Tag Archives: Sexual Ethics

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Merciful Discipline 6: Humbled, We Shine

This is the sixth 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 6: Humbled, We Shine

‘When You disciplined us, we could barely whisper a prayer.’ (IS 26:16)

‘Christ’s abiding presence in the midst of our suffering is gradually transforming our darkness into light.’ Pope Benedict

The sexual abuse crisis in the Church brings us to our knees. We do not kneel politely but painfully, a sprawl rather than a pose. On behalf of those felled by the weight of a priest’s perversion, we too stumble and fall. Behold the scandal we share: the Greek word ’skandalon’ means stumbling block, a sizable obstacle in the path of another’s salvation.

Pope Benedict is right. Our ‘skandalon’ has “obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”

Lent redeems our falling by redirecting it. Lent points us to another stumbling block, the Crucified Christ (1Cor 1:23), who draws us magnetically to Himself amid the suffering and shame of abuse and its cover-up. He invites us to fall forward into Himself, the sole Source that can bear the unbearable. Any momentum toward obliterating the stumbling block of sexual abuse in the Church begins facedown before the Cross. We repent for the disintegration of lives, the shattering of trust, and how abuse mocks the Church and her championing the dignity of each life.

Shame is transformed into substantial good at the Cross. Just as there is a momentum to the evil of abuse, fanning out like fissures from an earthquake, so repentance before the Crucified overcomes evil. Jesus Himself assumes the web of wounds and rouses the darkened Church, preparing her to shine once more. Our resurrection is founded on His justice and mercy. We arise in humbled passion for the integrity of our Church.

Brimming with new life, we must act. Shame’s transformation requires more than mystical transactions. Will we follow Benedict’s call to bear witness with our very lives of a transparent, integrated Church who lives the truths she upholds?

From the beginning of his papacy, Benedict faced a hemorrhaging crisis of abuse. He realized that the dignity of all people, beginning with the education of children, required the transparent integrity of the Church. To him, sexual abuse was more than an isolated problem of priestly perversion; it signaled a disturbing shift in the entire culture toward sexual values that dehumanized others.

‘Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and crude manipulations of sexuality so prevalent today.’ (Address to US Bishops, 2008)

Degradations and manipulations like the priestly abuse of children! More than ever, we need a humbled witness from the top down of sexual integration. What does it mean to live chastely? How do we acquire self-control and pass it on to a generation already exposed to more filth than at any other time in history?

The church must reclaim its beautiful (and bravely counter-cultural) teaching on chastity–beginning with her priests. We must discover together how Jesus and His community help us to actually integrate God’s will for our sexuality into the fabric of our real lives. That means more than preaching another round of conservative sexual ethics; we must also wrestle honestly with our ‘ethos’–our desires and conflicts.

Jesus wants to transform our hearts–our affections, our attitudes, our motives– that we might embody a living morality. Repentance before the Crucified is key. While sexual abuse is the ultimate ‘disintegrator’, Jesus’ redeeming power in our lives always points to integration, toward wholeness. The stench of abusive priests must be overcome by the fragrance of those priests who live chaste lives through the cross and its community. Following their good lead, we too can embody what it means to offer our chaste selves to one another.

We the laity must do our part. As the numbers of priests are declining, we must increase our commitment to transparent service of the Church. We can ensure that our dioceses have solid systems in place for responding quickly and impartially to abuse charges, and especially to the abused. These systems must become normative!

The abuse crisis has struck an inspired blow against clericalism. It has altered her ‘in-house’ mentality, and she is learning to yield substantial control to empowered laity and civil authorities. As with any organizational shift in values and praxis, this will require time and vigilance on the part of all.

Change takes time. Change is taking place. We now have a better grasp of the horror of priestly abuse and how to prevent it than we had 10 years ago. In spite of our problems, the US Church has exemplified candor for the worldwide Church whose abuses are just beginning to be revealed. Their ‘skandalon’ is ours; we have much yet to endure. We can do so through the One who endured all in order to transform our shame into glory.

Abuse has struck us down, but we are not destroyed. (2Cor 4:9) Our dying is not fatal. We see life-signs–the fruit of God’s purifying, disciplining hand. He is judging clericalism, and inspiring a more humble, candid hierarchy; He is weeding out ill-equipped candidates for the priesthood and empowering solid clerics and laity; He is calling the Church to a new integrity in how she embodies her truth.

Merciful discipline. God is having His way with His Bride.

‘The truth must come out; without the truth we will never be set free. We must face the truth of the past; repent it; make good the damage done. And yet we must move forward day by day along the painful path of renewal, knowing that it is only when human misery encounters face-to-face the liberating Mercy of God that our Church will be truly restored and enriched.’ Dublin Archbishop Martin, 2010

‘We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, leading to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church.’ John Paul II

‘For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines forth like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.’ (IS 62:1)


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

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A ‘Fuller’ Mercy

Throughout the eighties, Fuller Theological Seminary helped us to establish a sure foundation for our offering of mercy. (I was a student there studying for a Masters of Divinity, and to become a Marriage and Family Therapist.)

Three recollections: my most demanding and fruitful course, ‘Theological Anthropology’ taught by Dr. Ray Anderson, probed the depth of what it meant to bear God’s image as male and female—it so resonated with my calling to restore that image through the blood of Christ and the love of His community that I broke down during one study session. (Gratefully, I was alone at home.)

Maybe it was the pressure I was under, maybe it was the Spirit, or maybe the convergence of exquisite theology and the profound pastoral needs we faced outside of the classroom. Anyway, I dropped the book I was outlining, fell to my knees, and could not stop sobbing. I knew my calling: to raise high the power of the cross to restore the beauty of God’s image in humanity–man for woman, woman for man.

Such theological and vocational clarity was matched by pervasive unbelief on campus as to whether homosexuals could change. I led with my testimony, which invited arguably the most influential professor on campus to inquire of me (rather snidely) in the hallway one day: ‘When are you going to go back into the gay lifestyle?’

Such comments refined me and made me quick to testify when necessary. Questions of gay ordination and blessing were brewing big time in Protestant denominations, and Fuller, as a ‘progressive’ evangelical institution, was on the front-lines of the debate.

Somehow I knew what was at stake: the biblical witness of God’s image in humanity, and the transforming power of Christ Crucified and Raised. In bowing before gay activists, I knew that Christians ran the risk of losing the Gospel entirely.

One morning while immersed in learning Greek, I overheard a conversation in the next classroom as to whether gays could actually change, and if in fact they were just a different people group, then why should not we give them full rights and privileges in our churches?

I dodged Greek and went next door to listen and to impart the truth of what Jesus can do in the lives of homosexuals (like me!), and why He wants to do it for the sake of His image in humanity and church. No-one said a word. In truth, no-one in that class (Sexual Ethics, I believe) really knew anyone actually facing the conflict of same-sex attraction.

They were being seduced: into a false understanding of homosexuality (an inborn condition, like ethnicity), into a false compassion (we must have mercy on them as an oppressed people group) and into a false justice (we must give them full rights of ordination, marriage, etc.)

I then understood that the healing of the homosexual would always be a central point in illuminating the bigger issue of God’s image, and the power of the merciful Bridegroom and Bride to restore it.

I see clearly God’s hand of mercy in leading me to Fuller. There He equipped and refined me through myriad opportunities to know and live the truth. Without the truth, mercy has no meaning. Only upon the age-old foundations does God pour out His restoring love.

‘The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land, and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins, and raise up the age-old foundations.’ (Is 58: 11, 12)

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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