Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Church is above politics

Today’s Epistle Reading: St. Peter's First Universal Letter 4:12-19; 5:1-5 - BELOVED, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischiefmaker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And "if the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?" Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator. So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory. Likewise you that are younger be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

It’s political season, not that it really changes my thought for today, but since the Pope spoke about Trump’s “status” as a Christian, pundits have not shied away from either praising or condemning the Pope for his remarks. My post today has NOTHING specifically to do with Donald Trump, but everything to do with how the world speaks about the role of the Church. My comments today also are neither supportive nor against the Pope or Donald Trump.

The reality is that the Church is called by God, among other reasons, to be the conscience of the world. When the world is moving in the wrong direction, the Church must speak the truth of Christ. So long as the Church’s positions are supportive of our opinions, we tend to thank the Church for the support. But when the Church teaches something with which we disagree, then HOW DARE THE CHURCH get involved.

In today’s reading, Saint Peter calls the elders (the Priests and Bishops) of the Church to “tend the flock of God that is in your charge.” A shepherd loves his sheep, and would die for his sheep, But he also is willing to correct his sheep and steer his sheep away from danger. I often get the impression that the world would prefer a shepherd that only coddles his sheep. The Church is regularly reminded to love the sinner, but (as I have noticed) rarely does that include correcting poor behavior for the good of the sinner. If a sheep is headed for the ravine, does the shepherd not do anything in his power to protect the sheep?

Loving the sinner doesn’t have to mean endorsing the sin. In fact, it shouldn’t ever mean endorsement of sin. But likewise, calling something sin is not the same as judgment either. When the Church speaks out against behavior, even though leaders of the Church are ‘just as guilty’ as others, it doesn’t make the Church hypocritical; it reminds us that we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.

Being in need of God’s mercy also doesn’t mean the Church has no authority to teach the truth of Christ. People many times quote the story of the woman caught in adultery found in John 8.1-11, as a defense against ANYONE telling them their behavior is wrong. But this is NOT what Christ said. The prohibition against judgment is  not the same thing as discernment. Calling a behavior a sin isn’t condemnation. Christ called acknowledged the behavior was sinful. And saying only God judges does not mean we are not called to identify sin. If anything it is supposed to mean we should be more merciful since we too are guilty of sin.

As the political season worsens, my advice is to be cautious of using the Church in your political battles. The Church is above politics, but that doesn’t mean the Church shouldn’t speak the truth of God when it is needed.

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