He pondered that word in silence briefly and then asked the location of my parish. I explained that I had been a church overseer for the last 19 years of my active ministry, so I hadn’t had responsibility for a particular congregation during that time.
He offered that he was a Catholic. I asked gently if he was a practicing Catholic. Immediately I detected inner conflict in his responses.
The Catholic church is just out of date these days, he complained. It’s back in the dark ages. The contraception matter was one issue. Women should have a right to choose. That was another. Yes, abortion should be avoided, but what if there had been a rape? All of this tumbled out of him with obvious frustration.
He was also angry at his priest because the priest had refused to confirm his 12-year-old son. The reason the priest gave was that he didn’t ever see the boy’s parents in church.
But, I inquired, you want to be a Catholic? Yes, he answered without hesitation. That was the reason for his conflict. He wanted to be a Catholic — but on his terms.
He was reflecting what some call “the modern mind.” For the person with that mindset, God may exist but he has been shoved to the margins of life — kept there only for emergencies. Thus objective standards of morality tend to become vague if not non-existent.
When such persons encounter firm moral demands of an institution such as the Catholic Church, they tend to be both angry and conflicted. For this repairman there were no external standards of morality. He seemed to want his independent will to determine with finality what was right. He could therefore remain connected to his church after a fashion but stay disconnected and angry at it for its not being more modern.
This moral confusion is not just a Catholic issue. The same kind of thinking often reflects the conflicted modern mind in Protestant circles.
Consider the daughter of a prominent member of an evangelical church who cohabited openly with a man for nine years and then decided that she wanted to have a big church wedding after all.
She approached her parents’ pastor. She wanted a full-scale event in the church sanctuary with all the usual embellishments, and a guest list of 200. The pastor offered her an alternative way to help them out. She refused his offer of a private wedding.
She could not understand why her request would create moral tension for pastor and church board. She thought she had a right to this celebration. It was to be a “rite of passage.”
But as the church saw it, she and her mate had made that passage in a very public way nine years earlier. There was no “new beginning” to be celebrated. Moreover, the words of the wedding ritual would ring false to the listening congregation. To that body, it was an issue of truth and honesty in the presence of God.
Today’s evangelical church is called to love as Jesus loved, sometimes with compassion, sometimes with firmness. Love is a biblical mandate. And the need for love in our world is agonizingly great. But the church is called to love truthfully. The Apostle John writes to his “true friend Gaius” thus: “It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth” (3 John 3).
The truth John had in mind was the truth of the gospel as it is revealed in Jesus and elaborated in the Christian Scriptures. Should not established doctrines and truthful procedures grow out of revealed truth, making today’s churches clear-minded in this age of moral softness?