Friday, August 12, 2011

Some encouragement to those discouraged with the Church

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

There is much disappointment with the institutional Catholic Church currently. A double migration is happening: an outer one -- people who are just leaving the Church, and an inner one -- those who remain in it but no longer feel like it's a spiritual home. They continue to believe in spite of the Church.

No wonder. The current pope has taken some radical initiatives that have divided the church body. He has taken a path of confrontation with two important bishoprics -- the German and French ones -- by introducing the Latin Mass; he has coordinated an elaborate reconciliation of Lefebvre's followers with the Church; he has thrown out the main renewing insights of Vatican II, especially ecumenism, absurdly denying the title of "church" to churches that aren't Catholic or Orthodox; as cardinal, he was gravely permissive with pedophiles; his position on AIDS borders on the inhuman.

The Catholic Church is now plunged in a harsh winter. The social base of support for the current Pope's obsolete model is composed of conservative groups that are more interested in media productions, the logic of the market, than in proposing an appropriate message for the serious current problems. They offer a "Lexotan Christianity", fit for calming anxious minds, but alienated in the face of suffering humanity.

It's urgent to encourage these Christians who are in the process of emigration with what is essential in Christianity. It's certainly not the Church, which was not the subject of Jesus' preaching. He proclaimed a dream -- the Kingdom of God -- as opposed to the kingdom of Caesar, a Kingdom of God that is an absolute revolution in relationships, from individual to divine and cosmic ones.

Christianity first appeared in history as a movement and as the way of Christ. It predates its sedimentation in the four gospels and doctrines. The spiritual path nature means a type of Christianity that has its own course. It generally lives on the margins and sometimes at a critical distance from the official institution. But it is born and nourished by the ongoing fascination with the figure and the liberating and spiritual message of Jesus of Nazareth. Initially regarded as the "heresy of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5) or simply "heresy" (Acts 28:22) in the sense of "clique", Christianity kept gaining autonomy until its followers, according to the Acts of the Apostles (11:36), were called "Christians".

Jesus' movement is indeed the stronger force of Christianity, rather than the churches, because it isn't framed in institutions or trapped in doctrines and dogmas. It comprises all kinds of people, from the most varied cultures and traditions, even agnostics and atheists who let themselves be touched by the brave figure of Jesus, by the dream He proclaimed, a Kingdom of love and freedom, by His ethic of unconditional love, especially towards the poor and oppressed, and by the way He took on the human drama, in the midst of humiliation, torture, and His execution on the cross. He presented an image of God so intimate and friendly to life that it is hard to give up even by those who do not believe in God. Many people say, "If God exists, He must be like the God of Jesus."

This Christianity as a spiritual journey is what counts. However, it soon went from being a movement to being a religious institution with various modes of organization. In its midst, different interpretations of the figure of Jesus were developed that became doctrines and were gathered by the official gospels. The churches, on assuming an institutional nature, established criteria for membership and exclusion, doctrines as an identifying point of reference and their own celebratory rites. Sociology explains this phenomenon, not theology. The institution has always lived in tension with the spiritual path. The optimum is for them to walk together, but that is rare. What is decisive in any case, is the spiritual path. It has a future and animates the meaning of life.

The problem of the Roman Catholic Church is its claim to be the only true one. What is right is that they all recognize each other, as they all reveal different and complementary dimensions of the message of the Nazarene. The important thing is that Christianity maintain its character as a spiritual path. It can sustain many Christians in face of the mediocrity and irrelevance into which the Church of today has fallen.

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