Monday, August 03, 2009

Trading with Frozen Truths

. . . or why the contemporary Church is anti-intellectual

I don’t know who “Brian” is, but I definitely appreciate his thoughtful comment in response to William Lindsey’s July 24 post on his blog Bilgrimage concerning Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”).

Brian’s eloquent reflection reminds me of what Jesuit Philip Endean once wrote about the great Catholic theologian Karl Rahner's understanding of the authentically Catholic perspective that recognizes that “dogmas of tradition exist not as truths complete in themselves, but rather as resources for helping us discover the ever greater glory . . . of the God whose gift of self pervades all possible experience.”

Of course, as Endean points out, any theology informed by such an understanding of God’s active presence in human life will be open to “a permanent process of growth, interchange, and transformation.” It will be far from “frozen” (to use a metaphor of Brian’s) but rather life-giving and richly diverse in its flourishing.

Anyway, following is Brian’s comment from the Bilgrimage blogsite.


People who have hitched their wagon to “the Truth” are, unwittingly, weakening the Church’s message and mission. They compare some dogma or papal utterance to, say, the immutability of 2 + 2 = 4.

IMHO, the “Truth” they talk about is, in fact, more of a reflection of human thought and language than of God and his love. The mind must freeze phenomena into concepts in order to understand the world, although the world keeps flowing by - flowing towards God, if you will. They barter and trade with frozen Truths with which they build a house with no foundation, i.e. Love.

I don’t want to belittle the importance of being able to construct and use a theological language. I just want to point out that many people mistake that language and its formulations for their religion, their object of worship.

When I was still in a conservative mindset, I, looking back now, put more emphasis on (what I thought were) accurate statements of data and less emphasis on loving action. Certainly, I was very much concerned with my own actions regarding myself (my thoughts, words, my body) but outward loving action to others, to the poor, always seemed like something you can do after you get all that data straight and adhere yourself to it firmly. To do otherwise would seem misguided - like the way I abruptly judged agnostics who did good works.

I feel that’s why the Pope, and people like the late Fr. Neuhaus, are/were always repeating the ‘complimentary nature of faith and reason.’ Fr. Neuhaus, especially, always sounded frustrated with how anyone could think otherwise. “So the earth was discovered to go around the Sun, no big deal. So human beings and other life forms evolve over time, no big deal, our truths remains unaffected,” etc., etc. Of course they have to take this attitude towards scientific revolutions as a defense mechanism – otherwise, such revolutions, taken seriously, might threaten their adamantine Truths - especially the ones that deal with Nature itself, i.e. statements of ‘Natural Law.’

When the Church finally allowed a historical-critical look at the Scriptures, we were blessed with an age of great theologians. What was never allowed was this: if we can review the Scriptures scientifically and find a better understanding of them, should we not also take a new look at those dogmas/practices which have rested upon the old/inferior understanding of Scripture?

That’s why the contemporary Church is anti-intellectual, because it must be in order to maintain the current power model. It can only maintain its feudal caste system by being a giant mountain of inconsistency. More and more, it will become obsessed with what will look increasingly like an alternate natural science. In short: the recent emphasis on Truth is just another arrow from the quiver of defending power. So is the recent push for ‘remembering our Catholic identity,’ which gives rise to homilies about how we’re ‘not like Protestants.’

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Comprehending the Fullness of Truth
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology
When “Guidelines” Lack Guidance
Beyond Papalism
“Uncle Vince” is At It Again
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
Uta Ranke-Heinemann on the Future of the Church
What It Means to Be Catholic
Rosemary Haughton and the “True Catholic Enterprise”
The Catholic Challenge
The Treasure and the Dross


Mark Andrews said...

Would-be theologians and scripture scholars, first take the plank out of your own eyes. Then take the speck out of the Church's eye.

What methodology should we follow to a) identify incorrect scriptural interpretation in and by the Catholic Church and b) correct that interpretation?

Re/the "Protestant" label, if the shoe fits, wear it. Wasn't the hallmark of The Reformation "rightly dividing" the Word, and make that the rule of Faith over "man-made" tradition? Here we are 500 years later, where a chief fruit of both The Reformation and The Enlightenment was the vivisection of Sacred Scripture. Like the poor frog in the biology lab, we now know a great deal about the parts, but we've killed the living being.

Phillip Clark said...

Couldn't have said it better myself! All of this that Brian said is so sad but so true. With the advent of an embracment of science and the renewed thoughts that came along with it following the Second Vatican Council so many new ideas came to light by brilliant theologians who tried to dust off the archaic notions that accopmanied some of the Church's doctrines and try to explain them anew to today's faithful. This is indeed what Gaudium et Spes set out to do. And in fact, Catholicism prides itself on the full integration of Faith and Reason, Benedict XVI talks about this tirelessly!

Yet, somehow, conservative factions within the Church are not willing to fully yield to the raminifactions that would be unleashed if they concented to exploring ALL the possibilities that might have to be explored when considering scientific discoveries in all their totality. Particularly when it comes to matters regarding human sexuality and gender roles, the leaders of the Church say they're guarding the "true deposit of the Faith as it has always been believed" but it's obvious that they're just protecting their own egos and the comfort and safety they have learned to become aquainted with in their own built power structures.

Of course when science is absent from the virtue of Faith, it tries to explain the mysteries of the universe without the aid of the Divine (which can never really be escaped)and thus, cannot completely answer all of man's questions. When Faith is absent from the realities of scientific discovery, it risks confining God, Who is an Entity Incomprehensible to our minds, to the realms of our own minds' limitations or inhibitions, even turning God into what we would wish Him to be.

I recently read Dan' Brown's novel Angels and Demons and discovered why it is so pertinent for the Church and the world today. Faith and science are both meant to serve and strengthen mankind throughout the world today. Yet, without each other, to check and balance off of one another if you will, they lose their full potential, and in some ways when defined in blind manners of negativity and rigidity, collapse in on themselves. Thus, Pope Benedict and the hiearchy of the Church who refuse to open their minds need to truly reflect on this notion and ask themselves how this train of thought might be affecting the People of God and how it is changing man's thoughts of God or even vice verca?

William D. Lindsey said...

Mark, you ask, "What methodology should we follow to a) identify incorrect scriptural interpretation in and by the Catholic Church and b) correct that interpretation?"

I hear both Brian and Michael eloquently offering you one primary criterion, which you seem not to be hearing: proclamations of religious truth serve, are rooted in, and point us towards transformative engagement with God Who is ultimate truth.

Turning the words of dogmatic formulas into truth on the level of God, the ultimate truth that norms all other truths (and our lives) is tragically wrong. It's a form of idolatry.

Which leads to a second norm I hear both of these powerful Catholic thinkers (whom you dismiss as "would-be" theologians) offering you: before you place something on the level of an absolute truth which must be held and believed in order to attain salvation, look very carefully at that "truth" and notice where it fits into the scheme of things.

The kind of truths many neoconservative Catholics want to impose on all of us are not truths we all have to hold de fide in order to be saved. They are disciplinary truths regarding matters about which there is legitimate difference of opinion in the body of Christ.

What method should we use to identify incorrect scriptural interpretation and correct it? Look first of all at where any given interpretation is leading us.

Does it induct us--all of us--into what is central to the life of faith, into a more profound experience of God and love? Or does it shut many of us out of that experience?

If the latter, perhaps it should be questioned?

Does it fit into the broader scheme of things? Does it uphold what truly is central and binding for all of us--above all, love as the center of the Christian life?

If it doesn't fit well into that broader scheme, if it actually undermines what is foundational for all of us, then perhaps it's an interpretation that needs to be questioned.

And the process of questioning that has gone on throughout all of Christian history is dialogic. The best interests of the church are not served by trying to freeze in time certain historically derived "truths" and dogmatic statements, and then imposing them on everyone in a way that stops the conversation.

Because the conversation will simply keep going on despite the attempt to stop it. It has to go on, when, for many people, the very experience of God and the centrality of love are what's at stake.

Mark Andrews said...

Bill, re/that "profound experience" or its lack - how is such an experienced validated? By my self and my experience only?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Mark,

My apologies that I haven't the time to give a more extensive answer to your question, but I'd say (and I believe the Gospel tradition says) that the type of "validation" you're talking about comes primarily from individual and communal flourishing.

I don't think you could argue, for instance, that when gay people come out and live their lives with integrity and honesty (a living that for most involves sexual expression) they flourish as individuals - psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. That's certainly been my experience.

Plus, energies that once went into hiding and maintaining a facade, are freed and can be extended in proactive and positive ways to others. Look at the contributions that gay people have made and continue to make to the arts, sciences, literature, education, the church, etc.

Humanity has gained (flourished, in many ways) as a result of the contribution of gay people who, in turn, have flourished by their experience of self-acceptance - an experience that for many gay people, is a profoundly spiritual one.



William D. Lindsey said...

Mark, thank you for your question about how religious experience is validated in a community context such as Catholicism.

In addition to what Michael says in his posting following your question (and it's a very good answer, focusing on a very traditional scripture norm--by their fruits shall you know them), I'd note the following.

First, I never claimed that religious experience is self-validating. In fact, I used the word "dialogic" when I addressed your question about authoritative interpretation of scripture.

In my view, the Catholic tradition has long presupposed a dialogic process for the validation of religious experience and religious truth. At its best, that process involves the entire community (because we call ourselves catholic).

I'm arguing that the contemporary move of some church members to suppress dialogue is 1) a betrayal of our tradition at its best and 2) harmful to the whole church.

It absolutizes what ought never to be absolutized. It drives people away from communion in the name of maintaining communion. It moves away from what should be primary--the encounter with God, issuing in love--to what is secondary, the valid question of norms.

It obliterates the distinction between what has to be believed by the entire communion, and what remains open to discussion. It moves to the center what is marginal, and marginalizes what should never be removed from the center.

There is ample room between the imposition of absolute, crushing authority and destructive, rampant individualism. At its best, Catholicism has always been about that ample space in between.

To my way of thinking, the reflex response of many reactionary thinkers in the church today to valid questions about what can and must validly be discussed betrays a fear that is antithetical to a flourishing religious life.

The best response when these secondary "truths" are called into question might well be to permit (and encourage) wide dialogue. Not to repress and hammer people into submission through the heavy hand of authority.

Mark Andrews said...

Okay, let's follow the dialogue thread. Dialogue with who or what, specifically? Knowing that, depending on the issue, the list of who's or what's may not necessarily be the same from issue to issue.

William D. Lindsey said...

Thank you for asking me to clarify what I mean by dialogue to establish norms within a communitarian faith context, Mark.

You ask, "Dialogue with who or what, specifically?"

My initial response is not intended to be flip. I want first to note that, if the communitarian faith context we're talking about is Catholicism, then the dialogue must involve everybody.

Because Catholicism means, Here comes everybody.

For the term to mean something more than rhetorical, the dialogue by which faith statements binding on all of us in the community of faith are established must include all of us.

At a practical level, it seems to me such dialogue can be facilitated when the lay faithful have a constant voice in decision-making processes by which juridically and dogmatically binding decisions are made in the church.

That voice can be incorporated in many ways: it can be incorporated, for instance, by giving laypersons real and not merely rhetorical power to make decisions about what goes on in their parishes, about who is appointed as their pastor and bishop, and so on.

It can also be incorporated by including lay people on boards of diocesan chanceries.

The kind of dialogue necessary to assure that the catholicity of the church is real and not merely rhetorical can also be facilitated when theologians are allowed to pursue their ministry in the church and not bullied into silence, fired from teaching positions, silenced by Vatican decrees when they have no opportunity to know their accusers or to answer charges made against them.

Newman's theology is, in many respects, a splendid theological grounding for the vision of church I am defending here. As he noted, when we allow the priestly, prophetic, or kingly role to dominate in the church in a way that obliterates the other roles, we are in trouble. The church needs all three, working in tandem, to be fully catholic.

What we've seen for some time in the church is the attempt to impose a top-down, coercive pattern of leadership on the church that chokes the voice of the Spirit within the people of God. That style of leadership has done tremendous harm to the church, in my view.

It's time to return to our catholic roots and build a church in which the dialogic interaction of the all the people of God is valued and is respected as the basis for statements that the magisterium wishes to see as binding on all of us.

Mark Andrews said...

Give me some examples, if you will, of where this dialogue is occurring today. The examples need not be strictly religious.

William D. Lindsey said...

Mark, with all due respect, there seems to be a disproportion (or lack of reciprocity?) in our own dialogue.

I find your last three responses fairly peremptory. They're not really responses to what I'm saying--as I write from the heart, sharing my inmost thoughts.

The way you're framing the dialogue feels to me like a set-up, in which you're trying to get me to talk only to find some way to trap me, rather than to interact with me.

Please forgive me if I'm wrong in thinking that this is how our dialogue thus far is trending. It doesn't seem to me to be much of a dialogue at present. It sounds like me talking and you waiting to pounce, while not responding at any substantive level to what I'm saying.

That's all too often how "dialogue" has been going in our church for some time now (as well as in our political life). And the results are disastrous, in my view.

Please consider this honest and heartfelt response my answer to your question (well, your imperative) that I give you examples of where dialogue is occurring today. It's NOT occurring in situations in which one or more dialogue partners is there simply to trap, pounce, and ultimately to silence the other one.

CDE said...


You had asked:
re/that "profound experience" or its lack - how is such an experienced validated? By my self and my experience only?

It's an important question: the question of discernment.

Mr. Lindsey provided one benchmark with the reference to knowing a thing by its fruit.

But much more could be said about it -- delving into the particulars.

Many resources on discernment consider dialogue, techniques, etc.... largely carried out on a horizontal plane, with greater or lesser aversion to such unpopular criteria as obedience to legitimate ecclesial authority, etc., and a decided lack of certitude about criteria found in the scriptures. Sometimes there is a decided neglect of the complicating factors of illuminism and unconscious motivation.

The best resource I have found on the whole question is Fr. Dubay's book Authenticity: A Biblical Theology of Discernment.

Mark Andrews said...

No pouncing, I promise. I am not that smart - or dumb.

I have no counter-examples at-the-ready. Pray continue.

kevin57 said...

Not to interrupt this interesting conversation between Mark and William, but I would be happy to see a level of dialogue (and what the Church herself calls "communio") at a much lower level than William proposes. For instance, I would not need to see a parish select its own pastor. It would be nice if a diocese had a personnel board which truly sought parish-wide input on the qualities they would like to see in a new pastor. The actual pastor could still be chosen by the bishop after a couple of nominees are given him by the personnel board.

Similarly, when a bishop is appointed, I'd like to see Rome really solicit from clergy and laity of a diocese the qualities and perhaps a couple of nominees. The pope could choose from that list of what the local Church has sent to him.

That's modest compared to William's ideal, but from what we have now, it's considered "radical." Somehow, though, great names like Augustine, Gregory, etc. came from a much more democratic process. The bunch we have can scarely think of a single bishop who has the intellect of these giants.

William D. Lindsey said...

Mark, thank you for your response. I will write more. I have meetings much of today, so I am not certain when I can write a response.

Meanwhile, I did not want you to think I was ignoring you. I appreciate your invitation to engage in dialogue about these issues important to both of us.

Mark Andrews said...

I was thinking about how I'd answer the questions I posed to Bill and I found myself taking what I call a "backward step."

Seems to me that, before ending up at cross-purposes again, it would be useful to discuss the "community as mediator of values." Not virtues but values. You'd like the classical virtues, the cardinal virtues, and the theological virtues to be your values, but that's not always the case. In fact its almost never the case, but I digress.

A little outline looks like this:

* Semetic values

* "Jewish" values - by this I mean "the values of that community of people who lived in ancient Palestine." We tend to use the word "Jews," "Jewish," "Israel," "Israel," "Palestine," and "Palestinian" synonymously in referring to the people who wrote the Hebrew Bible, and specifically the people who lived, say, between 1st Century BCE and 1st Century CE. Those words are not synonymous.

* Jesus values

* The values of Jesus followers

* The values of the many cultures in which Jesus followers found themselves.

* Flash forward to the present, and the many cultures in which we find ourselves.

The Roman Catholic Church (without diminishing it's self-understanding as a more-than-human community) is also a human community. All human communities are societies. The collective output of a society is that society's culture. Communities, societies, collectives and cultures preserve and propagate values.

So, in this discussion, what are the primary, pivotal values at work? This is why I refer to values and not virtues. I aspire to the virtues conceptually, but operational values can be determined only by observing behavior. What I DO and not what I SAY.

My point in all this is perhaps our differences, in this conversation and others, can best be illustrated by a difference in values. Any any gap between us can only be bridged - or not, that's a choice each person has to make themselves - by understanding those values.

I'm shamelessly borrowing these ideas from some reading I've been doing lately in the writings of "The Context Group." To get a taste of what these folks are talking about, have a look at one or both of these books:

- What is social scientific criticism (

- The New Testament world (

Mark Andrews said...

This is unrelated to posts 14 and 15...I wanted to get this written and posted before I forgot it.

Making no claims to originality, I define "tradition" as the process by which the members of a society (and therefor the society itself) perpetuate their core, operational values. Perpetuation consists of:

* Identifying or naming values
* Defining those values
* Teaching those values
* Practicing those values
* and reinforcing each of the above

Reinforcement can be internal to a person or external to a person. Reinforcement can be positive or negative. Positive reinforcement is the product of a conscious, personal decision. Negative reinforcement is coercive. For example "internalized oppresion" could be considered "internal, negative reinforcement" or "internal, coercive reinforcement."

Applying this to Christianity, you could say that:

1 - Jesus preaches the Good News through His actions and words
2 - The Good News is the kernel or kerygma of came to be called Christian Faith
3 - Jesus followers form around the kerygma, their core, operational values
4 - Jesus followers form, through their actions, the ecclesia, a new society
5 - The ecclesia, in it's human guise, creates its tradition (as defined above)
6 - Tradition, as defined, is part of the ecclesia's culture
7 - Culture is, at least, a material (and not only material) manifestation of core, operational values
8 - The ecclesia, as a human society, stratifies by role & function (a descriptive, not prescriptive statement)
9 - Members of the ecclesia in teaching and leading roles & functions:
a - attain in their positions and
b - are sustained in their positions because
c - they are exemplars of core, operational values

10 - A doctrinal and dogmatic expression of the core, operational values in the kerygma can be called the "Deposit of Faith"

Applying this model to differences of opinion about, say, human sexuality:

* Differences appear at step 10, when lived experiences bumps up against the Deposit of Faith
* A root cause of such differences may be earlier, at steps 3 and 4, when the core, operational values of the "larger" society inform the new society, ecclesia
* A change in core, operational values signals the beginning of a new society, tradition and culture - a new ecclesia
* The new ecclesia may or may not be a continuation of the past, specifically with respect to core, operational values

If I aspire to do social science, the model is weighted toward description and away from prescription. As a Catholic Christian, with my own, particular way of being a Catholic Christian, I may be weighted more towards prescription and not description. It all depends on which hat I'm wearing. As I right this, I hope I have my faux social-scientist hat on.

CDE said...

What could be really helpful in advancing the course of dialogue is a bit of unsparing self-knowledge.

Fr. Thomas Dubay discusses this in his book Authenticity at the end of a section on Signs of the Holy Spirit:

"Why and how do men and women of equivalent competencies look at the same evidence and come up with opposite conclusions? In matters that affect life-style, our wills have a great deal to do with our conclusions. Basic free choices of cognitional, ethical, and religious presuppositions profoundly affect more surface decisions and positions. The fact is seldom mentioned as an explanation for differences among the churches or even among members of the same church. I may cite a happy exception. Recently a priest was reviewing a book written by another priest. Toward the end of his evaluation the reviewer wrote: 'Our differences seem to lie in our different theological stances. I would describe mine as relational and his as intellectual; mine as incarnational, his as transcendent. My view of God and man would be dynamic or evolutionary, his static and unchanging. We have different worldviews that would give us different interpretations of the first page of the daily paper.'

I am not sure that the description of the differences is entirely fair to the book's author, but I am sure that the first and last sentences ring true. If two Catholic priests can have different worldviews, it would be most interesting if those worldviews were spelled out and their underlying premises brought to light. It would be most interesting if the polarized segments in the Church would state openly for all to hear and to read what their basic cognitional, ethical and religious assumptions really are. No little fog would be dissipated.

To illustrate how refreshing all this would be, I may be permitted a brief flight of fancy. We may suppose that someone would put together a technically competent questionnaire whose items would deal with fundamental (not surface) cognitional, ethical, religious stances. This questionnaire would be given to the five hundred men and women who speak and write most commonly on matters theological, ethical, ecumenical, religious. These people would freely consent to respond in all honesty and to have the results published.

What would be refreshing? We would then easily understand why we have a far right and a far left ... why polarized religious congregations are bleeding and dying ... why contending factions in the Church do not budge an inch from their positions ... why dissenters dissent and the hierarchy holds fast ... why faddish movements appear and die ... why some accept Catholic teaching on sexual morality and others do not ... why some emphasize freedom and others stress authority ... why some accept the papacy and others do not ... why conclusive evidence brought against a position is either ignored or evaded ... why ecumenical progress is so slow.

Let me say this in an unfanciful way. While we need continued study and research in matters ecclesial, we need even more humility and conversion and love. Too many of us may not have yet reached the realization that just perhaps we have sinful premises we neither admit nor regret. We may be out of touch with God's mind because we have basic cognitional, ethical and religious stances that block him from our sight. We may cry out against the errors and sins of the "rest of men" as did the Pharisees but fail to pray as the publican, "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner." Rather than examine our own consciences, we have to a wearying degree been examining the hierarchy's conscience. Speaking of this phenomenon, Gicacomo Biffi (in Le Cinquieme Evangile) wryly remarked that we can with this procedure joyously and humbly recognize each evening the Church's sinfulness and then make the firm proposal for the morrow that to the extent of our capacity we shall change her. Thus we serenely sleep the sleep of the just."

William D. Lindsey said...

Mark, I now have a period of time in which to respond carefully to your question. I find what you've posted in the meantime very helpful, in breaking down for me your core concerns, when you ask where dialogue is taking place today.

To help the conversation stay on track, I'm going to focus very specifically on that question of where dialogue is occurring today. Since you have also posted some statements that, as you say, illuminate the background of your concern, I will also refer to those postings.

I think dialogic interaction occurs anyplace two people are willing to risk sharing thoughts and words in a way that creates the possibility of conversion for both of them. Dialogue is linked, in my mind, with the word "conversation," which in turn links etymologically to the word "conversion." When we really engage someone else in conversation, we risk conversion, turning with that person in the encounter.

This is an idea I borrow from David Tracy, by the way, and I want to acknowledge his influence on my thinking here. I'm also influenced by the Russian thinker Mikhail Bakhtin in what I think about dialogue.

I think few of our encounters in everyday life ever reach that level--and few do in spaces set aside for deliberate dialogic interaction. To borrow from Martin Buber: most of our interactions are I-it encounters, rather than I-thou encounters.

When real dialogic interaction occurs, we're in the realm of I-thou encounters.

Because I know you're asking specifically about church as a dialogic space (though you say you would welcome examples of dialogue from any sector), I would like now to focus these background observations on church.

I think that church is meant, in its very essence, to be about dialogic encounter, because it's meant to be a space in which we encounter each other as thou, rather than it. I think that in reality, it all too often functions as an I-it place, instead.

How and when does dialogue take place in church? When we cultivate space for I-thou interaction within the church community. When we deliberately, intentionally, create space in which people are welcome to be who they are and to share themselves and their stories, from the level of human authenticity.

Why does this not happen frequently in church? Because it's risky. And because it's difficult. It's simply easier for us to be like the world around us, to go on doing business as usual.

In my view, Vatican II was a rare opening for the kind of dialogue I'm describing here, and that council reminded us that, if we're going to be faithful to our own tradition, to what it means to be catholic, we'll constantly reform the church so that it seeks to be the kind of welcoming space that facilitates ongoing I-thou encounter.

But as always happens when such a risky proposal comes along, this was followed by a period of slamming doors and windows. And now we struggle with the extremity of our reaction, which has more or less effectively shut down all the kinds of dialogue I described in my previous posting (theological, in parish life, at diocesan levels, etc.), in favor of a model of church in which we all profess conformity to narrow, pared-down "truths" that are not even representative of our faith at its best.

(Sorry, I wrote too much and it won't go through. Have now clipped the conclusion into another posting).

William D. Lindsey said...

You acknowledge in one of the postings you wrote in the last day or so that a significant question hovering behind your concern with these issues is the question of sexual ethics--and the fact that some Catholics continue to dissent from official teaching in this area.

You also describe a sociological-theological process by which the church has arrived at a consensus re: core values. Your description is a good description, it seems to me, of how the Christian communities moved from the kergyma, from Jesus's proclamation of the reign of God, to church, to credal and confessional statements and a code of morality binding on all believers.

And you say that problems arise when lived experiences bump against the consensus of the church, at stage 10. But I'd like to suggest to you that there's a better theological way to approach dissent re: sexual issues today, using precisely the schema you have developed here (and it's a good schema).

You speak as if there is the world and then there's the church. And each has a clear-cut set of values that differ from the values held by the other realm.

What's lacking in your schema, though, is the historical recognition that built right into our tradition, right into the canon of scripture (and so into the foundations of our ecclesiology) is diversity. There is not just one model of church in the New Testament. There were several.

Several ecclesiological responses developed within the New Testament, in response to the kergyma and to the different cultural situations in which the early churches found themselves. If the New Testament is a unique part of the revelation that grounds the church today (and we claim it is), then we have inbuilt into that fundamental revelatory source a model of ecclesiological diversity which, by its very nature, ought to encourage constant dialogue within the Christian communities--not imposition of one uniform "truth" from above on all of us.

And when the question at stake is how to formulate our core values and be faithful to them, as you say it is, then what do we do when what is really at the core of it all--e.g., the call to love--clashes with demands made by the church that actually stand in the way of the desire of some of us to live lives of love?

What your model doesn't seem to recognize, and what many of those who chide gay and lesbian Catholics with being self-absorbed libertines wanting to put our own unregulated experience up against the tradition is that the very tradition we cherish, which calls us to love, creates tremendous tension for us, when the church tells us not to love.

Mark Andrews said...

I want to pick up on Clayton's references to discernment, part 1 of 2:

First, full disclosure, I read Dubay's book on discernment about 10 years ago but never finished it. There is alot of insight into the Catholic view of the process of discernment in the book, but I found Dubay's style grating after a while. Now its not like I don't need an editor, big time, but man, Fr. Dubay needs somebody who can wield a red pen. But I digress.

For the would-be scientist, discernment is needed to weed through the data and find the underlying process at work.

For the Christian, discernment is needed to find not if God is at work - God is always at work - but where, specifically, God is at work in the circumstances of my life.

My personal example of this comes up this Tuesday, when my wife and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. My wife graduated an academic year ahead of me. We spent 14 months apart between her graduation and our marriage. Twelve of those months, from August to August, we were engaged.

Our individual and couple discernment about the sacrament and vocation of marriage took place apart because of circumstances. We were not sexually intimate - not out of any fear, but because of circumstances, conviction and choice. It's a real sacrifice to the "urge to merge," as we called it, and step back from it. Why? Because sexual intimacy and sexual desire can cloud discernment. I wasn't trying to decide whether I was going to have sex with my wife the rest of my life. I was trying to decide whether I was going to spend my entire life with my wife. Sex may or may not be part of that relationship.

I could not know in advance, for example, that my wife and I are involuntarily infertile. As best as medical science can tell, there was no reason that my wife could not bear children, and no reason I could not father children. But us, together, could not make children. Its one of the ways nature takes its course - the other course, in our case. That led us to adoption, but that's another long post.

Mark Andrews said...

Part 2 of 2:

Now, after 25 years together, we are experiencing a waning of sexual desire. Would that marriage prep classes discussed the "arc" of married life. Is sex part of marriage? You bet it is. Are sexual relations a part of marriage? Yep, both in the presence of such relations and their absence. Neither the presence nor the absence of sex was the determining factor in our decision to get married, our decision to be married or our decision to stay married. God was at work, somehow, in our dating, courtship, engagement, marriage, infertility and adoption.

Switching to junior social scientist mode for a moment, it made sense to my fiance and I, ahead of our marriage, to defer that physical intimacy we both desired to much until the community we belonged to had its say on our wedding day. Its as if my wife and I said, after a decent interval, "This is what we see going on in our lives, that we have a life together. Do you see that too?" And the community has a chance to say "Yes, we see it too." The wedding was the final step in the whole process of proposing a relationship, discerning a relationship, recognizing & testing that relationship over the course of a year prior to marriage. Of course this process continues in the years that followed.

An aside, let me way that I never entered in to this process thinking that I had, or that I would need, an "escape hatch." Not everyone has that experience, but I found in the Roman Catholic Church's wedding liturgy, and in vows I made to my wife, in the midst of the community, a private vow, if you will, to be adaptable, flexible and open to change. Believe me when I say that "private" vow was the 2 x 4 God's Holy Spirit applied to me infrequently (my bad for not listening) but with vigor throughout the last 25 years. The only exit from my marriage is the grave, and that reluctantly. You see, I married up, I married my best friend, and I won't be parted from her except when God says "Yup, you're done buddy. Come on home."

My 2 cents worth on discernment and its fruits.

Mark Andrews said...

Thanks for everyone's forbearance re/the many typos in my previous posts.

Bill, odd that I just bought a very-used copy of Dulles' "Models of the Church" in eBay. Its worth looking at those models as if each definition was a kind of "core value statement."

Of course Dulles' says that the Church, in its entirety, is not consistent with any one model of Church, but contains elements of all six models (I think thats the number) Dulles discusses. Now the notion of 6 models is artificial; there could just as easily be 600 models, but that makes for a long book.

An ecclesiology defined by core value statements - mine, yours, anybodies - probably says more about the person who prefers a given model than the Church. That's a useful thing, too.

Mark Andrews said...

Bill, its a very useful ideal read the Gospels in an ecclesiological way, to glean something of the self-understanding of the local church associated with each Gospel.

William D. Lindsey said...

Mark and Clayton, I appreciate what both of you have been sharing. But I'm not convinced.

I think I'm not convinced because we're not really getting to the heart of the matter. What I hear as your constant, fundamental underlying concern is this: when gay people affirm their sexual orientation as given by God, and then build lives around that positive self-affirmation, they set themselves and their experience up against the discernment of the church.

I hear you insisting that what is absolutely essential for gay people, as a foundation for all spiritual life, is a selfish act that privileges the experience of the individual against that of the community.

And in response, I'd like to note the following:

1. I don't think you're hearing one of my primary points. This is that the same church that seems to exclude any positive understandings of the gay experience also tells gay people that love is at the very center of the Christian life.

The reason many gay persons (and a large number of straight people in the church, as well) reject the church's teaching on sexual morality is not that we selfishly want to go our own way and do our own thing. It's that we're very serious about following the church's command to love, first and foremost.

The values the church challenges us to cherish revolve around the central value of love. Sometimes, in the moral life and the life of Christian discipleship, we find values in conflict. And we have then to make decisions, keeping in mind that love is at the heart of it all.

2. There seems to be a disproportion in the response of some people in the church (I often find these are straight men) to gay believers. For some groups in the church, the gay community and gay experience becomes paradigmatic of all human selfishness, of the tendency to read everything in a self-interested way.

I think if those using gay people in this symbolic way would reflect for a moment on why they view gay self-assertion as uniquely dangerous to church and world, they might begin to recognize that there's something very unjust about selecting one group of fallen human beings to signify the fall, in toto.

Or, to put the point differently (as a question): I wonder what it is about the open presence of self-accepting, loving gay persons in church and society that is so threatening to some groups of people, that they want to hinge everything on this? Why does gay self-acceptance and gay love represent a unique threat to the universal claims of scripture and tradition, so that everything stands or falls on whether we keep the gays at bay?

If we could come to terms with that fear--honestly so--we'd be far down the path towards understanding something the church sorely needs to understand, in order to find healing.