Sunday, 28 February 2010

The meal that divides

An item on the news this morning reported that a further gay rights protest has been planned in the Netherlands after a Roman Catholic priest, Fr.Luc Buyens, refused Holy Communion to an openly gay man elected Carnival prince in his home town of Reusel. The mass concerned takes place at the end of the Carnival celebrations.

I have only briefly looked at reports of this on the internet and there appear to be conflicting accounts , but it seems to me that Fr Buyens does seem to have got himself into a bit of a mess, exposing not only prejudice but the double standards found in the Church and causing a lot of hurt into the bargain.

The first thing that doesn’t make sense is that apparently Fr. Buyens told local resident, Gijs Vermeulen, that he would be withholding communion because of the open proclamation of homosexuality and offered to give him a blessing instead. Vermulen went to the mass and did not approach the priest either for communion or the blessing (no surprise there, think about how you would feel yourself and go figure!)
What exactly was it that the priest was withholding communion for, the fact that he was in a gay relationship or his honesty concerning this – and should the sacrament be withheld as a “protest “or “punishment” in this way?

According to reports, Vermulen then complained that if the Catholic Church were consistent then other people would be excluded from communion. The diocese of Den Bosch, in an attempt to show it does not discriminate, has announced it will also be asking remarried divorcees and other people “living in sin” not to take communion from now on! (It has not said whether it will carry out a full scale investigation into all its parishioners’ private lives to ascertain who is worthy and who isn’t!)

Oh dear! So an awful lot more people are going to be hurt and churchgoers are going to be divided into two groups, those who are “righteous” and the “sinners” – even though we are all sinners?

Gay rights protestors have taken action by turning up to services at the St Jan basilica in Den Bosch to challenge whether they will be given the sacrament. Fr Buyen's Bishop’s advice was that nobody is to be given communion at this service as they reportedly “do not want to discriminate.”(Guys- you already did!) Apparently, some activists have lodged police complaints of discrimination; all in all, not a pleasant situation.

To be honest, I know very little about when priests can and do refuse the sacrament, one of the articles says it can be witheld in the event of "grave sin". I do think one of the problems is that priests are often called on to play God, to judge people based on fallible human knowledge and assumptions. I do not personally believe a committed loving same sex relationship is sinful, but at least the Bishop's decision is right in one respect; if everyone who is a sinner is to be excluded, then none of us can take Communion.


  1. Suppose you saw a clergy person performing the funeral of a member of a gang or a mafioso? Would you congratulate him/her on "inclusiveness"?

  2. No, because it's their job to officiate at the funeral of parishioners if requested to do so. I would congratulate them if they made a good job of it.
    My view is that every person is made in the image of God and, no matter what they've done in life, their body should be treated with respect after they die. And they may have innocent loved ones who need our ministry.
    Besides, if they aren't properly committed to God and laid to rest, they may hang around and haunt us!
    Iffy Vicar

  3. I think everyone has the right to a decent burial, no matter what they have done that has hurt or damaged others. I have known priests who have officiated at the funeral of criminals or sex offenders and those funerals are difficult.

    I admire vicars for managing those difficult funerals and for conveying the grace of God in such circumstances, but I don't generally go around "congratulating people on their inclusiveness"!

  4. Surely the issue when we go to commmunion is that we are to examine ourselves, and be in good standing with God and our neighbour.

    One of the key difficulties I have with the Roman Catholic view of priests is that they stand between man and God in the style of a Levitical priest, and this naturally puts them in a position where they must be expected to decide if they think the communicants are repentant.

    It also obviously raises a whole lot of issues about what Communion is/isn't/should be, but the last 500 years suggests that there's not going to be much in the way of agreement there!

  5. I agree that the issue is that we examine ourselves.
    Looked in on your blog again and commented:)

  6. The question comes down to whether or not God has set a standard of how we are to conduct our lives, with the presumption being that living outside such boundaries constitutes sin, of which we need to repent. If we are living outside those boundaries (if they exist) and we are not repentant, it seems to me that we ought not to partake of communion.
    I think there may be a helpful illustration to be found in marriage. If I behave in a way which displeases my wife, I ought not to expect a right relationship with her. That does not necessarily mean she will divorce me.
    If we are married to Christ, we may be 'free' in a certain sense to sin, since Christ's death paid the penalty for ALL our sin, but our relationship with him is surely impaired.

    So it comes down to the question of whether sexual conduct outside of monogamous hetrosexual marriage is sinful.
    If we do conclude that it's not, whether by removing the marriage bit, or the hetrosexual bit, or the monogamous bit, where, if anywhere, do we place the boundaries?

  7. I thought the question was whether clergy ought to conduct funerals for sinners, or administer communion to them. Since we're all sinners, I don't see that I should draw the line about whom I should be prepared to minister to. In the gospels Jesus seems more concerned about spiritual pride, and the urge to condemn and punish others, than he does about adultery (e.g. the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well, and the notorious sinner he allowed to wash his feet).
    I know a number of returning 'sinners' who've been put off by churchgoers making judgmental remarks when they came to church to find God.
    Iffy Vicar

  8. Of course we're all sinners, but the sticking point has to be whether we're repentant sinners.
    When speaking to the woman at the well Jesus commanded her to stop her adulterous relationship. The woman who washed his feet was clearly changed by her encounter with Jesus, do we suppose that she continued in whatever notorious sin she had perviously been involved with?
    Gods love for us should change us to be more like Jesus, that is summed up by two behaviours, loving the LORD, and loving our neighbours. A judgemental attitude will neither honour God nor will it love our neighbour, but a non-judgemental call for all sinners to repent of all their sin will.

  9. If you are referring to John Chapter 4 ( the Samaritan woman at the well) Jesus actually simply tells her that she is right that she has no husband, because she has had five and the one she is living with is not her husband. He doesn't command her, he offers her living water! He DOES command the woman caught in adultery to "leave her life of sin" - is that what you mean? (It is really helpful if you give chapter and verse reference and then I know the bit of the bible you are talking about.)

    As for the woman who annoints Jesus' feet, I am sure she was changed by the encounter. Who is not changed by love and acceptance when they are used to being ostracised? However, I don't see Jesus as too bothered by her "notorious sin", as you put it. He is much, much more concerned with those who are focused on her "notorious sin" but oblivious of their own sin. Simon, the upright and righteous man, is the person whose sin Jesus is most concerned about. Quite right too! Simon is the one in the most grave danger of NOT being changed by his encounter with Jesus. Simon is in most danger of not repenting and never realising he had anything to repent of.

  10. In the section on the woman annointing Jesus' feet I am using Luke 7 , 36 -50, seeing as I asked you to give references.

  11. Sorry. My bad for trying to bash off a quick response without looking things up. I was thinking of the incident in john 8 where Jesus refuses to condemn the woman but does expect change in her behaviour. Can we at least agree that in none of the examples does Jesus affirm the lifestyle of those whom he is forgiving? That is, after all what's at the heart of the matter.

  12. I think we're agreed on the point that the important thing is for sinners to repent. But how am I, as a human being, to judge whether someone is repenting? Only God can read hearts. Which doesn't mean I might not have a word with someone about their behaviour or attitude if it was damaging others - but I don't see it as my place to judge who should receive a funeral from me, or who should come to communion. Paul said those who eat and drink unworthily bring judgement on themselves. God judges them, not me.
    Iffy Vicar

  13. There is a difference between 'judging' which only God can do, and discipline, which church elders (presumably priests in our context) are instructed to do in 1 Corr 5. In fact, 2 Tim 4 is very helpful with the trinity of correct, rebuke, and encourage. If any of those are left out there is an imbalance.

    I don't really mean to be defending this priest, I think that what he should be doing is getting along side those in his church with whom he clearly has issues.

    In my very limited experience of the Roman Catholic church it always seemed as though priests carried out an almost mechanical role of consecrating and distributing bread and wine, without much involvement in the congregation as individuals. I suspect that issues like this may be a result of that sort of disconnect.

  14. I think the episode with the woman caught in adultery is actually very telling. Jesus' primary concern is with those who judge, condemn and hate . He waits until the "righteous" have gone and he is alone with her before he tells the woman to leave her life of sin. Also, Jesus was divine, he was the only one in a position to judge, humans are never really in that position, our judgement is always flawed and we are fellow sinners, condemning people for sin when we probably have worse ones!
    I am not saying that we do not have a right to our own convictions on issues. I am not saying that "anything goes". I actually think Christians are called on to act with the highest integrity in our lives. However, we are also warned to concern ourselves with our own sins rather than those of other people. Even if someone does see same sex relationships as a sin (and I don't), I do not think it acceptable to see that as a sin in some special class or category. It always amazes me, for example, to hear people who are divorced and remarried for reasons other than the adultery of a spouse, to say that gay people must remain celibate when they clearly have a different set of rules for themselves.

  15. I don't think anyones suggesting hypocritical condeming of another person sin is okay, but to use the NIV, Matthew 7:5 says...
    "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

    So first we should deal with our own sin, which means confssing our sin to God, turning towards him and away from it resolving to resist temptation, but knowing that when we fall we still have a loving saviour who has taken away our sin at great price.

    Then, out of love for our brother, Jesus says we will be able to see clearly to remove the speck from our brothers eye.

    I don't suggest that this should be restricted to certain sins which we might become aware of.
    The question sexual relationships outside of marriage is obviously are they sinful. If they are not, were they ever, and if they used to be but aren't any more, when and why did that change?
    It feels to me as though it's a change in church teaching in order to accomodate society around us, and that is what concerns me.

  16. I do understand your concern that we are changing things in line with society. The simple fact is that that happens anyway. We don't, for example, allow slavery in our society and we would condemn those who used the bible to justify being involved in such practices.

    I believe in applying the spirit of the law more than the letter of the law. I suspect you are someone who feels comfortable with rigid rules.

    So, when it comes to relationships, I believe what matters most is that that a relationship is characterised by love, mutual respect and commitment. I think that there are sexual relationships outside of marriage that display these characteristics and I think there are relationships "sanctified" by marriage that sadly lack them - or are even cold or destructive.

    This is not to say that I do not value marriage, because I do enormously. I think it is best for people to make a formal pledge of that commitment and love and, because of my faith, I also believe marriage is a sacrament, an outward sign of the inward grace and a source of help from God. This is one of the reasons I rejoice to see Civil Partnerships, because I think it is so valuable for people to make formal commitments and to have relationships publically recognised.

    That's my set of beliefs and values, I don't ask you to share them - but I do ask you to respect them or, at the very least, respect the integrity with which they are held.