Would Jesus Allow Open Discussion on Controversial Topics?

This past Sunday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a front page article entitled Priests told not to voice dissent,” the gist of which is contained in this quote:

Archbishop John Nienstedt is warning Catholic clergy across Minnesota that there should be no “open dissension” of the church’s strong backing of a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would define marriage as a union only between a man and woman. 

The Roman Catholic archbishop is not merely asking clergy to remain neutral on public issues while speaking in the pulpit. Instead, he is pressuring pastors and parishioners to be proactive on the issue even if it is against their conscience, by  pushing “marriage prayers” smack dab in the middle of Sunday Mass, creating parish “marriage committees” to support the amendment, and inviting “marriage teams” to come speak to high school students.

Of course, church leaders certainly have the right–and the duty–to speak publicly about issues of faith and morals, and about anything that might make the world or church a better place. However, based on my past experiences, I rather doubt any of these marriage speakers will offer any genuine, mutual discussion (this vote, after all, applies to all of society, not just Catholics, so all angles ought to be openly discussed, even at a church meeting).

Catholics today are facing the same kind of repressive environment that exists under dictatorships. It is becoming dangerous to disagree on controversial topics. One cannot write or speak publicly if one disagrees with church teachings on such topics as women’s ordination, married clergy, gay rights, birth control, abortion, liberation theology, or even how one views Mary (as in the case of Tissa Balasuriya). 

Regarding the case of the proposed marriage amendment, the archbishop is so determined that in a recent speech/letter to priestshe reminded them of their vows of obedience. In addition, the archbishop wrote a letter to one priest threatening to remove him from active ministry if he spoke publicly against church teaching (the marriage amendment being one example in the letter). Some people would call that spiritual bullying.

Conservative Catholics spout the slogan “error has no rights,” but “error” is not a person. People do have rights. People are God’s beloved sons and daughters–and Christ often listened carefully to others, even asked about what they thought: How do you interpret the law? What do you want? Who do you say I am? What are you discussing as you go your way?

Since Sunday’s Star Tribune article, I have been trying to think of a single instance in which Jesus silenced a conversation, or bullied people into thinking his way.

Hmmmm… In Mark’s gospel, Jesus does ask the disciples to keep quiet now and then, but the secret is all the good works he’s doing, that he’s the Messiah, not the squelching of his opposition. Today’s equivalent would be a bishop working a miracle and then telling the priests to keep it secret, because, after all, he’s a very humble guy.

Maybe we might think the time Jesus turned over all those money tables in the temple was a little like silencing someone with opposing views. Today’s equivalent would be a bishop blasting American corportations for their greed on a nationally televised event, or publicly destroying the number balls used to select lottery winners. Or maybe selling the bishop’s mansion to build a place for the homeless.

The only time I can remember Jesus ever coming close to silencing someone is when Peter–whom Catholic call the first pope–tells Jesus he ought not to go to Jerusalem because of the danger. To this, Jesus replies:

Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do. (Matthew 16:23)

Those are pretty strong words–even harsher than “shut up.” Jesus knew that God wanted him to go to Jerusalem even if it meant risking death on a cross. When pushed between following the advice of the first pope or what his Father in heaven wanted, Jesus chose to obey his Father, trusting that God would bring about something good (through his cross and resurrection, the salvation of the world!).

In our own times, those of us who follow Jesus must listen carefully not only to religious leaders, but also to those whose voices are not easily heard: the poor, the abandoned, the lonely, the sick, and those who are most ill-treated and misunderstood. We must ponder our sacred scriptures and pray to God, asking the Holy Spirit to guide each one of us to make good choices.

Even if it means disagreeing with “Peter.”

3 thoughts on “Would Jesus Allow Open Discussion on Controversial Topics?

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