Umbrella of Christ

umbrellaInclusiveness to me means that all people are welcomed under the broad umbrella of Jesus Christ’s true Gospel. Sinners of all genders, races, income levels and states of life are welcome. We are all sinners. Jesus said we have all fallen short of the glory of God. Even a good man sins seven times a day. So we are all works in progress.

I believe that  inclusive means that no-one is excluded – all are welcome. The mentally handicapped, the physically disabled, racial minorities, gays and lesbians, transgendered persons, the poor and also all the rejected and broken hearted people who have been hurt by religion. In a neighbourhood church that I used to attend it is not the case that all are welcome. We have poor people standing outside in the cold who are not invited into the warmth of the celebration. A woman who was crying loudly one day was escorted out because she was disturbing the service. Women are not allowed to read the Gospel or preach homilies. It is a patriarchal church where women are excluded from the decision making process. I moved to a new neighbourhood and a new church but the issues of exclusion run deeper than one bad church, the problem stems from the myriad of rules and regulations that strangle the simplicity of the true Gospel message.

Christ said we are to come to Him as little children and if we do we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He did not say we are to come to Him waving degrees in Philosophy and Theology and have amazing tassles on our robes to impress those of lesser education. He said come as little children, with open honest hearts, children are capable of understanding the message of the Gospel. Trust God, love your neighbour as yourself, believe in Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit who is our teacher and guide.

The church I belong to is not inclusive. In fact I would describe it as an exclusive boys club which I can never be fully a part of because of my gender. I am a woman God made me this way and I am happy with my gender but if I felt that God was calling me to serve Him more fully by becoming a priest I would have to leave my church and pursue this calling in another church. The Catholic Church teaches that women cannot be priests because Jesus was a man and not a woman. So using this logic if Jesus had come as a woman all priests would now be exclusively women? No! Because women would have understood that we are all one in Christ. The calling God places in our hearts which we discover through much time in prayer and discernment cannot be ignored and should not be a gender based decision, nor a gender biased decision.

Women are allowed to run most of the service organizations in the church in the capacity of unpaid volunteers. However their opinions are not sought when policy making decisions are made by the hierarchy of the church. My church preaches that it honours women yet the words are not backed up with actions. I had an occasion to write to a Bishop about a problem I had with a priest, the Bishop took no action and referred me back to the priest in question who refused to meet with me to discuss the problem. So I could pretend I have a wonderful church that I feel completely included in but that would be to lie to myself and I will not co-operate with that lie.

Historians have discovered that the gospels themselves have been tampered with in an attempt to downplay the teaching and preaching roles of women in the ministry of Jesus, and to deny the influence of women leaders in the early church. We have all heard of the “Early Church Fathers” but the stories of “Our Early Church Mothers”, has been erased. Evidence was uncovered that the gospel of John may have been authored by Mary Magdalene and that she indeed was the ‘disciple Jesus loved’. This information came to light during the discovery of manuscripts uncovered by archaeologists in Egypt in 1945. These papyrus documents that were written in the Coptic language, (which is the language of Egypt from the first century to the present day), were found in a town named Nag Hammadi a city located in upper Egypt.

As Mary Magdalene’s voice has been muted, my own voice as a church going, Catholic Christian woman is being muted, it makes it difficult to feel part of an organization that is male dominated. God has given me a voice and it is important that I use my voice to serve God and my fellow human beings in whatever capacity God calls me to. I am a woman who is in love with Jesus. Jesus loved women, He honoured them, He restored to them the dignity that had been stolen from them for many centuries by the men who held power over them and yet when He left it didn’t take very long for the church to go back to its old ways, as it says in Proverbs 26:11 “As a dog goes back to its vomit, [so] a fool repeats his stupidity.” Embracing change and truth requires courage and tenacity. It is easier to please people by reverting to the old familiar ways. Jesus was too radical for them when He was on earth and apparently the Gospel as it really exists is too radical for the church leaders of our day.

It  is disturbing that the church has strayed from the teachings of scripture, in one example the church teaches that catholic priests cannot marry because Jesus was not married and yet we know that this is a man made teaching that does not have its origin in God, Christ or the Holy Spirit. God said in Genesis, “It is not good for man to live alone.” and that should have been the end of the matter, but no, the church decided to manipulate the words of God Himself and force celibacy on the Roman Catholic priesthood. I believe that the many sexual scandals that have come about recently are only the tip of the iceberg because man made teachings have been set above the laws and the expressed word and will of God as clearly stated in the very first book of the Old Testament. The clergy are also negativelyaffected by the unending rules and regulations that strangle the message of the Gospel. Clergy are denied the opportunity to marry, have children and obey the teaching of Christ to ‘love one another’ and also the teaching of God, ‘go forth and multiply’. The church lacks charity in this towards its nuns, monks and priests. One million clergy have left the Roman Catholic church in the past forty years and yet the hierarchy still refuses to listen to the voices of the people, the very people that the Holy Spirit speaks through.

So sadly I say that the church I attend has no ears but its own, and it is not inclusive it claims to be but has definitely fallen short. I heard this saying the other day ‘Being in a church no more makes you a Christian than being in a garage makes you a car’, and it could be modified to say that a woman attending the Catholic Church today has no greater voice than Mary Magdalene whose voice was taken from her by scholars and church leaders uncomfortable with her true role in the Gospel of Christ. When we hear about Mary Magdalene today she is chiefly credited with being the woman who had seven demons exorcised from her, and this teaching is also questionable, there is no proof that the woman with demonic spirits was Mary Magdalene, in fact there is mounting evidence that this slander on her character was yet another attempt to make women feel ‘unclean’ until cleansed by the church. History is written by the victors, as told to the scholars. Women were noth thought important enough to educate. Imagine if women of those days were able to truly record the facts of the ministry of Jesus and the true roles that many women played in that ministry.

When we look closely at the Gospels and the message of Jesus, we see that firstly He humbled Himself to ask permission of His future Mother Mary to allow Him to come into the world through her physical body. That was honouring her free will. When He stayed too long in the temple as a boy and His parents came searching, He obeyed them and returned home with them. We read in the Gospels of the women who were part of His ministry and who funded His ministry and who taught others through His ministry. We remember the women who stayed at the foot of the cross. We read about Mary Magdalene being the first person to find the tomb empty and the first person for Jesus to appear to after the Resurrection, we read about Mother Mary being there when the descent of the Holy Spirit occurred at Pentecost. This is just surface reading of Scripture, but it shows us that Jesus not only showed respect and honour towards women, He did not exclude them in any way, shape or form. So why is the Church that proclaims to teach His message not following in His footsteps?

The word ‘feminist’  to me is inappropriate in this article, because I believe that the word has become a label and that labels limit people, both the person using the label and the person who accepts the label. I think of myself as a person who values all people especially those whose voice is taken from them. The unborn have no voice, the elderly, the homeless, the mentally ill, the poor, the imprisoned, the unemployed and those whose opinions differ from the hierarchy. To be an independent thinker in a patriarchal organization is to risk expulsion. Yet not to speak, not to think, is not to live and worse is not to love, not only oneself but all the other voiceless Christians in attendance and even those who frustrations have caused them to leave in the hopes that they might come back and be welcomed just as they are. The way Jesus welcomes each one of us. Just as we are.

“Christian feminists, particularly Catholic feminists, have a heavy burden because of the ways in which theology and church structures of ministry, leadership, authority, and decision making still block the fullness of human flourishing among women. Some have found Christianity, pre-eminently the Catholic Church, so hopelessly sexist and oppressive that they have moved outside or beyond it for their spiritual survival. Other committed feminists are working for the transformation of the churches from the inside out, so that the liberating gospel can be handed down to the next generation, to our daughters as well as our sons. This sort of Christian feminism has become for an ever-increasing number of women and men a very clear and compelling sign of God’s abiding presence in the church and in the world.” Michael Downey, Understanding Christian Spirituality, p133, Paulist Press, 1997

Downey uses the term “liberating gospel’ and I prefer to think of myself that way as being a person who chooses to work towards liberating others,( in the context of helping to educate,) all of the others who are oppressed so perhaps the term ‘liberator’ is preferable to the word ‘feminist’ as all of us who are truly called to live the Gospel of Christ are not interested in only one segment of the downtrodden obtaining freedom from oppression but are working towards the goal of making the actual Gospel of Christ a lived reality in our lives, our homes, our workplaces and surprisingly, yet of great necessity, also in our churches and places of worship.

Jesus loved all people, men, women, tax collectors, sinners, lepers even the thief on the cross experienced the inclusive love of Christ. There was no hierarchy with Jesus it was ‘love one another as I have loved you’ and somehow sadly that message has been lost in the sad and desperate need to cling to the old ways, the old ways that didn’t work, the old ways that Christ spoke so vehemently against, the old ways that crippled the souls of those who followed them. “How we view and understand ourselves, very much depends on how we view the larger reality or realities to which we belong, and without which our lives are seriously deprived, humanly and spiritually. Our isolationism, our sense of separation which our patriarchal consciousness cherishes so stubbornly, is our greatest anomaly. It pitches us into that alienation and loneliness that breeds so much despair, destruction and spiritual emptiness in our world!” Diarmuid O’Murchu, Reclaiming Spirituality p85 The Crossroads Publishing Company, 1998.

I would like to belong to a church where my opinion matters and my voice is heard. The church is called the Bride of Christ and I think that the bride should be in preparation for the return of the Bridegroom and she needs to do a lot of soul searching about why her garments are in such disarray. Could it be that the Holy Spirit is speaking through the pain of the people, the disenfranchised and marginalized people who have been hurt and excluded by the hierarchy, and the church stubbornly refuses to listen ?

“Unless it receives a new blood transfusion from matter, Christian Spirituality may well lose its vigour and become lost in the clouds” Teilhard de Chardin “. Could it be that the ‘new’ blood will be the voices of the many faithful and called women who are waiting to be heard? Paul the apostle tells us in Galatians “It is through faith that all of you are God’s children in union with Christ Jesus. You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed so to speak, with the life of Christ Himself. So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women: you are all one in union with Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are the descendants of Abraham and will receive what God has promised.” (Galatians 3:26:29).

So Paul clearly states that race, state of life, imprisoned or free, male or female none of these are barriers – we are all equal in the eyes of Christ. Inclusiveness means no one is left outside in the cold, the Spirit speaks through all of us. A truly Christ based church would give voice to all those called to membership. In a truly inclusive church which practices real Christian Spirituality my voice would be heard, cold and hungry people, would be invited into the warmth and people who are crying in pain would be comforted and not put outside with their pain unanswered.

Marion Sinclair-Simpson (C)