Pope’s Liberal Defenders are Missing the Point

Video still from Pope Francis's audience with his gay former student, Yayo Grassi (left) and his partner Iwan Bagus.

In the wake of his September visit to the United States, a great deal was written about Pope Francis’s “audience” with Kim Davis, the county-court clerk from Kentucky who has become (in)famous for refusing to process marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Having served one stint in jail on federal contempt charges, Davis has become the heroine in a melodramatic conservative-Christian narrative that seeks religious-freedom exceptions from federal and state anti-discrimination laws, especially those barring sexual-orientation discrimination.

The first, relatively un-detailed reports of Kim Davis’s meeting with the pope—which took place Sept. 24 at the Vatican Embassy in Washington—gave way to an avalanche of news articles and a furious debate, especially among U.S. Catholics, over how to interpret the encounter.

There’s a lot of room for doubt in claims that this meeting represented some sort of Vatican “endorsement” of Davis—and liberal Catholics became almost apoplectic in refuting such an endorsement—but the truth about the Francis-Davis encounter is, in some ways, beside the point. The real issue is what the debate over the encounter reveals about the limits of liberation among liberal/progressive Catholics, who mostly have good cause for celebrating this Latin American papacy.

Francis has become a hero among left-Catholics for his prophetic critique of globalized, neoliberal capitalism, and for the apparent humility and openness of spirit Francis has brought to that critique. At the same time, many on the left have tacitly exonerated the pope for consistently failing to train the same prophetic energy on Catholic exclusions based on gender and non-heteronormative sexualities. Queer and feminist Catholics, as well as those familiar with latter-day debates among liberation theologians in Latin America, cite these lacunae as proof that Francis’s vision of liberation, while moving constructively forward on some fronts, remains partial, limited, stunted. The non-debate over Roman Catholicism’s views on gender and sexuality has been most deafening at this month’s Synod on the Family.

The controversy over Francis’s meeting with Davis brings these issues into relief. Even if we accept that the meeting cannot be read as a papal endorsement of Kim Davis and her politics, it’s still clear that Francis and Davis are in substantial agreement: Both are committed to limiting the equal standing of LGBTQ Christians, in Church and in society, because homosexuality is supposedly unnatural. In the face of that fact, the no-holds-barred defense of Francis among left-Catholics has the effect of squelching a much-needed debate on the limited liberation proffered by his papacy on questions of gender equality, sexuality, and the family.

An audience or an endorsement?

Conservatives framed the Francis-Davis encounter as a proper private audience, before a pope who had been following Davis’s saga—including her jailing on a federal contempt citation. To conservatives, Davis was the sort of “conscientious objector” to whom Francis made reference during his widely-cited remarks to reporters on the papal jet back to Rome. Francis was holding Davis up as a latter-day martyr exercising a fundamental human right to testify to her religious objections.

From the other corner came liberal Catholics, who fiercely refuted any suggestion—often without reliable evidence or reportage—that the meeting had any importance, or, in some cases, that it even took place. They argued that news of the non-meeting was leaked by publicity-chasing conservative politicians and activists, like Davis’s attorney, Mat Staver, or that traditional-family-values conservatives in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had arranged the meeting to discredit Francis.

Liberals sought to deny the meeting’s importance—either arguing that it didn’t have the dignity of a high-profile private audience with the pontiff, or that Francis had somehow been bamboozled: that he couldn’t have known the sort of (dastardly) person Kim Davis was.

As Fr. James Martin put it in America:

It’s hard to know how much Pope Francis knew about each individual who was introduced to him during his long trip to the United States. Did he know much about Kim Davis before meeting her? Was he following her case before he entered the country? Did he learn about the controversy from a local bishop after he arrived? Or was her story quickly relayed to him in a receiving line? And how was it explained to him? …

Amid the uproar I cannot help but notice how loathe liberal Catholics have been to entertain the possibility that something substantive might have been exchanged between them in the “encounter”—or whatever it was! Downplaying the importance of the meeting, Fr. Martin proposed that “if you want to know what the pope thinks about this issue, listen to what he says.” I agree, above all because I am disappointed to see so many of my left-Catholic friends and colleagues rushing to defend this pope at the cost of disabling a necessary critique of this papacy on matters of gender, sex and family.

I want to note that I’m cheered by the change in tone augured by Francisco’s leadership. He’s done much that has moved me personally—sometimes deeply. Francis has made it abundantly clear that he is not going to promote division in the Church by supporting the old politics of thinly-veiled homophobia and misogyny that accompanied so much previous episcopal politicking on matters of sexuality, gender, and the family. That change in tone is so constructive—but by itself it’s insufficient.

This is the point that the flame war over the Francis-Davis meeting completely smoked out: When it comes to the matter of same-sex marriage and the nature of the family, Francis and Davis are on the same page.

What the pope has said—and failed to say—about family, sexuality, and the place of women in the Church leaves a great deal to be desired. Even under his mandate to squelch the hostile rhetoric, we can still hear in his own writings the painful echoes of past Roman Catholic teaching, especially its natural-law predicates, which remain the discursive foundation for the continued secondarity of women and queer Catholics in this papacy. A few examples of Pope Francis’s limited notion of liberation should suffice.

Francis’s limited ‘Liberation Theology’

His apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (2013), reaffirms the exclusion of women from the priesthood while calling for “broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church.” Evangelii Gaudium recognizes women mostly in terms of a feminine principle (“the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess,” and “the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood”) and affirms the stained-glass ceiling on the pastoral role of women: “the reservation of the priesthood to males … is not a question open to discussion” (#103).

Francis further worried that a discussion on women’s ordination “can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general”—as if the “reservation of the priesthood to males” had nothing whatsoever to do “with power in general” (#104).

Evangelii Gaudium likewise suggested that campaigns to give sacramental or civil equality to same-sex-headed families, or same-sex-loving individuals, arise from the ungodly politics of secular cultures (#64) that, according to Francis, must countered with “objective moral norms which are valid for everyone.” In support of this proposition the pope cited sentences from the U.S. bishops’ 2006 guidance on “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination,” criticizing the “moral relativism” of queer Catholics seeking cultural or sacramental recognition and equality in the Church.

Francis is even more direct in his 2013 encyclical, Lumen Fidei, which defines the family as the “stable union of man and woman in marriage” (#52), echoing the very definition of family that Kim Davis defends when she refuses to process marriage licenses in Kentucky.

Compared with the two popes who preceded him, Francis’s tone is decidedly softer, kinder, gentler—yet there’s no change in underlying doctrine or its natural-law perspective. Gone is the bone-curdling language of homosexuality as “objective disorder” and “intrinsic moral evil”—per the Vatican’s 1986 instruction “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” But between the lines of Francis’s gentle cathedra we can still read of homosexuality as a malformed human condition; of queer Catholics seeking specious legal rights and canonical rites; of the deadly risks of moral relativism; and of the dangerous siren-song of our secular culture’s bohemian rhapsodies. We have come some way from the Catholic anti-modernism of the nineteenth-century, but its ghost remains faintly vibrant in Francis’s magisterium.

To debate whether the meeting between Francis and Davis was a real papal audience or a “meet and greet” (as one colleague put it) misses the larger point: On the fundamental questions of family and (homo)sexuality, the pope and Davis agree that same-sex couples should not have their unions recognized as a matter of secular or canon law. Francis says unambiguously that attempts to legitimize same-sex families pose a threat to God’s divine plan for the human race. He said this out loud in Buenos Aires, as Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, when he opposed Argentina’s marriage equality laws. As pope, Francis will no more permit same-sex marriages to occur in his jurisdiction than Davis will in hers.

Which brings me to my last reflection on the meaning of this meeting: the question of liberation theology and the option for the poor in Francis’s papacy. Left-Catholic defenses of Francis typically point to the pope’s powerful and unambiguous reassertion of an economic option for the poor—one that looks a great deal like the option liberation theology turned over during the days when Francis’s predecessors were waging war against supposed Marxist influences in the Church.

While economic equality and the fierce critique of neoliberal capitalism are important, they are not the whole of the option. Over the last three decades, from literally every corner of the world, feminist and queer Catholic theologians have challenged the Church on questions of women’s equality and the exclusion of LGBTQ Catholics. The Finnish theologian Elina Vuola formulated the feminist question classically as one of the “limits of liberation”—particularly where poverty, sexual ethics, and reproductive rights meet Church doctrine. The Argentine theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid equally cited these problematic “limits of liberation” in her queer “indecent theology.” For Vuola, Althaus-Reid, and many other critical theologians, sexual and gender oppressions are always bound up with other forms of oppression—especially economic oppression.

That Francis has prophetically critiqued neoliberal capitalism, but completely failed to train the same prophetic energy on gender and sexuality based inequality, shows that his vision of liberation, while moving constructively forward on some fronts, remains sorely limited. And in their efforts to win battles against conservative narratives, Francis’s liberal defenders are failing to address that limitation.

  • DevilSucker

    One has to wonder if the author is aware of any of the statements issued by the Vatican in the past 10 days regarding the Davis incident.

    In a nutshell:

    – Davis’ duplicitous attorney, Mat Staver, and the Nuncio of the Vatican embassy in D.C., one Carlo Maria Viganò, staged a meeting between the Pope and Davis behind the Pope’s back for purely political purposes.

    – After the Pope left the country Staver announced to the media a wholly fabricated lie concerning details of the meeting, vastly inflating its nature, length, and significance.

    – Reluctantly, the Vatican confirmed that Davis was one of dozens to have very briefly met the Pope in a receiving line fashion but completely contradicted Staver and Davis’ account. The Vatican steadfastly states that the meeting in no way expresses any sort of endorsement of Davis or her illegal actions.

    – In a classic pique of Freudian projection, Staver is now publicly calling the Pope a liar

  • Harry Underwood

    Liberty Counsel, and Liberty University with which Liberty Counsel founded a “law” school, are mostly evangelical Protestants. Why would they want to seek the validation of the RCC Pope in the first place?

  • Jeff Brown

    “appeal to authority”, a well-known logical fallacy.

    i am sure that eventually we will hear about how the pope sought out kim davis’ guidance on how ‘true christians’ should think and behave, because he obviously leans toward a fundamentalist approach to theology.

    /sarcasm

  • Janhoi Mccallum

    Point well taken that Pope Francis is still socially conservative on Gender and Sexuality. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Kim Davis is a complete liar and that the whole meeting was a fake. It was staged by her lawyers from Liberty who also faked the whole “100,000 people in Peru” coming out to pray for the Pope.

    It is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. You can definitely disagree with the Pope on Gender and Sexuality while praising his efforts on Economic Justice, and his Critique of Capitalism. My problem is that you have some people who seem to think it’s an either or. If you praise the Pope at all you are some how “legitimizing patriarchy and oppression”. As if issues like Abortion and Gay Marriage(though important) are the other social justice issues and there aren’t others like Capital Punishment, Economic Justice, War and Peace, Preferential Option(as mentioned) Refugees, etc.

  • Jim Reed

    Your problem might be more that the Pope is trying to be on multiple sides, and avoid controversy by not making it clear exactly what his position, or the position of the church is.

  • lsomers

    Pope Francis is the spiritual leader of a “church”, that is an institution and like all institutions it is intrinsically “conservative”, unwilling to change. Even more so because it is hide bound by doctrines that go back to the 4th century when the Jesus movement and the churches associated with it were hijacked by the Roman Empire under Constantine (the Great); Jesus was thrown under the chariot and to follow Jesus ceased to mean that communities strove to live the Jesus Way and simply became keepers of a new utterly paganized religion that is called “Christianity” now. The peasant, wandering healer/preacher critic of religion and the state was tamed and the teachings that turned traditional views of both that Jesus turned upside down were turned back to what they were: the rich are blessed, the powerful rule, with violence and God blesses it all.

  • liza49

    The Pope came to America. He went back to the Vatican. And, bears still **** in the woods. And, the Pope is still Roman Catholic. Seriously! I think the author – and waaaay too many people – give waaay too much credibility and power to Kim Davis. Like all other bigots, she only has as much credibility and power as we’re willing to give her. Count me out. I mean, as long as the Pope is still Catholic.

  • You do realize that the very text in which Jesus appears — and the only text (at least genuine) in which he appears in any substantive degree — is itself the product of a canonization process, performed by the very institutions you describe as “pagan Christianity.”

    In short, the only evidence of an early “Jesus movement” as you describe it, is in a text that is the product of the Christian institutions that you deride.

  • After the nightmare that was Ratzinger — who is the one, by the way, who broke the back of Liberation Theology — a South American Pope with clearly humane sensibilities and a deep concern for the poor — is an enormous relief and should be welcomed with open arms by liberals.

    The idea that we are going to frown and grit our teeth until a Pope comes along who will reject all the basic tenets of the Catholic faith — which is, after all, an orthodox brand of Christianity — is, with all due respect, rather stupid.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Are you disputing that there was a robustly growing transcultural ‘movement’ of people following Jesus’ teachings prior to its imperial co-option under Constantine? … the rapid growth of what later became “the Church” was the very reason Rome decided to make Christianity the state religion …

  • cranefly

    Only going to quibble that we’re actually just hoping for a pope who will see women and gays as fully human beyond patronizing lip-service, embarrassing stereotypes, or institutional oppression which it is (hopefully) questionable to call the “basic tenets of the Catholic faith.”

  • No, of course not. What I am denying is that anyone knows anything about it, other than from the canon produced by the very institutions that Isomers deemed rubbish.

  • You mean you’re hoping for a Pope that will unilaterally reject basic tenets of the Catholic faith — a Pope who is selected by a Conclave of cardinals?

    Yeah, I think that’s a ridiculous pipe-dream. I hope for things I can actually get, not crazy fantasies. And this Pope, in fact, is more than I could have hoped for.

  • cranefly

    I mean I’m arguing with you on the point that hierarchies of gender and sexuality are a basic tenet of the Catholic faith. Considering how hard the modern Catholic Right has to work to propagate that myth, and considering how inconsistent it is with everything else Catholics believe and everything that Christ taught, I don’t think my position is ridiculous.

    I’m not saying I expected better from Francis, or that I don’t appreciate his unfreezing of (at least the narrowest form of) liberation theology or his criticism of capitalism. But I agree with the cynical liberals who say that his social justice gospel is self-defeated by heterosexism and his talk of poverty will be fruitless until women are considered fully human in his language.

  • phatkhat

    Took the words right out of my mouth! Even if Francis DID want to radically change things, it is doubtful that he would be able to do so – at least in a manner that we could regard as speedy. An institution as large, tradition-bound, and international as the RCC is NOT going to turn on a dime. I am grateful for his attention to poverty and inequality, because nothing will help women more than to be able to rise from poverty.

  • Given the crushing poverty in South America, I simply don’t agree that unless the Pope is fully on board with the LGBTQ movement, the social justice gospel is of no use.

    Indeed, it strikes me as a very “First World” kind of reaction. If you are going to suspend poverty-activism in South America and Africa, until you can get the locals to embrace the panoply of LGBTQ issues, then you are going to find yourself faced with an awful lot of dead people.

    I think it is extroardinary that Francis has made the issue of third world poverty is focus. You are correct that a component of that problem has to do with the position of women in traditional societies, but it is by far not the only component.

  • David84103

    Liberals, short of the knee-jerk response they (rightfully) had when first hearing about the “meeting” of Pope Francis and Davis, dug deeper and discovered what really happened, well documented at this point. The Davis event is not spectacular in a grander scheme, even in the context of the Pope’s visit and most liberals don’t believe that the Pope will make a wholesale change in doctrine that is ancient and institutionally embedded. Rather, progressive statements made by the pope are viewed as unprecedented progress toward softening the hearts of conservatives in the church and offering hope and spiritual power to the poor and less fortunate. No Pope ever has gone this far.

    That said, I think this article underscores a major difference in liberals and conservatives, and I believe people trying to effectively reach the hearts of both, as the Pope is, understand this: liberals seem to think in shades of gray while conservatives tend toward black and white. He is striking a balance between what “can be” and what “has been” — another feature of the liberal v. conservative thought process. Not far enough? Author’s position. Too far? Conservative’s position. What do you think? For me, given the realities, The Pope has gone as far as he can go without loosing authority, without which he’s just a guy in a white robe. Some call that “apologist”. I call it “practical politics”.

    For those who believe the Pope has not gone far enough, please have another look at the pictures, or video, of him and his former student and his partner warmly embracing — thinking in shades of gray, I understand how “black and white” a statement these images make. Equally important is the absence of similar pics with Davis.

    For those desiring a revolution in the church, I can see how this may seem inadequate. For my evolutionary thought process that happens in shades of gray, I see this as miraculous and am left wondering “who is missing the point?”

  • David84103

    For those who believe the Pope has not gone far enough, please have another look at the pictures, or video, of him and his former student and his partner warmly embracing — this is a “black and white” statement. Equally important is the absence of similar pics with Davis.

    For those desiring a revolution in the church, I can see how this may seem inadequate. For my evolutionary thought process, I see this as miraculous and am left wondering “who is missing the point?”

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I don’t see where Isomers deemed any institution ‘rubbish’ — he rightly described the RCC as “intrinsically ‘conservative'” … for a scholar, you are surprisingly careless with both your language and your logic …

  • He described Christianity as being “hijacked” by the institution that largely is responsible for creating it. That sounds like calling something rubbish to me — or at least, rubbishy.

    And yes, it is utter nonsense. Without the Latin and Greek Fathers, the Councils, etc., there isn’t much left of Christianity and there ceretainly isn’t anything that we actually know something about. You may want to stipulate some sort of pre-institutional Jesusism, but we know exactly zero about it. The canon itself, after all, is the product of those dasterdly, conservative institutions.

    Sorry that I am not precise enough for you, in a casual conversation on an online blog discussion thread, with anonymous strangers. My peer reviewed, published work is less “careless.”

  • Janhoi Mccallum

    I know exactly what his position on issues are. As a Pope from the global south he simply does not want the culture war issues that dominate Western and American partisan culture to be the center of his Papacy(Abortion, Gay Marriage, Gender politics). He wants liberation theology, climate justice, economic justice, critique of capitalism, military industrial complex, repealing the death penalty, etc to be the center of his Papacy.

    And he is hardly alone in that view. Many people from the global south share the same mindset as Francis. I should know, since I come from a global south background. Again….I don’t agree with the Pope on everything such as Gender and Sexuality….but this single issue insistence that because I recognize the great things he is doing in other areas that I am somehow contributing to Patriarchy is nonsense.

  • cranefly

    This is not about prioritizing seemingly-marginal social justice concerns against a bigger issue of poverty. When it comes to women, they are the issue. Women are half of humankind, they are more at-risk than men in impoverished countries, and research continues to show that nothing fights poverty like female empowerment. In this century, you can’t be taken seriously as a crusader against poverty if you oppose women’s healthcare and are ambivalent on women’s education and equality, championing archaic repressive gender ideology and flat-out ignoring reproductive agency. The gospel puts the last first, it doesn’t tell the last to wait because men are talking about real problems.

    No one is talking about suspending activism. We can be thankful that this pope is better than the last pope, but we don’t spare him from all criticism for that. A pope can be held to a higher standard. It’s time for the Catholic Church to recognize the dignity of every human person, not just the dignity of its archetypal Everyman, treating the rest as accidents and special cases.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I’m afraid you’re out of your element, Professor … there are any number of New Testament scholars who would disagree with your opinion that we don’t know “anything” about pre-Constantinian Christianity … yes there’s the circular problem of the canon, but the canon was culled in part from authentic 1st century correspondence (many of the epistles) of the early church … and there’s a significant body of apostolic writings from the 1st-3rd centuries (e.g., Irenaeus and Origen) … I don’t have a dog in this fight, but it’s important to refute errant speculation like yours here …

  • I agree that its disputable, but it is hardly an “errant speculation.”

    I am an historian as well as a philosopher — and specialized in the period that covers what is called “Second Temple Judaism” — and the sorts of claims that ancient historians and especially Biblical scholars make about their objects of study are often wildly overconfident, from the perspective of what inferences one can reasonably draw from what is often scant — and almost always, compromised — evidence. Indeed, much of what passes for ancient “history” is more like literature than what any modern historian would call “history.”

  • Jarnauga

    There is ineliminable anachronistic problem of calling what came before Constantine “Christianity” in the sense of a Nicean and Chalcedonian theological conception of Jesus. If it had been so obvious who Jesus was, there would have been little need for the councils of the Church to work out these issues, particularly those from Nicea I (AD 325) to Nicea II (AD 787). To assert otherwise is to engage in fairy-tale history.

  • Jarnauga

    Besides the ahistorical anachronism of this characterization, there’s also the problem of imagining pre-Nicean Christianity as just some acorn-Jesus phenomenon. Given the competition with other religions like Mithraism, I am dubious that the pre-Nicean understandings of Jesus in all their variety simply viewed him as a hippy-dippy granola anarchist.

  • joeyj1220

    Props to you and Daniel for conversing like real adults in what could have devolved into ideological mud slinging. I have enjoyed both of your insights!

  • Cranefly, you and I probably agree almost 100% as to what we would like to see happen. It seems that what we disagree on, primarily, is the best strategy. My fear is that if liberals abandon this Pope or pile on him too much, we may wind up with another Ratzinger — or worse — the next time around.

  • Jim Reed

    On the plus side our best chance for a deeper understanding of Christianity might be a discussion between a Reform Jewish 1st century historian and an Obscurely Agnostic preacher.

  • nightgaunt

    Being “liberal” in the Catholic Church is very different for Popes. The more liberal you are the risk is great for assassination. And Frances is only slightly liberal after Ratzinger. It doesn’t come close to just how liberal US Catholics and in some other places. His veneer of liberality is slipping.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    So it’s an “ineliminable” problem, huh? … we only need the authentic letters of an itinerant Jewish convert who called himself Paul to know that someone named Jesus was being preached as a divine being all over the eastern Mediterranean …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    WTF? 🙂

  • Jarnauga

    Ah, so no one else had any other view (eg, the Gnostics) and that view itself is crystal clear (eg, the Arian heresy). Uh huh.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    You stated, “What I am denying is that anyone knows anything about” pre-Constantinian Christianity (my emphasis) … THAT is a patently errant speculation, sir — and one no less “wildly overconfident” than the inferences of your fellow historians you criticized …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Sure, there was diversity of theological opinion about Jesus before Constantine (just like there is today:) … my point was simply that there were more than enough people in the 1st and 2nd century who believed Jesus was divine to warrant our speaking of a pre-Constantinian “Christianity” …

  • Jarnauga

    Didn’t know they had Gallup back then. Who’d a thunk it?

  • cgosling

    Pope Francis has taken a few steps in the right direction, which is better than no steps.

  • Jim Reed

    The interesting point was about the Roman church inventing and developing Christianity, then a few hundred years later the protestants changed it into their version,of Christianity and said the oriiginal church was a corruption of Christianity.

  • And there’s that point about casual conversation with strangers on the internet, again.

    The substance of my point is absolutely correct.

    As for your point to Jarnauga above, it seems to me quite wrong. The differences between the basic theological understandings of Jesus, among the rival groups, was great enough that to speak of a pre-Nicene “Christianity” is pretty vague stuff. Hence all the “heresies”, virtually every single one of which is extinct.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    But we did have human beings back then … 😉

  • Right. That’s not “Christianity.”

    Not to mention the fact that the letters you are talking about appear in a book that was canonized by the institution you take to be inessential to the “true” Christianity.

    This position of yours has a lot of romantic appeal, but it’s a loser in terms of real history and the way in which we understand concepts, like major religions.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Good points!

  • There is no “Christ Jesus” in the TANAKH. Unless you employ a Christological, “reading back” hermeneutic, which, of course, begs every relevant question and misrepresents the text.

  • Jim Reed

    Isn’t that what pre-gospel Christianity was all about?

  • Reading Christ back into the Tanakh? Certainly Paul is doing that. But his is some of the poorest Midrash I can think of.

  • Jim Reed

    Pre-gospel Christianity is about misrepresenting the text. Later Christianity is about misrepresenting the gospels.

  • Jarnauga

    Uh…OK.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    We’re using the term ‘Christianity’ in different senses … you’re using it quite narrowly to refer to some theologically monolithic religion that you date from the Constantinian co-option … I’m using it in the more commonly understood sense of the religion that began with diverse theological and philosophical speculations about an itinerant Jewish rabbi/teacher named Jesus who lived in the first century … hence our disagreement …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    The historical authenticity of many of the letters in the New Testament does NOT depend on their inclusion in the canon of scripture … also, you’re using the term ‘Christianity’ in a narrow technical/academic sense … in the more commonly understood sense of the religion that began with diverse theological and philosophical speculations about an itinerant Jewish rabbi/teacher named Jesus who lived in the first century, then OF COURSE there was a Christianity that pre-dated its imperial co-option in the 4th century by Constantine … what you’re spending a lot of virtual ink defending is the tautology that post-Constantinian Christianity didn’t exist until Constantine — if you’ll pardon the crude colloquialism, “Duh!!!

  • I would not agree that yours is the more common usage. “Christianity” *overwhelmingly* is understood as meaning the religion that comports, roughly, to the Nicene Creed.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    There are two huge problems with your claim that your usage is “overwhelmingly” more common — 1) the liberal church composed of many millions of people worldwide (of which I’m one) understands most of the Nicene Creed in an allegorical or metaphorical (vs literal) sense … and 2) even Christians who take the Creed literally would (depending on their denomination) dispute or reject statements within it like, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church,” and “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    YES, you’re taking the same long view of the Game the Church itself takes (at its best) — in the RCC’s glacial pace of change, this is something deeply pastoral and visible that will lead in its own time to a change in holy Doctrine …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Jesus Christ Jarnauga, Isomers wasn’t responding in some kind of sterile forensically historical way — he was speaking out of the divine Life of his personal faith, rooted as it must be not in ‘Jesus the respectably historical person’ but ‘the Lord Christ Jesus, the only Name under Heaven given for our salvation’ …

  • Jarnauga

    Don’t really care out of what he was speaking, nor does that give license for peddling fiction as fact.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I don’t find the conflicting and contradictory opinions of scholars, experts and specialists any more enlightening than the alleged ‘fiction’ of Isomers …

  • Jarnauga

    The wide diversity of views prior to the councils is uncontroversial and is itself attested to in the writings of the Patristic period as well as by finds like Nag Hammadi.

  • And Frances is only slightly liberal afterRatzinger.

    ———————————-
    Sorry, this strikes me as absolutely bonkers.

  • Whether something is compelling to you or not has nothing to do with whether it is true or false. You can believe what you like, but the fact is there was no “the Jesus movement”, as Isomer describes it, but many different Jesus movements with wildly different views, so appeal to it is an appeal to a fiction.

  • It’s nice to see that you upvote yourself.

    Again, you are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts. The overwhelming majority of Christians, for example, are trinitarians — and that includes all major Protestant denominations as well as the Catholic and the Orthodox — but trinitarianism is something entirely alien to Judaism and something that — if Jesus really did exist and have his ministry and the like — pre institutional Jesusism most certainly did not include.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Ironically, I was trying to upvote one of your comments and did mine by mistake … I’ve enjoyed our exchanges in this thread and I thank you for your time and effort …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I’ve already acknowledged several times in this thread that early Christianity was characterized by widely diverse theological and philosophical speculation … I can’t speak for Isomers but in rereading his comment that sparked the clash of our egos here, part of what Rome quashed in ‘the Jesus movement’ could well be interpreted as exactly that diversity?

  • Jim Reed

    It is easy to accidently upvote your comment. With no verify and no undo it can happen just from trying to hover to see something.

    I also enjoyed the exchange. I think one issue is the first century Jesus. Is Jesus a real person? Certainly there were prophets born at the beginning of the century named Jesus. But all Christianities today, and all from long ago in the past, lead back to the gospels that are at the beginning of the New Testament. They were written towards the end of the first century, so they are not a direct account of a Jesus even if there is one. The consensus seems to be building that they are mostly, and maybe completely fiction. So even if there is a real Jesus born at the beginning of the century, these books are not about him. But all Christianities of today lead back to these books.

  • Jarnauga

    1. My ego has nothing to do with it. This is a factual matter.
    2. The wide diversity of views is precisely why speaking of Christianity or a “Jesus Movement” prior to AD 325 is hopelessly vague and doctrinally anachronistic.

  • DHFabian

    When Americans didn’t put much stock in the many things that the pope has said about poverty and our treatment of the poor, why would they put much stock in this? That said, it’s not the pope’s role to conform religion to social or political ideologies.Presumably,his will remain consistent with his understanding of Christ’s teachings. Some will agree, some disagree.

  • DHFabian

    I don’t understand Americans praising the pope for economic justice when they oppose economic justice in America. On a most basic level (and US poverty is a tremendously complex issue), not everyone can work (health, etc.) and there aren’t jobs for all. Women have additional challenges in usually being care-givers, either to children or other family members. This generation decided that our jobless poor, and many of our unemployable are undeserving the of the basic basic human rights (per the UDHR) of food and shelter. What is economic justice for them?

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    1) Ego always has something to do with, brother! … I can admit that vanity is served in posting publicly — you should too …

    2) By your logic we shouldn’t use the term ‘Islam’ because the global religion to which it refers is divided into doctrinally diverse sects … as any and ALL major religions always are

  • Jarnauga

    In ordinary usage, Christianity implies Trinitarianism, etc., worked out at the councils. Islam does not imply Twelver Shia as opposed to Sunni, etc.