blessing in Disguise Ms. Manson briefly traces his background over the past 20 years, reminding us that he was expelled from the Dominican order after a twelve year battle with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and for the last eighteen years has been an Episcopal priest. Her focus is on the key themes from his book.
One of the first questions she asked in the first interview was whether he considered himself to be Catholic, but not Roman Catholic. He hesitated a bit and didn’t answer directly but said, “You don’t undo 54 years of being Catholic—it’s much too rich for that. I have a whole list of gifts that I was given by the Roman Catholic Church, but obviously I’m moving towards something that is beyond the boxes of denominations.” I can resonate with that. I think most of us who have struggled with that question, or even have already left the church, recognize the positive experiences we had along with the disappointments that turned us off. Fox responded to a follow up question about what tradition he most wanted to rescue. As might be expected; the mystical and prophetic souls like Hildegard, Eckhart, Francis of Assisi, and added great reformers of the 20th century such as; Dorothy Day, Thomas Berry, Thomas Merton, Teilhard De Chardin as part of the richness that Fox needed to be take along on his continued journey.
Fox also stresses that every Catholic and every Christian needs to grieve what was lost when the hope that Vatican II generated was undermined by the last 40 years of efforts by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to backtrack on the promises made by the Council. He believes that the going through the process, especially getting in touch with the anger and denial that many of us have, will produce a new creativity to “birth the church anew”. The good news is that he sees this as a “great moment” for the Holy Spirit to move in and reinvent things. “And that’s where we should be putting our energy.”
Manson continues her interview in Matthew Fox Talks Obedience and Courage, Young Adults and the Church , by asking about Joseph Ratzinger’s youth in Nazi Germany. The fact that young Ratzinger grew up, and was indoctrinated under a fascist regime, seems to have had an impact on him. Most likely, it was much greater than our growing up in a pre-Vatican II culture, had on many of us. As a teenager he joined the Hitler Youth Corp and later was conscripted into the army, where the most important “virtue” was blind obedience. Remember the Nuremberg War Trials after WWII and the defense that many of the indicted claimed, that they were just following orders (blind obedience)? Or if you have the time and the stomach for it, read the cross-examination of Goering to see how powerful an ideology like fascism and its requirement of blind obedience, can provide a license for atrocities like the world has never known. I’m not suggesting that Ratzinger is a fascist in his adult life, but I’d be surprised if his indoctrination as a youth made no impression on him at all, at the very least he seems to have a touch of the fascist’s obsession to control and to make obedience a priority.
Fox makes an interesting comparison between Ratzinger and Father Bernard Haring, who was also drafted into the Nazi army, but as an adult. He later in life became a prominent moral theologian. Haring rejected what he had been taught as a Nazi soldier that obedience is a primary virtue. As Fox described Haring’s position, “… the number one lesson he drew from living through the war was that of resistance and the need for civil disobedience.”  He also expressed remorse that so many Christians in Hitler’s Germany justified their participation in unimaginable atrocities by saying that they were obeying orders. According to Fox, Haring constructed his entire moral theology on the theme of responsibility, contrary to the blind obedience of so many German Catholics. Fox believes, “As Ratzinger rose the ecclesial ladder, he more and more built his theology on obedience.” AMEN!
In both of Manson’s interviews with Fox’s and in his book, it’s apparent that he is concerned and involved with the issues that youth have towards the institutional churches. He’s also is concerned and involved in reaching out to those who have one foot in and one foot out, as well as those who have already made a choice to look elsewhere to meet their spiritual need and worship in more meaningful communities. If you haven’t already done so, check his Cosmic Mass Website . It has the lists of groups of cosmic christian communities, a section for questions, plus wealth of information about what he and others are doing to make worship more meaningful.
His book contains much more information, including list of myths and 25 concrete steps to take Christianity into the future. Before he gets to the 25 steps he points out how important it is to pay attentions to our own grief. He mentions a number of “betrayals” that many of us have experienced as faithful members of the church. It’s similar in some ways to what couples go through in a divorce. I recently read a response in a website entitled Catholics4Change.com. The respondent to one of their blogs made a statement that seemed to capture what many on the fringe of leaving the Catholic Church go through. This is not the voice of someone who is making a decision dismissively, but one who has agonized over a church that has let her down:
“My conscience is screaming at me: What are you doing? How can you continue to blindly follow something so wrong?” My faith is too strong to allow it. I know better, but this is like a terrible divorce after many years of marriage when you learn that your spouse has been unfaithful. The sadness, anger, fear, and grief are unbearable.”
I don’t think you need to have been through a divorce to identify with the respondent. Having counseled dozens of couples dealing with the pain of divorce, and given workshops on divorce recovery, I think the responder is right on in making the comparison of leaving the church to a divorce. We need to recover from the multiple betrayals by the church that Fox mentions. It’s almost like going through a Kobler-Ross, process of grieving period as we need to do for any loss: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. If you’re not familiar with the Kobler-Ross’ grieving process, you might want to check out her link above.
The 25 steps I mentioned above are mainly about structural changes needed in the Church, for example getting rid of the monarchial government that currently governs the Church from the Vatican, and replacing it with a democratic structure. One of the most important changes would be to have bishops chosen by local communities, and not have to pass the litmus test that the pope requires; in a new structure, priests would be female or male, gay or straight, celibate or married. One of the questions he asks that applies to most of the changes he’s suggesting is, “Would Jesus be more at home with …” a more democratic structure of his church, one that was less bureaucratic; is more inclusive, is more “the people of God” that Vatican II envisioned; follows a creation spirituality versus the sin and redemption theology that made sense to St. Augustine, who taught that original sin was passed on through the male’s semen. These are the things that Matthew Fox believes need to be changed, and what he lives through his writings, his ministry as a priest, and efforts to preserve and preach the value of the mystics in a world that joins the historical Jesus and the Cosmic Christ.
Keep the Faith but Challenge the Beliefs
Theologian and Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, Harvey Cox, in his book, The Future of Faith, recalls a conversation he had with a friend, who described himself as “a practicing Christian but not always a believing one.” Initially Cox was surprised with his friend’s statement, but the more he thought about it, he came to the conclusion that to call oneself a practicing Christian but not a believing one acknowledges the certainties and uncertainties that mark the life of any religious person. When I read his book, I realized I had come to the same conclusion about the differences between faith and beliefs a number of years ago, but I just wasn’t able to articulate it as well as he did.
My faith is in the Jesus of what Cox calls the Age of Faith, the first three centuries after Jesus died, when the early church was more interested in following Jesus’ teachings than making obligatory what to belief about Jesus. The Jesus that I believe in and in whom my faith is grounded in is: the Jesus who gave us the Beatitudes and his example of how to live; the Jesus who focused on compassion for the disenfranchised. As Dr. Cox observed, when he realized how faith and beliefs were not the same,
“To focus the Christian life on beliefs rather than on faith is simply a mistake. We have been misled for many centuries by theologians who taught ‘faith’ consists of dutifully believing the articles listed in one of the countless creeds, this came as a welcomed liberation.” 
At the risk of sounding pedantic, I strongly recommend a website that deals with the issues of faith and beliefs in greater detail than I could in a commentary. The website is Following Jesus. After you open the site, you’ll see and hear a power point presentation, that I believe expresses what it means to follow Jesus over two thousand years after his birth. The presentation doesn’t offer a creed, but it’s a declaration of faith in Jesus. It’s what he said and did himself, while he was on earth.
Once the power point is finished, the website will immediately go to the home page, There are eight title at the top of the page, from left to right: INVITATION; SEEKERS; LEADER; VISIONS; CHANGING; JOURNEY; COMPANIONS; AND RESOURCES. Under each title there are between five and ten sub-titles. As you touch each of the titles with your mouse, you’ll see the sub-titles. There is enough information on this site for two semesters of classes that meet three times a week for two hours each day.
For example, the title on the far right of the page is RESOURCES, if you click on that title, you’ll see that one of the sub-titles is “links for action”. One of the areas I would have liked to have spent more time on in this commentary, is positive social changes and different strategies of social action as it applies to the church. But hopefully this website will provide some generic suggestions.
To make sure this website gets the credit it deserves, here is information that they supply under “conract. It fits well with the distinctions we’ve been making between faith and beliefs.
The Following Jesus website is a project of the Mustard Seed School of Theology, which may be the smallest school of biblical studies and theology in the world. (We don’t award degrees, so please don’t ask!)
The goal of this project is to discover ways to be a faithful follower of Jesus in a postmodern world. It explores what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “religionless Christianity”—faith as a way of life, not as a system of beliefs and doctrines or institutional rites and rituals. The Mustard Seed School hopes to share the radical social and political ideas of Jesus as an antidote to the religious orthodoxy of the church adopted under the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century.
PS. Here’s a bonus that I came across while writing this commentary Forget the Church, Follow Jesus. Article by Andrew Sullivan, Newsweek, April 2, 2012
PSS. If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try getting in bed with a mosquito.
- Nor was I surprised to read on Catholica’s website that report titled Catholic Parish Ministry in Australia: The Crisis Deepens, writtenby Peter J. Wilkinson. Click HERE to read.
- Gregory Baum. (2005). Amazing Church: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. A review of Baum’s book by Jack Shea, in Corpus-National Capital Region on-line. http://ca.renewedpriesthood.org/page.cfm?Web_ID=658
- Gregory Baum. (2005). Amazing Church: A Catholic Theologian Remembers a Half-Century of Change. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. P.13.
- Ibid. pp. 31-34.
- Hans Kung, (2010). What I believe. NY: Continuum National Publishing Group. p.50.
- Robert McClory. (2000). Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. p.161.
- Op. cit. Kung, pp. 192-193.
- Matthew Fox. (2011). The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secrete Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How it Can Be Saved. New York: Sterling Ethos.
- Ibid., p. 5.
- Harvey Cox. (2009). The Future of Faith. New York: HarperOne. p. 17.