Category: Catholic Sexuality

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Merciful Discipline 1: Broken, We Pray for the Abused

This is the first post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 1: Broken, We Pray for the Abused

No wound runs deeper in the Church today than the sexual abuse of children by her priests. Over the last 30 years, the wound has become apparent as brave, broken souls throughout the world have dared to confess the perversion deposited in them by priests.

We the Church bear this wound. We are the broken: bewildered, angry, more tempted to strike the Church than to heal her. And yet we are ‘her’, the wounded bride, as needful of her graces as we are appalled at her failures.

Gratefully, we serve a wounded God who Himself suffered unjustly in order to bind up our wounds. He invites us to into His Mercy that we the Church might be healed and so become a healing arm for the abused.

How can we do this, mere laymen and laywomen? We gather, we bend the knee, we cry out with repentant hearts on behalf of those damaged by the Church. We cry out for Mercy for those most in need of it. Might the water released from His side cleanse those bearing the shame of another? Might His blood administer new life to broken lives? Might we become the face and hand of Jesus for those scattered by evil shepherds?

We take up both a priestly and prophetic call when we pray rightfully for the abused. We become a part of His solution for His wounded bride.

His wounds are the only just response to the wounds of those sexually abused by priests. Only His wounds, extended tenderly and patiently, can cleanse the ‘abuse’ wound and send its evil source to flight.

Consider the evil: the Roman Catholic Church is the last coherent institution on earth with a sexual morality that upholds the dignity of each individual, beginning with conception. Her teaching advocates for each life from the start, and upholds each as an inviolable sexual gift, instructing him/her to protect that gift until marriage. Her priests model that sanctity, and encourage little ones to walk accordingly, with priestly help.

When priests become predatory, the Church herself becomes an arm of evil. Her morality and mission are torpedoed; children are left in the wreckage, defiled and disoriented by one who was supposed to mirror his/her dignity.

While Catholic morality encourages sexual integrity (wholeness), sexual abuse provokes sexual disintegration. It fractures his/her gender identity, and moral clarity; abuse clouds one’s vision for a whole Christian life in general.

Such disintegration is rooted in the Greek word for devil: ‘diabolos.’  It means ‘to throw apart’, in other words, to disintegrate. Perhaps that is the most precise way of defining the impact of priestly sexual abuse of children—disintegration.

Does that not break Jesus’ heart and ours? The ‘throwing apart’ of a child in Jesus’ name violates His very purpose for the Church: to protect and redeem the wholeness of every life.

Priestly abuse is particularly diabolical because of the spiritual power of the abuser. In assessing the depth of abuse, one must consider: was the abuser someone that the child trusted and had good reason to rely upon? The spiritual power of the abuser amplifies the impact of sexual abuse.

In other words, an abusive priest intensifies the act of sexual abuse with spiritual abuse. He manipulates the sheep for his own purposes; instead of feeding them, he partakes of them.

Arguably, priestly sexual abuse has done more to disintegrate the mission of the Church than any other single force over the last 50 years.

We consider the damage done in His Name so we can be a part of His solution: crying out for Mercy for the wounded Church, and in particular, for her children that have been ‘thrown apart’ by sexual abuse.

We are ‘to mourn with those who mourn.‘ (Romans 12:15) ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it’. (1 Corinthians 12:26) When one member of the body is abused, we each share in that suffering. I urge you: may our shame in the light of priestly abuse be transformed into prayerful solidarity with the abused?

Might you join me this Lent in crying out for a river of Mercy to be released in the Church for her abused? As we reflect upon His wounds, might we also intercede for the binding up of the disintegrating effect of abuse?

May those sexually abused receive the first fruit of Your suffering, Holy God. Unite them in Your healing arms, through trustworthy members of Your Body.

Pope Benedict recently reflected:

I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, His sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives. I acknowledge with you the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins; I invite you to offer it to the Lord, and trust that this chastisement will contribute to the healing of victims, the purification of the Church, and the renewal of her age-old commitment to the education and care of young people.

MORE:

The Merciful Discipline Series of Posts (updated with each new post as they become available):

 

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Details Concerning My Conversion to Catholicism

Dear Friends,

I wanted you to know that on Easter (April 2011) this past year I was confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church. That significant decision began three years ago and involved two rounds of RCIA (the adult catechism course), wise counsel, and much prayer.

I want to emphasize that my decision is a personal one. Desert Stream Ministries has not become Catholic; it remains ecumenical and will continue to serve a variety of churches, mostly evangelical, which seek to minister to broken ones.

Furthermore, the Living Waters program will not be altered in any way. Its foundations are intact, a gift to the whole church.

I decided to become Catholic for several reasons. The first is the leading of the Spirit. I surrendered my desire for the Church after a year, and yet my longing intensified.

The reasons for my longings are evident: I love the centrality of Christ Crucified, the Eucharistic celebration in its two-fold emphasis on breaking open the Word and Bread daily, a non-personality driven approach to church-life, the Church calendar, and the historic teachings of the Church in regards to moral theology.

‘The Catholic Church is the sole surviving coherent institutional voice of morality in a world under the tyranny of relativism,’ wrote one Pope, expressing well one reason for my standing with the Church in this hour.

What I love challenges me continuously. What the Church believes she struggles to live. And though I agree with most fundamental doctrines contained in the catechism, I am troubled by some, and continue to seek God and wise counsel about them. Also, parish life is not highly conducive to the ministry I have pioneered, and will require more patience and wisdom than I have.

Answers to a few commonly asked questions:

Confession to a priest? I see no conflict between confessing to a priest and the type of confession we do daily with one another in our ‘Living Waters’ world. A Catholic seeking sobriety in today’s idolatrous world needs both a good priest and good friends with whom to work out grace and truth-filled accountability.

A closed Eucharist? I value the Church’s high view of communion. I did not partake of the Eucharist until I was confirmed, respecting that only Catholics are allowed to partake of what is believed to be the Lord’s Body and Blood. However, I have no conflict with partaking of the Lord’s Supper with Protestants who hold a different view of the elements.

The idolatry of Mary? I have always valued Mary more than most evangelicals: ‘Blessed is she among women’ is biblical truth!  I honor her because she points away from herself and toward Jesus continuously. The Catechism forbids the deification of her and thus of anything approaching worship. Because I value her humility above all else, I struggle with the attention the Church gives her, and certain doctrines that grant her attributes that I do not see reflected in Scripture. Though these are not ‘deal-breakers’ for me, they give me pause. Pray that I might distill what is precious from what isn’t.

Lay ministry in the Catholic Church? The Church highly values the ministry of lay persons. That is essential for me, for our mission at Desert Stream involves equipping the saints to walk with other saints into sexual and relational wholeness.  For my volunteer service (each Desert Stream staff person must be involved in a church-based healing group), I am exploring an opportunity to serve the Church where I live. God help me and them!

Wholeness and holiness in a perverted Church? The Church has been rocked by sexual abuse scandals for a couple of decades now. It is a good and necessary thing. I believe that God is disciplining her, as Christian ‘love’ without discipline is not love at all. Strangely, my allegiance to the Pope came about in the last year amid all the scandals. I entrusted myself to him as the leader of my Church and vowed to prayerfully stand with him in this crucial hour of his leadership.

I await new partnerships with which to serve the Church in this hour of her discipline. She currently has few effective outlets for sexual restoration, beginning with her priests. It is too early to tell how I might help her. I shall begin by serving where I can in the local church or diocese.

A schism in Living Waters due to my conversion? A rumor began last summer that my Catholicism broke up our unity in Living Waters, especially in South America. That is false. Argentine Mauricio Montion chose to no longer serve under my leadership due to my change, and the Living Waters International Council assigned him another overseer. I am glad he is still committed to Living Waters and that he has fresh oversight.

Is Annette a Catholic? Annette began the process toward Roman Catholicism with me then stopped mid-way through. We work hard to sort out our differences here. I attend her Church on Sunday morning then go to early Communion most mornings. It is not easy but as mature Christians and married partners we are seeking to grow through this challenge.

(I would not recommend that spouses go to different churches! At this point, however, we are doing the best we can, respecting one another’s consciences.)

An evangelical Catholic? You betcha. My roots will always be evangelical. I believe in the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ, founded on the Scripture. I also believe in the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. That means I have more to learn than I ever will; I hope it also means that my reliance upon Jesus and each other as our Source for sexual wholeness will wake up sleepy Catholics.

Catholic elitism? I do not think of myself as having found the exclusive or best Church; I respect everyone’s right to discover Jesus where (s)he finds Him on the local Church level. The Desert Stream staff represents a variety of Churches; we work out daily what it means to find the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Combined, we compose one body.

Church Unity? The little conflicts that have arisen thus far over my Catholicism are an acute reminder to me of how divided the Christian Church is. While praying the other day, I saw a gulf of water between two groups of people. It was vast, water mixed with blood. Instinctually I knew that this was the Mercy stream from the Crucified; it also represented the Protestant/Catholic divide, still bloody, still too large to bridge.

Then I saw broken people coming to either side of the river and putting their weary, fractured limbs in the water. They were receiving healing and were unconcerned about the doctrinal differences on ‘the other side.’ They just wanted and needed Jesus and welcomed all who sought the same.  Healing of sexual brokenness was helping to heal the greater divide between the two groups.

I pray that the mission of Desert Stream Ministries will do its part to heal our one divided Church.

‘There is one body, and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’(Eph. 3:4, 5)

UPDATE January 23rd 2012 at 2:00 PM CST:

Dear friends,

Thank you all for your concerned, thoughtful response to my Catholicism. It honors me that you would take the time to respond. I am reminded of the many years we have stood together for holiness and wholeness in Christ’s body. Our commitment endures, even as the particular arm of Christ’s body in which we stand may have changed! Again, bless you for your friendship, advocacy, and respect, even if you disagree with aspects of Roman Catholicism. We all love Jesus, and are seeking to prepare a people for Himself. Even so Lord, come!

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Kingdom of Saints

I had never led a healing service for a group of Catholics before. And although I have been translated many times in Spanish, the language difference this time unnerved me.

Before I could say a word, the worship team played John Wimber’s ‘Spirit Song’. I could not believe it: a song from the seventies written by the healing apostle that made a way for Living Waters to go to the nations, a song that still conveys the essence of Kingdom Mercy: ‘O let the Son of God enfold you, with His Spirit and His Love, let Him fill your heart and satisfy your soul. O give Him all your tears of sadness, give Him all your years of pain, and you’ll enter into Life in Jesus’ Name…’

I looked throughout the packed auditorium in Guadalajara, Mexico and saw young men and women seeking healing from same-sex attraction and their parents, all wondering: ‘Is the love of Jesus really enough to redeem such a deep tendency?’

Wimber’s legacy flooded back to me. Kingdom Mercy was flowing like a mighty current from the cross, breaking fear and shame. He moves mountains in the soul, and grants willing souls the dignity to make new decisions in light of His holy purposes for them.

The Kingdom came through Communion with St. John. His song summoned his essence, and empowered me to extend the rule of Love, the reign of God’s Kingdom.

We operate in Christ due to the great cloud of witnesses, some alive on earth, some alive in Heaven, who have made a way for us to advance Kingdom purposes.

The Church is not just the man or woman next to you on the pew. The Church consists of all the saints who have followed Jesus and who continue to cry out for Mercy to reign on the earth through the obedience of you and me.

My pastor recently taught on how Spanish St. Teresa of Avila in the 16th century ‘discipled’ French St. Therese de Lisieux in the 19th century who in turn became the patron saint of Albanian Mother Theresa of Calcutta in our day.

Heaven helps us. All my days I shall minister in the shadow of faithful ones like John Wimber whose legacy and spirit continues to empower and inform my efforts.

Following the closing mass in Guadalajara, we prayed for three hours for all seeking more healing (everyone in the room!) As men and women fell under the power of the Spirit, received prophecies, had demons cast out, and received ‘gracelets’ of restoration, I knew that Jesus and His witnesses hovered over us. It is easy to do His will. We are neither lean nor alone; we labor with the host of Heaven, rich and dense with anointing from on high.

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Mercy and The Truth of Sin

Day 8 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘The knowledge of my own misery allows me to know the immensity of Your mercy.’ (56)

In order for Mercy to have its perfect way in us, we must recognize the depth of our sin. Mercy applies only to those who accept the terminal diagnosis of ‘miserable sinner.’ In that way, Mercy is not a sweet and accepting disposition that some people embody more than others; Mercy is the cure for a chronic disease—for the dehumanizing things that we perpetuate.

Pope Benedict expresses it eloquently:

‘Man, in order that God’s image shine radiantly in him, must first and foremost receive the purification whereby the divine Sculptor frees him from the dross which conceals the authentic figure of His being in man…” (Called to Communion, pp. 141, 2)

In other words, no recognition of dross—the sin that distorts our image-bearing form—no purification. Where sin is not acknowledged, there can be no genuine extending and receiving of Mercy. How can He forgive what we defend as a right? Mercy demands that misbegotten rights become rubbish to be burned.

For example, ‘progressive’ Christians want to alleviate the burden of guilt young people feel about all manner of premarital sex, be it porn, masturbation, or gay/straight ‘messing around.’ Guilt becomes the problem to be solved, not the dehumanizing behaviors themselves.

Derek Bailey wanted me to feel good about being ‘gay’; he had forgotten the hard truth for every human being—‘the law is written on our hearts’, so that our consciences bear witness that something is wrong (Rom. 2:15). Absolving someone of sin by saying it’s not sin solves nothing. It merely pads one’s prison, thereby extending one’s misery.

Pascal declared: ‘Behold the fathers who take away the sins of the world!’ Our Christian world is full of them—blind guides who so fear to offend sinners that they fail to diagnose their desperate condition. In denying the truth of sin, these ones deny the dying their only cure.

Yet how deep and hungry is the miserable heart for Mercy! The fallen know they have stumbled; in order to walk again with dignity, they need the Mercy that cleanses them, and reconciles them to the One whose image (s)he bears. Mercy makes us human, at peace with the reality of who, and Whose, we really are.

‘Do not withhold Your mercy from me, O Lord; may Your love and Your truth always protect me.’ (Ps 40:10, 11)

‘Father, we ask for great clarity and discernment regarding the nature of Mercy. Please rouse us where we have adopted worldly ideas of her. We pray for the conviction of sin in our own hearts and in those we love; help us to see how sin actually distorts Your very image in us. May Mercy have access to the misery that invites Your cleansing and healing. Burn off the dross, O God, that we might represent You well. Let Mercy have her perfect way in us.’

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Mercy From Rome

While doing a conference in Denver many years ago, a vigorous young man introduced himself to me as Christopher West; he was then the ‘marriage and family’ guy for the Archdiocese of Denver. He loved our emphases on healing through the cross and community. And he wanted me to have a copy of John Paul II’s book: The Theology of the Body, the late great pope’s sweeping take on human sexuality.

Wow. What a meal. For the next couple of years I slowly ate what I now regard as perhaps the most thorough and profound theological work on sexuality. It is a large meal, but not inaccessible. It undergirds the pope’s native compassion with truth: the truth of what our sexuality is for, not just what we should flee, and the deeper meaning of masculine and feminine communion in the divine plan.

Brilliant and relevant, prophetic and yet deeply, richly human; it reinforced what I knew but deepened and expanded the truths already gleaned from Ray Anderson, Karl Barth, and Emil Brunner. On planes and trains I would read a section and take notes on it. I would then meditate on the notes before tackling another section.

It prepared me for the battle at hand, the fight for God’s image in humanity being waged on every continent. In that battle, I needed reinforcement.

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