‘Not a Flag to Wave’: Pope Criticizes Political Use of Christianity
On a four-day visit to Slovakia and Hungary, Francis had strong words for those who wield Christian symbols for personal gain.
ROME — Pope Francis on Tuesday rejected in stark terms the use of the cross as a political tool, an apparent swipe at nationalist forces in Europe and beyond that have used the imagery of Christianity for personal gain.
“Let us not reduce the cross to an object of devotion, much less to a political symbol, to a sign of religious and social status,” Francis said in eastern Slovakia during a four-day visit to that country and to Hungary, his first trip since undergoing intestinal surgery in July.
The remarks came two days after Francis stopped in Budapest, where he met Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has made Hungary’s Christian roots and identity a hallmark of his political messaging and policies, including anti-immigrant and nationalist measures.
“The cross is not a flag to wave, but the pure source of a new way of living,” Francis said, adding that a Christian “views no one as an enemy, but everyone as a brother or sister.”
Francis has a track record of speaking more freely, and critically, of a country after leaving it. In 2017, he spoke out in support of the persecuted Rohingya minority in Myanmar after departing that country for neighboring Bangladesh.
On Sunday, he urged bishops in Hungary to embrace diversity. And after celebrating a Mass there, with Mr. Orban in the front row, he said that strong Christian roots allowed a nation to reach out “toward all.”
But the pope’s remarks in Slovakia on Tuesday were more blunt. He appeared to extend his criticism to politicians and activists who use Christian references and symbols to gain ground in so-called culture wars.
“How often do we long for a Christianity of winners,” he asked, “a triumphalist Christianity that is important and influential, that receives glory and honor?”
Francis was speaking to about 30,000 faithful in Presov, in eastern Slovakia, where he presided over a Byzantine rite known as a Divine Liturgy, which is used by Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
He then added to his message of inclusion by traveling to meet with the country’s Roma, who have long experienced discrimination and poverty, in the rundown and segregated settlements of Kosice.
In his homily on Tuesday, Francis spoke at length about Christian identity, lamenting that the cross and crucifix had too often become mere adornments, diluting their true meaning.
What is the value, he asked, of hanging a crucifix from a rearview mirror or one’s neck if a person has no meaningful relationship with Jesus? “What good is this,” he said, “unless we stop to look at the crucified Jesus and open our hearts to him?”
In recent years, some politicians in Europe have used religious symbols as part of campaign messages centered on identity politics.
In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the populist League party, often campaigned with rosary beads in hand. At one rally with far-right leaders from France, Germany and the Netherlands, he also invoked the protection of the Virgin Mary over Italy.
Some conservative cardinals in the Vatican — many of whom are highly critical of Francis — spoke glowingly of Mr. Salvini and have also expressed sympathy toward Mr. Orban.
In interviews before the pope’s visit on Sunday, several Hungarian priests and other Catholics in Budapest echoed Mr. Orban’s emphasis on Hungary as a Christian country. They said the prime minister had been unfairly criticized for standing up against waves of mostly Muslim migration, which he has compared to an invasion.
On Sunday, Mr. Orban and Francis convened for a courtesy meeting that lasted 40 minutes, and the prime minister urged the pontiff “not to let Christian Hungary perish.”
Francis spent just seven hours in Hungary, despite appeals by its bishops for him to stay longer.
The Vatican said that the pope’s visit to Budapest was purely spiritual in nature, to celebrate the closing Mass of a weeklong Catholic congress. But others close to the pope allowed that there could be a tacit message to Mr. Orban in the discrepancy between the time spent in Hungary and that spent in Slovakia, which is led by a progressive president who, like Francis, is critical of nationalism.
WHY NOBODY SHOULD BE SURPRISED THAT POPE FRANCIS MADE PROBLEMATIC COMMENTS ABOUT JUDAISM — AND THAT HE REMAINS UNAPOLOGETIC
The tenure of Pope Francis has been marked by his support for a host of causes more closely associated with the political left, including climate change, greater regulation of capitalism, and the fate of refugees attempting to reach Europe. He’s even taken modest steps on more explicit doctrinal issues such as opening certain church leadership roles to women, emphasizing the importance of welcoming LGBTQ individuals into the church (while still, of course, condemning homosexuality), greater flexibility with regard to divorce, and the possibility of relaxing the priesthood’s celibacy requirement. Particularly when set against the rising forces of reactionary nationalism in the late 2010s, Francis’s service as the Bishop of Rome has seen a marked shift away from the fiercely anti-communist rhetoric of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II.
Perhaps, then, this is why it came as a surprise to many, including the Israeli Rabbinate, that in an August 11th homily Pope Francis would express full-throated endorsement of a belief which, in contemporary parlance, could be glossed as “problematic.”
“The Torah […] does not give life,” Francis asserted. Rather, “those who seek life need to look to the promise and its fulfillment in Christ.” The notion that Jewish law is wholly insufficient insofar as its truth has been surpassed and exceeded by Christ’s message to mankind—supersessionism—would seem to be at distinct odds with Francis’s noted embrace of religious pluralism. And yet, this is precisely what he articulated.
Francis has even responded to concern from the Israeli Rabbinate by insisting that his comments “should not be taken as passing a judgement on Jewish law.” It seems the Pope understood his comments simply as a matter of course, as essentially value-neutral. What are we to make of this apparent dissonance? Is Francis-the-social-liberal the same as Francis-the-denigrator-of-Jewish-tradition?
Nuns Raped Girls With Crucifixes as Female Pedophilia Was Covered Up by the Church
Barbie Latza Nadeau
Tue, October 5, 2021, 6:09 AM
ROME—“Marie” was placed in a French Catholic boarding school for “young girls from good families” when she was in the fifth grade. She remembers a nun who would come to her class every day to choose a student to help her with Mass. But the nun wasn’t looking for someone to help her. She was looking for a victim.
“I was 11 and looked 9. She would choose me once every two or three times,” she recalls. “She would take me to her office, lock the door, and then draw the curtains. After which she would put me on her knees to make me read the gospel according to Saint Paul or another saint, while she squeezed me with one hand to her chest and pulled down my panties with the other hand. We were of course in pleated skirts and not in pants. It terrified me and paralyzed.”
“Marie” couldn’t talk to her devout Catholic parents about the abuse until a friend convinced her to do so. The result, she says, was catastrophic. “You are really a pervert, a vicious liar. How dare you say such things?” her parents told her. In fact, her parents had told the nuns that she was being sent to boarding school because she needed to be tamed. “I was truly [a gift] for this nun... because she knew full well that she did not risk anything.”
The abuse lasted the whole year. At the age of 35, “Marie” told her mother again about the abuse. “My mother blissfully told me that it was impossible for a nun to whom she entrusted her daughter to abuse a girl,” she says. “Female pedophilia exists and unfortunately the media never talk about it.”
“Marie” was certainly not alone. Dozens of other victims of priests, nuns, and Catholic school personnel in France form the basis of a 2,500-page report released Tuesday by a special commission led by Jean-Marc Sauvé. While 80 percent of the victims were young boys between the ages of 10 and 13, many young girls were abused as well, and not only by priests. Nuns used crucifixes to rape little girls or forced boys to have sex with them, too.
The commission spent nearly three years combing through complaints and press reports and interviewing victims going back to the 1950s. Of the 3,000 abusers identified by the commission, two-thirds are priests. They found that priests and nuns alone abused around 216,000 children, but that the number climbs to 330,000 when they counted abuse at the hands of non-clergy who worked in Catholic schools and other institutions. The report only covers minors; the authors, who include scholars, psychologists, and law enforcement officials, say there could be many young men and women over the age of 18 who were also victims.
Their summary is damning, determining that the Catholic Church in France showed “a deep, cruel indifference toward victims.”
Olivier Savignac was another of those victims. He wanted to believe the priest in his home parish in France was a devout man. But when the priest asked him to take off his clothes and lie on the bed in a room at a Catholic summer camp when he was 13 years old, he knew something wasn’t right. “I perceived this priest as someone who was good, a caring person who would not harm me,” said Savignac, who now heads a group for victims of clerical sex abuse. “But it was when I found myself on that bed half-naked and he was touching me that I realized something was wrong.”
Savignac says the abuse, which went on for years, damaged him for life: “It’s like a growing cyst, it’s like gangrene inside the victim’s body and the victim’s psyche.”
Only 22 of the thousands of cases of criminal pedophilia qualify under French law for legal action. More than 40 cases that are past the statutes of limitations have been forwarded to the French Catholic Church in hopes that the perpetrators will be punished. On average, each perpetrator abused 70 children. The president of the French Conference of Bishops, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, said the church is “appalled” by the report. “I wish on that day to ask for pardon, pardon to each of you,” he told the victims. Pope Francis also expressed “sorrow” over the findings, saying he will pray for those affected. “His first thoughts are with the victims, with great sadness for their wounds,” Francis said in a statement through his press office, adding that he hoped the French church would now “undertake a way of redemption.”
Survivor Francois Devaux, who founded the victims' group La Parole Liberee, attended the presentation of the report. “You are a disgrace to our humanity,” he said, addressing the church as a whole. “In this hell, there have been abominable mass crimes... but there has been even worse: betrayal of trust, betrayal of morale, betrayal of children.”
‘WELCOME TO THE WAR’: WHAT A CREATIONIST CONFERENCE CAN TEACH US ABOUT EVANGELICAL VACCINE RESISTANCE
When I signed up to attend a 3-day conference at the flagship young-Earth creationist organization Answers in Genesis, I assumed I would be the only person wearing a mask. I was right—kind of. Although none of my fellow attendees was masked up, several were on sale in the vendor area. Playfully called “Reformed Masks,” one featuring theologian and conservative radio personality R.C. Sproul was captioned, “What’s wrong with you people?” Another depicted televangelist Kenneth Copeland spitting at spiked Covid-19 particles with the caption, “Blow it away!”
While the conference itself—aimed at pastors and church leaders concerned with “raising Godly generations”—was patently not about Covid-19, the speaker list and book offerings were a who’s who of anti-vaccine and anti-mask-mandate evangelicals. All conference registrants received a book defending gender complementarianism by John MacArthur, a pastor who has denied the very existence of the pandemic and whose church has made headlines for defying California’s bans on large gatherings. During his closing remarks, Ken Ham lauded Louisiana State Representative Mike Johnson—who has vocally opposed vaccine mandates—as one of the only “godly men” in Washington, DC.
A July study from PRRI found that white evangelicals were the American religious group most likely to indicate outright refusal to take a Covid-19 vaccine, while a number of other studies have also found that number hovering close to 25 percent. Journalists and academics alike have attempted to make sense of this discrepancy, pointing to existential fear, anti-intellectualism, and Christian nationalism as potential influences on American evangelicals’ vaccine antipathy.
As a scholar of American evangelicalism and media, I am inclined to agree with all of these insights, but my experience at this week’s Answers in Genesis conference reminded me of the system that fuels it all. American evangelicals’ deep-seated us-versus-them narrative is one that can set its crosshairs on any subject, particularly when facilitated by a sophisticated right-wing media machine that’s already gained evangelicals’ trust.
Take Answers in Genesis as an example. Ken Ham’s young-Earth creationist empire—replete with a Creation Museum, a Noah’s Ark theme park, a planned Tower of Babel attraction, homeschooling and Sunday School curricula, and even its own TV streaming service—is based on the concept that “mainstream” science is fundamentally flawed in its approach to evidence.
Secular scientists might claim that they allow observation and replicable experimentation to dictate their conclusions, but Answers in Genesis argues that scientists are deluding themselves about their true “starting point.”
Ham famously argues that there are only two religions—conservative Christianity based on a literal and univocal reading of God’s word and secular humanism derived from “man’s word.” At this week’s conference, he went a step further, claiming that secular scientists cannot claim a “neutral position,” because any worldview that is not actively in service of his version of orthodox Christianity is “hostile” to God and “desperately wicked” in its thinking.
“If it’s not for Christ, it’s against,” Ham told a cheering audience.
In this view, the concept of a “starting point” assumes a place of primacy. Answers in Genesis rejects the idea that scientists can observe and theorize the natural world without twisting that evidence to fit their atheistic, naturalistic agenda. The very hallmark of the scientific method—hypotheses’ openness to refutation based on the introduction of new evidence—is, to Ham’s organization, a sign that scientists have planted their flag with humans’ relativistic and sinful reasoning rather than God’s unchanging truth.
For instance, Answers in Genesis rejects the theory of evolution on the grounds that it would disprove the timeline of Earth’s history set out in the book of Genesis and compromise Christians’ belief in “the character of our loving God.” While they claim their view is nevertheless consistent with scientific evidence, their theory requires God’s miraculous intervention in order to make the evidence fit their understanding of the Bible. Answers in Genesis argues, for example, that Noah did not take every species of animal onto the ark, but rather representative “kinds,” and that these kinds have evolv—naturally selected—into the great variety we see on earth today.
Image courtesy of the author.
Answers in Genesis employs the term “natural selection” because they argue it represents a process we can observe on Earth today, but they admit that present processes of natural selection are “too small and too slow” to explain, say, how a single pair of the dog “kind” spun out into wolves and Pomeranians in the course of just a few thousand years. Rather than allowing this to put their conclusions into question, they introduce a miracle—God must have “provided organisms with special tools to change rapidly,” tools that these animals apparently no longer possess.
While this view is “about” science, it’s also about something simultaneously deeper and more insidious—the idea that the world is split into the small, faithful remnant that possesses a narrow, correct, Godly “worldview” and… everyone else, whose beliefs are not only unbiblical but actively wicked and hostile to God and Christians. Even self-proclaimed Christians are not guaranteed to be in the former category—Answers in Genesis devotes significant time in its articles, books, and museum signage to refuting false doctrines of old-Earth creationism, deriding even slightly more progressive Christians as “counterfeit” believers.
The strength of this narrative is in the fact that its conclusion is predetermined ahead of any and all contradictory evidence. Even if they realize that they are, well, massaging the evidence to fit a preconceived theory, their claim is: the other side is doing it too—and worse. Organizations like Answers in Genesis equip their believers to see a world not just hostile to their beliefs, but also driven by deeply wicked desires implanted by Satan himself, designed to attack Christians at every turn.
Which brings us back to the Covid-19 vaccine debate. The vaccine might not be the mark of the beast, but it is nevertheless a product made in the belly of the beast—manufactured by the same companies that add pride flags to their products in June and promoted by politicians who (in AiG’s view) want to banish the Christian god from his rightful place at the center of American life.
You might ask what makes the vaccine different in this way than, say, pain relievers manufactured by these same companies? Or hospitals that affirm transgender patients and support multi-faith initiatives but are also unvaccinated people’s last hope if they find themselves in need of a ventilator? The short answer is that the narrative of hostile resistance hasn’t been turned against these products and institutions. But it easily could be.
Studying evangelical media has made me keenly aware of how quickly and thoroughly this narrative can be employed to train consumers in the orthodoxy of the moment. What matters is not what happens to fall in its crosshairs: critical race theory, secular humanism, same-sex marriage, vaccine mandates; the fuel running the machine is a belief that this world is split into two “religions”—the “true” one and the “false” one whose aims are unceasingly hostile and evil.
Answers in Genesis spreads this message effectively through a massive multimedia effort—radio, books, magazines, films, school curricula, conferences, and in-person attractions. But it is far from alone. An entire extended universe of conservative evangelical talk radio, podcasts, television programs, articles, and Internet forums perpetuate the narrative that their consumers are under attack by a wicked world whose methods change from day to day, but whose goal is always the downfall of Christianity and Christians.
Why was I the only person wearing a mask at the Answers in Genesis conference? Because this sophisticated web of evangelical multimedia has trained its attention on masks and vaccines as “the world’s” newest attempt at isolating, weakening, and ultimately defeating Christians. For those who are constantly encouraged to believe that the world is out to destroy their faith, resistance simply seems like their God-given duty. As Ken Ham says in his 2020 book Will They Stand: Parenting Kids to Face the Giants, “Welcome to the war.”
Part of the Catholic church in Sicily has imposed a three-year prohibition on naming godparents, arguing that the tradition has become merely a way to fortify family ties — and mob ties, too.
CATANIA, Italy — The mother had prepared everything for the baptism. She dressed her infant son Antonio in a handmade satin suit with tails and a matching cream-colored top hat glittering with rhinestones. She hired the photographers and bought the baby a gold cross. She booked a big buffet lunch for the whole clan at the Copacabana.
But as the parish priest in the Sicilian city of Catania went through the usual liturgy, calling on the family to renounce Satan and ladling holy water on the squirming baby’s head, one major part of the ritual went missing.
There was no godfather.
“It’s not right,” said Agata Peri, 68, little Antonio’s great-grandmother. “I definitely didn’t make this decision.”
The church did. That weekend in October, the Roman Catholic diocese of Catania enacted a three-year ban on the ancient tradition of naming godparents at baptisms and christenings. Church officials argue that the once-essential figure in a child’s Catholic education has lost all spiritual significance. Instead, they say, it has become a networking opportunity for families looking to improve their fortunes, secure endowments of gold necklaces and make advantageous connections, sometimes with local power brokers who have dozens of godchildren.
God parenting, church officials said, had fallen to earth as a secular custom between relatives or neighbors — many deficient in faith or living in sin — and was now a mere method of strengthening family ties.
And sometimes mob ties, too.
Italian prosecutors have tracked baptisms to map out how underworld bosses spread influence, and mob widows in court have saved their most poisonous spite for “the real Judases” who betray the baptismal bond. It is a transgression most associated with, well, “The Godfather,” especially the baptism scene when Michael Corleone renounces Satan in church as his henchmen whack all of his enemies.
But church officials warn that secularization more than anything led them to rub out the godparents, a Sicilian thing that’s been going on for 2,000 years, or at least since the church’s dicey first days, when sponsors known to bishops vouched for converts to prevent pagan infiltration.
SYNOD OR SIN ODDLY: VATICAN ENCOURAGES CATHOLICS TO ‘WALK TOGETHER’ AS LONG AS THE HIERARCHY LEADS THE WAY AND DECIDES THE ROUTE
he “Synod on Synodality” which Pope Francis launched with minimal fanfare this month is the Vatican’s latest effort to square a circle. It’s meant to engage the whole church, all billion plus, in a process of “walking together” though no one seems to know quite where or how.
Sociologists might observe that many Catholics have already had their own synods and walked right out the door. Casual observers of religion will be forgiven for not knowing what’s going on. Serious students will do well to ask hard questions lest attention and energies be diverted from worthier pursuits. In the spirit of the late feminist philosopher and theologian Mary Daly, it seems more like ‘sinning oddly’ than a synod.
A synod is generally thought of as an assembly or meeting; in the Catholic case, a gathering of bishops who make decisions in a hierarchical church. The Vatican adamantly insists that this Synod is not a place, a thing, or an event. Rather, they call it a process, something on-going in various stages that’s meant to unfold from the ground up. It is said to be inclusive of many and varied persons whose views are taken into account. Unfortunately, there are structural reasons why such a process cannot be realized. Without the full inclusion of women in every aspect of church life there is simply no “walking together.”
Even if a billion people speak, it’s still some fraction of the world’s five thousand bishops who are allowed to vote, and one Pope who will decide the outcome of the process. There is nothing new or ‘synodal’ about that. It just reinforces and reinscribes the hierarchy and keeps most Catholics who are not part of it busy. They may think in good faith that they’re contributing to a collegial process. But with no power to vote, no accountability or transparency on how the input is generated, transmitted, and analyzed, and no say in how conclusions are implemented, this synod is a bad bet for lay people.
One Chaste Marriage, Four Kids, and the Catholic Church
A son reflects on his parents’ commitment, endorsed by the Catholic Church, to cohabit chastely like “brother and sister” to avoid mortal sin.
I was 26 and married when I learned of the arrangement between my parents.
Mom had come to stay with me and my new wife, and we got trapped indoors during an ice storm. Sometime during the interminable weekend, my mother, probably in an alcohol-fueled moment of candor, spilled the beans.
I had never heard of a Josephite marriage, a union inspired by the relationship between Joseph and the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. And to this day, I am astonished that my parents undertook a similar path with the blessing of the Roman Catholic Church. While their arrangement did not comply with the strict definition of a Josephite relationship — for they entered marriage without the intention of a celibate union — such pacts remain an option for Catholics seeking a higher spiritual plane.
My father was a worldly 32 and my mother a winsome 19 when they met. He was a doctor completing his training at Queens General Hospital, now known as Queens Hospital Center. She was a student nurse in clinical training there. He was agnostic, though his parents were Presbyterian. She was Catholic. They eloped, were married by a Lutheran minister, and produced four children. Dad had a severe heart attack at 46. This brush with death prompted him to convert to Catholicism.
After he recovered from his heart attack, my father undertook religious training from our assistant pastor, the Dublin-born Rev. Patrick O’Brien, a rosy-cheeked, rotund fellow who could have come from central casting. I remember that every Wednesday night my mother would serve roast leg of lamb with mint jelly for the benefit of our ordained visitor. This was far from the typical weeknight fare in our Texas household.
Not long thereafter, my three siblings and I noticed that our parents’ double bed was replaced by twin beds. My younger sister inquired about this. The sharp tone of our mother’s answer precluded further discussion: “Your father needs his rest!”
My three siblings and I accepted this without question.
What we didn’t know was that my father had been married before meeting my mother. His first marriage lasted about two years, and because the church refused to recognize the divorce and end of that union, my parents could not receive the sacrament of matrimony.
During my father’s immersion into Catholicism, it was pointed out that without the sacrament of matrimony performed by a priest, my parents were technically living in sin. Mortal sin. Every Catholic schoolchild knew the consequences: Mortal sin without absolution meant eternal damnation! And what of the legitimacy of the children?
My father tried repeatedly to have his first marriage annulled. The church declined. Grounds for Catholic annulment were much more strict before reforms introduced in the U.S. in 1968. To the best of my knowledge, my father’s first marriage did not meet the church’s requirements of that era.
But it did offer a different solution. Mom and Dad, with the bishop’s permission, and after taking a solemn vow, could leave the marital bed and replace it with chaste cohabitation.
According to an official document that still bears the embossed seals and signatures of various church officials and Catholic entities, they could “continue to cohabit in the manner of brother and sister.” I have the letter, dated March 5, 1962, from a diocesan marriage tribunal, a “curia matrimonialis,” in which both my parents swear to adhere to this arrangement — or face losing access to the sacraments and the blessing of the church. Mom was 34; Dad was 47.
Dad and I, as well as my younger sister, were later confirmed by the bishop on the same night at Shrine of the True Cross Church in Dickinson, Texas.
Secrecy was paramount. “No one is to know of the brother-sister relationship except the Advocate Father O’Brien, the Pastor, the Tribunal, and the confessors of the parties,” the tribunal’s letter said. It mentioned avoiding “notoriety” and “scandal.” Of course, even in the 1960s, one would think that not having sex with your spouse would fall on the low end of the scandal spectrum.
[Sign up for Love Letter and always get the latest in Modern Love, weddings, and relationships in the news by email.]
All this may seem like an artifact of the past, but a 2010 article in the publication Catholic Exchange explained that in addition to conventional marriage, there still exists “the type of marriage Joseph and Mary had and is sometimes referred to as a Josephite marriage.” Married celibates, according to the article, give up sex “because they hope to live a life that points the way to what will come in the next life, to something better and higher.”
Robert Sullivan, a regular writer for the Catholic Exchange and a lawyer from Nebraska, told me that Josephite-like arrangements can be used to circumvent “some kind of impediment to marriage” as well as to “deepen a person’s faith.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if the Catholic Church continues to structure these arrangements for couples who request such a union.
“It is extremely rare that people today request a Josephite marriage,” said Christopher West, the president of the Theology of the Body Institute, which promotes a healthy understanding of sex within the teachings of the Catholic Church. “I do know of a couple who a few years ago discerned that they were called to live a Josephite marriage. Their motivation was carefully evaluated by their local diocese.”
Mr. West added, “The normal path to holiness in marriage is to sanctify the marriage bed, not to sacrifice the marriage bed.”
The prevailing view of theologians is that the special physical relationship of Mary and Joseph — the original Josephite marriage — endured throughout their lives.
As for my parents, nine years after my father’s heart attack and their decision to have a celibate marriage, his first wife died. On an ordinary Tuesday evening in 1970, Mom and Dad were married in secrecy at our parish church. Two tight-lipped family friends served as witnesses. My mother said, “As I recall, we went out for a drink afterward.”
The twin beds in my parents’ bedroom were replaced by one big one. Yet again, my younger sister asked about the rearrangement.
My mother’s brusque reply: “Your father is feeling much better!”
Yes, I suppose he was feeling better, reunited with Mom and, at long last, their union recognized for what it was.
I told this story when I delivered the eulogy at my mother’s funeral mass at Shrine of the True Cross in May 2019. I’m sure it was news to most of her many friends in the church that day. The current pastor didn’t know about her complicated marital history, and I was a little nervous about how he’d respond.
But after I sat down, he took the pulpit. “I can’t explain or excuse the things the church asked of people more than 50 years ago,” the priest said. “But it’s clear how important it was to Betty and Bill that their marriage be blessed by the church. Without judging what they went through, we can admire and appreciate their resolve and their sacrifice to enter the sanctity of marriage.”
There is still a lot I don’t understand about a celibate union, but what harm did it do? Our brood of four siblings might have been increased by a few more souls. But my parents didn’t seem to feel shortchanged, so who am I to question things. During her long years as a widow, Mom recalled, “It was what we had to do to be together. It wasn’t so bad.”
RECOGNIZING (THE LONG HISTORY OF) CHRISTIAN WITCHES MAY BE KEY TO DIVERSIFYING WITCH COMMUNITY
Last Tuesday, author and witch J. Allen Cross tweeted out some advice for white people who want more BIPOC speaking and teaching at their “magical witchy” conferences. One of his pieces of advice was, “Stop branding all witchy/magical events as specifically ‘pagan’. A great deal of our folk magic is christian based and the pagan branding makes us and our magic feel unwelcome.”
What is Cross getting at here? RD wasn’t able to reach him for comment, but witchcraft practices in the West over the past millennium give us an idea. As much as Christian elites have tried to forbid magical practices and label them un-Christian over the centuries, millions of magical practitioners, many of them people of color, have identified themselves and their magical practice as Christian.
It’s become popular for news outlets to profile the apparent rise in modern witchcraft, yet the magic has been with us all along; the tendency for witches to identify as pagan is what’s actually new—this side of the medieval period, at least.
Many Christians will tell you witchcraft is forbidden in scripture. They might point to the magical book-burning Paul orchestrates in Acts chapter 19, or quote the King James Version of the famous passage from Exodus 22, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Christian ministers and leaders in Europe and the United States have often condemned magic in the centuries since, with many of the more recent versions involving pop culture, like the banning of Harry Potter books for supposedly containing actual spells.
Contrary to the opinion of these leaders, many Christians over the centuries have practiced magic and considered their magic Christian. In the academic field of religious studies, scholars ideally don’t privilege the testimony of what Christian leaders claim is proper Christianity over the testimony of less-elite Christians. It’s not up to Christian elites to decide whether magic (or anything else for that matter) is or is not “Christian.” In Haiti there’s a saying that the population is 70% Catholic, 30% Protestant and 100% Vodou.* In other words, we needn’t see Christianity as incompatible with any number of practices or beliefs associated with other religions or cultures.
Examples of Christian popular magic are plentiful. The local practitioners of magic of early modern England known as “cunning-folk” identified as Christian, as did those who used their magical services. Historian of European magic Owen Davies provides an example of a popular Christian magical charm from the era meant to protect buildings from harm. The cunning-person would write, in Latin, Omnis spiritus laudet Dominum: Mosen habent et Prophetas: Exurgat Deus et dissipentur inimici ejus, or: “Let every spirit praise the Lord: they have Moses and the Prophets: Let God arise and his enemies be scattered.”
The second line comes from Luke 16:29 in the Christian Bible, and the last line comes from Psalm 68. Historian Yvonne Chireau, who examines Hoodoo, or Black American folk magic, describes Christian folk magic in a later American context. Many practitioners of Hoodoo saw the Bible as a powerful source of spells and charms, and the words of scripture themselves were thought to magically ward off evil when worn as a medallion. As Chireau notes, Black American author and ethnographer Zora Neale Hurston observed that Hoodoo practitioners viewed Moses as a powerful African miracle worker and the greatest conjurer.
Recent profiles of witchcraft have often focused on young witches who self-identify as pagan and who self-consciously distance themselves from Christianity. But while magic in antiquity existed in a diverse religious milieu that included pagan, Christian, and Jewish influences, magic has existed in a primarily Christian context for the past thousand years in the West—until recently, of course. Given the different role Christianity plays in BIPOC vs. white American cultures we shouldn’t view it as incidental that Cross, who describes himself as being “of Mexican, Native American, and European descent,” is among the voices urging his community to decouple witchcraft from an exclusively pagan identity. But we also shouldn’t be surprised if there’s pushback from those whose identity is predicated on this equivalency.
Was Jesus really born in Bethlehem? Why the Gospels disagree over the circumstances of Christ's birth
Rodolfo Galvan Estrada III, Assistant Professor of the New Testament, Vanguard University
Every Christmas, a relatively small town in the Palestinian West Bank comes center stage: Bethlehem. Jesus, according to some biblical sources, was born in this town some two millennia ago.
Yet the New Testament Gospels do not agree about the details of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Some do not mention Bethlehem or Jesus’ birth at all.
The Gospels’ different views might be hard to reconcile. But as a scholar of the New Testament, what I argue is that the Gospels offer an important insight into the Greco-Roman views of ethnic identity, including genealogies.
Today, genealogies may bring more awareness of one’s family medical history or help uncover lost family members. In the Greco-Roman era, birth stories and genealogical claims were used to establish rights to rule and link individuals with purported ancestral grandeur.
Gospel of Matthew
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the first Gospel in the canon of the New Testament, Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. The story begins with wise men who come to the city of Jerusalem after seeing a star that they interpreted as signaling the birth of a new king.
It goes on to describe their meeting with the local Jewish king named Herod, of whom they inquire about the location of Jesus’ birth. The Gospel says that the star of Bethlehem subsequently leads them to a house – not a manger – where Jesus has been born to Joseph and Mary. Overjoyed, they worship Jesus and present gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These were valuable gifts, especially frankincense and myrrh, which were costly fragrances that had medicinal use.
The Gospel explains that after their visit, Joseph has a dream where he is warned of Herod’s attempt to kill baby Jesus. When the wise men went to Herod with the news that a child had been born to be the king of the Jews, he made a plan to kill all young children to remove the threat to his throne. It then mentions how Joseph, Mary and infant Jesus leave for Egypt to escape King Herod’s attempt to assassinate all young children.
Matthew also says that after Herod dies from an illness, Joseph, Mary and Jesus do not return to Bethlehem. Instead, they travel north to Nazareth in Galilee, which is modern-day Nazareth in Israel.
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel of Luke, an account of Jesus’ life which was written during the same period as the Gospel of Matthew, has a different version of Jesus’ birth. The Gospel of Luke starts with Joseph and a pregnant Mary in Galilee. They journey to Bethlehem in response to a census that the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus required for all the Jewish people. Since Joseph was a descendant of King David, Bethlehem was the hometown where he was required to register.
The Gospel of Luke includes no flight to Egypt, no paranoid King Herod, no murder of children and no wise men visiting baby Jesus. Jesus is born in a manger because all the travelers overcrowded the guest rooms. After the birth, Joseph and Mary are visited not by wise men but shepherds, who were also overjoyed at Jesus’ birth.
Luke says these shepherds were notified about Jesus’ location in Bethlehem by angels. There is no guiding star in Luke’s story, nor do the shepherds bring gifts to baby Jesus. Luke also mentions that Joseph, Mary and Jesus leave Bethlehem eight days after his birth and travel to Jerusalem and then to Nazareth.
The differences between Matthew and Luke are nearly impossible to reconcile, although they do share some similarities. John Meier, a scholar on the historical Jesus, explains that Jesus’ “birth at Bethlehem is to be taken not as a historical fact” but as a “theological affirmation put into the form of an apparently historical narrative.” In other words, the belief that Jesus was a descendant of King David led to the development of a story about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.
Raymond Brown, another scholar on the Gospels, also states that “the two narratives are not only different – they are contrary to each other in a number of details.”
Mark’s and John’s Gospels
What makes it more difficult is that neither the other Gospels, that of Mark and John, mentions Jesus’ birth or his connection to Bethlehem.
The Gospel of Mark is the earliest account of Jesus’ life, written around A.D. 60. The opening chapter of Mark says that Jesus is from “Nazareth of Galilee.” This is repeated throughout the Gospel on several occasions, and Bethlehem is never mentioned.
A blind beggar in the Gospel of Mark describes Jesus as both from Nazareth and the son of David, the second king of Israel and Judah during 1010-970 B.C. But King David was not born in Nazareth, nor associated with that city. He was from Bethlehem. Yet Mark doesn’t identify Jesus with the city Bethlehem.
The Gospel of John, written approximately 15 to 20 years after that of Mark, also does not associate Jesus with Bethlehem. Galilee is Jesus’ hometown. Jesus finds his first disciples, does several miracles and has brothers in Galilee.
This is not to say that John was unaware of Bethlehem’s significance. John mentions a debate where some Jewish people referred to the prophecy which claimed that the messiah would be a descendant of David and come from Bethlehem. But Jesus according to John’s Gospel is never associated with Bethlehem, but with Galilee, and more specifically, Nazareth.
The Gospels of Mark and John reveal that they either had trouble linking Bethlehem with Jesus, did not know his birthplace, or were not concerned with this city.
These were not the only ones. Apostle Paul, who wrote the earliest documents of the New Testament, considered Jesus a descendant of David but does not associate him with Bethlehem. The Book of Revelation also affirms that Jesus was a descendant of David but does not mention Bethlehem.
An ethnic identity
During the period of Jesus’ life, there were multiple perspectives on the Messiah. In one stream of Jewish thought, the Messiah was expected to be an everlasting ruler from the lineage of David. Other Jewish texts, such as the book 4 Ezra, written in the same century as the Gospels, and the Jewish sectarian Qumran literature, which is written two centuries earlier, also echo this belief.
But within the Hebrew Bible, a prophetic book called Micah, thought to be written around B.C. 722, prophesies that the messiah would come from David’s hometown, Bethlehem. This text is repeated in Matthew’s version. Luke mentions that Jesus is not only genealogically connected to King David, but also born in Bethlehem, “the city of David.
Genealogical claims were made for important ancient founders and political leaders. For example, Ion, the founder of the Greek colonies in Asia, was considered to be a descendant of Apollo. Alexander the Great, whose empire reached from Macedonia to India, was claimed to be a son of Hercules. Caesar Augustus, who was the first Roman emperor, was proclaimed as a descendant of Apollo. And a Jewish writer named Philo who lived in the first century wrote that Abraham and the Jewish priest and prophets were born of God.
Regardless of whether these claims were accepted at the time to be true, they shaped a person’s ethnic identity, political status and claims to honor. As the Greek historian Polybius explains, the renown deeds of ancestors are “part of the heritage of posterity.”
Matthew and Luke’s inclusion of the city of Bethlehem contributed to the claim that Jesus was the Messiah from a Davidic lineage. They made sure that readers were aware of Jesus’ genealogical connection to King David with the mention of this city. Birth stories in Bethlehem solidified the claim that Jesus was a rightful descendant of King David.
So today, when the importance of Bethlehem is heard in Christmas carols or displayed in Nativity scenes, the name of the town connects Jesus to an ancestral lineage and the prophetic hope for a new leader like King David.
This article is very relevant today being the birthday of Hazar Imam. It signifies the importance of seeking the birth of the Imam in our own lives.
What Mary Can Teach Us About the Joy and Pain of Life
Two years ago, my husband took up painting icons, an ancient and exacting devotional art form. In his first iconography course, he painted an icon that depicts Mary holding Jesus as an infant. It sits on our mantel, and I look at it every day. It exudes tenderness and love between Jesus and his mother. He is nestled against her, turned slightly toward her face. His hand rests intimately on her neck. Maybe as a tired mother myself I am just projecting, but I’m always drawn to her eyes, which strike me as deeply weary and kind with a touch of sorrow.
As we near Christmas, the church turns our attention to the story of Mary. In the Bible, we first find Mary as an adolescent in a relatively backwater town. She’s a virgin betrothed to marry. Then, she encounters an angel and her world turns upside down. “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus,” says the angel. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”
To me, Mary embodies an idea in the Eastern Orthodox tradition: “bright sadness.” This phrase names how gladness and grief are never easily disentangled, how we taste both longing and delight, simultaneously, in every moment of our lives.
The Catholic theologian Aidan Nichols argues that the typical translation in Catholic Bibles of the angel’s greeting to Mary, “Hail, full of grace” (the inspiration of both the famous “Hail Mary” prayer and its namesake football pass), is better translated “rejoice” or “rejoice greatly” because this word typically “refers to the joy of the people.” The first word, then, that the angel speaks to Mary is an explicit call to joy.
And what is Mary’s response to this celestial call? She is “disturbed” or “greatly troubled.” She’s told to rejoice but she trembles in fear. Soon enough, she responds to the angel, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Soon enough, she will be rejoicing. Soon enough, she’ll be singing her famous Magnificat, which begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
But first, she is troubled. She sits in tension — a tension we all sit in when God is at work but pain is at hand.
In the story of Jesus’ birth, we see the danger, chaos and poverty into which Mary brought her son. She hears cosmic messages from shepherds about the signs of God’s peace. Then, soon after Jesus’ birth, at his circumcision, she is told that “a sword will pierce through” her own soul. She could not have known all that this foreboding prediction might mean or that someday she would watch her adult son be tortured and die in agony, crucified alongside two criminals.
But as the Gospel stories continue through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we find in Mary’s story that joy and pain constantly intertwine. Her heart is full of all kinds of unimaginable memories treasured up and her soul waits to be pierced. Her life story witnesses to the profound vulnerability of mothers in a world where deep love does not give us the ability to protect our children from all violence or pain.
Mary was called by God, and her life reminds me that the vocations that God calls us to inevitably involve both joy and pain. “Love and loss are a double helix this side of heaven,” I write in my book “Prayer in the Night.” “You can’t have one without the other. God’s calling on our lives will inevitably require us to risk both. We know this dappled reality in the most meaningful parts of our life: in struggling through marriage or singleness and celibacy, in loving and raising children, in our work, in serving the church,” and in our closest friendships.
The poet and songwriter Rich Mullins asked, “How do you know when God is calling you?”
He continued, “To listen to the call of God means to accept some of the emptiness we have in our lives and rather than always trying to drown out that feeling of emptiness, we allow it instead to be a door we go through in order to meet God.”
There is a lot of focus on emptiness and filling this time of year. In her Magnificat, Mary sings, God “has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” In the Christmas story, empty wombs are filled. Empty skies are suddenly full of angels. Empty mangers are filled with the Light of the World. But first, as we prepare for Christmas, we recall that we cannot run from the emptiness in our lives. We wait for it to be filled in the right time, in the right way.
When I feel loneliness, loss and the emptiness present in even my very good life, I rush to fill it up. Winds of emptiness echo in a hollow moment of my day, and I run to distraction. I stuff my waking moments with busyness, social media, argument, work and consumption. These can be cheap attempts at joy, or at least at numbing any sense of grief.
But Mary’s story recalls that joy can’t be gotten cheaply. The pain of the world cannot be papered over in a sentimental display of tamed little angels and a cute, chubby baby Jesus. The emptiness in the world and in our own lives can’t be filled with enough hurry or buying power or likes or retweets. We wait for the birth of Jesus, who was called Emmanuel, God with us. We wait with Mary for our hunger to be filled.
Bishop chastised for telling kids ‘Santa does not exist’
10 Dec, 2021 17:11
The Catholic Church has apologized to parents after a bishop in Sicily told a congregation packed with children that “Santa Claus does not exist,” and that the modern Father Christmas was invented by the Coca-Cola company.
“First of all, in the name of the bishop, I express my regret for this declaration which has generated disappointment in the smallest children,” the Italian press quoted Don Alessandro Paolino of the Diocese of Noto as saying.
Don Paolino’s apology came after Bishop Antonio Stagliano left some young churchgoers upset this week by telling them point-blank that Santa Claus was not real.
Hollywood actor blames failure of his show on ‘white supremacists’READ MORE: Hollywood actor blames failure of his show on ‘white supremacists’
“I would add that the red colour of his coat was chosen by Coca-Cola for advertising purposes,” Stagliano said, claiming that the company uses the wholesome image of Santa to “depict itself as an emblem of healthy values.”
Bizarrely, Stagliano’s words were uttered during a festival that culminated in a re-enactment of the arrival of St. Nicholas to the Sicilian town of Noto on horseback. As such, his words reached many local youngsters, and parents reportedly took to social media to vent their frustration with the bishop. Some accused him of hypocrisy for slating Santa while insisting on the existence of “the son of the virgin and the holy spirit who walked on water,” the Times reported.
Others compared the bishop to the Grinch.
However, Stagliano stood by what he said. Amid the outrage, he claimed that he wanted children to forget about Coca-Cola’s depiction of Santa and focus on the true historical origins of Father Christmas – Saint Nicholas.
“If Santa is St. Nicholas, children will be more open to the idea of helping each other, to the idea of solidarity that comes from giving gifts to poorer children,” he stated. His sermon, he said, was “a way of doing pop theology and recovering the true meaning of the Christian tradition of Christmas.”
Saint Nicholas, who lived in modern-day Turkey in the third century, inspired some of the traditions we now associate with Santa Claus. He is said to have thrown coins in the window of a poor family’s house, and anonymously distributed food to the hungry. His legend inspired the Dutch tradition of ‘Sinterklaas’, which in turn became the English ‘Santa Claus’, who was depicted wearing various outfits until Coca-Cola popularised his red and white getup in the 1930s.
Catholic diocese says gay and trans people can’t be baptized or receive communion
Thu, December 9, 2021, 6:43 PM·6 min read
A Catholic diocese in Michigan has been thrust into the national spotlight after its guidance on transgender members and those in same-sex relationships was shared on social media this week by a prominent priest and author. The now-viral guidance, issued by the Diocese of Marquette in July, states that these congregants are prohibited from being baptized or receiving communion unless they have “repented.”
One advocate called it the “most egregious” guidance ever issued by a diocese.
It directs the church’s priests on how to develop a pastoral relationship with “persons with same-sex attraction” and “persons with gender dysphoria,” and “lead them step‐by‐step closer to Jesus Christ in a manner that is consistent with the Church’s teaching.”
The Roman Catholic Church has long held that being gay isn’t a sin, but being in a gay relationship or having gay sex is. The Vatican also ruled in March that priests cannot bless same-sex unions.
Regarding transgender people, the Vatican in June 2019 released “Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education,” in which it rejected the idea that trans people can exist and said the “ideology” aims “to annihilate the concept of ‘nature.’”
The Diocese of Marquette said in its July guidance that trans people deserve “love and friendship” and compared them to people “suffering from anorexia nervosa.”
“In this disorder there is an incongruence between how the persons perceive themselves and their bodily reality,” the guidance states. “Just as we would refer a person with anorexia to an expert to help him or her, let us also refer persons with gender dysphoria to a qualified counselor to help them while we show them the depth of our love and friendship.”
The document states that people in same-sex relationships and trans people cannot be baptized, confirmed or receive Holy Communion. They also cannot serve as witnesses at Catholic baptisms or confirmations.
But, the guidance says that gay and transgender people can participate in these sacraments if they repent. For gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer people, that would mean ending a same-sex relationship, and for trans people, that would mean living as the sex they were assigned at birth, though the guidance notes that trans people who have undergone “physical changes to the body” are not required to reverse them.
Also, in accordance with Catholic doctrine, the guidance states that children of same-sex married couples can be baptized if they are raised in the Catholic faith and taught that same-sex marriage goes against the church’s teachings.
“Unlike a man and woman who are cohabitating or in an invalid marriage, the status of same‐sex couples can never be regularized, which presents a particular pastoral concern,” it states. “To avoid scandal, the baptism should be celebrated privately, and care should be taken to avoid the impression of accepting the redefinition of marriage and parenthood.”
The document surfaced after the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, LGBTQ advocate and best-selling author, criticized it on Twitter, writing on Tuesday, “It is not a sin to be transgender.”
Martin added, “Transgender people are beloved children of God struggling to understand their identity. They need to be accepted with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity.’ As Cardinal Gregory told a trans person, ‘You belong to the heart of this church.’”
He later added in additional tweets that the assertions that being transgender is a sin and that trans people do not exist “do immense harm to LGBTQ people and their families.”
He continued, “The Catholic Church needs to listen to LGBTQ people, not give them more reasons to distance themselves from the church.”
In a statement emailed to NBC News on Thursday, the Diocese of Marquette said the guidance was shared with pastors and school principals, among others, to provide “a framework” for them to develop pastoral relationships with LGBTQ congregants.
“The Church teaches that persons experiencing feelings of same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria is not sinful, but freely acting upon them is,” the statement, shared by John Fee, communications director for the Diocese of Marquette, read.
The statement also noted that the diocese’s bishop, John Doerfler, “served as a Courage chaplain” in his previous ministry and “found working with the Catholic apostolate to persons with same-sex attraction for several years as a priest to be a ‘privilege’ and he remains inspired by the members’ ‘faith and desire to live chastely.’”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, which advocates for LGBTQ rights in the Catholic Church, said that the guidance is part of a larger trend of dioceses “making statements that look like they’re trying to be helpful to gay, queer and transgender people, but that are really doing harm to the spiritual, emotional and physical health of our community and to families.”
She described this guidance in particular as the “most egregious” ever issued by a diocese and said it “goes much further than any diocese has gone before.”
Since the release of the Vatican’s “Male and Female He Created Them” — which she noted was supposed to be narrowly focused on education — she said more than a dozen dioceses in the United States have implemented their own policies or released additional statements.
“This educational mandate was sort of just put on the shelf by almost every other country in the world, but it just shows how many culture warrior bishops we have here in the United States, that they have really amplified this kind of teaching to the detriment of LGBTQ Catholics, who feel evermore excluded by the hierarchy of our church,” Duddy-Burke said.
The guidance from the Diocese of Marquette, and similar guidance from other dioceses, is also in conflict with many of Pope Francis’ teachings and overtures he’s made to the LGBTQ community, she noted. In 2013, for example, Pope Francis responded, "Who am I to judge?" to a question from a reporter about gay priests. Last year, he also told a group of parents that God loves their LGBTQ children.
But the pontiff’s statements conflict with rigid church doctrine regarding LGBTQ people — a doctrine Duddy-Burke said has been driving people out for decades.
A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that half of people who were raised Catholic have left the church at some point. Though it’s unclear how many left over the church’s LGBTQ policies, a 2019 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that nearly three-quarters, or 74%, of both white and nonwhite Catholics support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The majority also support same-sex marriage, with 68% of Hispanic Catholics and 63% of white Catholics in support.
Duddy-Burke added that young adults are also even more accepting of LGBTQ people than previous generations — and nearly 1 in 5 have said they are not straight, according to one global survey — which means they have grown up in a world “where many of them expect equity and inclusion for LGBTQ people.”
“If the church continues to have discriminatory attitudes, policies and teachings, the trend of people opting out of Catholicism is only going to continue,” she said.
Agata Fugat gracefully sings "Silent Night" accompanied by Michalina Jastrzębska (cello), Dominik Maciąg (bass guitar) and Jakub Niewiadomski (piano).
"Silent Night" (German: Stille Nacht) is a popular Christmas carol, composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. In 1859, the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, then serving at Trinity Church, New York City, wrote and published the English translation that is most frequently sung today. The song was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011 and has been recorded by many singers across many music genres.
JollyGul.com is presenting this song rendition, produced by Jakub Niewiadomski, with concurrent display of lyrics as part of holiday celebrations on our platform.
Malcolm Muggeridge, the renowned 20th-century social critic and British journalist, was an unlikely convert to Christianity. For most of his life, he was an agnostic; faith for him was “infinitely unattainable.” But attain it he did, late in life, and in 1975 he wrote, “The coming of Jesus into the world is the most stupendous event in human history.”
Twenty centuries after his birth, Jesus still holds a revered place in the hearts of billions of people. I am among them. I imagine that it has influenced almost every area of my life, like food coloring dropped in water.
Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him.
Martin Copenhaver, a retired president of Andover Newton Theological School, claims in his book “Jesus Is the Question” that Jesus was more than 40 times as likely to ask a question as answer one directly, and he was 20 times as likely to offer an indirect answer as a direct one. “Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger,” T.S. Eliot wrote in “The Rock.” “Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.”
Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
Jesus liked to turn the tables on his interlocutors, especially those who were in the business of asking questions themselves. In Luke, an expert in the law asked Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” His reply took the form of not one question but two: “What is written in the law?” and “How do you read it?” But that’s hardly the end of the exchange. We’re told that this person wanted to justify himself; Jesus moved the conversation to a very different plane, from the abstract to the personal. When the lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus asked what it meant to him to be a good neighbor. By the end of this cross-examination, Jesus had led his interlocutor — first through his questioning and then via the parable of the good Samaritan — to acknowledge that the person who is a good neighbor is the one who shows mercy. It is an astonishing interaction.
As for his use of parables, in “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” the theologian Kenneth Bailey wrote, Jesus “created meaning like a dramatist and a poet rather than like a philosopher.” The author refers to Jesus as a “metaphorical theologian” whose “primary method of creating meaning was through metaphor, simile, parable and dramatic action rather than through logic and reasoning.”
Jesus, when asked by his disciples in Matthew 13 why he spoke in parables, indicated that it was to reveal the truth to some and to hide the truth from others. He was willing to disclose the truth to those who were sincere but wanted to conceal it from people not willing to honestly wrestle with its meaning. Jesus also clearly understood the power of stories to make his words more memorable by making them more personal.
“Arguments may form our opinions, but stories form our loves,” Cherie Harder, the president of the Trinity Forum, told me. She added, “Stories ask us to enter another world — which usually has the result of broadening or disrupting our own.”
Jesus’ parables provide layers of meaning: There is enough richness and ambiguity in them that people could spend a lifetime reading them and taking different things from them. Bobby Gross of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship told me, “Parables and questions invite us — require us — to think, to ponder.”
Sign up for the Tish Harrison Warren newsletter, for Times subscribers only. An Anglican priest reflects on matters of faith in private life and public discourse. Get it in your inbox.
With his puzzles and paradoxes, Jesus is trusting our discernment, knowing that the Bible includes contrasting approaches on matters ranging from why people suffer to keeping the Sabbath to how we should treat our enemies. As the theologian Kenton Sparks put it, “At face value, Scripture does not seem to furnish us with one divine theology; it gives us numerous theologies.”
I wonder, too, if Jesus, in telling parables, might have had in mind what Emily Dickinson described when she wrote, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant/Success in Circuit lies.” So much more so when she closes her poem by saying, “The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind.”
Kerry Dearborn, a professor emerita of theology at Seattle Pacific, told me that in terms of the ways in which Jesus communicated, “I’m convinced he used questions and stories as a means of connection and transformation — to awaken us, to whet our appetites, to invite us to draw nearer, that we might open up more fully to God and to God’s purposes in and for us.”
“With his use of everyday elements of life, people felt seen,” Ms. Dearborn added. “With his powerful depictions of a father who loves prodigals, tax collectors and Samaritans, people were comforted and felt safe enough to follow him. And hearing stories of the ways in which God stands on the side of the oppressed, people would know they could trust this God of both justice and love.”
Philip Yancey, the author, most recently, of the memoir “Where the Light Fell,” said that “the aspect of Jesus’ style that stands out to me is how unpropagandistic he was. Imagine: He knew the truth more than anyone who has lived and could have responded with dogma and fiat, as the church so often has done in his place. Instead, he was anything but an arm twister.”
Mr. Yancey went on to point out in so many places, Jesus makes it impossible for us to conclude, “I’m OK. I can relax.” Whether it’s Jesus’ teachings on anger or lust or his command that we be perfect as his father in heaven is perfect, “no one can reach that place of spiritual superiority that Jesus holds out, which was his point, exactly. We don’t earn God’s grace; we receive it.”
William Fullilove, a pastor at McLean Presbyterian Church, where I worship, put it to me this way: “Jesus was after our hearts, not just our minds. He was after lives changed, not just intellects grown.”
Jesus used stories, then, but he was also part of a story, one that contains thousands of characters and unexpected twists and turns, different genres (poetry, prophecy, epistles, wisdom literature) and countless subplots. But the Bible is also, above all, a metanarrative — the unfolding of a story God has entered, most conspicuously in the person of Jesus, a drama that has purpose and direction. That has been, at least for some of us, a source of comfort, especially in moments of grief and great pain.
Kate Bowler, an associate professor at Duke Divinity School who was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 35, told me, “Jesus’ tender birth and violent death leave the problem of suffering unanswered until the end of days. We must learn to live and die in the not-yetness of suffering and empire, fear and uncertainty. But our questioning hearts in the face of evil is not an affront to faith. Jesus simply says: Wait. All will be revealed.”
Mark Labberton, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, explained to me that trauma is like broken glass — shards in our lives that can randomly and repeatedly cut us inside. The trauma needs to be named and gradually integrated into a person’s life, and if possible, for those who are able, it helps for the trauma to be put in the context of being part of a larger story. For some people, that larger story need not have a faith component; they are able to create meaning without it. But for others, having their trauma understood not as a random, awful event but rather as a very difficult chapter in a larger and ultimately redemptive story can be life-giving.
Christmas is meaningful, for those of us of the Christian faith, because it situates each of our lives — the joys and the sorrows, the hope and the despair, the dramatic and the mundane — in a larger narrative: Not only did God author it; the son of God became a protagonist within it.
Indian Christians fear attacks or jail over conversions
Imran Qureshi - BBC Hindi, Bangalore
Tue, December 21, 2021, 1:59 AM
Christians are a religious minority in India. One Sunday in October, Pastor Somu Avaradhi got a shock when he entered his church in Hubballi city in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
"There were people sitting inside, singing Hindu religious songs and shouting slogans," he told the BBC.
He says he called the police, but when they arrived, the protesters accused him of abusing and forcing a Hindu man to convert to Christianity. The pastor was arrested - under charges of "outraging the religious feelings of any class" - and spent 12 days in prison before he was released on bail.
This isn't an isolated incident - a report by the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) listed 39 cases of threats or violence against Christians from January to November this year in Karnataka.
These include alleged attacks on pastors by members of right-wing Hindu groups, and even instances where they reportedly physically prevented them from holding religious services. Christians are a tiny minority in overwhelmingly Hindu India.
Little change in India's religious make-up in 70 years
The frequency, Christian representatives say, has increased since October, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power in Karnataka as well as nationally, said it was working on a "strong" law against religious conversion in the state.
Critics have described the current draft of the bill as "draconian" - it includes jail terms of up to 10 years for those who are found guilty of converting others by "force", "fraudulent" methods or marriage, and possibly a denial of government benefits to those who convert from one religion to another.
Jai Bhagwan Goyal President United Hindu Front and senior leader BJP along with other protesters chant slogans and hold placards during the demonstration in New Delhi.
Right-wing Hindu groups have long demanded a national law against religious conversion
Every such decision will be scrutinised since those who choose to convert will be required to notify local officials two months before - and officials will investigate the reasons before allowing it to happen.
Christian leaders are worried that the new bill will embolden Hindu radicals to further target the community. The fear is exacerbated, commentators say, by an increasingly polarising environment under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP in which minority communities feel targeted and threatened.
"Once the bill is passed, we will have to wait for more persecution and more difficulties,'' Peter Machado, Archbishop of Bangalore, told BBC Hindi.
The bill is modelled on a law introduced last year in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, also governed by the BJP. There, the law sought to target so-called "love jihad", a popular Hindu right wing conspiracy that Muslim men lure Hindu women into converting by proposing marriage. State police have since registered more than 100 cases of alleged forcible conversion, the Print news website reported in November.
The Reverend Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of EFI, which runs 65,000 churches in India, alleged that the pattern in Karnataka was similar to what happened in Uttar Pradesh before the law was introduced.
"You push the community, you take them down, you level false allegations of conversion and then bring in a law which is unconstitutional," he said.
Religious conversion is a controversial topic in India. Right-wing groups have long accused Christian missionaries of forcibly converting poor Hindus by offering them money or other support as bribes - a claim they deny.
But Dalits (formerly untouchables) have historically been known to convert to Christianity to escape a rigid Hindu caste hierarchy. Despite laws to protect them, the community is routinely the victim of not just discrimination but also violence.
The charred remains of the vehicle, as seen 24 January, in which Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his two children were burnt alive by a mob late 22 January 1999
Christian missionary Graham Staines and his sons were burnt alive in 1999
These tensions have often translated into violence on the ground - in 1999, a spate of attacks on Christian institutions in the eastern state of Orissa (also known as Odisha) was followed by the horrific murders of an Australian missionary and his two young sons as they slept in a jeep.
Christian pastors and priests in Karnataka say they are fearful for the future. Initially, the attacks were limited to a few pockets in the state, but now 21 out of 31 districts have reported at least one violent incident.
"I have been here for 40 years but I don't really know why these conversion allegations are coming now. We have a lot of friends among the Hindu community here," said the Reverend Thomas T, president of the pastors' association in Belagavi district.
Mr Thomas says that in November, local police informally told the association not to hold prayer meetings to avoid attacks by right-wing groups.
What a reported miscarriage says about India's anti-conversion law
A police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told BBC Hindi that while individual police stations have advised priests to be careful, there was no "state-wide policy" on the issue.
Father Francis D'Souza, a priest at a local church in Belagavi, alleged last week that a man with a sword tried to attack him. The case is being investigated and top police officials have assured Father D'Souza that he will be protected.
"But that fear is still there in me," he says.
Representatives from the community have questioned the need for an anti-conversion law, pointing out that India's constitution gives the right to everyone to "propagate religion".
There is no national law restricting religious conversion, and attempts in the past to introduce such bills in parliament have failed. But various states have enacted legislation over the years to regulate religious conversion.
Christian devotees wearing facemasks as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus offer prayers at St Marys Basilica on the eve of Christmas in Bangalore on December 24, 2020.
Christian leaders say they are apprehensive about what lies ahead
BJP lawmaker Arvind Bellad, who led a massive protest against Pastor Somu, asked why only Christians are worried about the new bill.
"The interesting aspect is that other minority communities like Muslims or Sikhs or Jains are not worried about this new law," he added.
State chief minister Basvaraj Bommai has said that only those who try to lure people into converting to a different religion need to fear the law.
But Archbishop Machado says that the attacks and the discourse around the bill are clearly aimed at Christians.
"It is not a good thing that the government is doing to us," he said.
Social commentator and retired Maj Gen SG Vombatkere said that people should not take the law into their hands.
"If I have a complaint against you, I cannot come and beat you up," he said. "I have no business to attack you, whatever you may have done. But the unusual is becoming the usual these days."
Fri, December 24, 2021, 8:31 PM
Here’s a look at Christmas, a popular Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
Celebrated December 25th in the United States and other countries. In 2021, December 25th falls on a Saturday.
Christmas is celebrated on January 7 in some Eastern Orthodox countries, such as Russia.
The real date of Jesus’ birth is not known.
The Christmas story is told primarily in the Gospels of Saint Luke and Saint Matthew in the New Testament.
Considered the most popular Christian observance, Christmas is also celebrated as a secular family holiday.
The word Christmas is derived from the Old English phrase Cristes maesse (Christ’s mass).
The tradition of substituting X-mas for Christmas has its origins in the early Christian church. The first letter of Jesus Christ’s name is X in the Greek language.
Many of the customs and symbols traditionally associated with Christmas originated with ancient pagan festivals and winter solstice rituals.
The modern Christmas tree (typically evergreen conifers-usually pine, balsam or fir species) originated in Germany in the 16th century and became popular in England by the mid-19th century thanks to Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, who was German.
St. Nicholas, the real person on whom Santa Claus is based, lived in the 4th century AD in the province of Lycia on the southwest coast of Asia Minor.
Cartoonist Thomas Nast is credited with creating the current image of Santa Claus, based on his illustrations that began appearing in Harper’s Weekly in 1863.
You cannot post new topics in this forum You cannot reply to topics in this forum You cannot edit your posts in this forum You cannot delete your posts in this forum You cannot vote in polls in this forum