The Irrelevant Churches

Rev. Michael P. Orsi | October 25, 2010 | 5:11pm EDT
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Recently, Carl Paladino, New York’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, criticized his Democratic opponent Andrew Cuomo for bringing his daughters to New York’s Gay Pride Parade. Paladino said, “I don’t think it’s proper for them to go there and watch a couple of grown men grind against each other. I think it’s disgusting.”

The gods of political correctness in both parties quickly savaged Paladino for his remarks. He was labeled homophobic and, of course, intolerant. No one came to his support, not even the state’s religious leaders, although what he said is true.

His own Church (Paladino is a Roman Catholic) responded with a tepid statement through a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York who said, “he hoped that anyone who would address this topic would remember the Church’s teaching that all human persons are to be treated with respect.”

Anyone who has seen the provocative states of undress and lascivious behavior of the Parade’s participants is aware that respect for the human person is not the message that the event conveys. Paladino provided religious leaders with a preachable moment. They whiffed.

Religion has traditionally acted as a moral compass for society. Priests, ministers and rabbis at one time led crusades against public displays of indecent sexual expression. These interventions were welcomed since they helped enforce standards for good human behavior.

The media were scrutinized for their moral content, crude language was censored, and immodest dress was discouraged. Pornography was roundly condemned as degrading, offensive and poisonous to the mind. Special laws were enacted to protect children from the deleterious effects it has on their developing psyches.

Why the silence? There are three main reasons:

First, secularization has caused many churches to lose a sense of their supernatural mission. The roots of this began with the Liberal Protestant Social Gospel Movement preached in the early part of the past century. Their popular mantra was “Work Unites, doctrine divides.” These churches saw their role to be social agents dedicated to the betterment of humanity.

In all fairness, it must be said that their advocacy for the needs of the poor and disenfranchised helped to create a more just and humane society. In time, however, many of these churches simply became shills for liberal social policies and jettisoned uncomfortable religious doctrines.

Second, pastors are afraid of being disliked. They believe they are ordained to be popular. More often than not they peddle a weekly faire of pabulum or Hallmark card-type sermons which cannot possibly offend, or for that matter challenge, anyone. The tough teachings of the Bible, especially those relating to human sexuality, are usually passed over or explained away by some type of hermeneutical slight of hand.

For example, a rabbi recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he puts the Torah in context when he counsels gay couples. He tells them “There are 613 commandments in the Torah… One is to refrain from gay sex, another is for men and women to marry and have children. You have 611 commandments left. That should keep you busy. Now go create a kosher home.” In a riposte one respondent wrote, “Fashionable? Yes. Lucrative? You betcha. But is it Jewish? … it is not.”

Third, pastors are fearful that they will be labeled intolerant. This has become the greatest of social sins. If a preacher were to speak of homosexual behavior as being wrong, even though it has always been a tenet of Judeo-Christian tradition, it would certainly lead to accusations of homophobia. In many congregations there would be a hostile reaction from the pews and in some others it may even cost pastors their pulpit.

Unfortunately, this fear is now present in the Roman Catholic Church. Bishops, priests and deacons have been cowed to quiet by the popular outrage caused by the clergy abuse crisis. They know that any attempt to raise a voice in protest against any sexual aberration will invariably lead to recriminations of the crimes committed against children by priests and the bishops’ failure to adequately address them.

Over the past 40 years mainstream churches have reported a decrease in their membership.

Some sociologists contend that this is due to scientific atheism having gained hegemony in our educational system. But the real reason is that the churches and synagogues no longer proclaim the doctrinal and moral truths of Scripture and their faith traditions. This failure has left a lacuna of religious knowledge in our citizenry. A recent Pew Survey on U.S. Religious Knowledge backs this assertion of catechetical desuetude.

In a former age, bringing children to view lewd public acts, like those presented in the Gay Pride Parade, would be called “corrupting the morals of a minor.” Today, it is called tolerance.

Andrew Cuomo has remained sanctimoniously silent on the issue, while religious leaders confirm their irrelevance by theirs.

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