How Should Christians Respond to the Supreme Court’s Ruling on Marriage?

Readers of this blog range across a wide-spectrum of Christian believers. Some readers favor same-sex marriage and (very likely) most do not. While I do not advocate for same-sex marriage, based upon my understanding of marriage primarily (not sexuality), I believe the church has lost its way in regard to mission and purpose. This is why the Christian response to this court decision reveals the deep divisions within our ranks. My friend Dr. David Lescalleet offers us a balanced perspective from the position held by the vast majority of Christian churches around the world. I offer it as a helpful reflection for all of us to ponder prayerfully.

Lescalleet (Dave)What Now?  A Response to the SCOTUS Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage

The decision by the United States Supreme Court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage is now about a few days old. During that time I have read through different articles, commentaries, op-eds, along with a whole host of Facebook posts and twitter feeds. In response, I initially thought it best to refrain from adding to the noise that is, at times, overwhelming from both sides. But in the end, I weighed that hesitation against a responsibility that I carry as a Christian minister to come along side my own congregation and network of friends and offer what I hope to be both a biblically resolute understanding to the questions that are being raised as well as a gracious response to those who will disagree. Here are a few of my thoughts (Feel free to stop reading at any time.).

There has been a lot of talk about all that has changed as a result of the SCOTUS ruling. There is truth to much of the talk. Change has occurred and depending upon your presuppositions, that change can be seen as either as good or bad. But in the midst of the obvious cultural change, much still remains the same for those of us calling ourselves Christians. In other words, for Christianity, much is exactly the same today as it was a few days ago prior to the ruling of SCOTUS. I want to highlight just three. Here they are in no particular order…

1.  Christianity’s Theology remains the same: Same-sex marriage cannot be justified

If you are reading this and not a Christian, your response to my first point probably makes you no-never-mind. But this needs to be stated clearly to anyone who confesses Christ as Lord and Savior and also supports the decision handed down on Friday. It is this: one cannot turn to the Scriptures to justify or endorse in any way same-sex marriage. That is as true today as it was prior to the judicial ruling. But please do not take my word for it. Do your own research. I would encourage you to begin with Dr. William Loader. Dr. Loader is not only the most prominent expert on ancient and biblical views of sexuality but is a strong proponent of same-sex marriage himself.  You read that right. Loader applauds the same-sex marriage SCOTUS ruling. But he would be the first to tell you that the Bible offers no support for same-sex marriage. That’s worth repeating. A liberal biblical scholar who affirms same-sex marriage will tell you what orthodox biblical scholars have been saying all along: Scripture does not teach or endorse in any way same-sex marriage.

Following Dr. Loader I would then direct you to Dr. Dan Via. Dr. Via is also a pro-homosexual advocate and current professor emeritus of New Testament at Duke Divinity School. He is the co-author of the book, Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, a point-counterpoint volume where he agrees that the Bible’s rule against homosexual practice is “an absolute prohibition,” and that Scripture condemns homosexual behavior “unconditionally” and “absolutely.” Loader and Via aren’t the only two liberal biblical scholars who agree that scripture does not allow for homosexuality and same-sex marriage, but their scholarly work is a good place to begin.

As for myself, I remain today a conscientious dissenter to the SCOTUS ruling. But the basis of my dissent is foundationed solely on Scripture and not on any personal feelings of my own. The Scripture simply does not allow for the practice or endorsement for same-sex marriage, and my conscious is bound to the Bible. But this should be true for anyone who says that Jesus is Lord and Savior. We cannot play fast and loose with the Scripture when it comes to our sexual ethic, and if our views towards sexuality and marriage are narrow or arcane and happen to be out of step with 5 federal judges–so be it.

We need to remember that our whole faith is foundationed on the arcane and narrow. Think about what makes us Christians in the first place. We believe that God came to earth via a virgin birth, grew up and died for us, was brought back from the dead and that our salvation is based not on our merit but rather on His imputed righteousness alone. And our culture thinks that our views on marriage and sexuality are out of step?  Our views on marriage and sexuality don’t even crack the top ten in what makes us out of step with our culture.

2.  Christianity’s Role remains the same: Keep Calm and Carry On

The response of the Christian church to the culture-at-large is the same today as it was Thursday of last week prior to the SCOTUS ruling. We are not to wilt under the pressure of being accepted, relevant or liked by the culture around us. This is nothing new and has been going on now for 2,000 years. You need to remember Christianity began as an outsider to Rome. If this ruling makes us outsiders to America, exiles in our country, we should be ok with that. Honestly, when we are on the outside looking in, history demonstrates that we have been most effective in our mission and ministry. So do not panic. But on the flip side, we should not simply shake a fist, rage against the culture and articulate an ‘us vs. them’ narrative either.

With this ruling (and others rulings will surely come) there will be the temptation to err on one of those two extremes. The first will be to capitulate to the culture and go along to get along. We’ve already seen that happening within the church and make no mistake; it will continue. The other extreme will be to look at this ruling and blame the homosexual agenda as the downfall of our society. Pardon me, but if we are going to point fingers to identify the ‘downfall of society’ perhaps we should begin by looking in the mirror. When the divorce rate drops significantly inside the church, perhaps then we will have a more credible witness to speak about marriage to those who remain outside the church. But as long as Christians continue to shake off the yoke of biblical sexual morality, we should not be surprised when the culture around us shrugs and does the same thing.

3. Christianity’s Response remains the same: Gracious Conviction

Christianity has always been a home for refugees. Whether those refugees have come to us out of religious, political, societal or cultural revolution, the response of the church has always been to provide grace, mercy, aid and comfort and be a home to those who come regardless of the reasons. The American Church must now prepare for the refugees of this sexual revolution. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in an editorial for the Washington Post put it this way:

There are two sorts of churches that will not be able to reach the sexual revolution’s refugees. A church that has given up on the truth of the Scriptures, including on marriage and sexuality, and has nothing to say to a fallen world. And a church that screams with outrage at those who disagree will have nothing to say to those who are looking for a new birth. We must stand with conviction and with kindness, with truth and with grace. We must hold to our views and love those who hate us for them. We must not only speak Christian truths; we must speak with a Christian accent. We must say what Jesus has revealed, and we must say those things the way Jesus does — with mercy and with an invitation to new life. Moore is correct.

So while there is much to grieve in the prevailing cultural winds, we as Christians are not to grieve as those without hope. This latest ruling provides an incredible opportunity for the church to be the church and provide ‘gracious conviction’ to refugees looking for new birth. Let us not miss this opportunity that has been presented on a silver platter (or in this case a judicial ruling) that now carries the weight of law.

One other thought comes to mind, and it involves the mantra that has been uttered by those who applauded Friday’s ruling. Many have said that with the codification of same-sex marriage ‘Love Wins.’ Yes, it is true that love won, but that victory happened only once in history, and it wasn’t this past Friday.  Rather the day ‘Love Won’ was on a dusky Friday night over 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ went to the Cross and gave up His life for me, you, and sinners of all stripes. The victory was secured when three days later he rose from the grave. That was the day that love truly won.  The Supreme Court ruling can do many things, but it cannot reverse that decision and put Jesus back in that tomb. He is still alive, and He is still calling the universe towards His kingdom. That’s something else that hasn’t changed. To quote the scripture: Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Guest Writer:

Since 2006, Dr. Dave Lescalleet has served as the lead pastor of City Church in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, Whitefield Theological Seminary (M.Div), and Knox Theological Seminary (D.Min).  In addition to his pastoral work, Dr. Lescalleet also serves as a chaplain for Christus Spohn Hospital and is actively involved in helping churches prepare for transition in pastoral leadership.  You can follow Dave on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter or learn more about his vocation through his website at pastortransition.com and his personal blog: Corpus Christian.

City Church – https://www.citychurchcc.com

Pastor Transition website – http://pastortransition.com

Corpus Christian – https://dlescalleet.wordpress.com

LinkdIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/lescalleet

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Lescalleet

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/dave.lescalleet

Posted in ACT 3, Current Affairs, Marriage & Family, Missional-Ecumenism, Sexuality, The Church, The Future | 31 Comments/Likes

A Unique Dialogue on the Eucharist and a Prayer Service for Unity

R6LkmS_ntYwCOn Saturday, July 11, the Focolare Movement hosts a special day (within their larger annual event called Midwest Mariapolis) on Christian unity and the role of the eucharist. I am leading a workshop, along with my good friend, Fr. Thomas Baima. There is also a prayer service for unity that evening. You are welcome to register, or just come and sign up on site, as a one-day guest. If you live in Chicago, Indianapolis or West Michigan this is an easy drive. I hope to see some of you share in this event and please say “hello” to me if you come. You are welcome to attend more of this wonderful event but the Saturday activities are the ones I am actively sharing in as a leader.

Mariapolis 2015, “The Eucharist in a Communitarian Spirituality”

The Focolare Movement’s annual meeting, the “Mariapolis,” will include an exploration of the Eucharist and its connection to ecumenical dialogue.  The public are invited to two events that will take place at Valparaiso University’s Harre Union on Saturday, July 11, 2015

Workshop: Harre Union University Ballroom, 4:15 – 5:45–“Understanding the Lord’s Supper”

At his Last Supper, Christ told his apostles, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19).  Each time they celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Christians fulfill Jesus’ request.  But that very supper by which we remember him also is a sign of our brokenness.  How can we better understand both our brokenness and our hope for unity through the meal that Christ has given us?

That is the question that will be addressed by two noted ecumenical figures: Rev. John Armstrong, Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church and author of Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper (Zondervan, 2007), and Rev. Thomas Baima, Provost of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, the major seminary of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

There will be a picnic dinner with musical entertainment on the veranda in front of the Harre Union at 6:00.  There is a modest cost for dinner and registration.

Ecumenical Prayer Service: Harre Union University Ballroom, 8:00 – 9:00

Rev. Armstrong will lead a service of song, witness, and prayer focused upon 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”   All are welcome.

Posted in ACT 3, Eucharist, Missional-Ecumenism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | Tagged | 8 Comments/Likes

Blogs and My Public Life

For almost a decade I have blogged on a regular basis. Initially, I found this medium an exciting and developing way to share my thoughts and reflect on biblical theology, culture and current events. Over time I found that writing blogs seven days a week was so demanding that I had to reduce my blogs to five times per week. Then it became four. Finally, some weeks ago, I quit writing for a long season. I have not quit altogether. In fact, I posted two new blogs over the last two days. During this “blog vacation” I have concluded several things about my blogs:

1. Blogs can be of various kinds and styles. My writing personally ranged over a wide field of interests because I enjoy many different aspects of culture and theology. I read widely and thus I wrote very widely. I am first a Bible-reader but I am a man of many books and interests. This impacted what I wrote and how I did it.

2. Blogs can be heavily documented academic articles that serve a great long-term purpose. I did very few of these types of blogs, preferring to publish any of my material of this kind in a more permanent forms; e.g. journals, magazines, books, etc. I have chosen to do this more in the years ahead, if I am granted years. I do not presume on tomorrow at all.

3. Blogs, at least for me, became a great burden. The demand to say something useful almost every day often led me to say more than I truly needed to say. The blog space created tends to create it own set of demands which then plead with a blogger to write or perish. Stopping these blogs was emotionally painful at first. I now realize that few people really care all that much about what I have to say because it is not that important. This is fine with me. I rather enjoy researching and writing for more permanent forms of  publishing so I do not miss these blogs.

I actually looked around that most of the living authors I admire the most do not blog, or at least do so very little. Bloggers do include some scholars, don’t misunderstand me. Bloggers are clearly of all types. But much of what I read from popular writers is just not that important. I think most of what I wrote was not lasting or important. It will be gone within hours of publication.

4. Even the very best bloggers amaze me at how much they have to say. If the truth is admitted most of what is posted could go unwritten and very few of us would care. I sit at my computer and sometimes wonder, “Does this person have a ‘real’ life beyond their screen?”

5. You surely can gain followers via blog posts but on the whole you cannot seize the attention of your readers in a lasting way. A longer, more sustained, kind of published writing can change lives. (This includes printed books and ebooks, both of which clearly have a place going forward.)

So I do not plan to quit blogging, at least not quite yet. I plan to use this site in the following ways:

1. To share personal updates for prayer and encouragement, thus to keep friends aware of my vision for empowering churches and leaders for unity in Christ’s mission.

2. To interact with topics in which I have the most interest; e.g. mission, ecumenism and the renewal of the church.

3. To advance a reformation of love rooted in my mission (and other missions). I believe I can do this by helping people find and interact with Your Church Is Too Small (Zondervan, 2010) and my forthcoming book, Our Love Is Too Small (which is not finished and has no publisher yet).

4. To share the work of others in creative ways. I post ideas and blogs from others but after a season of attempting to do this even this effort has slowed down to a modest trickle.

I wonder if the day of blogs being so important is slowly changing. Is the next great thing going to be “tweets?” If this is so I fear for thinking in general and Christian faith in particular. If anything of importance can be reduced to 144 characters one has to seriously wonder what the whole point of the Bible, and the Christian faith, really is all about.

I do use Twitter but I find reading tweets highly unproductive. I rarely pay attention to Twitter and see this medium as a “personality” platform in general. (There are clearly some exceptions to this comment.)

5. I like to do occasional comments and short reviews of books, as well as some films). I will likely still write these reviews as blogs.

6. I think I will post videos and interviews here as well. I believe that such short clips are far more useful in this medium. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, I ask for your prayer and support as I do the ministry of ACT3 Network with people and continue to devote my research and writing to books and articles, not to blogs.

Posted in ACT 3, Books, Current Affairs, Film, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Renewal, The Church, The Future | 25 Comments/Likes

James Martin Shows the Importance of the Pope’s Encyclical in Ten Ways

Some readers know that I am a big fan of James Martin, the best-selling Jesuit author who is one of our most powerful Christian communicators today. Fr. Martin summarizes, in this short video, why the new papal encyclical is so important for all Christians.

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Biblical Theology, Culture, Current Affairs, Environmentalism, Ethics, Ideology, Personal, Roman Catholicism, The Future | 4 Comments/Likes

The Pope’s Controversial Encyclical

Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home, the much-discussed encyclical of Pope Francis on human care for the creation, embraces what the pope calls a “very solid scientific consensus” that humans are causing cataclysmic climate change that has been endangering the planet for decades. This conclusion has caused some conservatives, especially talk-show hosts and their followers, to trash the pope’s thought and motives.

One evangelical talk-show host/author called Pope Francis a socialist liberal. He told his audience that the pope has no idea what he is talking about when it comes to the real science of environmentalism. But he has bought an agenda and misled the church and the public. Another suggested that the pope needed to study science more closely, an odd criticism since this pope has seriously studied science and is surrounded by an entire body of serious scientists who served his writing of this encyclical.

AP989948985495-1024x682Let’s be honest – the devil is always in the details. Most people admit that the environment is changing, mostly for the worse. What is debated is the cause. The overwhelming majority of scientists who study the environment are not interested in politics. The exception, I suppose, is that some scientists want political leaders to act responsibly with the facts that they have studied and observed. Some conservatives want to appeal to conspiracies, or to politically liberal ideas about economics being the true force behind climate science. I even had one person tell me this week that the whole issue is being driven by Al Gore who is making big money on creating wide-scale fear. (Maybe he is making big money but this has nothing to do with the pope’s encyclical or the majority of what climate science is telling us about the cause of global warming.)

In this encyclical the pope lambastes global political leaders for their “weak responses” and their general lack of will to address this issue forcefully.

One thing is sure. This is the most debated papal encyclical letter in recent memory. The most debated in my lifetime was Pope Paul VI’s famous Humane Vitae.) Francis urgently calls on the entire world’s population to act, lest we leave to coming generations a planet of “debris, desolation and filth.” He writes: “An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at [our] behavior, which at times appears self-destructive,” the pope writes at one point in the letter.

Addressing world leaders directly, Francis asks: “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”

Francis writes, “As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. … Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.”

I am not really amazed at how some Christians respond to issues like climate change. Their response is consistent with how they view a lot of issues. It seems to me that the following are (generally speaking) simple truisms:

  1. We have embraced a “confirmation bias” that causes us to lean into views that fit with our larger view of life. When anything challenges this view we quickly reject it as dangerous or foolish.
  2. We do “thought association” freely. In this case the pope writes about an issue that divides us politically so we attack his research and public conclusions based upon the notion that a pope has no business speaking to political concerns in this manner. If he does speak in such a manner it must be because he is a liberal who is not truly interest in freedom, jobs or the production of needed energy.
  3. We defend macro-business by giving it a virtual “free pass” to pollute the environment because we do not see creative ways to save money and improve life and (also) protect the environment. Let me ask some simple questions: “Let’s assume that climate science has gotten this issue wrong. We then work to clean up the planet for the next five decades only to see that very little changes. Isn’t it better that we tried to improve our response to the earth than to have done little or nothing at all? Isn’t a greener and safer planet a responsible goal even if it creates some financial hardship temporarily? Or is the only thing that really matters how much gas and oil we can produce so that we can live the good life that we are accustomed to living in the industrialized West?”

It is particularly interesting that this document shows a notable reorientation of the church’s understanding of the human person, from a being that dominates over God’s gifts to one that responsibly serves creation as a human steward of God’s earth. The first view has been defended by some Christians because of Genesis 1:27, a text which remarkably supports creation care.

The title Laudato Si’ comes from St. Francis of Assisi’s famous 13th-century prayer “The Canticle of the Creatures.” Translated into English it means either “Be praised” or “Praised be.” It is an Umbrian-Italian phrase that was used throughout the prayer of St. Francis to give thanks to God for creation.

Two Catholic U.S. presidential candidates have already attacked the document. Now Mitt Romney has shown a willingness to embrace the pope’s ideas. I am watching closely to see how this gigantic field of GOP candidates responds since their 2012 standard-bearer has embraced the basic ideas of the pope.

I have not read the document in entirety but plan to do so this week. Based upon reports from those who have read it the main issues and themes touched upon in the letter include:

•Environmental degradation causing lack of access to drinking water, loss of biodiversity, and decline in quality of human life;

•Pervasive global inequity that leaves billions experiencing “ecological debt”;

•The search for long-term solutions to replace fossil fuels and other unsustainable energies;

•Tying together the ecological crisis with a global social crisis that leaves the poorest in the world behind and does not make them part of international decision-making;

•Changes in global lifestyle that could “bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power.”

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Culture, Current Affairs, Environmentalism, Ethics, Ideology, Roman Catholicism, The Future | 8 Comments/Likes

Pope Francis Speaks to the John 17 Movement at Pentecost Celebration

I have mentioned in the past few months that I am deeply supportive of what is called the John 17 Movement. This movement held a wonderful Pentecost event in  Phoenix, Arizona, last Saturday, May 23. The event was at the Phoenix Convention Center. I could not attend but spoke by video to this gathering. The same friends who invited me to address this magnificent crowd also invited Pope Francis to speak. Here is his address given from his office at the Vatican. Watch it and then pray for the unity of the church of Jesus Christ globally. His words about the role of theologians are so moving and faithful. Pray for Pope Francis and then pray for the unity of the church.

Posted in ACT 3, Current Affairs, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 11 Comments/Likes

A Film Series on the Protestant Reformation

Two weeks ago I did a three-and-a-half hour video session in Souderton, Pennsylvania. I sat down with Vision Video, one of the premier Christian video production companies in the world. I had a profoundly enjoyable experience and hope that the time I invested in a forthcoming project will bear much fruit.

IMG_5027Vision Video is making and producing a three-hour series for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I believe this series will be available in 2016. It is to be determined how many videos there will be in the series, what kind of resources will be added and how it will be marketed. The entire project anticipates the anniversary year of 2017. It has a number of well-known people in the series. It should make a significant contribution to churches and Christian viewers in general. Vision Video has produced some noteworthy films and won a number of awards for their work over the years.

This particular series was nearing completion when the production and film team decided that the series was missing several things that were needed. First, it needed a Protestant voice that was a little more sanguine about the Reformation. Second, it needed a conclusion that celebrated the great contribution of the Reformation while it also showed a new way forward that included greater displays of Christian unity. Finally, it became apparent that several important Catholic voices were missing in the series. Enter the discussion I had with Bill Curtis at Vision Video.

I have known Bill for some years, having been a good friend of his late father, Rev. Ken Curtis. Ken and I shared many common points of vision and mission and he loved church history as I do. He also founded Christian History Magazine. The magazine was begun by the Christian History Institute (CHI) and later was marketed by Christianity Today (CT). After CT no longer published this highly acclaimed magazine CHI took it back and began to publish it again a few years ago. The quality is as good as ever. There really is nothing else in the marketplace of Christian publications like Christian History Magazine. I highly commend it to you.

In my long interview with Vision Video I addressed questions such as:

How do you define ecumenism?
What was the impulse of the ecumenical movement in the twentieth century and how is it changing now?

What are the marks of good ecumenism?

How do you discern between tolerating reasonable difference in opinion and maintain orthodoxy in essential matters?

What is your view of the World Council of Churches?

What ecumenical actions have evangelicals taken in recent years?

What does the ecumenical movement look like today on a local, national and global level?

Did the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on Justification settle the question of justification by faith? Why or why not?

What are the major reasons for divisions in Protestantism?

Was Rome right when it said schism will breed more schism?

What are the legitimate reasons for churches to divide?

Is the diversity of denominations are good thing?

Is there an alternative between the two extremes of doctrinal disputes that create divisions?

What did Jesus mean when he prayed for us to be “one” in John 17?

How do you view the Reformation in the light of John 17?

How should this prayer impact us today?

Is it possible for churches to come to consensus about some of the difficult doctrines that divide us, especially among Catholics and Protestants?

Is institutional unity possible and is it desirable?

Should the Reformation be celebrated or lamented?

What is the lasting legacy of the Protestant Reformation?

What do you think this all may look like in 500 more years?

Describe the actions of recent popes with regard to unity?

Talk about the “Francis effect” in the present global context of Christian unity?

Are we living in a post-Christian world and how should we deal with this if we are?

There were not the only items we discussed but this is a good representative list. Some received short answers while others longer ones. In the end only a few minutes will be in the three-hours on the finished product.

My personal hope is that more of this interview can be salvaged and used in due time. If that can happen we will publish come of this on the web. Meanwhile pray for ACT3 as we seek more opportunities to film and present Christian unity in a positive and realistic way that fosters a positive response to Jesus’ words in John 17:21-23.

I noted three reasons that Vision Video had for completing this project with a stronger overall story. The third one is to get some other Catholic voices on tape. I am working to help this happen. Pray for the right people to help us complete what could be a wonderful series if it is done well.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Church History, Church Tradition, Current Affairs, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Protestantism, Reformed Christianity, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 10 Comments/Likes

Mark Moore on Christian Unity

My friend Rev. Mark Moore, of Plano, Texas, spoke with ACT3 about Christian Unity during our Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical meeting last September. Mark has just recently become a regional director for International Justice Mission, a ministry that is a fantastic gift to the whole church.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, Unity of the Church | 3 Comments/Likes

Reflections on Forgiveness and Forgiving (Tom Masters)

Tom ncp portraitReading the text and commentary for the Focolare Movement’s “Word of Life” for May, 2015, brought to my mind an experience from two years ago when I was in Rome to meet with the editorial staff of the publishing house Città Nuova.  On March 13, the very day that the meeting began, it happened that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who took the name Francis, was elected pope.  The following Sunday he appeared in St. Peter’s Square for the customary noontime Angelus address. He offered a reflection on Jn 8:1-11, the story of Jesus’s response to the woman caught in adultery.  He illustrated the meaning and quality of divine mercy with a personal anecdote:

Feeling mercy. . . changes everything. . . . We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient…. Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God’s love would make them white as snow. This mercy is beautiful!

I remember, when I had only just become a bishop in the year 1992, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima had just arrived in Buenos Aires and a big Mass was celebrated for the sick. I went to hear confessions at that Mass. And almost at the end of the Mass I stood up, because I had to go and administer a First Confirmation. And an elderly woman approached me, humble, very humble, and over eighty years old. I looked at her, and I said, “Grandmother” — because in our country that is how we address the elderly — do you want to make your confession?”

“Yes”, she said to me.

“But if you have not sinned…”

And she said to me: “We all have sins…”

“But perhaps the Lord does not forgive them.”

“The Lord forgives all things,” she said to me with conviction.

“But how do you know, Madam?”

“If the Lord did not forgive everything, the world would not exist.”

. . . .

Let us not forget this word: God never ever tires of forgiving us! “Well, Father what is the problem?”  Well, the problem is that we ourselves tire, we do not want to ask, we grow weary of asking for forgiveness. He never tires of forgiving, but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness.

(https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2013/documents/papa-francesco_angelus_20130317.html)

Members of the Focolare understand that God is love.  Inspired by John 17:21, they seek to live out Jesus’s prayer “That they may all be one.”  To make this practical, each month a text is chosen and a commentary is offered suggesting how to make it the watchword for daily life.  The text for this month is Ephesians 2: 4-5: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”

Fabio Ciardi, the commentary’s author, points out that we can witness to the reality of God’s love by sharing the tenderness of mercy with each person we meet.  God revealed himself to Moses as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6).  Ciardi explains that the Hebrew word used to name God’s merciful love, “raḥămîm,” recalls a mother’s womb, the place where life begins. The passage in Exodus also uses “ḥesed,” suggesting “faithfulness, benevolence, goodness, solidarity.”

As Pope Francis gently suggests in his anecdote, we who have become “alive together with Christ” are called to manifest an unceasing and tireless mercy like the Father’s.  The pope sees this mercy manifested in the humble grandmother he met, and in Jesus’s response to the woman caught in adultery; Fabio Ciardi recalls other episodes from scripture—Mary’s response to the Angel Gabriel, and the parables of the Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son.

You may be familiar with Henri Nouwen’s commentary on Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son.”

 

In the figure of the father, Nouwen sees God the Father:  “The Father is not simply a great patriarch.  He is mother as well as father.  He touches the son with a masculine hand and a feminine hand.  He holds, and she caresses.  He confirms and she consoles.  He is, indeed, God, in whom both manhood and womanhood, fatherhood and motherhood, are fully present” (The Return of the Prodigal Son [New York: Doubleday, 1992], 99).

So this Word of Life reminds me that to live the Gospel I need to broaden my conception of God, and of myself.  As Pope Francis reminded me during his Angelus address, I must never grow weary of asking for forgiveness. Likewise, I must never weary of offering it.  Fabio Ciardi explains how to do this in everyday life:

If God for us is rich in mercy and of great love, we too are called to be merciful towards others. If he loves those who are bad, who are his enemies, we too ought to learn how to love those who are not “lovable,” even our enemies. Did not Jesus tell us, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5:7)? Did he not ask us to be “merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36)? Paul too invites his communities, chosen and loved by God, to clothe themselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col 3:12).

If we have believed in God’s love, we too can love in our turn with that love which makes us draw close to every situation of pain and need, that forgives all things, that protects, that knows how to look after the other person.

Living in this way we will be able to give witness to God’s love and help those we meet discover that also for them God is rich in mercy and of great love.

Guest Author

Dr. Tom Masters, the editorial director for New City Press, is today’s guest author. He writes this personal introduction:

Growing up I wanted to live for an ideal. God granted that, but not how I expected.  Soon after I married Kathleen, a fellow-Chicagoan also studying at DePaul University, we met and joined a community of people living for the Gospel ideal of unity, the Focolare Movement. Then came a “temporary” stint as a teacher. After forty years, with side adventures in raising three children and earning a PhD (Language, Literacy, and Rhetoric at the University of Illinois at Chicago), I discerned a new vocation as an author and editor with the Focolare’s North American publishing house, New City Press. That vocation to build unity includes promoting a culture of life through John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, a culture of justice through Catholic Social Thought, and a culture of interreligious and ecumenical dialogue through shared endeavors such as John Armstrong’s Act 3 Network.

Posted in Faith, Forgiveness, Roman Catholicism, Spirituality | Leave a comment

Who Needs a “Jubilee of Mercy”?

“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: have mercy upon us.”

UnknownEach one of us, many times during our lives, have raised our voices and cried, “Lord have mercy.” Mercy is the kind of forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly. From a Christian perspective, it is the gift that God or another person offers to someone by not treating him/her in the way they deserve.

For many, this cry for mercy is a perpetual line of their daily prayers. It expresses our deepest inability to cope with the pain in our hearts or the desperate frustration with the challenges of our sinful human condition.

We all long for mercy. The tragedy is that we are not prone to offer it to others.

This past March, Pope Francis announced, to the surprise of many, a holy year. From Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016, Catholics throughout the world are called to celebrate a “Jubilee of Mercy.” The celebration of a jubilee originated in Judaism and it was the occasion to offer forgiveness and reconciliation.

I tend to believe that mercy is not something we should celebrate in an extraordinary way, like in a “year of jubilee”. The fact that Pope Francis feels the need for such a celebration speaks to the reality that we, as the people of God, have forgotten or relegated this grace to be given only on extraordinary circumstances.

Maybe we need to be reminded that God’s mercies are not extraordinary. The prophet Micah said: “Who is a God like you? You forgive sin and overlook the rebellion of your faithful people. You will not be angry forever, because you would rather show mercy.” (Mich. 7:18) And we are reminded that the mercies of the Lord “are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:23)

We may not be conscious of the reality that, in order to successfully live in community, we are dependent on the mutual exchange of the gift of mercy. For most people, this is something natural, at least when required by our normal misunderstandings or common offenses. Things get complicated when we are challenged to offer mercy when major offenses has been committed, or when one of the sins in our “top ten” list has been committed.

Allow me to demonstrate this with a very contemporary issue. I recently read an article by Jeanne Bishop titled, “Lord, Have Mercy” (America Magazine). Ms. Bishop works as an assistant public defender in the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender in Chicago. In the article, she articulates in a very profound way her journey from pardoning, to experiencing and offering mercy. Ms. Bishop’s sister, her unborn child and her sister’s husband were killed by David Biro. She shares how, after a long struggle, she has forgiven the killer, said his name, and even prayed for him. But she still was not certain if she wanted him to serve less than his full life sentence.

I suppose that this would be the bottom line for many of us. Doesn’t he deserve at least to be put away for the rest of his life? Some would even question why this man was not given a death sentence.

Ms. Bishop had, what I must call, an epiphany moment. She writes: “And in the very next moment, like daylight breaking into darkness, I knew something else. I’d always thought that the only thing big enough to pay for the life of my sister was a life sentence for her killer. Now I understood: The only thing big enough to equal the loss of her life was for him to be found.

What a profound and revolutionary truth. In dealing with His children, God is not driven by revenge or a sense of satisfaction or even pleasure. At the very heart of God, there is a desire for redemption, for restoration. The psalmist clearly expresses this truth on Psalm 130:

  1. Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
  2. Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
  3. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
  4. But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

7. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption.

Full redemption is what God is all about. That redemption is experienced when God shows His unfailing and redemptive love towards us. Pope Francis said that, “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.” The redemption and transformation of our hearts and souls can only be achieved by the mystery of God’s mercy and love operating in and through us.

A “Jubilee of Mercy” can be a redemptive event; it will certainly do good, not only to Catholics, but to all Christians.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7).

Guest Author:

Carlos L. Malavé, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCUSA), lives in Louisville, Kentucky. He served for eleven years as associate for ecumenical relations in the Office of the General Assembly. Since 2012 he has been the executive director for  Christian Churches Together (CCT).

Created in 2001, CCT is a forum of more than 35 churches and Christian organizations that encompasses the broad diversity of Christianity in the U.S. ― Evangelical, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Pentecostals, historic Protestant, Racial and Ethnic churches.

 

Posted in Biblical Theology, Forgiveness, God's Character, Jesus, Roman Catholicism, Spirituality | 11 Comments/Likes