Friday, November 3, 2006

A Fallen World- Sinners in the hands of a loving God

It is strange how things work in that real world our Dads were always telling us about. By strange, I mean poignant; by poignant, I mean funny and sad, dispiriting and hopeful. In a word, the world, especially when viewed through the eyes of faith, is paradoxical. Faith, especially Christian faith is immersed, baptized, in paradox. This morning as I got up, got moving and started paying attention to what was going on, I just about dropped my soy latté when I heard the news about Ted Haggard. Haggard was, until yesterday, president of the National Evangelical Association and senior pastor of New-Life Church in Colorado Springs. He stands accused of some pretty serious sins by a male prostitute in Denver. While Pastor Haggard denies certain of the allegations, he admits to some of them, like purchasing methamphetamine. Such admissions certainly compromise him on moral issues.

Writing honestly, Haggard is one of those Christian spokesmen who always made me wince when commenting on issues of the day, especially on the delicate issue of Islam. Nonetheless, he deserves a lot of credit for the greening of evangelicals among other achievements and, not least, for upholding the value and societal importance of marriage. What grieves me most of all is that, when things like this happen, Christians lose credibility on the issues, like marriage. But such events also serve as reminders that seeking political power through media manipulation almost assures that, at least from time-to-time, things like this will happen. At such times we are offered an opportunity for reflection, not about what we try achieve in society as salt, light and leaven, but to reflect on our motivations and how best, as Christians, to advocate for laws and policies consonant with the Gospel, which we believe leads to true happiness for everybody, a very tall order in a fallen and broken world. When things like this occur it is important to remember what theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar observed, "love alone is credible".

Dr. Charles Nestor, Senior Fellow for Public Policy for the National Clergy Council writes something worth reading about Ted Haggard's situation: "Many have already rushed to raise charges of yet another evangelical clergy hypocrisy. Evangelicals teach that homosexual behavior is proscribed in the Bible and is therefore to be viewed as a sin in all cases.

"Many are raising the charge of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the playing of a role, i.e., as an actor, without the inward conviction that it represents the truth. Pastor Haggard’s swift resignations indicate to us that while he failed to live out the truth he taught, he recognizes that his conduct was clearly wrong."

It does become important to address the issue that seems to be called into question by Haggard's admissions and the allegations against him. To this end, I offer Archbishop John Myers' of Newark, New Jersey response to the New Jersey Supreme Court's recent ruling in the case of Lewis vs. Harris, which concluded that New Jersey's state constitution forbade the state from denying marriage to same sex couples, though the name marriage, the court conceded, could be reserved for unions between a man and a woman. Nominalism strikes again! I encourage everyone to read Archbishop Myers' statement in its entirety. It bears the timely and urgent title Now That Lewis Vs. Harris Has Been Decided . . .

"Our state, like all states, has from the beginning recognized marriage, honored it, and sought to support and protect it. Yet marriage is not the creation of any state. It is a natural institution—with its own characteristics and features—that is prior to any particular political or legal system. While it is true, from a Catholic perspective, that Jesus elevated this natural institution to the level of the supernatural in establishing the sacrament of matrimony, this does not make marriage the creation of any religious community—including the Catholic Church. This is why believers (from many diverse communities) and non-believers alike can understand and affirm the nature of the marital good and its centrality in a well-ordered society. It is why religious groups, despite their theological disagreements, recognize the validity of the conjugal marriages of people of other faiths."

Archbishop Myers does not limit himself to making a few theological points about the nature of marriage, but courageously calls all people of good conscience to action.

"Recognizing the national threat to marriage from courts such as ours in New Jersey, religious leaders from across the United States and encompassing a breadth of religious diversity recently joined together in calling for a federal marriage amendment. I was proud to stand with these leaders. I joined their call precisely out of concern about what courts like the New Jersey Supreme Court would impose upon us; now that fear has proved all-too-well grounded. So it is with still greater resolve that today I pledge myself to work with my fellow Catholics, with leaders of other religious communities, and with people of every faith to rectify the harms done by this ill-advised ruling. For the common good of our state, I ask Catholics to join hands with Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and people of other traditions of faith to work together to amend our state constitution to reverse this damaging decision."

Back to the news . . . the Good News
My friends, the truth, thank God, does not rise or fall with any one person's ability or inability to live in accordance with it. As St. Paul, to whom "a thorn was given . . . in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me" (2 Cor 12,7), writes in chapter 3 of his letter to the Romans: "For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith." So, Ted Haggard's failures, whatever they may be, do nothing to change the truth about which Archbishop Myers writes, which is part and parcel of the fundamental truth that the gift of God's grace, through Christ's redemption, is not negated for Ted, because it is safeguarded by his faith. So, please pray for him and for all who are in ministry.

As disciples of the Lord Jesus we are not called to shoot our wounded, or leave them behind as we walk our pilgrim path to God's Kingdom. All Christian leaders whose failures are made public (heaven knows as Catholics we have endured a lot of this these past few years) are no different from the rest of us. In other words, we are all sinners who desperately need God's grace which is given us in and through His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our need is on-going. Dear friends, let us be reconciled to God and to each other.

By doing so we heed the words of St. John, which we find in the first chapter of his first letter: "Now this is the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say, 'We have fellowship with him,' while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. If we say, 'We are without sin,' we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, 'We have not sinned,' we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."

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