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The Problem Of Uncertain Trumpets

From @VP

Maybe you heard that our Catholic vice president, Joe Biden, recent recipient of the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame, presided over the wedding of two of his male staffers recently:

Not a peep was heard from the Catholic bishops about this [UPDATE: Three peeps were heard, and three cheers for these bishops. — RD] — and this got Protestant theologian Carl Trueman to thinking. Excerpt:

Given the two major parties’ nominees for the presidency, we can assume that the future of religious liberty as we have known it in America is not a bright one. Religious liberty would not fare well under the one administration, and it might indeed bid farewell under the other. The time has come for us to make plans for the future. I have made it clear before that I believe Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option seems to build on the most realistic premise: that we must despair of national politics delivering anything for us and refocus on the local. This, as Dreher has pointed out again and again, will require withdrawal from certain spheres.

But I suggest that it will mean more than simple withdrawal. It will also require the drawing of certain lines and thereby the exclusion of certain people from church circles. We cannot bring clarity to the identity and testimony of the church unless we draw some pretty clear boundaries about who belongs and which beliefs and behaviors are legitimate. If nothing you say or do can merit your removal from the Church, then the Church really has no distinct identity and ultimately no distinct mission.

As Carl says, if the most prominent Catholic elected official in the country can voluntarily preside in a secular capacity over a same-sex wedding, and not get disciplined by the Catholic hierarchy, something has gone very wrong. It’s not that the Church — Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, whatever — has to weigh in on every single issue. But come on, this is the Vice President of the United States. Carl is right: a church that will stand for anything stands for nothing.

I have never met Carl, though we’ve become e-mail friends, but you should know that he’s a very conservative Reformed theologian. Keep that in mind as you read this. It’s something I’ve said from time to time on this blog, even though I’m an ex-Catholic:

As of this moment, the leadership of all of our churches in the U.S. leaves much to be desired. Mainline Protestant denominations sold out to the world two generations ago. Evangelicalism is full of vibrant enthusiasm but lacks any intellectual depth or consistency when it comes to social teaching. Confessional Protestants are such a small minority that we are barely noticeable. Key to the religious future of the United States is the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It alone has the status and the potential cohesion to make a difference. All of our hopes depend upon the Roman Catholic Church taking a clear and bold stand.

Yet therein lies the problem.

To repeat my own view: though I am a convinced Orthodox Christian, I live in the West, and I deeply believe that the future of the West depends on the vigor of the Roman Catholic Church above all. But no church — not mine, not yours — can afford to be laissez-faire about church discipline. This is a point I make in the Benedict Option book I’m working on. Carl says it well here:

Whatever option we choose in the future—Benedict or otherwise—if ecclesiastical discipline remains optional, it is really all over for Christian orthodoxy.

Along those lines, a Catholic reader e-mailed this remark by Tryphon, an Orthodox abbot on Vashon Island, Washington. The Catholic reader said he much prefers this to Pope Francis’s mealy-mouthed response to Father Hamel’s murder. Excerpt:

The recent comment by the Roman Catholic pontiff, Pope Francis, following the barbaric beheading of an elderly French priest, while serving mass, betrayed a sad response response to an event that was a replay of what Christians have experience for hundreds of years, at the hands of fundamentalist Moslems. Pope Francis compared this evil slaughter of 85-year-old Jacques Hamel, by declaring to the world, “I don’t like to speak of Islamic violence, because every day, when I browse the newspapers, I see violence, here in Italy. This one who has murdered his girlfriend, another who has murdered the mother-in-law, and these are baptized Catholics! There are violent Catholics! If I speak of Islamic violence, I must speak of Catholic violence . . .”.

This statement is particularly shocking when compared to the response of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt. Following the beheaded in cold blood of 21 Coptic men, only because they are Christians and refused to deny Christ, Pope Tawadros II granted them instantaneous recognition as martyrs. Following the ancient tradition that anyone who dies shedding their blood for Christ, martyrs go straight to heaven, regardless of their personal sins.


We should never give in to a litany of mercy, excusing religious fundamentalists simply because we desire dialogue and peace between religions. Mercy must always be a balance between law AND gospel, otherwise it becomes nothing but a trivialization of the evil that comes about when people give themselves over to fundamentalism. Pope Francis, in his desire to promote Islamic-Christian peace, has failed to recognize the martyric death of this French priest, relegating it, instead, to a simple act of violence, not unlike the murdering of one’s wife.

Read the whole thing. Pope Tawadros, the Coptic patriarch, actually lives in Egypt, a Muslim country, and puts himself at great risk by calling those slain Christians martyrs.

Seems to me that a church leader who cannot stand up and call a priest slaughtered by Muslims at his own altar while serving the Holy Mass a “martyr” is an uncertain trumpet, to put it kindly. Same goes for the matter of church discipline. We have so many of uncertain trumpets all over Christianity in the West in these dark days. Don’t you be one of them!

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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