Sometimes people in faith communities wonder why others seem not to be attracted to join them -- or admire them.
Well, there are lots of reasons, but one of them, I think, has to do with a perception that some rules by which certain faith communities live are oddly out of sync with the culture. Indeed, it is a requirement of many religious communities that they stand against the culture and be intentionally out of harmony with it, for much in the culture needs to be challenged. But there are some matters on which some religious groups seem to be clinging to old norms that don't make sense to many people.
One example is the refusal of many religious groups to ordain otherwise-qualified gays and lesbians as clergy. Many people in our culture -- especially those age 40 and under -- simply don't get this. Homosexuality is a non-issue for them and they can't imagine why religious groups would be tearing themselves apart over this.
Another example is the place of women in faith communities. In an age when women in the U.S. and in many countries now have obtained something like legal equality with men and occupy such positions as U.S. secretary of state, governor, senator and CEO, it strikes many people as incongruous and archaic that some faith communities won't let women into certain leadership positions.
Yes, of course, such groups have their theological reasons and their allegiance to tradition, but these kinds of rules are a tougher and tougher sale in our post-modern world.
And yet just recently the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents America's Orthodox rabbis (not rabbis in the Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist branches of Judaism), adopted this resolution saying that "we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate. . ."
Again, I'm not arguing that faith groups don't have a right (even duty) to set their own rules. But I am saying that when those rules seem to go starkly against the grain of cultural norms, such communities have an increased obligation to explain themselves -- and they should not expect the rest of the culture to affirm their policies.
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PAYING ATTENTION TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
What do Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam have in common? The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom cited all of them yesterday as egregious violators of religious liberty. The USCIRF is a good and important agency to which the various branches of our federal government pay too little attention. The agency seeks to raise up religious freedom around the world as a core value -- not just an important American value, which it is, but as an important fundamental human rights value. The latest USCIRF annual report makes for sobering reading.
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THE BOOK CORNER
Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life, by Karen Maezen Miller. A few Sundays ago at my church, our interim pastor preached a sermon called "Gratitude for the Ordinary." In it he tried to remind us of the joy found in days when we're doing just ordinary things without crisis to handle. Well, click on the link of his sermon title and you can hear it, if you want. The ordinary -- those things that are routine, comfortable, reliable. And yet things that truly are gifts, that define our lives in many ways. Karen Maezen Miller, a Zen Buddhist priest and teacher, offers here an ode to the ordinary and some thoughts about how to enhance our lives by paying attention to the gems we are offered in ordinary things -- things as simple as doing the laundry. Miller is an engaging writer, sometimes brutally honest about her own life. And she's a good storyteller. Her book about an ordinary life and my pastor's recent sermon about being grateful for ordinary days show once again the common ground that sometimes can be found between and among religions. By the way, Miller will be speaking at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 30. For information, click on this link to Miller's schedule.