If Peter Can Deny Our Lord Three Times (dot dot dot)

In the current climate of Roman Catholic discontent about sexually abusive and active priests, bishops, cardinals, and a church structure that made cover-up possible, it may not be the best time to raise questions about sexual infidelity among pastors. But a dinner with old friends and colleagues this summer at General Assembly and now reading about what to do about priests who have fallen has me thinking (always dangerous to do in public).

The thought is this: why is sexual infidelity worse than other sin? As the title of the post indicates, Peter did something that was pretty rotten. He denied his Lord three times. At certain times in church history (persecution in N. Africa in the third century and in Korea in the twentieth century), that kind of infidelity could get you booted from the ministry. But you could add lying and stealing as big deals. How do you trust a pastor who commits those sins? And perhaps not as obviously wicked, but what about idolatry or blasphemy (never mind keeping the Lord’s Day holy)? Why do we zoom in on the seventh commandment to adopt a one-strike and you’re out?

Here is how Robert George put it this week:

In short, what the Church (and by “the Church” I am referring to the lay faithful as well as to the Church’s hierarchical officials) should demand—that is, absolutely insist upon without exception—of its clergy is what the clergy should preach to the people, namely, fidelity. Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity. Priests must believe and preach what the Church holds as true about God and man—and must practice what they preach. Am I advocating a zero-tolerance policy toward grave sexual sins, such as fornication, adultery, and sodomy (even when committed by consenting adults)? Yes, I am. It is not because I think these sins are unforgivable, or even that they are the worst sins. (In fact, they are forgivable and, though grave, they are not the worst sins.) It is because the infidelity expressed by and embodied in these sins, and because the scandal—undermining of the faith (including the faith of the sinning priest and the faith of the person with whom he sins)—they occasion, is simply intolerable. These sins are toxic to the priestly ministry. Priests who cannot or will not avoid them cannot effectively carry out their mission.

So there is the logic from a conservative Roman Catholic:

Sexual infidelity undermines the faith corporately and personally.

Therefore, sexual infidelity is intolerable.

I understand it but the argument is not exactly airtight since you could insert idolatry, lying, and stealing into the premise and come to the same conclusion.

I am not trying to excuse sexual infidelity (or lying and stealing). I am curious though if our revulsion at sexual sin reveals more about those judging the sin than it does about the nature of the sin. I understand that according to our standards, some sins in themselves and by reason of several aggravations are more heinous in the sight of God than others. But that catechetical language gives room for what may only be “like your opinion, man.”


Be Careful for What You Pine

If you want the world to be sacramental:

Living a sacramental worldview means, quite simply, viewing the world as sacrament. A redundant definition it might be, but often times the simplest explanations are the best. If we do truly believe that the Sacraments are moments in time where the invisible grace of God is made visible and tangible then seeing this same grace working constantly in and through our daily lives would only beg that we see the sacramental nature of daily life. This is not to say that every blade of grass is truly the transubstantiated body of Christ, but it does substantiate St. Ignatius’s charge to see God in all things.

You may wind up with the market as God:

In his most recent book, The Market as God, Harvey Cox argues that the market economy has become deified in our contemporary world. In formulating this argument, he identifies many parallels between the structures of Christianity and those of the capitalist economic system.

Why Is it Godly Patriotism When We Do It, and Jihad When They Do It?

Making the world safe for Julia Ward Howe (thanks to our Iowa correspondent):

Holy war can seem like something that happened long ago or that happens far away — the Crusades of medieval Europe, for example, or jihadists fighting secular forces today. But since their country’s founding, Americans have often thought of their wars as sacred, even when the primary objectives have been political.

This began with the American Revolution. When colonists declared their independence on July 4, 1776, religious conviction inspired them. Because they believed that their cause had divine support, many patriots’ ardor was both political and religious. They saw the conflict as a just, secular war, but they fought it with religious resolve, believing that God endorsed the cause. As Connecticut minister Samuel Sherwood preached in 1776: “God Almighty, with all the powers of heaven, are on our side. Great numbers of angels, no doubt, are encamping round our coast, for our defense and protection.”

Several founding fathers were more theologically liberal than the typical evangelical Protestant of their day. Still, few were anti-religious, and the nation’s architects often stated that religion supported virtue, which was essential to patriotism. “A true patriot must be a religious man,” wrote Abigail Adams, wife of America’s second president.

George Washington believed so strongly in the religious case for patriotism that he demanded chaplains for the Continental Army. He appealed to the Continental Congress for higher pay for chaplains, and when one chaplain impressed the general, Washington went to great lengths to retain him.

That chaplain was Abiel Leonard, of Woodstock, Conn. Washington wrote letters to the governor of Connecticut and to Leonard’s church, hoping they would support the pastor’s extended service in the Army. In his letter to the governor, Washington wrote that Leonard had proved to be “a warm and steady friend to his country and taken great pains to animate the soldiers, and impress them with a knowledge of the important rights we are contending for.”

For Washington, chaplains not only supplied moral guidance but appealed for God’s support in battle, which was vital. He believed that the war’s outcome rested in God’s hands, and he ordered his soldiers to attend “divine service, to implore the blessings of heaven upon the means used for our safety and defense.”

We cannot fully understand the revolution without recognizing such appeals for God’s favor on the battlefield. Both the founders and ministers understood these ideas because they knew scripture, one of the major sources of American patriotism.

No problem here, though, because it’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood:

Talk of glorious causes has persisted from the revolution through the war on terror. Some Americans think of the United States as “God’s New Israel,” a nation on a divine mission, its wars blessed by God. Sometimes rhetoric makes this view obvious: Soon after Sept. 11, 2001, for example, the White House apologized after President George W. Bush used the word “crusade” to describe the battle against terrorism.

But references to religion can be subtler, or even obligatory, in political speeches. Consider President Obama’s July 4 speech from last year, in which he praised military sacrifices and ended with: “God bless you. God bless your families. And God bless these United States of America.”

We pass over such niceties as commonplace, almost dutiful, in political speech, but they are religious statements. Their roots go back to the revolution, when colonists — from evangelical preachers to founders such as Washington — asked for God’s blessing. Whatever century it is, our leaders often include some suggestion of the same biblical themes that filled revolutionary-era sermons, including sacrifice, courage for the fight and appeals for God’s providential blessings on America. We are, it seems, one nation under God after all.

Perhaps the reason American Christians permit blasphemy in their worship services is that the idolatry of U.S. civil religion has made them immune to it.

No peace, no justice.

Whose Ox, Which Gore?

A-View-of-World-from-9th-Avenue-Map_mediumthumbTim Keller continues to impress, not only with his wisdom, but also with his productivity. He has a new book, this time on idols, and as the darling Presbyterian pastor of Christianity Today’s editors, he answers questions about Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. (That’s almost an early modern mouthful of a title.) The interviewer at CT asks Keller, “Do Christians have blind spots when it comes to false idols?”

Keller responds:

An idol is something you rely on instead of God for your salvation. One of the religious idols is your moral record: “God accepts me because I’m living a good life.” I’m a Presbyterian, so I’m all for right doctrine. But you can start to feel very superior to everyone else and think, God is pleased with me because I’m so true to the right doctrine. The right doctrine and one’s moral record are forms of power. Another is ministry success, similar to the idol of achievement. There are religious versions of sex, money, and power, and they are pretty subtle.

This is a curious answer. Keller could have opted for a version of an idol that was close to home or one that was easier to give up. For instance, if I were asked this question, I could respond with something about the idolatry of Christian contemporary music and its outlet in P&W worship. That would be no skin off my back, and I could score a point against my liturgical enemies. But if I offered up the Philadelphia Phillies as a form of idolatry, this one would hurt since I’d hate to abandon for God’s service what may be the best team in Philadelphia sports history. My answer would then go something like this:

I’m a Philadelphian, so I’m all for Ryan Howard. But you can start to feel very superior to everyone else and think, God is pleased with me because I’m so true to the best slugger in contemporary baseball. Home runs and RBI’s are forms of power. Another is winning the N.L. pennant two years in a row, similar to the idol of achievement. There are sports fan versions of sex, money, and power, and they are pretty subtle.

All of which is to say that the illustration one uses to answer a question about idolatrous blind spots may reveal something about the tenacity with which you cling to earthly and even spiritual goods, and which ones may be let go.

So what does it say that Pete Enns quotes Keller favorably at his blog? If Keller had identified either the Yankees or OT studies or Ancient Near Eastern Studies as possible idols, would Enns have been so ready to quote approvingly?

For that reason, Keller’s response would have been more impressively costly had he substituted “city” for “right doctrine”:

I’m a New Yorker, so I’m all for urban ministry. But you can start to feel very superior to everyone else and think, God is pleased with me because I’m so true to the Big Apple. Urban ministry and cultural transformation are forms of power. Another is church planting success, similar to the idol of achievement. There are religious versions of sex, money, and power, and they are pretty subtle.

So here’s a deal: I’ll consider giving up my potential idols of Machen and confessional Presbyterianism, if Keller is willing to put urban ministry on the altar and Enns is willing to sacrifice Ancient Near Eastern studies.