When the You Tube videos of Barack Obama’s pastor saying “God damn America” went viral, many Americans were quick to condemn his harsh language. At the time, I thought: is there any conceivable way a true minister of God could think such a thing?
I actually thought there was, and is. Martin Luther talked about God “bringing us down to hell”, before lifting us up again. In the context of properly dividing God’s law and gospel, such language might indeed be appropriate (although not recommended for sermons!). God breaks individuals, groups, even nations – before lifting them up and binding their wounds. The real question is whether or not you believe God has redemptive purposes in mind, or if His condemnation is meant to be final.
Enter Richard Dawkins. Dawkins has been agitating to have the Pope arrested when he visits the UK on September 16. The crises of the Roman Catholic Church further deepened this past weekend reporters produced a letter written by Benedict in 1985 where, in considering the “defrocking of an American priest who committed sex offences against two boys”, he mentions that “the ‘good of the universal church’ should be considered” as well. Dawkins, along with Christopher Hitchens, has seized on this.
Just like many Americans were quick to judge that Jeremiah Wright’s condemnation of America was final, many of us now judge Dawkins’ actions similarly, and in this case, I’m guessing that’s not too far off the mark.
As someone who has real sympathies with the Roman Catholic Church, and the Pope as well (I identify with this piece in many ways, even as I also do this piece), I nevertheless must say this: at least on the face of it, Dawkins is right. We should feel immense outrage here – and unfortunately when it comes to the sex-abuse scandals, it seems that it is Dawkin’s outrage – not the Churchs’ – that is the most deeply felt.
Yes, I realize this is Richard Dawkins we are talking about. And yes, I realize that there are political and rhetorical factors to consider here. Yes, I realize we despereately need more nuance and context for the Pope’s statements (see here)!
Still – children recognize when persons speak publicly about the importance of protecting them. After all, when it comes to the institution of God’s Church, it is God’s “first instinct” to protect the children in it, not the rational[izing] adults. And for these little ones, he does this in ways they can understand: appearances count. Making things clear counts.
So I think, in the case of abuse scandals: let the world exercise its Romans 13 function God has given it! Let the Church face judgment for its crimes as we all must! If Caesar deems fit, let its leaders be condemned to prison or even death! For truly, here, the world is in the right! Wonder of wonders, in their concern for the young and the weak they are acting like Christians, not pagans!
And yet, after the world has condemned them utterly for their crimes, we will still visit them! When in their brokenness and rejection they confess, we will still forgive and accept them, comfort them! They will not continue to serve as ministers, but indeed, there will be redemption! And the enemies of the cross will either act as one thief or the other. And then, there will be resurrection and final judgment.
Now, with all that wild-eyed idealism released, read this piece by Colleen Carol Cambell (or listen to her speak here), in order to restore yourself to balance. And again, make sure you read this one to. And keep reading. And praying. This is one for the times.
Remember: Christ has overcome the world.
UPDATE: This, of course, is hardly enough.
UPDATE 2: This is very interesting. However, just because Dawkins was previously wrong to underestimate the effects of abuse – and is perhaps acting hypocritically - does not change the fact that now he’s got a point.