15 Mar 2009
“[Jesus] told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” (John 2:16) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
Recently, results were released about a survey of American religious life. From the perspective of church, the numbers were not heartening. In the past 20 years the number of Americans claiming no religious affiliation has nearly doubled. In 1990 about 8% of Americans said they belonged to no organized church. In the most recent results, that number has climbed to 15%. Unlike some of the other figures in the result, this trend was evident in every single state. When the poll measured the number of Roman Catholics in the New England, for example, they discovered that the number has decreased here, but at the same time they found that the number has increased in the southwest. So different trends were noticed in different parts of the country. Like I said, though, the only trend that was measured in every state across the board was the increase in the number of the unchurched.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that such respondents don’t believe in Jesus; it only means they don’t believe in church. I have to wonder, however, if being unchurched makes it easier to stop believing. In that same 20 year period the number of Americans claiming to be Christian fell by 10%. I wonder if there’s a correlation. I wonder if being separated from a community of faith, I wonder if not exposing children to a community of faith, makes it easier to stop thinking about faith at all. Maybe people get disgusted with organized religion for one reason or another and then figure they’ll do it on their own, but the results are showing that this isn’t working so well, that maybe a faith lived all alone makes it easier to slide into the category of no faith.
I know that church can be difficult, but what we’re asking of church is difficult too. How many other organizations do we belong to, if any, that bring so many different people together for so many different reasons? There are professional organizations all around us, for instance. These groups consist of people with similar work experience, expectations and backgrounds. There are groups limited to men and others for women, still others only for children and youth. I belong to a fraternal and one of the cardinal rules is that you do not discuss religion or politics at meetings because this has the potential of creating dissention among the members. But the church consists of all kinds of people, of all ages, of all economic and educational backgrounds, and with all kinds of expectations, and the church specifically deals all the time with those disruptive personal and sensitive subjects that can be so divisive to organizations. I know that organized religion has its faults, but what we expect of her is far from easy, and we have to keep this in mind when we feel disappointed by church.
Think about today’s readings. The Lesson is one of the longer ones we ever share. It really can’t be shortened too much either because it’s the story of the Ten Commandments. Where would you make the cut? Half way through after number five? Well, then you don’t get to the spicy ones about adultery and coveting thy neighbour’s wife. They all have to be read together. And think about it, one of the longest Lesson-readings of the year, and it’s all about commandments. People don’t like commandments. The word just sounds harsh and unpleasant and people really don’t like to be told what to do, but there they are and they can’t be ignored. The church has to deal with them even if people would rather not deal with them. Again, the church is often placed in difficult situations because she must call our attention to unpopular subjects.
Take today’s Gospel as another example. Jesus was infuriated with what had happened to the organized religion of His day. He binds cords together to make a whip and begins knocking over the tables and stalls of the money-changers and merchants in the Temple precincts. These were all legitimate enterprises endorsed by the organized religion of His time, and Jesus was disgusted with it. A lot of people of faith today are disgusted with organized religion because of our material and moral abuses. The professionals who administered the survey of American religious life blamed the repeated church scandals as one of the main reasons for the increasing number of the unchurched. People get fed up with the nonsense and walk away. And other times the church just seems so irrelevant. Wednesday I woke up to a little story on NPR about the Vatican and International Women’s Day, which was this past Sunday. The Vatican released an article in their newspaper titled: "The Washing Machine and the Liberation of Women -- Put in the Detergent, Close the Lid and Relax" [http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=1371528] They argue that the washing machine is the basis of women’s liberation and equality, that it’s now so much easier to have clean clothes so women can relax and be happy with their lives, and that this is their definition of equality and liberation.
I don’t know if you caught the end of today’s reading of the Ten Commandments. It’s not just covet thy neighbour’s wife like we teach in Sunday School. It’s covet your neighbour’s wife, his slave, his ox, or anything else that belongs to him. Wife wasn’t about love; it was about possession. She belonged to the man just like his ox belonged to him. The faith is meant to evolve, not remain static. These commandments may have spoken to a certain society 4 or 5 thousand years ago, but that society doesn’t exist anymore. Wives are not household servants defining their fulfillment in terms of whiter whites and brighter colours. Forget to evolve and we as church become irrelevant. The NPR story was told as a funny aside inviting us to snicker along with them.
I had to share this story with my wife who was in another room on Wednesday morning getting ready to go off to work, but for some strange reason she wasn’t as impressed as they said she sould be. My daughter overheard us talking from her bedroom and she yelled, “They said what?!” When churches speak like this a lot of her members just roll their eyes and ignore it, and then what happens is that everything else the church speaks about is heard through the same filter. But Jesus didn’t roll His eyes and ignore the nonsense, He got angry. He changed things. He said tear down this Temple, and I will rebuild it. And Jesus did, when they tore down the temple of His body on Good Friday and He rebuilt it on Easter.
I’m afraid that when people ignore what bothers them about church that church continues down silly paths that make her sound irrelevant; and I’m afraid that when people get so disgusted by organized religion and walk away from church that the danger arises of moving from unchurched to unbelief. What we need to do instead is engage the church energetically and be engaged by her. This is the temple Jesus built for us at the cost of His life. May we help what is profound and good about her, and may we work to correct those things she does that disappoint us so that the number of the unchurched turns around and grows smaller and smaller so more and more people can come to find Christ and church meaningful and worth their while. For this we pray in His name. Amen. (+)