Monday, November 19, 2012

Not confirming Church's beliefs? Not getting confirmed.

The below news story has been making the rounds in recent days. GetReligion, as always, delved into the topic with its laudable mix of the factual and editorial.

If your son wants to be confirmed in the Church and doesn't go to church regularly and doesn't affirm the teachings of his faith (e.g. support the traditional view of marriage), what is a pastor to do? In an Orthodox context this is a discussion of openness to the chalice, but the central issue is the same; if you profess beliefs antithetical to the faith what should the response of the Church be?

Later in the article the boy says, "He’s so strict. He won’t loosen up about things.” A common debate I have with people is on the merits of keeping people "in the church" even when there are real, demonstrable divisions between their beliefs and practices and what the Church would have them confess and do. Rarely, if ever, will a priest kick a person out of church, but that doesn't mean he's powerless to do anything (as I expressed above). A popular opinion is that there is value in simple sabbatical attendance (i.e. "At least he is coming to church.").

To my thinking, as religious affiliation continues the trend of moving away from one of familial or national membership to one of personal conviction the Church is necessarily going to shrink. We do not do ourselves any favors in using Sunday attendance numbers as the indicator of "success" in our pastorate. A smaller, more zealous body of believers will foster the growth of a parish where the Divine Liturgy is a mystical reality uniting man with his God and not just one of the buildings belonging to a social club.

Neither of these constructs can survive outside the hypothetical. A church full of people who attend infrequently and believe middlingly will collapse on itself due to its own pneumatic vacuum. A church empty of all but the small number of devout believers will collapse under the weight of its utility bills. Regardless, we should remember that the church exists not for the purposes of welcoming people in with oil on their heads and sending them out similarly embrocated before burial. We are preparing people for Christ's second coming, which could be at any moment. It could be... now. Our metric is less about how many people fill the nave, but how prepared the people in attendance are for what is to come.

Is the boy who comes to church when he or his parents feel like it and who believes what he chooses to believe regardless of doctrine and dogma prepared for what is coming? Do we do him any favors in letting him act as one who is so provisioned? No. We send that boy out into this world and the next ill-equipped and it is around our necks that the millstone hangs.

It is not easy to be the priest who stands up for what is right when it is not a popular decision within the parish family. The world at large already opposes him on almost every topic imaginable and now even some in his own small community are at odds with him. Love, though, is not always a warm embrace. Sometimes it speaking the truth in love when it would be easier to keep silent.

(GetReligion) - Two decades ago, while I was serving as the religion writer for The Charlotte News (the afternoon newspaper that later merged with The Charlotte Observer) I heard about a fascinating event in a major local parish.

It seems that at the end of a confirmation class, one of the teen-agers told the youth minister that he simply did not believe some of the doctrines included in the vows that he would be asked to recite as part of the sacramental rite. He could not, in effect, affirm the authority of the Episcopal Church and its teachings. Did that really matter?
The youth minister said it certainly did matter and advised the young man to withdraw from the confirmation class.

At that point, something interesting happened. The teen was fine with this, but his parents went totally ballistic and proceeded to lead an effort to get the youth pastor fired. I heard about this through back channels because my wife and I were attending a nearby church.

I told my editor that this was a really interesting story because it symbolized the whole plight of mainline churches in our society today. Would these churches, under any circumstances, stand their ground and defend the doctrines that had been given to them by generations of earlier believers and saints? I thought this was a highly symbolic event and, in particular, I was struck by the fact that this teen was more being more honest about his beliefs than his parents and some of their friends.

The bottom line: Is there any connection between accepting the teachings of a church and becoming a professed, sacramental member of that body? Did the vows in the confirmation rite have meaning or could one merely speak the words with fingers crossed and that was that?

The editor just didn’t see the point.

Well, clearly, that was before Facebook and denying the divinity of Christ is not as important, in the long run, as rejecting your church’s teachings on the sacrament of marriage. Consider this news out of the Midwest...
Complete article here.

1 comment:

  1. Certainly this topic was something on my mind during this round of presidential elections. I couldn't fathom how people claiming to be Catholic, or Jewish, Muslim, or whatever flavor of Protestant, could support an administration that had already demonstrated it's contempt for the religious and their beliefs. How did they reconcile support for his re-election and their church's teachings on abortion, gay "rights", or Israel? For some reason, the scene from Monty Python's "Meaning of Life" where the household of Catholic children are singing "Every sperm is sacred" seems appropriate.