June 7, 2012

How to Destroy a Community

As a candidate for President of the US, Jimmy Carter once gave an interview that later appeared in Playboy magazine. Since his Christian faith was very public, this passage from Matthew concerning lust and adultery was brought up and he was asked, “Have you ever committed adultery in your heart?” When he said yes, the journalist pounced and the story went viral, along the lines of “Christian Candidate Admits Adulterous Thoughts.”  Really? Is this news? As Fr Alexander Schmemann once said after hearing a long string of confessions in seminary, “what a pity there are no new sins!” The point is to cut off these common thoughts and not entertain or act on them. But to pretend they don’t exist is just dishonest and hypocritical.

The problem with adultery is that it breaks the sacred community of the family. But if you look at the catalogue of behaviors destructive to communal life in Romans 1:28-2:9 sexual sins take a back seat to “envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, gossip, slander, hating God, insolence, haughtiness, boastfulness, inventing evil, disobedience to parents, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness, ruthlessness” (1:29-30).  We should be at least as on guard against this kind of poison. How to deal with these is the same as dealing with adulterous thoughts: “pluck them out” before they can do damage to ourselves and others. Displace the polluted water with the fresh water of confession, scripture, prayer, worship and good deeds in the name of Christ. And if necessary get counseling or join a recovery group.

Pentecost is called the birthday of the church, and the readings this week lend themselves to reflection on what we do in that part of the Church we are to care for, protect and build. It’s also a warning. “God gave them up to a base mind and improper conduct” (1:28). If we decide we don’t want to follow His way, He may leave us alone to wallow in our way.

Winnipeg: Conversations on the Future of the Church

Dr. David Goa
Dr. David Goa leads clergy discussion.

I’m in Winnipeg for the second day of the clergy gathering in Canada. Dr David Goa is Director of the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life at the University of Alberta.  He is also an Orthodox Christian active in the Archdiocese of Canada and St Herman’s parish in Edmonton. As part of the clergy synaxis he led two sessions on the future of the church. There was wide-ranging conversation about aspirations (and concerns) for the Church and its mission in a united future under a possible Canadian Assembly of Bishops.  But the most lively conversation was around the need for continuing education and—just as important—sharing clergy experience on a diverse list of topics. How to build and maintain an active prayer life. Ministry to people with special needs. Palliative care. Theology of suffering. Pastoral counseling. Addictions. Family spiritual and mental health. How to do missionary work in various settings, how to revitalize inner city parishes and reach out to neighborhoods. Reaching children, youth and their families with the message of Christ and the Church. How to understand the impact of changing social attitudes, the rise of a new atheism. How to nurture healthy clergy life. Guidance on dealing with ethical dilemmas, including organ transplantation, end of life issues, the new genetic medicine, gender and sexuality, same-sex attraction. 

As Dr Goa noted, contemporary science and society raise questions that were unimaginable even 25 years ago, but the judgments anyone makes in response to these questions depend on the vision we have of what it means to be a human being. And that is a theological task that Orthodoxy should be well equipped to help society address.