Monday, November 25, 2013

Is a global church possible?

By now you have heard that the Roman Catholic Church has released a survey.  Among the questions, for the first time, are queries about "non-tradiational" families.  Are there same sex families?  How does the Church connect to them, or their children?  Now, I don't for a minute believe that the RC church is in any danger of changing doctrine on sexual morality issues.  But the body of the faithful continues to drift far away, and I think they are trying to figure out how to hang on.

From Religion Dispatches, the author of a new poll of UK Catholics reinforces what we already know: there's a striking gap between what the Church teaches and what the people believe.
.... in showing just how far adrift they are from where the church thinks they should be, we can see what is surely the single most important issue prompting the Vatican survey: the Church’s growing awareness that there’s a serious gulf between official teaching and what Catholics really think and do. 
What the Church may not have realised, however, is just how yawning the gap has become. ....Marriage has ceased to be an essential element of the family in most Catholic minds, with only a quarter disapproving of unmarried couples raising children, almost 90% agreeing that an unmarried couple with children is a family, and two-thirds saying that a same-sex couple with children is also a family. ... 
The result is a Britain in which “faithful Catholics” according to official teaching are now a rare and endangered species.
None of that is a surprise, necessarily, but this one I found amazing :
Likewise, only 36% of Catholics say that the Church is a positive force in society, and when those who take the opposite view are asked their reasons, the most popular are: that it discriminates against women and gay people; the child abuse scandals; that it’s hypocritical; and that it’s too morally conservative
Wow. A majority of UK  Catholics do not agree that the Church is a force for good !  And couple that with the fact that they disagree with the Vatican's take on "pelvic issues":
...[M]ost Catholics don’t think the teaching is too hard, they think it’s wrong. They’re not convinced the church should be sticking its nose into the bedroom at all, they’ve embraced many aspects of the sexual revolution, and they endorse the moral revolution which has advanced the equal treatment of women, children, and LGBT people. Some priests and even bishops have made this moral transition too. But no-one is admitting it.
And how did this happen?  (My emphases)
The problem is that a series of fatal decisions have made it almost impossible for the Church to change direction—even if it’s heading towards a cliff. The option to swerve was last opened up in the late 1960s, when a commission was convened to examine the Church’s opposition to contraception—an opposition formulated by Pius XI in Casti Connubii (1930), which had in turn been influenced by the fact that the Church of England had made a decision to allow contraception earlier the same year. 
In that commission a minority group, which included the man who would become Pope John Paul II, argued successfully against the majority who argued for a relaxation of the ban. Part of their reasoning was that a change of mind would undermine authority, and make it look as if the Spirit had been blowing through the Anglican rather than the Catholic Church. Paul VI agreed, and the result was a reaffirmation of the Church’s sexual teaching in Humanae Vitae (1968). The door to change slammed shut. Since then the Church has insisted that its sexual teachings are “irreformable.” 
Assuming that the Pope and the Vatican confirm these views of sexual morality, views with which the majority of western Catholics do not agree in good conscience, what then the RC church?  Certainly the Western  church will continue its decline (remember, "ex Catholic" is one of the largest groups of religious identification in the US).  The Global South continues to be a strong hold.  Is there an inevitable schism between West and Global South?

Let's take a look at the Methodists, and the recent trial of Frank Shaefer.  The reason the Methodists are lagging behind so many other mainline denominations in issues of sexual morality is that their church has a polity that includes the voices of the Global South.  While on its own, the American Methodists would probably liberalize along the lines of the Episcopalians or Lutherans, there are enough conservative voices from the Global South to keep them where they are. And acts of disobedience and defiance from those whose conscience feels otherwise, will continue.

So:  is it possible to have a truly global church?  We've already seen a splintering of the Anglican Communion. Given its bonds are much lighter, it may be possible for the tent to stretch enough to keep some people in.  But with the more rigid ties of other churches, well, I'm not sure the Methodists or the Roman Catholics are going to hold it together.


JCF said...

Some of this was familiar to me: that, pre-Humanae Vitae, the recommendation by the Vatican study group going in was to *permit* contraception (overruled by P6).

Well, if it's any comfort to the Vatican, something similar happened in that self-same "Holy Spirit wind-blowing" Anglican Communion: Lambeth 1998. The majority recommendation by the Lambeth Study Group had been to *relax* strictures against homosexuality (well, at least openly permit diversity of opinion thereon). But between Abp Carey (long may he live, but of cursed memory as ABC!), and the NorthAmericanConEv-influenced "Global South", we know what happened next...

JCF said...

To respond to the question: "is a global church possible?"

Yes, I think it is, but it depends heavily upon the FRAMING of the issues involved. Anything framed a "sexual innovation" (or, in much of the world, a sexual *anything*) is a No-Go.

But if it is framed in terms of the family and community, then the affirmation of women (which is what ordination really is), and affirmation of "all our children" (including the "different" ones) is possible.

As far as the "Global South" is concerned, the ConEv lobby has done a hell (!) of a good job framing the issues as "sexual innovations" (or, to cut to the chase, as "sexual SIN"---a "threat to the family and community").

Framing is key. As soon as we start "debating sex", we've already lost.