Why theologians matter: 7-20-11
Studying female terrorists: 7-22-11

Explaining doctrine sensibly: 7-21-11

Sometimes people of faith don't understand why people outside of their faith tradition simply are baffled by what they hear coming from religious leaders.

Chaput Those of us within a faith tradition tend to speak an inside-baseball language that means little or nothing to those outside and is, indeed, one reason they choose to stay outside.

But other times it's that religious leaders seem contradictory and lost when they try to explain their tradition's position on something.

I read a really good example of that this week when John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter did this interview with Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput (pictured here), whom the pope just been named to lead the archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Being the thorough, fair and insightful journalist that he is, Allen asked Chaput about his thinking on the issue of gay marriage. Chaput's answer showed not only a religious leader defending a position now essentially abandoned by society (because of its obvious denial of basic civil rights) but also a man who seems, at least on this issue, to be unable to articulate a position that can be reconciled by gay people.

Chaput begins by overstating the importance of the question of gay marriage. "This," he said, "is the issue of our time." Really? Oh, it's a hot-button issue to be sure. But why in the world would it be "the issue of our time" for the church? Isn't the gospel always the issue of our time? And, after that, what about poverty, hunger, homelessness, education, environmental degradation, race relations, women's issues, ecumenical and interfaith matters, the priest abuse scandal? I could go on.

Then Chaput adds this:

"The church understands marriage as a unique relationship, with a unique definition, which is the faithful love of a man and a woman for each other, permanent, and for the sake of children. As children, if we don't know that our parents love one another, our lives are very unstable. That's why I think every child deserves a family where the father loves the mother, and the mother loves the father. For us to redefine marriage as anything else undermines that notion. I think it's very important that the church keep insisting on this."

And then he immediately says:

"It's also important to say that we're not against gay people."

Imagine how gay people must hear those two paragraphs.

Next Chaput said something that, were I Catholic, would affect me directly:

"The church does believe that human sexuality has a meaning in itself, that it's about love and procreation. Any other sexual relationship is contrary to the Gospel."

My wife and I (who are Presbyterian, not Catholic) were married at age 51. Our life is about love, to be sure, but not about procreation. Not only was she past child-bearing age when we got married but previous surgery on both of us would have made procreation impossible. So our own sexual relationship "is contrary to the Gospel"?

Perhaps had I sat in on the interview and challenged Chaput on what he said he'd have offered an answer that would have made sense. But I didn't and this answer doesn't.

Religious leaders always must be aware of how their words might be taken. I'm certainly not suggesting they abandon their faith's doctrine just to conform with society (for social norms often are wrong). But I am suggesting they find cogent, compassionate and compelling ways of explaining doctrine as opposed to ways that simply drive people away.

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Oh, my. Here's another example from GetReligion.org of prejudicial media coverage of religion. It's about someone with Fox News making fun of Mormonism and about another Fox person who declared that Mitt Romney, because he's Mormon, is "obviously" not a Christian. No wonder religion is so often misunderstood and vilified.

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P.S.: Free -- but required -- tickets now are available through this site for the 10th anniversary 9/11 memorial service (featuring a large orchestra and chorus) scheduled for 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11, at Community Christian Church, 4601 Main St., Kansas City. Order yours now so you don't miss what promises to be a wonderful event.


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