Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Roger Haight on the Church We Need

Earlier this month I traveled to Holy Wisdom Monastery in Madison, WI, with my friends Paula, Eileen, and Bernie to hear theologian and author Roger Haight address the question, "If God is Everywhere, Why Do We Need the Church?"

It was a very insightful presentation, one which began with Haight observing that the clerical leadership of the Roman Catholic Church is "starving us" to the extent that for many Catholics, spiritual nourishment is being found outside the official church. This isn't surprising, Haight says, as "spiritual nourishment is a higher value than institutional loyalty." Nevertheless, institutional loyalty can also be a strong motivation for people to stay and help make the church a place where spiritual nourishment can be experienced.

"There will and should always be loyal dissent," he said. This dissent is fueled by the desire to make the church a better place. The problem today, however, is that the clerical leadership does not view such dissent as "loyal."

At one point in his presentation, Haight observed that the "deep changes" of Vatican II have been "hijacked," and that we are currently experiencing a clerical leadership that identifies with a "strident right-wing faction." For this to be rectified and for the reforms of Vatican II to be fully realized and expanded, institutional representation of the laity in the governance of the church is essential. Accordingly, all must work to democratize the structures of the church.

Haight believes that the clerical leadership can no longer be trusted, largely because it has yet to adjust to the pluralism of our world today. It's an authoritarian and totalitarian culture situated within a pluralistic and democratic one. He is adamant that difference within unity is good, not bad. Yet the official church can still only talk about either relativism (bad) or absolutism (good). It needs to become more historically conscious.* Such a consciousness will illuminate the reality that many religions and religious expressions can be true and different at the same time.

As to the question that was the title of his talk, "If God is everywhere, why do we need the church?", Haight acknowledged that "no one needs the church absolutely. It's a voluntary organization." Still, without a church, Christianity would die. An organized structure is required to contain, foster, and pass on the community's beliefs, practices, and traditions. Also, there's a "truth character" in all religions, including Christianity. Such a character is best witnessed by a community. Finally, groups can generally be more effective than individuals.

Haight concluded his presentation by outlining the characteristics and qualities of "the church we need." First, consistent preaching that nurtures the faith of the people in the church is needed.

Second, established institutional equality between men and women is needed. That such equality doesn't already exist is both a scandal and an institutional sin, says Haight.

Third, we require a church marked by declericalization and a collegial exercise of authority. Such authority would help overcome polarization, would be consultative of all the faithful in all matters, and would appeal to experience and conscience.

Fourth, we need a church willing and able to address the needs of young adults.

And finally, we need a church that is modest, ecumenical, and open to other faiths.

* Write Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler in The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology: "In the historically conscious worldview, reality is dynamic, evolving, changing, and particular. The method utilized, anthropology formulated, and norms taught within this worldview are contingent, particular, and changeable, and the acts condemned by these norms are morally evaluated in terms of evolving human knowledge and understanding."

Recommended Off-site Link:
No Zombie Jesus: The Vatican and Roger Haight - Jason VonWachenfeldt (Religion Dispatches, April 10, 2003).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Hans Küng: "We Are Facing a Structural Problem"
The Roman Catholic Pyramid is Crumbling
Re-forming the Vatican Doesn't Mean Destroying the Church
Clearing the Debris
Eugene Kennedy on Roman Catholicism's "Post-Hierarchical Blues"
What It Means to Be Catholic
No Patriarchy Hierarchy, No Rigid Conformity
Many Voices, One Church
Staying on Board

Images: Michael J. Bayly.


Phillip Clark said...

I agree with everything Fr. Haight said and will continue--through prayerful support and solidarity--to stand by him and do as much I can in, in my own small efforts, to promote the genuine reform and renewal that Fr. Haight, Fr. Hans Kung, James Carroll, Sister Joan Chittsiter, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, and so many other treasured voices within Catholicism--known and unknown--have been working for all their lives!

Also, Fr. Haight's acknowledgement of collegiality is one that has particular resonance with me, as it makes up part of the core of one of my blog postings that I'm hoping to get completed sooner rather than later!

Mareczku said...

This is a very good article but it makes me sad to read it.