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The Church Confident

About the Author
David Wagschal

A New Ecclesiology for a New Millennium? Part 3

I really wish that the church could regain some confidence. It seems to be in short supply.

Take the clergy. My years working in the church taught me that Christian professionals have a serious problem with low self-worth and low self-esteem. A sense of inferiority and even shame has become very internalized. How many times have I heard pastors or priests talk about not having a “real job” or otherwise deride or downplay their own profession? How many times have I seen clergy embarrassed to admit their profession or even attempt to hide it in public contexts? Or to be so aggressive about asserting their identity as to make it clear that it’s a sore point? How many times have I heard pastors tell me that they just don’t feel valued or respected? And how often have I seen behaviors in clergy that simply seem to say, “No one gives a damn about me, and I’m very hurt”?

None of this is surprising. Even in my lifespan (I’m just pushing 40), there is no doubt that the clergy have fallen in society’s estimation. As the churches have become slowly marginalized, the clerical caste no longer holds the caché it once did. Their socio-cultural prestige has waned as the socio-political power of the churches has waned. Recent scandals haven’t helped.

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Keeping It Real: Church without Feeling Fake or Awkward

About the Author
David Wagschal

A New Ecclesiology for a New Millennium? Part Two

Feeling out of Place?

Do you often feel a bit out of place in church? Do you feel like it’s somehow a bit of a game? That there is something perpetually a little fake or artificial about the whole thing? That it’s almost as if church is a play, and everyone has to stay in character? Everyone has to put on a “church mask”?

And have you ever found that if you don’t “keep up the appearances”, Christians have a genuinely difficult time dealing with you? It’s like you don’t compute? Anything outside the box gets ignored or excluded?

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Learning to Let Go: Towards a Church that Doesn’t Need to Control Everyone and Everything

About the Author
David Wagschal

A New Ecclesiology for a New Millennium? Part One

Christians are addicted to control.

It’s an extraordinary phenomenon. Those of us who’ve been in the church our whole lives may not even notice it, but Christians have this idea that we should control not only people’s ideas, beliefs, and religious practices – which, reluctantly, we might expect – but also their bodies, their relationships, and their politics. In its more extreme forms our desire to control can extend to manners, language, diet, emotions, even minute details of clothes and appearances. Look around a bit and you’ll see it everywhere. We’ve somehow gotten it into our heads that, to be Christian, we must control almost everyone and everything around us: society, morality, culture, politics – the list goes on.

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Credo in…quid? Who is an orthodox Christian?

Pope Francis’s visit to American shores unleashed a storm of breathless reporting and commentary that transfixed the press in the United States for a full week. (I would link, but it’s hard to know where to begin.) Yet amidst the musings on issues both profound and mundane that his journey spawned, one thing was again very clear in the coverage of the pontifical progress: the media are generally flummoxed when they attempt to comprehend and articulate the nature of the factions and fractures within Christianity, particularly when it comes to understanding what an orthodox Christian might actually be.

Exhibit A was this New York Times piece, which begins by airing the views of a representative from the traditionalist wing of the Catholic Church [bold emphasis mine]:

[Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller], a conservative German in black clerical clothing, said neither the pontiff, nor his church, cared whether “Obama says the pope is a very good man” or whether a “fallible” Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. And if papal proclamations of Catholic doctrine on core issues of family have eroded Francis’ global standing, so be it.

But Cardinal Müller is no objective papal observer. He is a leading voice in the orthodox wing of the Catholic Church that worries that outsize attention on Francis’ welcoming, pastoral style could distract from the church’s core beliefs.
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Church Dreams

About the Author
David Wagschal

Our series on homosexuality has got me thinking a lot about two things: truth and the church. Maybe more specifically, it’s got me pondering truth about the church.

One of the things we are trying to do on this blog is to offer a place where we can engage in some creative thinking about what the church is and where it’s going. We want to do this by providing a space for honest, open reflection.

This has got me thinking “ok David, so what really are your own beliefs and feelings about the church these days?”

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Truth and Forgiveness

About the Author
David Wagschal

The Gay Question: the Way Forward (Conclusion)

In my last post, I argued that the key question facing the churches on “the gay issue” is no longer the question of acceptance but the question of reconciliation. That is, the question is no longer “Will the churches accept homosexuals as full, normal members of their communities?”, but “How do the churches now respond to the generations of people harmed by the traditional anti-homosexual stance?”

For Christians, I think this reconciliation will mean two things: 1) truth; 2) forgiveness.

TRUTH

I believe that, on a spiritual level, the anti-homosexual stance in the churches has manifested above all in one particular vice: lying.

The whole issue is clothed in untruth, deception, deflection, and euphemism. Gay people have pretended they were straight. Spouses have pretended their partners were heterosexual. Children have pretended their parents’ marriage was normal. Obviously gay youth have been treated as if they were straight. Everyone has known that a particular celibate pastor/monk/religious/priest is gay, but no one has spoken of it. Gay people are excluded from communion but no one is told why, or the issue is only spoken of in hushed tones. Many people realize that others are being repressed and hurt, but never speak out. Many completely disagree with the traditional position but keep silent. Everywhere it’s lies, fear, repression.

“…He was a murderer from the beginning, and he does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies…”

We desperately need the cleansing, purifying power of honesty. We need truth.

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The Gay Question: the Way Forward

About the Author
David Wagschal

Greetings! After a welcome summer hiatus, I think it’s high time to get back to the blog.

Like many people, I’m beginning to suffer from a little issue-fatigue with the gay question. So I’d like to wrap up our series on homosexuality and the church with a few final reflections on the way forward.

Where are we?

To move forward, I think it’s important that we have accurate sense of where we really are: “the state of the question”.

Many Christians believe that we’re still debating whether or not homosexuality is acceptable for Christians. According to them, the essential question is, “Will the churches accept homosexuality as a normal sexual practice/orientation for its members and leadership?”

I don’t believe this is true. I think that this stage of the debate is over. I think it is pretty clear that the tide has turned, and that socially and culturally, homosexuality has been accepted, and will continue to gain acceptance (barring any major socio-economic catastrophe). If you don’t believe me, just spend some time with anyone under 25.

Theologically, the tide is also turning.

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Gay Marriage: An Urgent Matter?

About the Author
David Wagschal

Now that the USA has finally legalized gay marriage, we’re seeing a new round of consternation and unsease among churches that object to full civil and religious equality for gay Christians. Reactions vary, of course, but a growing sense of urgency in conservative Christian circles is quite palpable – and along with it an understandable sense of anger and fear.

My own reaction has mostly been one of sadness – mixed with a certain anxiety.

On a civil level, of course, I’m quite happy that the US is now where it is, even if I’m a little bemused that it’s taken so long.

But on a church level, I can’t help but feel a sense of sorrow, and even trepidation, as I contemplate the long-term loss of credibility that the churches – and the Gospel itself – have suffered in the course of this debate. As I have argued at length over the last half a year or so, the traditional anti-homosexual position is not well founded theologically, biblically, ecclesiologically, or even spiritually. So it’s a hard pill for me to swallow to see “Christian” and “anti-gay” pretty much equated in the media coverage of the US decision. Truthfully, I feel a real sense of shame and embarrassment in Christianity’s association with the anti-gay position. And I worry: how long will this association linger?

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Doctrinal Quiz Time!

About the Author
David Wagschal

(“So wrong for so long?” Part Four)

My final thought on theological traditionalism relates to content – to what we believe. Here I want to make what is perhaps my boldest assertion, which is:

I’m not sure many people actually believe much of the old synthesis anymore.

If there is a definitive blow against the “tradition argument”, this may be it. If people are objecting to homosexuality on the basis of tradition, and yet not themselves adhering to that tradition on pretty fundamental levels, what are we to make of this?

This observation is born out of many conversations I’ve had with Christians in traditional churches where it becomes clear to me that the beliefs espoused by my friends often have only a superficial connection with the traditional Greco-Roman Christian synthesis. Their underlying, foundational beliefs are quite different. Sometimes people don’t seem to realize this disconnect and sometimes they do – they realize that they are actually creating something quite new, yet still wish to maintain a traditional identity.

Am I right?

Well, if you’ve had experience with traditional Christianity, take my “Doctrinal Quiz” and see what you think!

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Theology in Our Own Voice (The Problem with Tradition Part Three)

About the Author
David Wagschal

(“So Wrong for So Long?” Part 3)

Another weakness with traditionalism is that it can introduce a certain evasiveness, obfuscation and even deception into theological discourse.

Traditional theology insists on being in a conversation with past figures. This is not in itself a bad thing. The problem emerges when the next step is taken – which it usually is – and theology begins to be done through the voice of these figures.

The result is a theological discourse in which most authoritative claims are made beginning with phrases like “Martin Luther says….”, “Athanasius says…”, “Thomas Aquinas says…”, or, most commonly, and worse yet, with a traditional collective: “the tradition says…”, “the Fathers say…”, “the Church teaches…”, etc.

What is the problem with this? Well, it’s fourfold.

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