Monday, September 23, 2013
The "holy and sinful" Church and women's ordination
Adital (em português)
September 13, 2012
One of the statements about the Church I like best is the one that says the Church is "holy and sinful." Not because I like to point out the sins of the Church, but because it is a deeply realistic theological statement that also has "validity" in the analysis of social institutions and societies.
One of the temptations of all institutions or social systems that acquire great power in society is to consider themselves immune to errors or questions and criticisms. Especially when that institution considers itself a representative of divine will or the laws of history (as was and is the case of some Communist parties that came to and/or remain in power and also the neoliberal free market advocates).
The Christian churches are not immune to this temptation, especially since, as churches, they speak or claim to speak on behalf of God and in the name of revelation. Therefore, the continuous remembrance of the claim that the Church is "holy and sinful" is essential to overcome this temptation. This temptation which, like all the others, will never disappear completely from our lives.
To say that the Church is "holy and sinful" is to acknowledge the ambiguity of our human condition and, therefore, of all human institutions. The statement that the Church is "holy" is the confession of faith that we see in the communities that form the Church, the presence of God's Spirit that encourages us along the Way. It is important here to note that this confession of faith affirms that the Church is "holy" and not sacred. Something that is sacred is -- or should be -- untouchable, unchanging and separate from everyday life, seen as the realm of the profane. Christianity is not a religion rooted in the assertion of the sacred that is separate or distinguished from the profane, but in the faith that God, who is Holy, emptied Himself of His divine status and became human (see Phil 2:6), lived and walked among us so that all people could live with dignity and joy. Accordingly, the holiness that we can live out is the acceptance of the free love and mercy of God and bearing witness to that love among the people, especially those who are suffering the most.
The reason we put the "foundation" of our Church on the merciful presence of God among us, is that we know and acknowledge that we are sinners. It is God's mercy and holiness that reveals our sinful condition to us and encourages us to live our faith that, even as sinners, we are loved by God.
Anyone who sees the Church, with its members and its institutions, as sacred, admits no change in those rules and laws which are considered immutable because they are sacred. One example of an untouchable law would be the exclusive ordination of men. However, anyone who confesses that the Church is "holy and sinful" knows that holiness does not reside in the immutability or untouchability of the institution or its laws, but in God's free and merciful love. They know that one of the characteristics of love is precisely creating some disorder in the laws and the institution in the name of love for loved ones. And that love gives us the courage to acknowledge that we are sinners and that our sins are concretized and ossified in laws and institutions. They know that you can not live in community or society without laws and institutions, but they also know that those laws can not be treated as sacred.
A serious discussion about the role of the clergy in the Church (the power relationship between clergy and laity) and the ordination of women -- with all the problems and difficulties that would bring -- would be a very "interesting" way for the Catholic Church to witness to the world that our church is not sacred, but rather "holy and sinful". Thus it would have more credibility in its criticism of the various forms of sacralization of human customs or institutions, for example, the neoliberal temptation to turn market forces into something sacred.
Dr. Jung Mo Sung is a Roman Catholic lay theologian and professor in the graduate program of religious studies at the Methodist University of São Paulo, Brazil. He has also taught in the graduate program at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo. He is the author of numerous books, the most recent being Beyond the Spirit of Empire: Theology and Politics in a New Key, co-authored with Joerg Rieger Page and Nestor Miguez (SCM Reclaiming Liberation Theology Series, 2009) and Deus em nós: o reinado que acontece no amor solidário aos pobres, co-authored with Hugo Assmann (Paulus, 2010).