The Taliban and “Christian Fundamentalists”

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Why I consider even a merely insinuated comparison of conservative Christians and Islamist fundamentalists to be scandalous

A few days ago this Facebook post was shared, without comment, by an Austrian Christian leader:

“Women can work but not be leaders” (Taliban). Now where have I come across that before?

My criticism of this was dismissed by this leader as “more than exaggerated”, and others agreeed with him or even denied that it constituted such a comparison. Someone else said that my criticism/protest suggested that the comparison was apt. Only one commenter agreed with me and said that he thought the comparison inappropriate.

I have since deleted my crititcal comment because I am not really interested in conducting a public debate with this brother; however, since I suspect that with the Taliban take-over in Afghanistan there will be more of these comparisons I would like to lay out why I consider these inappropriate.

I want to first of all express my appreciation for those who admitted that this post was aimed at conservative Christians; I think that it is rather dishonest to deny this.

Then I would like to point out that it is not at all my intention to defend the one or the other side in this debate of the role of women in the church; my own position on this is not at all fully or finally developed; more on this later.

It is also clear that “the world” which is, after all, critical of Christianity will draw such comparisons and will associate conservative Christians with Islamist extremists; after all, that is why the term “fundamentalist”, which originally was the self-designation of Christians who wanted to hold on to the fundamental  truths of the faith, has by now become a derogatory term used for all sorts of extremists, from radical environmentalists to Islamist terrorists like ISIS, Al Kaeda, or the Taliban.

What really bothered me about this post and the comments that followed was first of all the fact that these came from Christians, and in the case of the post itself from a Christian who is active in a number of ecumenical initiatives which maintain that Christians from different traditions, who hold to very different theological positions, should nevertheless deal with each other respectfully. To suggest this comparison is not dealing respectfully.

After all, the position of conservative Christian churches who restrict women from holding leadership positions is based on their understanding of Scripture; specifically on their understanding of the words of the Apostle Paul, for example in the first epistle to Timothy, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12 ESV). One may or may not share this understanding, but one should never lose sight of the fact that the people in these conservative churches are Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ, for whom Christ died. This is why Paul’s words in Romans 14 came to mind, where he says, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4 ESV).

The second reason I consider this comparison so inappropriate is the fact that the Taliban and other Islamist extremists not only limit women’s access to leadership roles but suppress and oppress them in a multitude of other ways, threatening them with forced marriage, physical violence, and even death. By making this comparison one inevitably associates conservative Christians with all these forms of oppression.

Of course the same is true when one tries to associate the rejection of lived-out homosexuality by conservative Christians with the persecution of homosexual people by Islamist extremists, as when ISIS in Irak murdered them by throwing them off tall buildings. Christians have indeed in the past failed to treat homosexual people with respect; but to simply point out that the Bible considers lived-out homosexuality as contrary to the created order is no-where near on a par with violent persecution.

Now, as far as my personal position on these issues:

I have not come to a definitive view on the question of women and leadership in the church. I find the Roman Catholic rejection of women priests more logically consistent than the rejection of women preachers in an Evangelical context[1]; the question of women in church leadership is a lot less clear in my view. However, I find the manner and tone, in which this conflict is handled on both sides of the issue extremely destructive, both in the Roman Catholic church and in the Evangelical movement. Unfortunately the Protestant Churches in Germany and Austria[2], as well as the main Anglican Churches in the UK[3] and North America [4], provide prime examples of what conservative Evangelicals have always said: that the acceptance of women clergy goes hand in hand with the abandonment of biblical Christianity in all sorts of other ways, and that once some tenet of the faith is made optional, it won’t be long before it is abandoned completely.

I believe that this whole debate rests, ultimately, on a major misunderstanding: that a person in a leadership position is somehow better or more valuable than everybody else. This is a very unbiblical idea; Scripture tells us that whoever wants to be a leader should first of all be a servant of all (Matthew 20:26-28); it also tells us that one should not strive for leadership positions (James 3:1)
 
It is my considered view that women who insist on wanting to be pastors or leaders in a church where the official position or leadership does not allow this, instead of either submitting to the existing policy and leadership or else finding another church are just as destructive as conservative Christians who use all sorts of political agitation to try and change the policy of a church which permits female pastors and leaders, or as Christians of either persuasion who publicly condemn each other and each other’s churches.

After all, it isn’t as if this only applied to women. The majority of men are not leaders, either. And men who for whatever reason are not called to leadership positions in the church also have to live with it; no-one who is not called to a leadership position by a church can insist on his or her calling to this position.

In this context I am reminded of something that was repeatedly stressed in the church we attended in Texas: that only a limited numbe of men are called by the church to be elders, but that there are others, both men and women, who function as leaders, by virtue of their exemplary life and the wise counsel they give others. We can all aspire to be such leaders.
 
I have sat through several years of delegates’ conferences[5]  where a particular sister persistently strove to be recognized as a pastor; I have also sat through several years of church assemblies[6] where a particular brother tried in vain to be elected to the elder board of his church; in neither case did these increasingly desparate efforts make for peace or glorify God.

And on the subject of homosexuality:

Scripture is pretty clear that sex has its place only with the marriage of one man to one woman. I have more respect for homosexual people who acknowledge this and clearly admit that they are unable or unwilling to follow Scripture in this, than for people who deny this fact.

This biblical verdict excludes all sorts of things, such as pre- and extra-marital sex between men and women, as well as all sex between men or between women. It also excludes same-sex marriage. Thus, if a church claims to follow the Bible as the basis of its faith and practice, then these things are not acceptable in the church. However, the state is not the church; in most cases today it is a secular state governed democratically, and it can regulate things differently. As an evangelical Christian I don’t really have too much of a problem if the secular state wants to authorize same-sex marriage, as long as it doesn’t demand that churches recognize such relationships as marriages and even bless them. I also believe that homosexual people, just as all people, are created in the image of God and as such deserve to be treated with respect, and it really isn’t my business how people outside the church lead their lives. Within the church it is the church’s business to regulate these things in accordance with the Word of God, and a state which claims to grant freedom of religion should not really interfere.

In both of these areas Christians should be open and stand for their convictions, and it is o.k. to criticise those whose convictions differ, as long as this criticism  is expressed respectfully: it is the lack of respect which I found offensive and disappointing about the referenced Facebook post.

Note: the picture at the top of this post combines a picture of some Amish women, as stand-ins for conservative Christian women, and a picture of some Muslim women, each in what would be considered typical clothing. Needless to say, these pictures do not have a direct connection to the subject under discussion.

__________
  1. This is because the Roman Catholic understanding of the priest as acting, in the Eucharist, in persona Christi, i.e. in the person of Christ, and Christ clearly was male; this argument does not hold for the office and act of preaching[]
  2. Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, Evangelische Kirche in Österreich – the united Lutheran and Reformed “mainline” churches in these countries[]
  3. Church of England, Church of Wales, Scottish Episcopal Church, Church of Ireland – the member churches of the Anglican Communion in the UK and Eire[]
  4. The Episcopal Church, Anglican Church of Canada – the member churches of the Anglican Communion in the US and Canada[]
  5. part of the annual convention of the Austrian Baptist Union[]
  6. the “Annual General Meeting” of an Austrian Baptist church where major decisions are made and the leadership is elected, all by majority vote[]
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Two Vienna Churches: Stadtlicht and New City Wien

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Having grown up in a fairly traditional Roman Catholic family, by the time I reached my mid-teens I was no longer really interested in God and church. Then I met a group of young people to whom God seemed to be a living reality, and after spending some time with them I decided to follow Jesus myself.

After a few very formative months in England I came back to Vienna during the summer of 1972 and found my way to an evangelical church in the process of formation. This church later became known as the Tulpengasse or TUGA church, and was the subject of a book by Canadian Mennonite author Margaret Epp. Some of the people I got to know there are still more or less close friends today, such as Johannes Fichtenbauer, who today is a Roman Catholic deacon; others have already passed away, such as the church’s founding pastor and his wife, Canadian Mennonite Brethren missionaries Abe and Irene Neufeld; many others I have lost touch with after moving on, for a variety of reasons, to other churches both in Austria and abroad.

Today, the TUGA church is part of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Austria, and thus also part of the state-recognized Free Churches in Austria.

A few weeks ago the TUGA church moved from their longtime facilty in Tulpengasse in Vienna’s 8th district, to the novum venue in Wiedner Hauptstrasse 146, in Vienna’s 5th district, known as Margareten. Consequently they changed their name to Stadtlicht – Freikirche Margareten, i.e. Light For The City – Free Church Margareten.

The Stadtlicht church shares its space with the bi-lingual reformed New City Wien church, which also recently moved to the novum location from their old premises on the other side of Wiedner Hauptstraße, a few hundred meters towards the city center. My connection to New City Wien is the fact that my son Stephen and his wife are pretty intensively involved in this church, and that for this reason I have frequently attended their Sunday morning service in the past.

novum Wiedner Hauptstraße is a part of novum locations, a company started and owned by Christians which owns and operates multiple dual-use facilities across Austria: these are typically used by evangelical churches on the weekend, and rented out as conference and seminar facilities during the week. This business model is not without problems, and the co-existence of the two types of users  is not always friction-free, but it has made available affordable meeting spaces to evangelical churches who would otherwise have a hard time affording their own space.

Stadtlicht have their Sunday service in the morning, and New City Wien have theirs in the afternoon. Because of the restrictions imposed due to the Covid pandemic both churches are live streaming their services on YouTube, permitting me to follow both services despite my health-induced mobility challenges.

Here are the links to their respective YouTube channels, where the livestreams can be found each Sunday, as well with videos of past sermons:

My prayer and wish for these two churches is that together they can be an even brighter light and can even more effectively seek the welfare of the city whom their names reference (Jeremiah 29:7).

There are two things in this story which are not without pain to me:

On the one hand the fact that some of those I got to know and respect in the TUGA church (and of course also in various other churches since then) have somehow and for a variety of reasons drifted  away from biblical Christianity, towards some other ideology or philosophy. While I do not feel called or qualified to speculate on the eternal fate of other people (I am much to busy to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling — Philippians 2:12),  when I hear about someone’s passing, and the report is cloaked in the unbiblical language of New Age or other eastern esoteric religion, then, while I commit this person to the boundless love, mercy and grace of God, I cannot help but have some slight doubt as to their fate.

And on the other hand there is the sad fact that it was apparently not possible to preserve the Tulpengasse venue as a space for Christian ministry, and so an important piece of Vienna’s evangelical history is lost forever.

 

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Twelve Good Rules

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These “Twelve Rules for Promoting Harmony among Church Members” are taken from a “Manual for the Members of the Second Presbyterian Church” of Charleston, SC, from 1838. They previously appeared in a similar manual for a Presbyterian church in Petersburg, VA, in 1833. They are variously credited to Thomas Smyth (b. 1878, d.1873), pastor of the Charleston church, and William Plumer (b. 1802, d.1880), pastor of the Petersburg church. The facsimile is taken from the “Complete Works” of Thomas Smyth.

Presbyterian churches trace their origins, via Scotland, to the Swiss Reformers, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, and are thus part of the Reformed tradition of Protestant churches; as is true of most Protestant traditions there are now both more conservative and more liberal Presbyterian denominations.

These “Twelve Rules” are, of course, not specifically Presbyterian, but would contribute to peace and harmony in all churches, parishes, and communities, regardless of denomination.

Twelve Rules for Promoting Harmony
among Church Members

    1. To remember that we are all subject to failings and infirmities, of one kind or another.” — Matt 7:1-5; Rom 2:21-23.
    2. To bear with and not magnify each other’s infirmities.” — Gal 6:1.
    3. To pray one for another in our social meetings, and particularly in private.” — James 5:16.
    4. To avoid going from house to house, for the purpose of hearing news, and interfering with other people’s business.” — Lev 19:16.
    5. Always to turn a deaf ear to any slanderous report, and to allow no charge to be brought against any person until well founded and proved.” — Prov 25:23.
    6. If a member be in fault, to tell him of it in private, before it is mentioned to others.” — Matt 18:15.
    7. To watch against shyness of each other, and put the best construction on any action that has the appearance of opposition or resentment.” — Prov 10:12.
    8. To observe the just rule of Solomon, that is, to leave off contention before it be meddled with.” — Prov 17:14.
    9. If a member has offended, to consider how glorious, how God-like it is to forgive, and how unlike a Christian it is to revenge.” — Eph 4:2.
    10. To remember that it is always a grand artifice of the Devil, to promote distance and animosity among members of Churches, and we should, therefore, watch against everything that furthers his the Devil’s end.” — James 3:16.
    11. To consider how much more good we can do in the world at large, and in the Church in particular when we are all united in love, than we could do when acting alone, and indulging a contrary spirit.” — John 13:35.
    12. Lastly, to consider the express injunction of Scripture, and the beautiful example of Christ, as to these important things.” — Eph 4:32; 1 Pet 2:21; John 13:5,35.

 

The facsimile page is taken from a Facebook post by Log College Press but should be in the public domain because of its age.

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Alyssa and her family need our help

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Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2)

Don & Nancy Prokop came to Austria as Vineyard missionaries, and together with Dave & Lisa Boyd the planted and nurtured the Vienna Vinyard. Their children Amy, Alyssa, and Matthew grew up near Vienna and attended Vienna Christian School (now International Christian School of Vienna). In recent years Don Prokop is part of the Mercy House of Prayer in Vienna, as well as part of the intercession team for the Austrian Roundtable, a grassroots Christian reconciliation initiative.

Their three children are married, Amy in California, Alyssa in Germany, and Matthew here in Austria.

In April of 2020 Alyssa’s husband David Kogler found her unresponsive in her bed. She was rushed to the hospital, and the initial diagnosis was an unspecified infection which had gone septic and caused swelling on the brain (cerebral edema). Alyssa almost died, and a short time later doctors diagnosed a rare condition: Addison’s Disease or hypocortisolism.

All of this has left Alyssa in a minimally conscious state, unable to walk, talk, care for herself or feed herself. At 46, the once vibrant caring wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend to many, a talented singer, has been silenced.

Because of Covid restrictions, initially visits were severely restricted; in fact, Alyssa’s children saw their mother for the first time in a full year in April 2021.

Since last summer Alyssa has been in a nursing home; she needs round the clock care and intensive therapies to hopefully regain some of her abilities. All this is expensive; in God’s providence much of it is covered by insurance and government aid. Nevertheless, Alyssa’s husband David faces a monthly shortfall of $1800 (€1500).

This is why Alyssa’s sister Amy has started a GoFundMe campaign to financially support Alyssa and her family.

In the spirit of “bearing one another’s burdens” I ask all my readers to consider participating, according to their means and abilities.

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A Challenge To All Evangelical Churches

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The Anglican Diocese of Sydney, predominantly low church and Evangelical, has just elected a new archbishop after the retirement of Glenn Davies in March of this year. The new archbishop is Kanishka Raffel, dean of St. Andrews Cathedral in Sydney, born in London to Sri Lankan parents and a convert from Buddhism.

In an article for the Religion & Ethics Portal of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Dr. Michael P. Jensen, Rector at St. Mark’s in Darling Point, examines the challenges facing the Sydney Diocese and Archbishop-elect Raffel, and while some aspects of the article are specific to SydneyAnglicans, much of it is challenging food for though for Evangelical churches everywhere.

A speaker at the election synod compared Sydney Anglicans with the Ever Given, the oil tanker stuck in the Suez canal recently. The author takes up this image and describes four temptations facing an organization stuck in this way.  All four seem applicable to almost any Evangelical church in the societal and cultural climate we find ourselves in, across most of the “Western” world, but the first one especially resonated with me:

The temptation to appoint a “crash-through” leader.

The author writes,

Anxious people want superhero leaders who will fix everything. They dream of the alpha individual who just crashes through the barriers to change and growth, firing and hiring at will. We want the guy who will build the wall and make us great again. (Sound familiar?) The church is no different. We yearn for a radical change agent. And yet, the problem with the crash-through leader is … well, the crash. They will likely prove polarising and destructive.

To me, the problem with this temptation is that it ignores the truth that the primary change agent in the church, more radical than any human leader, is the Holy Spirit.

Another quote from the article which struck me is this, in the author’s outline of the tasks facing the new archbishop:

But there must also be a courageous and prophetic engagement with post-Christian culture. The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth once said that sermons should be written with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The Bible gives us eyes to see what is really in the newspaper. But it is also the case that news may help us to see better what is in the Bible. The mistake that many American evangelicals have made is to imagine that political and cultural means are the way to pursue or to defend the kingdom of God — mostly in alignment with the political right. That is a fool’s errand. It leads to an idolatry of political power, as was seen the Trump’s presidency. It shows no faith in the ultimate Lordship of Jesus, who is the church’s only Lord.

But neither should the church simply follow the spirit of the age. Its calling is not to provide a chaplaincy to contemporary narcissism. It finds laughable talk of “getting with the times” or “history being on our side”. It does not pursue relevance, as if that were anything worthwhile. It outlasted Rome: it will surely outlast Atlassian.

I have highlighted the sentence which made this stand out to me, and I hasten to add that this is not a uniquely American problem, although American Evangelical support for President Trump made it very visible. This problem rears its head every time Christians look to politics to enforce Christian morality on a secular society, and especially when they prioritize one point of Christian morality over everything else. There is, for example, a tendency to make the question of abortion or the whole gender and alternative sexualities question a priority over the treatment of refugees and immigrants, something I have observed both in the American situation during the past few years and in my own country of Austria.

I like the conclusion that Dr. Jensen comes to after talking about the four temptations:

The answer must surely be that the church of Jesus Christ needs to be more authentically what it actually is. Christians in Sydney — be they Anglican or not — need to be more Christian. The calling of the church of Jesus Christ is to be more like him. It is called upon to worship God, and to live life together that reflects his character, whatever the circumstances.

And this, of course, applies to Christians, of every stripe, not just in Sydney or Australia, but everywhere: here in Austria, in England, in America, and wherever the Church is found.

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Persecution for Christ’s Sake?

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Increasingly there are reports of Christians getting into trouble with police for publicly preaching against homosexuality and gay marriage, most recently this report on the site churchleaders.com. The verdict of “Incitement” against Pastor Olaf Latzel in Bremen is another example.

Here are my thoughts on this:

Of course Christians, like everyone else, should have the right to exercise their constitutional right of freedom of opinion and speech, and the fact that this right is increasingly eroded by labelling some opinions “hate speech” is a problem and politically concerning.

BUT: From a spiritual perspective our task as Christians and as the church is NOT to preach Christian morality to an unbelieving world, but to preach Jesus Christ as Lord and only Saviour.

When people come to Jesus and are born again then the Holy Spirit will lead them into all truth, and He cannot be arrested by police.

Of course, as Christians we will be increasingly discriminated against when we express our convictions on various topics, or when we refuse to participate in certain activities (i.e. abortions, same-sex weddings), and this is a deplorable development in countries that boast of their liberal society because it is the very people who most vocally demand tolerance for their views who are most intolerant of others.

But I warn against claiming persecution for our faith, even obliquely, as long as we are permitted to preach Jesus as Lord, as the crucified and risen Christ and Saviour.

The problem is this: if we call the discrimination which we experience on certain subjects here in Europe and other western countries, “persecution for Christ’s sake,” when Christians in countries like China, North Korea, or India experience violent oppression and persecution including imprisonment and even death, or while Christian refugees in refugee camps here in Europe experience violent persecution from Muslim fellow refugees, we are effectively risk minimizing the suffering of these persecuted Christians as we focus on our own discomfort. If we complain of being persecuted right now, how will we cope if we ever are faced with real persecution?

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Austria Prays Together: Pentecost Novena 2021

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During the nine days (hence novena1) from May 14 (Ascension Day) through May 22 (the Saturday before Pentecost/Whitsun) Christians of all different denominations are invited to unite in prayer for the country of Austria. On Wednesday, May 13, a video will be release introducing the novena.

In the evening of May 24 (Pentecost Monday) there will be a live-streamed prayer service with leaders of the major faith traditions in Austria (Roman Catholic, Lutheran/Reformed, Free Churches, Eastern Orthodox).

On each of the nine days a video will be released focusing on one of Austria’s nine provinces, and there is a 24/7 prayer calendar where both groups (churches, parishes, etc) and individuals can sign up to pray during specific one-hour slots.

More information can be found at the website “Österreich Betet Gemeinsam” as well as on social media (Facebook, Instagram).

  1. A novena is a nine day period of prayer. The word comes from the Latin for nine and is more familiar to Christians in liturgical churches than to those from the free churches.
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I believe in the forgiveness of sins

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These thoughts on Forgiveness, by Fr. Kenneth Tanner, pastor of Holy Redeemer Anglican Church in Rochester, Michigan, are published here with his permission.

I believe in the forgiveness of sins. This is a bedrock Christian trust. The sentence has more than one meaning. It first affirms that God forgives humanity and forgives humanity without conditions, before we ask or repent. God forgives as we beat, mock, torture, and kill God. Forgiveness begins with a God who forgives.

I believe in the forgiveness of sins. This also means we trust that sins can in fact be forgiven—really forgiven—because God forgives. This basic trust is now almost countercultural. We congratulate ourselves on withholding forgiveness, clinging to our injuries, even after persons have “paid their debt.” The forgiveness that begins with God lacks nothing and accomplishes its healing ends.

I believe in the forgiveness of sins. This also means we trust that when we forgive our enemy, our neighbor, our spouse, child, or friend, by participating in the a priori forgiveness of God for humanity, we are healed and grow in our likeness to God in whose image we are made. The forgiveness that begins with God divinizes humanity as we practice the pardon of God. 

I believe in the forgiveness of sins. This finally means we trust that we, too, are forgiven. This might be the hardest reality to accept: that we are forgiven by God before we were born; that there is nothing we can do or not do to change our pardon by God. The forgiveness that begins with God ends in our acceptance of forgiveness. 

I believe in the forgiveness of sins. It might by now be clear that we believe in the forgiveness of sins because the human God says from the cross “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

This is also the one who taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” (Not that God’s forgiveness follows ours, or only arrives for us or others after we forgive, but that we also forgive in imitation of the Father.)

I believe in the forgiveness of sins. The cross is where Christ sits enthroned. The cross is the “now” of the world’s judgment and all judgment is given to the Son. Jesus Christ does not after his death appear to his disciples to give 11 men the power to withhold a forgiveness he freely extends to all at the cross.

The risen Christ simply means ‘if you my disciples do not tell them that *I* have forgiven them, and if you do not forgive them yourself from the heart, they may not realize they’re already forgiven.’

I see a lot of entitlement around forgiveness; that we are allowed to withhold forgiveness, remain offended, forgive if we want…or not.

Not forgiving—and forgiving is a process—only harms the one who does not forgive. It often means nothing to the offender until they are truly aware of their offense.

I get that some leaders have used what Christians trust about forgiveness to enable and sustain abusive behavior and structures, to manipulate those they are called to serve.

Abuse of something doesn’t negate its goodness but it can make its goodness difficult to practice.

Abusive leaders sow terrific destruction when they abuse what Christians trust about forgiveness but this must be forgiven, too, and we cannot let their abuse cancel what we trust.

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The Most Common Cause of Divisions?

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The Good Friday sermon by P. Raniero Cantalamess O.F.M.Cap., Preacher of the Papal Household, is of course addressed to Catholics. However, as Evangelical Christians, parts of what he says is applicable to us as well and should make us reflect on how we deal with each other, especially where differences of opinion on worldly matters are concerned: 

What is the most common cause of the bitter divisions among Catholics? It is not dogma, nor is it the sacraments and ministries, none of the things that by God’s singular grace we fully and universally preserve. The divisions that polarize Catholics stem from political options that grow into ideologies taking priority over religious and ecclesial considerations and leading to complete abandon of the value and the duty of obedience in the Church.

In many parts of the world, these divisions are very real, even though they are not openly talked about or are disdainfully denied. This is sin in its primal meaning. The kingdom of this world becomes more important, in the person’s heart than the Kingdom of God.

I believe that we all need to make a serious examination of conscience in this regard and be converted. Fomenting division is the work par excellence of the one whose name is ‘diabolos’ that is, the divider, the enemy who sows weeds, as Jesus referred to him in the parable (see Mt 13:25).

We need to learn from Jesus’ example and the Gospel. He lived at a time of strong political polarization. Four parties existed: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the Zealots. Jesus did not side with any of them and energetically resisted attempts to be pulled towards one or the other. The earliest Christian community faithfully followed him in that choice, setting an example above all for pastors, who need to be shepherds of the entire flock, not only of part of it. Pastors need to be the first to make a serious examination of conscience. They need to ask themselves where it is that they are leading their flocks – to their position or Jesus’. The Second Vatican Council entrusted especially to laypeople the task of translating the social, economic and political implications of the Gospel into practice in different historical situations, always in a respectful and peaceful way.

This problem, that a political ideology or opinion becomes so important in some Christians’ minds that they forget or neglect charity and brotherliness in the way they relate to other Christians, is by no means limited to Catholics but is alive and well among us Evangelicals.

In our communities, too, the shepherds (and that is what “pastor” means) need to care for the whole flock and should therefore, as much as possible, steer clear of political controversy; in our communities, too, as Christians and citizens it is our task to translate the social, economic and political implications of the Gospel into practice in different ways, always in a respectful and peaceful way.

That we need to be reminded of this became especially clear during the four years of the Trump presidency, in the context of Brexit and similar controversies in other countries, as well as in our response to the Covid pandemic and the restrictions in response to it.

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