Monday, April 12, 2010

Long Flowing Hypocrisy: The Church and Discrimination

Prominent atheists, Dawkins and Kitchens, have called for the arrest of the Pope for crimes against humanity. I have some sympathy for their perspective, although I wouldn’t limit this to the Pope. Having had my own experience of the brick wall bureaucracy that is the Anglican Church, I would extend their call to sexual criminals in all churches. Several years ago I advocated for a young guy who had suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of an Anglican priest. He asked me to accompany him through the settlement negotiations with the Anglican Church. It was an unsatisfactory experience for this young guy and I could understand his frustration.

I tracked the particular priest as he was moved around the world to different posts, including a College Campus. There was no accountability from the priest and no protection for innocent victims. It was exactly the same situation that the Catholic Church is now facing up to.

I pondered all of this in the light of Jesus' parable of the widow and her offering at the temple. Tens of thousands of visitors would have travelled past the temple's golden trumpets which doubled as money scoops during Passover. The story tells us that Jesus sat on the roadside and singled out one widow among the crowds who gave what for her would have been a generous donation. He notes her gift. More to the point he seems to be contrasting the poverty of the widow and the extravagance of the religious leaders (scribes) with their ornate long robes as they paraded through the streets.

I think I could safely say that at least ten times I have heard a sermon on this text and ten times I have been told to be just like the widow; give everything and do it with a generous heart. Submit to the church and give generously. The widow has become the pinup girl for unquestioned generosity.

Actually, I suspect the point of the story was the exact reverse. Don’t be like the widow. Question how the scribes could afford the best seats in the synagogues and invites to the most prestigious parties in town. They were dining on the meager rations of the widow and others like her. This was extortion. They had done nothing to support or care for the widow. In fact they had abandoned widows and others in their suffering. They lived the good life while widows were lost in the religious shuffle.

I’m here to break the pattern of decades of sermons and declare, DON'T BE LIKE THE WIDOW! Don't enable a system that ignores justice and keeps people trapped in a cycle of abuse.

The story of the widow is a savage critique of the first century temple system, which masqueraded as a spiritual home, yet fronted a system that cashed in on the co-dependence of those who had no power or education to challenge it. The temple was a religious system of domination and control. It trapped people in a system where they were classed as insider or outsider, included or excluded. Widows in this scheme were less than human partly because they were women, and even worse because they were women without men. The temple was a place of exclusion and domination.

Don't be like the widow. Fight for the widow. Stand against the systems which made her a poor and second class citizen in the first place; don't perpetuate them. Don't be like the widow! Liberate the widow. Don't enable an unjust system. Demand accountability from the people and institutions that should include and care for those who are suffering above all other institutions. Demand that sexual criminals are brought to justice. Demand that churches stop discriminating against people because of the gender, sexuality or free thoughts.

The response of church officials to sexual abuse brings to mind the hypocrisy of the scribes of Jesus day. The long flowing robes may boast extravagant colors and frills, but they also lack transparency and authenticity. Jesus said to the scribes (my translation) “get your hypocritical heads out of your long flowing pretentious robes and give power to those who suffer.” The church should take the teachings of Jesus seriously and get real about abuse. The church should treat all people with the utmost dignity and respect. The Vatican should stop hiding behind giant walls of bureaucracy and live by the law of the land. All churches should stop hiding behind the very same anti discrimination laws that it then ignores to discriminate against women and gay people.

The teaching and practices of churches should be brought out from behind their long flowing robes and brick wall bureaucracy and examined in the light of science, law and human decency. “The Bible says so” is not an adequate reason to justify injustice and discrimination. In fact a reading of the Bible in the context of Jesus’ priority for the poor demands justice and equality.

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