At that time, one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to dine with him; so He went into the house of the Pharisee and reclined at table. And behold, a woman in the town who was a sinner, upon learning that He was at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment; and standing behind Him at His feet, she began to bathe His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with ointment. Now when the Pharisee, who had invited Him, saw it, he said to himself, This man, were He a prophet, would surely know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner. And Jesus answered and said to him, Simon, I have something to say to you. And he said, Master, speak. A certain money-lender had two debtors; the one owed five hundred denarii, the other fifty. As they had no means of paying, he forgave them both. Which of them, therefore, will love him more? Simon answered and said, He, I suppose, to whom he forgave more. And He said to him, You have judged rightly. And turning to the woman, He said to Simon, Do you see this woman? I came into your house; you gave Me no water for My feet; but she has bathed My feet with tears, and has wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, from the moment she entered, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil; but she has anointed My feet with ointment. Wherefore I say to you, her sins, many as they are, shall be forgiven her, because she has loved much. But he to whom little is forgiven, loves little. And He said to her, Your sins are forgiven. And they who were at table with Him began to say within themselves, Who is this man, who even forgives sins? But He said to the woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace.
I like the image I’ve posted here because to me, it reflects a key principle of Franciscan theology, one that I locked onto hard in my early formation: the idea that in order to truly know God, we have to transcend the boundaries we put in place that keep us from seeing God in some of the most intimate ways. Namely, in the faces and lives of those who frighten us or challenge us. The story of St. Francis and the leper is one I’ve held onto tightly.
Recently, an old friend replied to my posting this image on Facebook:
“Yes, everyone is unconditionally worthy. Unfortunately this has not been the message and I don’t think any institution endorsed plan will change this because of christian history and manipulation of scripture and the ” perception” we are all “sinners” and immoralists. As a therapist counsellor this is the hardest toxic shame issue to bridge because it is so ingrained in people. Wishing you peace and happiness on your journey Peter.”
I promised a blog post on this because it required some thought; but also, because I believe the message is important for Christians, as well as those of us who identify as the descendants of colonialism, to take to heart.
Everything this man says is true. Men have acted in the name of Christendom to further an agenda requiring genocide both covert and overt that continues to this day. Indigenous people make up a significantly higher population in Canadian jails, 52% of Indigenous children today are in foster care; 25% of Indigenous people in Canada currently live in poverty, and an estimate 40% of Indigenous children live in poverty.
Christendom also has the legacy of antisemitism, simony, murder, rape, pedophilia, corruption (read residential schools, child sexual abuse scandals where perpetrators were often simply moved to other parishes, Magdalene laundries, not to mention the untold damages done by conversion therapy).
So this is the strange set of crossed wires that I encounter as a priest, and a queer person. Knowing everything I do about Christendom, how do I find myself a member of a religious order and priest?
I think before we even begin to unpack this and respond to these comments, we have to clearly define the difference between “Christendom” and “Christianity”. And there is a big difference! Christendom is the political philosophy that includes a self defined Christianity which justifies its motivations, its actions, and its outcomes. Great example is what is the evangelical political right in the United States and Russia right now–both justifying political ideals which are fascist, pure and simple. (Fascism is an extreme form of socialism which excludes individuals who do not meet a criteria, often villainizing the individuals it excludes as the cause of suffering experience by those focused in the fascist umbrella.)
Christendom cannot endure, and thankfully, likely won’t. Christianity, however, might have a chance. I see it’s roots in the Desert Fathers, those who left the world of institutions to commit themselves to knowing, to understanding, to challenging their faults in solitude. It’s in the spirit of Luther who challenged the rule, Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, St. Augustine, Sts. Francis and Claire, St. Dominic, Sts. Bacchus and Sergius.
The difference between Christendom and Christianity is that, as a way that is narrow, it requires the humility to say that yes–we were wrong in our past. Yes, as stewards of our spiritual practice today, in order to proceed in a good way we need to accept that there will be people who are unable to see that we are part of change. There will be people who were harmed so much that they will not be able to forgive. We shouldn’t fight that. We should, however, accept it and embrace it. The Christianity I know doesn’t name itself–it acts, it supports, it loves, it lifts, it feeds, it comforts, it advocates, it challenges institutions and injustices–it acts individually, causally, courageously. It pushes itself from the idea of institution and deeper into the idea of community, acting within and without a greater community.
The comment says that while everyone is unconditionally worthy, “… this has not been the message and I don’t think any institution endorsed plan will change this because of … history and manipulation of scripture and the ” perception” we are all “sinners” and immoralists.” From the point of understanding Christendom, this is true. Outside of that, however, I think its mistaken.
Reconciliation, being at the heart of what I believe Christianity to be, has to first require action outside of any institution. Not everyone acts within an institution. I’m assume here, the institution in question is the Church, but I think we can broaden that definition to mean government and political movements as well because fundamentally, they have been built on the back of the principles associated with Christendom.
My calling has included, uncomfortably sometimes, the reality that I have to allow myself to be a focal point for people’s anger. Not with the mindset of martyrdom, but instead the reality that people have a right to be angry given the history of scripture manipulation, and the perception that we are all sinners and immoralist. Owning the truth is hard! A lot of people understandably run from it, or try to make it “not their fault” because of the uncomfortable nature of it. But we have to own our shit! And while our faith has fulfilled many of us, it has also been used as a weapon to cause others harm.
Truly loving others without inquiring whether or not they are worthy: this is not so much an instruction for how we should approach others, but rather, a prayer. We must ask if we, given the history of our faith, are worthy of the love of others. The idea that I would spend even a moment of time pointing out other’s as being in “sin” or unworthy, or an immoralist is abhorrent to me.
What is painful is that someone I regarded as a mentor, a teacher, can’t get to know me, or where his teachings have formed me to where I am today, the joy that vocation and those teachings have brought me and others wanting to reclaim their heritage, because the perceived sin I have incurred is in the way. He once told me he had a dream about me being surrounded by many people and having many gifts.
I wish you could see those gifts. I understand why you can’t. I understand the reasons why it’s not possible. I know this is your truth. I respect that truth.