Everyone knows that the Roman Catholic Church inches along toward any change at a remarkably slow pace. For instance, the first Vatican Council, which met to consider “contemporary problems,” met from 1869 to 1870. This meeting was not able to complete all of that which was on the agenda, so they picked it up with a second meeting, Vatican 2…in 1962. If only they had the help of “Doodle” to coordinate meetings.
Viewing the larger structure of the Roman Catholic Church in this way, that tradition can be thought of as stagnant. That is not the case. There is much activity to faithfully engage the world and that traditions structure of belief and design, and to do so to respond to God’s continued movement that calls us forward to faithful change. We see this at Eastside Catholic High School as many students, parents, staff and supporters oppose the firing of Vice Principal, Mark Zmuda. Mr. Zmuda, as most know, was fired for having entered into a same-sex marriage, which the RC church finds contradictory to its beliefs. The students provide a wonderful example of having the faith and courage to act, calling the school and church tradition to reconsider and faithfully move.
Let us see past false notions, including that which suggests the Roman Catholic Church is unto itself as “church.” It is not. It, like our tradition and others, are connected in one body. Within that one body, as it has always been, change is occurring on many matters, including understandings of sexual orientation and inclusivity. As an essential voice within the one body of Christ, it is our following in the Way of Jesus and our serious and deeply faithful understanding of the Bible that moves us to swim against the current of long-held sociological norms, including belief. Ever since its inception, the Church has struggled with how to be faithful followers of Jesus while swimming in the waters of a particular place and time. Whether being influenced by the social life and power structures within Roman society almost 2000 years ago, or being influenced by the same within the United States, and the rest of the contemporary world, the varied traditions of the Church have been and are influenced, to whatever degree. For example, Jesus and the early expressions of the Church included women in ways not common in the dominant culture of the time. Paul, we know from biblical and other letters, considered women equal as “co-workers” and ordained women into ministry. As the tradition in that part of the Mediterranean became a more accepted part of Roman society, the view of women began to creep toward that of Roman society. So, cultural and societal influence is allowed to override the Gospel expression.
I find one of the most important faith questions that is to be asked is “How are we, in our various traditions of the Church, seeing or experiencing cultural and social influence dominating over faithful expression of the Gospel?” To suggest that the movement at Eastside Catholic by students and others is a response of the time may be true. However, let us be clear, it is a response to a power yielding belief system of that tradition that is rooted in a cultural and sociological response that was of its own time and place. In other words, let it be considered and re-considered where long held beliefs about homosexuality within the Church’s tradition’s are rooted. Gospel or societal norms and culture? For us, it is our faithful response to the Gospel and our deeply faithful engagement to understand Scripture and the ever-speaking Word of God that moves us beyond tradition to seek the Loving-Truth. Doing so, we find the Gospel to speak in such a way that it compels us to see how historical church expressions are often not purely the Way of Jesus, and that we are called to correct back to the Gospel that we may be led forward to new ways. It wasn’t Jesus, or the Bible, who spoke against gay marriage, it was groups of followers trying to figure out, with all their social conditioning about wrong, right, acceptable, unacceptable, comforting, and discomforting, who read scripture through their lenses and made decisions.
The change that is occurring in the body of Christ, especially with particular traditions, as much as it may feel like it is going forward, it is also going back. It is going back to the Gospel and the Way of Jesus. It is seeking to faithfully respond to God within, but also over, particular traditions and very humanly influenced structures. The faithful engagement of students and the school is within a much bigger dialogue than one particular tradition. It is within the larger body of Christ that is called to represent and re-present the Gospel. Within that larger body, movement to open and affirming inclusion, and the acceptance of same-sex marriage already has miles and miles behind us as the swimming faithful and the Spirit of God churn and influence the waters of the world to a new flowing current and way.
For those students courageous enough to allow their faith to move them, they find good company with those who first walked with Jesus. Like Jesus, they, too, found their faith to lead them to living and calling for new ways of being. As we are in this together, let us consider for ourselves how we may correct forward in our own traditions, congregation, and in our own lives. When we think of the Roman Catholic Church, the UCC, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), or any other tradition, let us not simply consider the larger structures and their forms; rather, let us recognize the faithful at work. The students are the Church as much as any. Let us be led forward with them!