Monday, May 01, 2006

An Unholy Mess

I was (at least nominally speaking) raised Lutheran. As a young adult, I became a Catholic. It was, up 'til that time, by far the most profound thing that had ever happened to me. As improbable as it may seem, my decision to face my sexuality, and to come out as a lesbian nearly ten years after my conversion, was one of the many healthy results of the conversion itself.

Why did I become a Catholic? Because I discovered what many other Protestants who investigate the Biblical underpinnings of the Catholic faith have learned, which is that -- regardless of all the squawking evangelical Protestants do about how "biblical" their faith is, the Catholic faith is actually more solidly founded on the Bible than anything else. To anyone who doubts me, I recommend a little book by Scott and Kimberly Hahn: "Rome Sweet Home."

Like most converts, I was a very strict and by-the-book Catholic. I was chosen to teach adult catechism when I was right out of catechism myself. And I frequently butted heads with the head of the catechetical team (someone for whom I have since come to have a lot more respect), not because she thought I was too liberal or rebellious, but because she thought me too stodgily conservative. My world was all black-and-white; there was no room in it for any shades of gray. In the Catholic world, however, there are not only shades of gray as well as black and white, but also vibrant color in all shades of the rainbow.

The news media does not tell us this, of course. They speak only of the black-and-white. And this was all I was interested in, until I came to know myself better, realize who I really am and come to honest grips with myself. Then I thanked the Church that had helped me do this by (A) believing the narrow-minded portrayal the media presents of it and (B) leaving it to return to the "freedom" of Protestantism.

For most of the next decade, I would think of myself as a liberal Protestant and a Protestant liberal. It took a while for the good old habits of self-scrutiny to take over again, and for me to recognize that I was no longer a liberal, but a libertarian. Now in the capital "L" sense, I am a Libertarian as well.

I have begun, again, to reassess my commitment to Protestantism. Martin Luther is one of my greatest heroes; he was, I believe, a man ill-used by the Catholic Church. But Martin Luther continued to consider himself a Catholic 'til the day he died. The Church might kick him out and try to kill him, but he never left it -- it left him. This does nothing to change, however, what I have come to believe about Protestantism in general.

I thought I had returned to the church of my youth: the church of Luther. Now I'm not quite sure WHAT I returned to.

Protestantism is one unholy mess. Just as unscrupulous men got ahold of Luther's attempts at reform and used them as a pretext to loot much of Catholic Europe, so, too, are the Protestants of today looting, raping and pillaging the Christian tradition.

Why HAS the Catholic Church become so reactionary? It is a defensive posture against the relentless raidings of the flock by evangelical Protestantism. The Holy Spirit will abide with the Catholic Church 'til the end of time -- it can rely upon that with confidence. But in the meantime, instead of dealing with the complex issues before it, it must beat back the raiders of the flock. Even in the areas of the world in which the Catholic Church has made gains (Asia, Africa and South America), the Protestants are more than keeping up with it.

I consider all the spasms of homophobia in the hierarchy today in precisely that light. Liberal Protestants are now (at least in some cases) trying to capitalize on them by luring away those most abused by Catholic defensiveness: gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and those heterosexuals who get chewed-up and spit-out by the rigid sexual legalism of a Church struggling to cope with societal change -- change that is happening at a greater speed than that with which the Church seems to be able to pursue it.

God loves bigots, too. And "He" cannot allow the Church Universal to move at a speed greater than that which allows the slowest and most-backward to keep up. For a long time, I failed to understand that. Many feminists and gay and divorced or unhappily-married people cannot.

I have, only very recently, committed to publication the assertion that the Catholic Church is NOT the only true church. I still don't know, for sure, if it is the ONLY true church -- though I do, indeed, still believe that it IS true. Catholics themselves believe that Protestants are real Christians, just as they are. I told myself that the whole time I dallied back in the Protestant world, experimenting with one sort of "Reformation" Christianity after another, and then back and forth between them.

And though that is, indeed, true, I don't know how much more of this nonsense I can take.

The pattern is the same, over and over again. I find a church where I feel welcome, without any shadow of ambiguity. Then comes the payment: liberality about welcoming all becomes liberality about Christian truth.

We are at an unfortunate juncture in Christian history. At the moment, only liberal Christians are willing to welcome those not welcome elsewhere. If only more people knew enough about the history of the faith to realize how many times in the past this has already happened! Not only do the conservatives never learn this, but the liberals don't seem to, either.

The only possible solution, if I am to remain a Protestant, is for me to join a "gay" Evangelical church. I tried going to one the Sunday before last, and it was the same as always: the preacher raves on and on for about forty minutes, we all flip back and forth dutifully in our pew Bibles from one disjointed text to another, we sing a bunch of hymns (everything unrelated to everything else in any way except that it is "Christian") and then we partake of a communion of broken crackers and grape-juice. There is no liturgy to speak of, no observance of the Christian calendar and an abysmal ignorance about the history of the faith.

I've been to enough "Straight" Evangelical churches to know that they are exactly the same -- except that I won't be welcome if I tell the truth about how God made me. The "gay" Evangelical churches are the way they are not because they are "gay," but because they are Evangelical.

I will not go to a liberal church that thinks the Da Vinci Code ought to influence theology. Or that Jesus walked on ice when He is supposed to have walked on water. Or that the Gospel of Judas deserves a place in the Canon of Scripture right alongside the Gospel of John.

There is no balance in Protestantism. What do I miss besides the balance? I miss the trust that the Holy Spirit can be counted on to fulfill the promise Jesus made, and to abide with the faithful until His glorious return.

Every once in a while -- in an exceptionally dark period of its history -- the Catholic Church also forgets to trust in that promise. It has forgotten to trust in it now. But it has always eventually come to itself and learned to trust again. It will with regard to gays, women and other "sexual" issues -- I am sure of it. History bears me out.

Maybe the thing to do is go back and hang on. Hang on through this dark time, and realize that it's always the darkest right before the dawn.

1 Comments:

At 9:09 PM, Blogger Abiding said...

You have hit the "nail" on the head here.

I have probably danced with every "denomination" out there except the one's who wouldn't let me (of course). It can be hard to find a home. Right now I am hanging out with the anglicans.

 

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