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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Betrayal

For the last month, I have been sickened by reports of ex-Cardinal McCarrick’s long history of sexual abusing male teens and adults; more deadening still is his denial of the allegations (how so when a diocese settled a couple of these cases years earlier?). Most crucifying are reports that some leaders around him knew of his atrocities and turned a blind eye.

Each Christian bears the shame of this. Those aware of the devastating impact of sexual and spiritual abuse bear more. How could a religious system betray her most vulnerable over and over again? The Church’s structure lends itself to cohesion (for which I am grateful) and cover-up (for which we must become stubbornly intolerant).

Scripture guides me here. As the McCarrick allegations unfolded, I completed a Bible study on the Gospel of St. Mark with my children, using a commentary written by Dr. Mary Healy, a Catholic biblical scholar whom I esteem as one of the greatest gifts to the Church today. St. Mark is the leanest of the Gospels and thus fails to soften much of anything. His account of the events leading up to the crucifixion broke me; I shuddered as demonized men abused Jesus rapid fire, relentlessly. He suffered betrayal on every side, as if dark forces had captivated all men and made them violently stupid. On the cross, Jesus’ only words conveyed forsakenness (‘Where are You, Father?’), ending in a death cry.

Thank God for the cross, the Father’s inner logic that boomerangs wickedness into divine power and wisdom! Yet in St. Mark, even Christ Resurrected is hidden from witnesses who are either too dull or too afraid to believe the Risen Jesus at all. Mary Magdalene ‘gets’ Him but her report to the disciples falls on deaf ears and blind eyes. And this from the Gospel I most associate with spiritual power: St. Mark’s blazing witness of the Word confirmed by signs and wonders.

St. Mark reveals the cross as God’s strength, glory just waiting to shatter the husk of clueless men. If God truly works through human impotence, then we the Church have given Him a lot to work with—the ex-cardinal whose dazzling gifts obscured a predatory double life, dutiful men who doubted their guts and settled on hiding gangrene rather than amputating it. To quote Pope Benedict: ‘In the Church, Jesus entrusts Himself to those who betray Him again and again.’

Eloquent and true. Yet humanly-speaking, how are we to trust the Church now? We must grieve for persons abused by clerics who cannot help but gag at pics of McCarrick gazing effusively at Pope Francis. And what about the innocent clerics who fight for chastity and who urge us to integrate our own, priests now complicit in the eyes of the public who see ‘cover up’ in every Roman vestment? We must cry out for the abused who need justice, and for clergy who should not be maligned because of a cowardly few. And for the unbelieving world who needs to know that the Church is not a secret, self-protective refuge for perverse men who enjoy the theater of religion. Rather, she is a beautiful Mother, served by amazing Fathers.

Power in impotence—the cross, the gist of the Gospel, St. Mark’s especially. And that is what we are beholding as Pope Francis, with the help of friends, acts decisively and strongly to no longer tolerate clerical abuse. He is wielding the surgical knife, as evinced by the resignation of 34 Chilean bishops last month who participated in an extensive cover-up of ongoing abuse, and the conviction of an Australian Archbishop on similar grounds. Most resoundingly, Pope Francis stripped McCarrick of his cardinal status and removed him from public ministry. That is huge, a first, and needs to become standard practice for shepherds who eat sheep or look the other way while others do.

A trustworthy Church? Yes, when she verifies the truth of abuse, disciplines abusers, while making every effort to heal the abused and ensure the sexual integrity of her leaders. Strength at work in weakness: our faith is founded on nothing less. We’ve miles to go. Still, when lived in her members, the cross on which God was betrayed overcomes the sting and stink of this most intimate human betrayal.

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Polish Spring

‘See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come.’ (SS 2:11, 12)

Amid abuse and cover-up, confusion from Pope Francis regarding homosexuality and Irish citizens overturning their abortion ban, the Spirit of Pentecost enveloped a hundred of us in Krakow Poland who gathered for our second Living Waters Training there.

We couldn’t stop singing, and the Spirit kept raining on us as we offered our brokenness to the Crucified in tears and joy. Surrounding our songs was a chorus of birds that worshipped day and night in huge trees that flanked us on every side.

Trainings are just that: arduous, messy, shame and glory, revelation amid hard reality. Why now after seven 16-hour-days am I refreshed? All I know is that I was buoyed, as if I caught a current of the Kingdom and knew intuitively how to navigate the waters. Extraordinary.

It is easy for an outsider to idealize this land of St. John Paul ll and St. Faustina. Traditional values are evident (Poland is not sympathetic to ‘reproductive rights’ and LGBT+ aspirations) and create a kind of moral clarity not evident in America or Western Europe. The Church here is cohesive, a national rallying point amid devastating historic batterings. To many Poles, Jesus through His Mother (Church) sustained the nation’s hope and dignity throughout centuries.

Yet good ethics and history can become prison bars unless the Spirit liberates wounded lives. The Poles may be clearer in their devotion to Christ than many Europeans today but they are no less broken by their bloody history, which gave rise to deep patterns of family disorder, including disordered church dynamics.

For these reasons, I take heart that many Poles are facing their wounds forthrightly with each other. I am in awe of men and women we have now walked with for three years who are different people today: joyful, not glum, with a new well-being in their gendered, bodily humanity. They no longer avoid others’ gaze. One young woman whom I first met in Lithuania couldn’t walk unassisted due to the oppression of her sin and wounds. During this training she bounded around the site, taught better than I did, and will return refreshed to her hometown to lead a Living Water group which is changing the culture of her church.

Most importantly, the nine Polish priests who attended the training taught and shared openly about their wounds and sins against chastity. They honored their office by making clear they live through the wounds of Jesus discovered in His broken merciful members. They released deep drafts of mercy for all of us. We exhausted them and each other in laying bare our need for ongoing conversion.

Wearied in doing well, we welcomed the Spirit’s refreshment. He is accomplishing in the Polish Church what we can only hope for. A Polish Spring, welling up with song in the Spirit of Pentecost: He will have His way with His Church.

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Is the Pope Devolving?

In a private meeting with Juan Carlos Cruz, Chilean survivor of clerical sex abuse, Pope Francis reportedly told the ‘gay-identified’ Cruz that ‘God made him gay’ and ‘that you have to be happy with who you are.’

Huh. Always a chance the Pope was misquoted.  If not, I submit the following.

Pope Francis may have changed his views on what he terms ‘gender ideology;’ something he renounced in his last two encyclicals.   ‘Gender ideology’ holds to a distinctly non-Christian understanding of humanity; it demands that we accept any number of gender configurations on the grounds that they are inborn, unchangeable, and normal – morally neutral.  Telling another that ‘God made him gay’ is a pastoral application of ‘gender ideology,’ not a challenge of it.  The good Pope didn’t think it through.

Pope Francis fails to grasp that sexual abuse actually damages a child’s sexual development.  Recent studies show a strong corollary between adults who ‘gay-identify’ and their experience of sexual violation as kids.  Instead of attributing Cruz’s sexual identity to God, Pope Francis should ask him pardon for contributing to his same-sex attraction through a priest’s perverse invasion of his childhood.

Maybe the Pope makes the mistake of compensating for the damage done by giving Cruz a pass.  Letting go of reason, he assuages Cruz’s violation with a platitude like ‘you have to be happy with who you are.’

Jesus took a different approach with the woman caught in adultery.  Fierce, and with wise compassion, Jesus first defended her from a system designed to scourge her, not unlike blame shifting mucky mucks in the Catholic hierarchy who Francis rightly exposed and disciplined.  But Jesus, after every Pharisee dropped his stone, exhorted the woman ‘to leave her life of sin’ (John 8:11).  He didn’t encourage her ‘to be happy’ with her adulterous tendencies in the hope that she might be further fractured by immorality.

Pope Francis gives a platitude to one who needs inspired, fatherly guidance.  His kindness masks the cruelty of an ideology that confirms God’s children in a lie.  I applaud him for stepping up efforts to cleanse the Church of abuse; if this reported exchange is true, I correct him for springing one trap only to set another for the most vulnerable.

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Splendor of the Kingdom 2

We gathered for our Gender Matters conference in New York City last weekend (soon to be in Kansas City February 10, sign up now!); the Holy Spirit flooded us like a river overflowing onto parched land. He is re-awakening our call to live the-truth-in-love and so authenticates our claim that Jesus makes a better way for the sexually broken.

As Pope Francis says in ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, this can only be accomplished through ‘a radical openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit.’ At core, this is nothing less than the core message of the Gospel, which is at once simple, countercultural, and full of joy. We discover that our joy hinges upon responding to His whispers, and on trembling legs advancing His reign where He leads.

Prior to the conference, the Holy Spirit led me to two men with a small child. They were ‘gay’-identified and ‘parents’ of this adopted boy. God gave me His heart for this child; I realized at once that we have a responsibility to such kids. I spoke with the pair about how much Jesus loved them all and had special plans for the boy, a divine paternal desire to confirm him as His beloved. When they said they did not believe that way I said with joy: ‘Well, we all have ideas but none change the fact that Jesus is real and has a great plan for this kid that is greater than your plans!’ I couldn’t believe I said it. Yet the Spirit gave me joy, which enabled them to hear.

We proceeded to our conference where beautiful, broken Christians from around New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut gathered to become better news for persons with gender identity problems. From a host of brave churches, they like us are surrounded by the dull attitude that to be moral is to accept blandly whatever destructive choices others makes on the grounds of ‘love’ and ‘freedom.’ These believers know better and are crying out: ‘Holy Spirit, show us the better way to bring Jesus’ merciful reign to our friends who are self-destructing!’

Two realities were evident: we the saints are so broken! The church who hosted us had a huge cross before which we gathered and simply wept over our own sins and wounds, mostly traditional in nature. We are all victims and perpetrators. Our pain was based on a host of regrettable ways in which we have been complicit with deceived friends and family; crying ‘peace when there is no peace.’ Or the ways we have accommodated our ‘normal’ idols and addictions when Jesus wants to break our chains so we can be free to bring the Kingdom to the enslaved. He did it! His Presence for deliverance was evident and effectual.

The reality of our brokenness was surpassed by His power. Through the good teachings and testimonies, it was obvious that the Spirit is raising up an army of men and women for whom Jesus’ loving kindness is better than anything else in this life (PS 63:3). We live only to make Him known, joyfully, and with humble reliance upon each other. For the first time in years, I wanted to linger with all the saints in the church afterwards. My weariness was eclipsed by the beauty of this Gideon’s army. Jesus Himself is empowering us in our many weaknesses ‘to rout foreign armies’ (Heb. 11:34). We are His members, wholly submitted to our Head, and we will turn the tide of deception on waves of Almighty Mercy.

Please join us in Kansas City for our next Gender Matters on Feb. 10th. Become a part of God’s healing army for broken persons you love. Sign up now!

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Wildfire

As flames sear the West Coast, so the Hollywood community skewers one of its ‘gods’ (Meryl Streep referred to Weinstein as one in accepting an award for a picture he produced) for sexual misconduct of the most lurid order. Anyone with an IPhone knows that Harvey Weinstein—movie mogul responsible for highly honored films—used his position to misuse dozens of women. Most women were twenty-something beauties on their way up. Weinstein apparently could not be stopped. His lust leapt out of the casting office and onto female reporters who are now reporting the truth.

I hope the exposure of his power abuse will restrain the gods of Hollywood. Remarkable are the weird responses to his unraveling. Especially his ‘friends.’ We are talking here about a tightly knit network of actors and staff and lawyers and politicians who knew what was happening (come on, the man exposed himself constantly to pretty women, and had eight out-of-court harassment settlements) and turned a blind eye. That Streep—the most respected advocate for women in the industry and a frequent collaborator with Weinstein—claims she did not know of his abuses rings false to me. One can know and choose not to know.

Why the silence? Since the movies became an American institution in the 1920’s, Hollywood has been off-limits for most kinds of sexual restraint. Lusty players created a moral fault-line on which the industry developed. Early studio heads did damage control constantly for reckless actors (of both sexes) while behind the scenes, these gatekeepers advanced appealing ones in exchange for sexual favors. Such trade still flourishes (both homosexually and heterosexually) under some power brokers: ‘Give me what I want and I’ll give you what you want.’ Too many aspirants perpetuate the system by exchanging their dignity for a shot at stardom.

To expose Weinstein is to challenge one of Hollywood’s central tenets: sexual lust masking as liberty. Of all kinds. When does consensual sex become abusive? Where does one cry foul? On the fifth marriage? Once the affair ends after filming? The next arrest for procuring prostitutes? Boundary-breaking films featuring underage sex (Watch for upcoming ‘Call Me by My Name’)?

Perhaps the silence—or feigned shock– of some players toward Weinstein’s exposure is based on their own compromises—maybe not as monstrous as Weinstein’s but still stinking of strange flesh. One dares not judge lest (s)he be judged. Complicity is empowered by one’s own little monsters.

Some good feminists claim that Weinstein’s mess will provoke Hollywood’s repentance. Cleansing this system may take a little more. Yes, abuse of power must end. And yes, one must sort out all the vain liberties Hollywood celebrates. Sexism is not the only villain. All sins against chastity are; only those players who confess these sins face down before their Author and Redeemer will finish well.

Only one foundation stands through the fire. Pray that Weinstein (and all his friends who now throw stones at him) fall on the Rock. While the Weinstein story was breaking, I was rereading Pope Francis’ excellent encyclical, ‘The Joy of Love.’ I close with these excerpts: ‘God Himself created sexuality, which is a marvelous gift to his creatures. If this gift needs to be cultivated and directed, it is to prevent the impoverishment of an authentic value (150)…On the basis of this healthy vision of sexuality, we can approach the subject with a healthy realism. Sex often becomes depersonalized and unhealthy, an occasion and instrument for self-assertion and the selfish satisfaction of personal desires and instincts. In our day, sexuality risks being poisoned by the mentality of use and discard…Can we really ignore or overlook the continuing forms of domination, arrogance, abuse, sexual perversion and violence that are the product of a warped understanding of sexuality?’(153)

Hollywood can no longer.

Join us for the ‘Becoming Good News for the Gender Challenged’ fast from Oct. 11th-Nov. 19th.

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