I have recently seen the movie “Spotlight”. It’s a movie about systemic pedophile sex abuses in Roman Catholic churches. In every major city the the US and abroad, there are hundreds to thousands people who have been preyed upon and sexually abused by clergy. The sexual predators get shuffled around from parish to parish, having a ready access to fresh supply of young flesh. They are almost never prosecuted by our criminal justice system. They are rarely even defrocked by the RC church.
That is a tremendous travesty of justice, and a very personal betrayal of the trust of Jesus Christ.
The problem with this issue is two-fold.
The first factor is this. The theological aspect to all of those abuses can be singularly traced to a grossly out of context interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7. It doesn’t talk at all about forced celibacy. It’s talking about postponing marriage due to the then-current economic crisis in Corinth (most likely, a famine). Additionally, the passage clarifies that there are those who willingly forsook marriage, since they were too busy spreading the Gospel. The key concept is “willingly”.
Today, we may also have people who are too busy for marriage, for a variety of reasons: business, career, etc. That’s the same idea here. But we are talking about Steve Jobs kind of busy, not a fast food restaurant manager kind of busy. About people who are really about God’s business out of the depth of their being. God’s kingdom to them is something that they live and breathe.
Being unmarried was shameful in the ancient Mediterranean societies. Paul’s argument completely refutes that idea. And that’s all there is to it.
From many years of experience with religious establishment, I have to note that many ordinary Christians still lack proper tools and approaches to study the Bible for themselves. Sadly, a lot of what passes for Bible knowledge is not much more than somewhat eclectic collections of memorized out-of-context proof verses propping up whatever doctrine du jour is popular in one’s religious circles.
In Roman Catholic circles, the official doctrine is decided by the top echelons of the institution. In other words, what you have to believe is predicated to a large degree upon the institutional credo, not upon your relationship with God. I have no idea how to fully reconcile the two. Quite honestly, I don’t think it’s even possible. This has been so for hundreds of years, and it’s unlikely to change in the near future.
Despite all the one-year Bible memorization programs and Sunday schools, the fact is that Bible illiteracy is rampant even among Evangelicals. Many know the letter to a degree, but completely miss the context and the spirit behind it. So many are afraid to seek God for themselves. Real, vibrant relationships with God are too often substituted with church meetings attendance. Relationships with God are too often substituted with formal organizational membership, and being in good graces with the establishment leadership. Many still think that their clergyman is supposed to do all the due diligence for them, and fill the job description of the Holy Spirit. Sure, there are great pastors and teachers out there, and they can help you reach the water, but they can’t make you drink.
The second factor is that there is a massive confusion about the concept of ekklesia-church among both Catholics and Protestants alike. In Roman Catholicism, the establishment is completely blended with the concept of the invisible church. There’s a caste system of clergy and laity. The priesthood establishment inserts itself as the only legitimate intermediary between God and people, thus refuting the entire idea behind the New Covenant spiritual economy, which includes the concept of the universal priesthood of all believers.
With that said, there are still many Protestant outposts out there where it looks like the Reformation has never even happened. Pretty much the same old religion, just fewer sacraments, a more gentle Inquisition, and less grandiose buildings. Honest and well-meaning people, out of ignorance (hopefully, that’s all there is to it), routinely substitute the concept of a church as an institution for the Biblical concept of a church as the body of Christ.
The movie aptly sheds spotlight into a wider context of spiritual abuse within the church, which is a culture of uncritical silence, and of manufactured consent. Manufactured compliance is often promoted as “spiritual unity”, instead of deep, genuine, heartfelt trust. Real trust may take years to develop. Sure, superficial consent is easier to come by, but that’s a cheap substitute for the real thing. It’s a purely fabricated construct, it’s neither genuine nor real. And that distrust hiding between the superficial consent is the main catalyst behind all those church scandals, power struggles and church splits. That’s the way of the world.
Jesus would have none of it, in his day. He just didn’t want to play church. He was the one guy you just couldn’t control via the usual methods. He was an ultimate iconoclast, overturning temple furniture, and calling straying senior clergy of his days vipers, whitewashed tombs, and sons of satan. He was not what we would call a “nice guy” today. Not by any stretch of imagination.
Today, we sorely need iconoclasts and reformers. You can’t install God in the place infested by religious idols. It just won’t work. We need to see things for what they are, but for whatever reason, we prefer not to. A stereotypical modern religious organization is one of the least self-aware, least introspective, and most unrepentant institutions of modern times. It’s easier to get a tech company executive to admit to errors in their processes (i.e., “repent”) than it is to get a religious organization to change their erroneous, straying, and even outright shameful beliefs and practices.
Honestly, I see this to be the exact opposite of the Kingdom culture that Jesus has instituted. This hypocrisy and the culture of uncritical silence is producing more atheists than 95% of us have the courage to even say out loud.
I know I am being uncharacteristically harsh in this article, and for a good reason. The only time when Jesus didn’t mince his words was when he was dealing with religious institutional power brokers. He firmly stood his ground against oppressive institutions and establishments, which instead of expressing the image of God, as intended, they sullied it, and oppressed the very people whom God was trying to protect.
There are always “patriots” out there, institutional zealots, who care much more about the establishment than about the people it’s meant to serve. They act offended when someone is pointing out flaws in the system, piously huffing and puffing about how one “shouldn’t criticize the church”. People with that mindset are exactly what allowed all those abuses to continue for years, unchecked. They are a huge part of the problem. They are aiders and abetters. And God’s justice is not on their side.
And I am very satisfied that the movie brings all those mindsets to spotlight, and shows it for what they are.
The bride of Christ is one invisible entity, the church of the firstborn registered in heaven. That one is 100% perfect, no spot or wrinkle. Institutional churches vary wildly in their faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Some are much more like the bride of Christ. Some are much more like the whore of Babylon. Those two archetypes are 100% Scripturally sanctioned reference points of an establishment continuum. Check Revelation 17 and 18 for the latter. It’s all in the Good Book. Let’s not pretend it’s not there.
I highly recommend you to watch this movie. More than that, I highly recommend that you think for yourself, and never allow anyone to simply impose their beliefs on you, no matter what their ecclesiastical titles are. Study your Scriptures for yourself, and always personally take it up to God. Paul commended Bereans in Acts 17:11 for doing exactly that. Godly, honest, secure leaders in the body of Christ would encourage you to do exactly that.
God didn’t die to raise a flock of religious talking parrots. He wants a family of real sons and daughters, who would be a genuine collective voice for God, who would stand up together for the hurting and the oppressed people of the world. And this gathering of secure, honest, unhypocritical, mature, thinking, mission-minded sons and daughters is what Jesus refers to as “the church”. It’s an invisible entity, without geographical or language boundaries, without any denominational markers, who are connected to Jesus Christ as their leader, and to one another as true brothers and sisters. That’s the family that God started here on earth 2,000 years ago. And that’s the one that he still loves and supports.
P.S. I am specifically talking about systemic abuses in this article. I believe that they are many more good, Godly, honest, and just leaders and Christians that there are bad ones, in every branch of Christendom. There are many pastors and priests whose hearts break for those mistreated and abused. What I am talking about is this, though: a bad apple spoils the whole batch. And if up to 6% of the batch are certifiably bad, then someone has a lot of thinking and repenting to do.