The Common Good

Impeach the Pope?

So there was a fascinating editorial in The Washington Post yesterday by that title. Robert McElvaine suggests that instead of being currently outraged at AIG and the like, we should be directing it at the Pope. He lists the Pope's insults to Muslims and women, his acceptance of a Holocaust denier, and his recent remarks on condoms, AIDS, and Africa as reason enough to be outraged. He writes --

I am a Catholic and the idea that such a man is God's spokesperson on earth is absurd to me.

There are, of course, no provisions in the hierarchical institution set up, not by Jesus but by men who hijacked his name and in many cases perverted his teachings, for impeaching a pope and removing him from office. But there ought to be.

I am, of course, not Catholic. So some might say I shouldn't care the least what the Pope has to say about anything. But it got me thinking about what response the church does have when it appears a select, but vocal, few have hijacked our religion. Granted the Pope is in a place of power, so the world hears whatever he has to say. With others though, its generally the media that places them in such positions of power. The media loves extremes and gives a platform to the loudest and most obnoxious voices, hence giving them power. Would a Falwell, or Robertson, or Dobson, or Driscoll have anywhere near as influential of a voice if the media didn't parade them around as the worst possible example of Christianity? I'm not surprised in the least that Time named the "new calvinism" as an important idea of our time -- they are the perfect media draw, sure to sell magazines as they fill the spots vacated by the old ranks of fundamentalists. But however they got there, these voices have power and represent Christianity to the world.

Where does that leave those of us who feel like our faith has been hijacked by extremists? Do we call them to account for themselves like McElvaine suggests, saying with him, "If this be heresy, make the most of it."? Do we leave them alone and simply be faithful witnesses in our own spheres? I truly am torn. I know there are tons of people out there whose only exposure to Christianity are these voices the media reports. Mike tells me that over at the Friendly Atheist blog most of the atheists simply cannot accept that other sorts of Christianity even exist. To them the close-minded, sexist, racist, extremists they hear about on the news represent the whole of Christianity. It's similar to how most of us, knowing nothing about Islam, choose to believe that the Taliban represents the whole of Islam.

So that's where my hang-ups are. I don't want to echo the extremists and call for their excommunication or impeachment as it were, but I have a hard time with the Talibanesque image they give to the faith. I'm not a fan of infighting, but I feel the need to say at times "that man (always a man) doesn't speak for me, and I don't believe he speaks for Jesus Christ either." Earlier this week I asked why more of us weren't out there speaking truth to power about the financial crisis, and I ask the same question of this situation. But I find it very interesting that when anyone attempts to stand up to one of these voices, we get criticized for being unholy, unloving, and unfaithful. Is the church truly the last place where the freedom to speak honestly and hold others accountable is denied? I know we have all seen the Catholic priests get away with heinous crimes in recent years, but we seem to be okay with letting others get away with the crime of stealing our faith.

So I'm getting sick of the "just be a quiet witness" solutions -- I think there needs to be a place for holy outrage. Perhaps not impeachment, but outrage nonetheless.

Julie Clawson is the author of the forthcoming book Everyday Justice (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com and emergingwomen.us.

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