How Churches Commit Institutional Suicide

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In my hometown of Newport R.I., there is a beautiful old Episcopal church, Trinity Church.  The parish was established in 1698, an Anglican beachhead in Puritan New England; and the church building itself, modeled on some of Christopher Wren’s City of London churches, was built in 1726.

It was the church of George Berkeley (later Bishop Berkeley), the Anglo-Irish philosopher who stopped in Newport for a couple of years while getting ready to go to Bermuda, where he planned to found a college to train missionaries for work among American Indians.  Berkeley was waiting for money for his college to arrive from Prime Minister Robert Walpole, but the PM decided to spend the money instead on a royal wedding.  So Berkeley had to abandon Bermuda and Newport.  He went home to Ireland, leaving behind him a house (ironically named Whitehall), which is still standing today, nearly 300 years later.

Anyway, I was walking by the church the other day, admiring its beauty, when I noticed a banner attached to poles.  Written on the banners were the following words: “We are people who believe in justice, come believe with us.”  Other banners on other poles substituted the words “hope,” “peace,” and “grace” for the word “justice.”

Lovely sentiments and lovely invitations.  They happen to ornament an Episcopal church, but (except for the word “grace”) they might just as well have ornamented the front window of the headquarters of the Communist Party.  Who doesn’t believe in justice and peace and hope?

As for grace, it’s an ambiguous word, which sometimes has a Christian meaning but often does not. You might have thought that a church named “Trinity” would have a banner that said, “We are people who believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Come believe with us.”  Or perhaps, “We are people who believe in Jesus Christ, true man and true God. Come believe with us.”

But no.  Banners like that would not be “inclusive,” and in the secular (or secularist) culture that dominates present-day America, the greatest of all values is inclusivity.  Its opposite, exclusivity, is a great sin.  Racism is a great sin, and so is sexism, and so is homophobia, and so is transphobia, and so is xenophobia, and so is Islamophobia.

These “isms” and “phobias” are great sins against the supreme value of inclusivity.  This value used to be called tolerance; but the word “tolerance” has negative associations.  It’s as if the merely tolerant person is saying, “You’re wrong, but I’m willing to put up with you.”

By contrast, the person who believes in unlimited inclusivity is saying, “You’re right, and I want you in my circle of friends. Everybody is right – except of course those awful people who practice exclusivity.”

[Photo Rhonda Haiston]
The old comedian Flip Wilson used to play a character who was a minister of “The Church of What’s Happenin’ Now.”  I am not personally acquainted with the female priest who is the rector of Trinity Church in Newport, but I strongly suspect that she too belongs to the Church of What’s Happenin’ Now.  Otherwise, how could she have approved of the barely-Christian justice-peace-hope-grace banners that now ornament her church?

Another clerical member of “The Church of What’s Happenin’ Now” is Father James Martin S.J., who, as he made perfectly clear in his book Building a Bridge, wants the Catholic Church to be “inclusive” of homosexuals.

The problem is: Catholicism is not an inclusive religion.  True, it is morally inclusive.  That is, it is quite willing to accept as members people who are thieves, fornicators, adulterers, liars, wife-beaters, homosexuals, members of the Mafia, etc.  Being wicked doesn’t get you kicked out of the Catholic Church.  In fact, the Church claims that it exists for the sake of bad people.

It exists for the purpose of helping bad people become good – indeed, of helping them not just to become good but to become saints.

But the Catholic Church is definitely not doctrinally inclusive.  And it never has been.  Even in the New Testament (written in the first century A.D.) heresies are condemned. The Catholic religion is not one that has ever said, “We believe what everybody believes: that water is wet, that fire is hot, and that justice and peace are good things.”

No, Catholicism has always said, “We are a religion with a creed that is intended to include some people and exclude others, and if you disagree with the articles of our creed you cannot be a true member of our Church.  We will have to exclude you.”

Among the doctrines of the Catholic Church are moral doctrines, e.g., that abortion is wrong, that homosexual behavior is wrong, that marriage is indissoluble.  From a contemporary secularist point of view, these moral doctrines are out-dated, not to mention that they are cruel.  And from a “liberal” Christian point of view (liberal Christianity being nothing more than secularism with a little religious fairy dust sprinkled on it), they are also out-dated and cruel.

Liberal Christianity used to be a Protestant monopoly. In recent times, it has invaded Catholicism.  It tends to ruin any Christian denomination that embraces it – for example, The Episcopal Church, which is now in a state of virtual collapse.  It is currently ruining Catholicism in the United States (and elsewhere).

Beware of churches, whether Catholic or Protestant, that advertise themselves as “welcoming.”  Translated into English, “welcoming” means “We are in the process of committing institutional suicide.  Come join us as we leap off the bridge.”

David Carlin

David Carlin

David Carlin is professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.

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