I think I may be gearing up to make another major life change.
I don’t think I am having a crisis of faith. I think I believe what I’ve always believed. I believe the Bible is truth, although it may or may not be always factual. After all, wasn’t Jesus often inclined to use stories to teach His truths? I believe in one God, in three forms- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe that I am a child of God and that I live within the grace of His embrace. I believe that Jesus is my Savior. I am committed, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, to living in a way that glorifies God and demonstrates the love of Christ. I believe I am called to live an ordinary life with extraordinary love, in the name of Jesus. I believe that, in addition to my Christian obligation to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the secret to being my happiest, most authentic self is to model faith, hope, and love in all I do. I believe I have often failed to live in such a way and that I will continue to fail. I also believe that God always forgives me, because He loves me just that much. I believe He will use all things, including my failures, to teach and strengthen me so that I may be ever better.
So the problem isn’t really faith. I would say it is more that I am having a crisis of church.
I grew up Catholic. For most of my life, I believed I would always be Catholic. The Catholic Church felt like home for my faith. Over the past several years, my certainty that I would always be Catholic has faded. There have been several times when my connection with Catholicism has cracked and worn very thin.
During the priest sex abuse scandals, my loyalty wavered, almost to the point of disintegration. In my own life, I had a connection with three different priests accused of molesting children. By their own admission many years after the fact, these men were guilty of sexual behavior that harmed children. It was difficult to continue to believe in the goodness of my chosen church at that time. Still, I reasoned that it might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater to leave the church over the actions of some priests and church administrators. It also felt somehow disloyal to consider leaving my church home in its darkest days. I knew many good, brave priests who worked hard, despite public vilification, to shepherd their people through hard times. I reasoned that, regardless of what some individuals had done, my faith still felt fed by the liturgies and sacraments and fellowship in my parish.
Then, a daughter of one of my best friends was getting married. The family was Catholic. The daughter and her fiancé went to the required pre-marital counseling with a priest at their home parish. The pre-marital counseling basically consisted of the priest advising them not to marry…. solely because the parents of the fiancé were divorced. Instead of just advising them of the possible pitfalls, helping them develop tools to create a strong marriage, and celebrating their love, the Church- in the person of this priest- discouraged the couple… from Catholicism. The couple married outside the church. They have now been happily married for almost ten years and have two beautiful children. This experience bothered me, but, again, I thought of it as the actions of a particular priest and not necessarily a reflection on the policy of the larger Catholic Church.
I began to feel even more disconnected from the Catholic Church when I found that, more and more often, preaching about social justice issues became preaching about political issues. I understand that how we behave and what we do to help others are vital issues for Christians. I also understand, after spending a lot of time in thought, study, and prayer, that social justice and moral issues are rarely as definitive as we would like them to be. When we act, the consequences of our actions are often wide-reaching and unexpected, in both positive and negative ways. Moral dilemmas are called moral dilemmas because they are complicated. I began to feel that the Church was ignoring the complications and preaching societal mandates with no consideration of the various layers of implication and how to address them. First of all, men must change before kings must change so I’m not sure that preaching for political agendas is what Christ had in mind. Secondly, it felt like preachers were implying that the Christianity of anyone who felt differently must be suspect. I think a good preacher can and should challenge a Christian to ask herself if she is living as Christ would have her live, but not presume to know exactly what that life should look like.
When we were getting ready to move, I thought it might be a good time to consider other Christian denominations instead of registering at the Catholic parish in my new town. I did some research on the internet, but my gut objected rather strenuously. When we moved, I did start going to the Catholic church and felt happy with that decision. I felt fed there. The Catholic church provided me a sense of stability and home that comforted me as I navigated all the changes in my new life.
Last Sunday, something else happened… probably the “something” that is going to send me looking for another church. The priest started his homily by telling the congregation that he recently received an invitation to a family member’s wedding, but was adamant that he would not be going because the couple in question were both women. I don’t think my reaction was spurred so much by the fact that the priest believed that homosexual behavior is outside God’s law. I think a reasonable, prayerful Christian could legitimately deduce that gay marriage is morally wrong. Personally, I see the scriptural concern with it but also think we might need to explore the issue from a wider perspective. I think we might need to consider other scholarly interpretations. I also think that just proclaiming homosexuality wrong does not fulfill our duty. Even if we believe that the Church cannot legitimately bless a gay marriage, does that mean that we must deny compassion to approximately 10% of God’s family? Are there other options, outside of proclaiming gay marriage to be scripturally acceptable, that would allow civil and legal rights for partners who are not sacramentally married? My biggest problem with the homilist was that he was so certain that his position was correct and, however limited, sufficient. Certain to the point of smugness, it seemed to me. Not only was he telling the congregation what his position was, he was telling us that his position represented the only truly acceptable position for a good Christian.
You could argue that all of these incidents represented the behavior of some human beings within the Church and do not necessarily reflect the totality of the faith. You would be right. Also, none of these incidents except the clergy sex abuse scandals are really big deals in and of themselves. The thing is, I always believe people should attend Christian worship services to help lift up their souls. Even when I was working in the church initiation program for people thinking about becoming Catholic, I told them, “You should go where your soul feels fed.” All I know is, in that moment when the homilist started rolling his eyes about the invitation he received to his family member’s wedding, I felt fed up instead of fed.
Now the journey begins. I don’t know if I will find the spiritual nourishment that I crave in another Christian denomination, if I will eventually find my way back to the familiar Church that has been home all my life, or if I will go my own way for a time. I only know that God will lead me and that I will be listening for His call.
Have any of you moved on from the church of your childhood? What drove that decision for you and how has the change worked for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a blessed day!