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Can Anti-clericalism Help the Church?

Dave Thomas, Dean of the School of Theology at Walla Walla University, asks a question: “What would the world be like if the followers of Jesus were known as people who are kind?”

Thomas’ fine essay actually says that if the Bible is their guide, wouldn’t they give attention to what religion-by-example calls for. He is aiming his comments at Seventh-day Adventist Christians in particular. But his thoughts are just as appropriate to all followers of Jesus. One lesson from the essay is that “living by the Truth” should be seen in more than doctrinal correctness.

His commentary resonates with what the recent-past Adventist world church leader asks—how attractive is the church for those it should. . .attract? In his recent thought-provoking book, Where Are We Going?, Jan Paulsen challenges church leadership to address the climate in the congregations.

For unbelievers, our churches are meant to be places of healing and renewal, where they will be drawn in and find caring human relationships. … For believers, our churches are meant to be places to feel free, safe, and at home. They are meant to be cities of refuge, not battlefields.*

The recent parliamentary election in Poland has again awoken a debate about an intersection of religion and national politics, but also what qualities should the Catholic Church be known for. In what is recognized as a predominantly Catholic nation, one of the unexpected winners in Poland on October 9 was an anticlerical centrist, Janusz Palikot.

Out of obscurity of populist antics, happenings, and slogans, a master of notoriety in politics, Mr. Palikot launched a successful campaign challenging the Catholic establishment, including what is referred to as its backward and reactionary craving for dominance in national politics. Named after its creator, the Palikot Movement party came third with over ten percent of votes.

His slogans to reclaim the country from the shackles of enslaving religiosity appealed to the young generation. The largely postmodern generation is tired of dogmatic Catholicism and its influence on their freedoms in public life. They voted for change and spoke against tampering with contemporary solutions to life problems of today’s Poland.

Not that the topic is new, but like a perennial plant comes up with clock-like regularity. The new is saying No! to the old and stale.

My recent encounter with the Polish election as reported in the media parked my attention on an editorial comment by Rev. Adam Boniecki, editor of Tygodnik Powszechny, a respected independent Catholic weekly. His editorial published next day, recognized Mr. Palikot’s electoral win as “an anticlerical’s expected success.”**

Boniecki wrote that the “less than serious Palikot has turned out to be serious.” In what is regarded as secular Europe, Poland is often perceived as a “haven of faith.” The Catholic commentator refers to many harsh reactions against Mr. Palikot’s charges leveled at the Catholic establishment, and his attempts to make Poland secular. He then asks a few questions, which the Catholic microcosm would do well to recognize, in his opinion.

In his words, “listening to the often unjust charges, intently listening to the often one-sided and biased antichurch views, it is worth to ask a question, with which Paul VI reacted when charges against the church were reported to him: What if they have some credence, too?

What comes next is also a perennial issue that pops-up among many conscientious Christians, as they are challenged by those who watch them and. . .wonder.

If people are reacting angrily, unjustly or with an indifference, would we echo after Boniecki, “as believers, what face of the Gospel are we showing to the world?”

There is more. “Would the unbelievers who are watching us, say, like the ‘pagans’ remarked about the early Christians: ‘Look, how they love each other?’ Are we the witnesses of evangelical poverty? Unselfishness? Love? Caring for the helpless? Can a poor man knock on our door with confidence? What about a sinner, a blasphemer, a Satanist? Are we more caring about the institution, or about a human person? In our parishes, is the Sunday Mass a joyous experience for the [faith] community?” the editor asks.

I share a similar sentiment. You may be a Protestant Christian, but you may be equally arrogant and judgmental—theology aside—toward those who represent a different worldview, even an extreme one.

Boniecki continues with more questions. “Will we leave the 99 sheep and seek out the one which is lost? Is the one that was found taken into our arms, or deluged with reproach (“where on earth did you go?”) and demanded signs of remorse and acts of recompense?”

Finally, the editor asks: “Considering the success of the Palikot Movement, it’s worth doing a conscientious and serious evaluation: Those who are watching our deeds, would they for sure be praising the Father who is in heaven?”

Years ago, I read a personal ad in an Adventist church magazine. A church member wondered if she had a chance to get married again, and with a fellow believer. She wrote: “I am ugly, fat, a single mother, and I am looking for love.” Some enquiries revealed that though she came to church regularly and was active in her witness, she was hungry for love. Of course, she wanted also to get married again. She simply did not experience inclusiveness within her faith community.

Simply put, many churches, though professing to be purveyors of the good news of the Gospel, are not “walking the talk.”

All of these issues have their validity throughout Christianity. But, I ask myself, is my own Christian witness known for acts of justice, kindness, and for an assortment of virtues, and among them, gratitude and generosity?

Whatever is the answer, whatever needs to change, our lives matter when they are reflected in the lives of others.

*Jan Paulsen, Where Are We Going?, Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2011, p. 106.
**Ks. Adam Boniecki, “Antyklerykala sukces spodziewany” [Anticlerical’s expected success],Tygodnik Powszechny, Oct. 11, 2011. After this blog was published, Rev. Boniecki was ordered not to speak publicly and in the media by his ecclesiastical superiors, the Marian Order. His comments are viewed as not being representative of the Catholic Church.
Image: Exterior door sculpture at the Church of the Gracious Mother of God. Warsaw, Poland
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