by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)
Bishop Gene Robinson took up his pen to give Pope Francis & Co. a few pointers on church leadership. It seems unusual that an openly gay bishop who oversaw the precipitous decline of his New Hampshire diocese should offer advice to the head of the world’s largest Christian communion. Citing a study that argues ex-Catholics are America’s 3rd largest “denomination,” Robinson (now a Senior Fellow at the Center of American Progress) analyzes the perceived ailments of Roman Catholicism in the United States.
The retired bishop opines, “Many Catholic laity are experiencing a painful disconnect between the official teachings and pronouncements of the Catholic hierarchy and what they believe in their hearts.” And what do these laypeople believe? According to Robinson, many cradle Catholics want same-sex marriage, abortion, and contraception, all of which are expressly forbidden by the Vatican. These moral constraints on human morality act as levees, blocking out a flood of potential church members.
So what does CAP’s bamboozler of orthodoxy recommend to the Washington Post‘s loyal subscribers? Well, chaos of course! Bishop Robinson advises an abandonment of the Church’s anthropology, founded as it is on the idea that man is the Imago Dei. Moreover, the Episcopal figure condemns any kind of punishment for violating the Church’s teachings. “I believe that using Communion as such a manipulative tool surely profanes the sacrament,” he crows, “Perhaps these Catholic leaders should revisit their church’s theology of the Eucharist.” Robinson urges that, if the abusive pedophile clergy can partake of the sacrament, so can those who identify as pro-choice or engage in homosexual activity. Later, he claims, “It seems that Catholic laity are refusing to be treated like morally ignorant children who cannot think for themselves… [I]t appears that the hierarchy wants to shut down open discussion by punishing those who would raise any questions about the church’s stance on these issues.”
Prying deeper, we can also see Robinson’s horrendously deficient theology. He encapsulates his view of redemption and the sacraments: “If those who have fallen short of God’s moral desires for humankind are to be denied Communion, then none of us can in good conscience receive the body and blood of Christ. The good news message of Jesus Christ is that despite our failure to be all that God would want us to be, we are all welcome at the Lord’s Table anyway.” Here, he parrots the argument of Integrity USA and other revisionist church caucuses: all the sacraments for all the baptized, no matter what.
First, one notices the lack of repentance in all of this. Yes, all the saints gather at the Table to feast, but, as St. Paul warns, they must not do so unworthily. This is why there is confession and absolution: believers are given the opportunity to confess besetting sins to their pastor, who forgives them in the name and authority of Christ. Sinners must intend to lead a new life in faith, “walking henceforth in His holy ways.” In giving Himself to the Church, Christ seeks to make a certain kind of people. This includes the changed habits, behaviors, and desires that result from the Christian’s struggle against sin.
Mercy without repentance is either ineffectual or torturous. It leads to antinomianism in this life, and who knows what fruit it yields in the life to come. Moreover, it denies the transformative power of God’s sacrificial grace to us.
Robinson’s view is an affront to human dignity since his theology is a direct assault on human free will and its accompanying responsibility. He and his sympathizers are soft Calvinists–one’s own actions, beliefs, and decisions do not ultimately matter. God has predestined everyone to happiness in the end, so the moral life is pointless (or else pivots on individual consent).
Second, if Robinson’s notions of “Church” were true, Christianity would not exist. If someone denies Christ in belief and action, that person must seek correction and restoration to re-enter full fellowship with Christ and his body. If truth did not matter, then neither would belief. However, that is not what the Church asserts. The Arian is not a Christian, nor the Nestorian, nor the proponent of marriage redefinition or abortion. All are preaching something that the Church has fully condemned.
Similarly, all sin blocks us from God and must be removed by the ministrations of Christ through the Holy Spirit. There is mercy for the pedophile, the homosexual, the adulterer, the liar,…the sinner. Christ, our warrior-king and substitute, can free us of sin (in its dominion and claim on us) through those means He has seen fit to employ. He seeks us, and we respond one way or another. Both the pedophilic priest and the actively homosexual person would have to seek absolution (the loosing and binding power that Christ grants to His apostles) before partaking of the sacrament. Sinners who are not sorry for their wickedness and fully intend to sin again are forbidden from the Eucharist. It’s for the protection of the sinner as well as reverence for the Body and Blood of our Savior. He who partakes unworthily heaps condemnation upon himself.
Of course, Gene Robinson rejects all of these permanent absolutes. American churches in general and Roman Catholics in particular face a membership-retention problem. What is more, the clericalism that led to the abuse cover-ups must come to an end. No one should contest otherwise. However, letting all men do what is right in their own eyes is not an option. This is irresponsible advice from an irresponsible cleric.