DR. CUMMINGS: Questioning faith

July 6, 2014 

Why is it so difficult to question Faith? We question everything else. Is it because faith is so personal and private and particular to our own very deep convictions? We all think that our faith is right, don’t we? At least it’s right for us, otherwise we’d change it. But many people also think that everybody who belongs to “their faith” must think exactly like they do, and they bristle when they read or hear a “believer” with an opposing view. Are you like this?

I’m sure you remember when the president of our Southern Baptist University (Mercer) wrote a book about “his faith” that seemed to be at odds with “their faith.” Instead of entering into an exciting dialogue with a man far more theologically brilliant than any of them, they chose to exclude Dr. Kirby Godsey from their communion.

Many American Catholics are tip-toeing around the reports coming out of Rome. As you’ve noticed, Pope Francis doesn’t always conduct himself “correctly.” For example, his off-the-cuff remarks about gays get explained over and over again by traditional American Catholics -- to make sure the pope is still “Catholic.” The idea that we might explore the concept of homosexuality once again is unthinkable.

Last month, I wrote an opinion piece about “The Catholic Church.” A critic commented that I should have entitled it: “The Catholic Church in my own image.” He was right. It is my image of what I want my church to be.

I want the church to welcome people who are divorced and remarried (50 percent of Americans), and couples who live in gay marriages (in opposition to Erick Erickson’s opinion), and couples who practice birth control (98 percent of Catholics). I want it to allow priests to marry and women to be priests. That’s just my opinion.

But all these things are currently against the “law of the church,” and many people feel I’m not “Catholic” if I challenge these laws. A local priest wrote in his blog that I’m either “Pelagian, Gnostic, or Post-Christian” but certainly not Catholic. Another critic wrote that I was “afflicted with a sort of spasmodic, anti-Catholic Tourette’s Syndrome.” Wow.

But how about the “law of the land?” Nobody says I’m “un-American” if I want to change our laws on immigration and taxation and even seat belts. I can have all sorts of different opinions about the size and power of our government agencies and I’m not asked to leave my country. If I think the tea party should go back to Boston, I’m not accused of treason. If I think the IRS should be abolished or that every congressman should be voted out of office, I’m still an American. If I think our president is a weak puppy and his policies are hurting our international reputation, I’m not told to move to Canada. Even our wrangling congressmen and women who claim that “the other side of the aisle” is the cause of all our economic problems, and hurtle all sorts of vicious and hurtful word-bombs at each other, never call the other party “traitors.”

However, whenever I question church laws, I feel like Paul opposing the church law of circumcision (Gal. 2:4). Peter and James, the brother of Jesus, fought him on it. Why is that? What is there about faith that makes some people become religious isolationists? Why don’t different “faith-views” encourage honest and open debate, albeit wild and raucous, but without exclusion and excommunication? Why do I have to leave my centuries-old Irish Catholic heritage just because I have different theological interpretations? Aren’t the days of Joan of Arc over?

I lived in Rome for two years with Pope John XXIII during the preparation of a worldwide meeting to change the Catholic Church. We called it Vatican II. The pope’s constant theme was: Aggiornamento (Upgrade the church). How do you “upgrade” an institution that is already perfect and unchangeable?

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

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