Monday, September 21, 2009

Religious Authority And The Emerging Church

A future thinking entrepreneur's vision of the Emerging Church. Comes complete with lawn chairs.

In the interview with Richard Rohr on the emerging church, there is a discussion of a very important point. It's one which goes to the heart of the current divisions in the Church and one I've alluded to plenty in the past. Where does the Church's religious authority come from? Catholicism claims it's authority as coming directly from Jesus Christ. I don't have a problem with that. The problem comes in defining which vision of Jesus Christ? Is it the Jesus Christ who ministered daily to the marginalized in the fullness of His humanity and brought us the God of love, or is it the post Crucifixion Jesus Christ who gave the keys to Peter and becomes the sacrificial victim to appease the Old Testament's vengeful God, where fearful obedience trumps love.

Like Fr. Rohr I believe religious authority will come from our evolving understanding of creation. The loving social justice Jesus slides easier into this cosmology because we are seeing the universe as an infinitely diverse, yet highly organized living thing in which each discrete unit has an important place in the over all structure. So here are the thoughts of Fr. Rohr:

Rohr agrees that "for religion to be religion, it always has to appeal to some kind of absolute or final authority. So the question of where does your authority come from, as Jesus is asked, is always going to be there. My intuition, and it might be totally wrong, is I think the new authority is going to come from nature or the cosmos, the natural world.

"I know when Catholics first hear that," he said, "it sounds new age-y, but it seems to me that's the primary Bible as the Franciscans believed." (This is a problem, but not all New Age thinking is channeled from lala land.)

That Bible, he said, has existed for 15 billion years "and has an inherent authority" reflected in Romans 1:20, 'God is revealed to things through the mind, to things as they are made.'"
The rediscovery today of the natural world, of "things as they are beyond our technology and mental constructs," will become the new authority "that we're going to be forced to appeal to, especially as we continue to destroy this planet, and we realize this is the one thing we all have in common: that we're all standing and eating off this same earth."
(Fr. Rohr is correct. As these concepts percolate down from esoteric science and into the mainstream, traditional institutions will have a tough time integrating this new cosmology because they are products conceived in the older cosmology. Theoretical physicists have been dealing with this for the last hundred or so years. To understand quantum physics they had to let go of the prior Newtonian view of physics. Quantum physics can contain Newtonian physics as a subset of quantum mechanics without negating Newtonian laws. It doesn't work the other way around.)
The natural world was an authority that appears to have been agreed upon by indigenous people around the planet, said Rohr. "We used to use the word in philosophy class: facticity. This is the 'what is.' We were always looking for the facticity. Here it is: These trees, this grass and that sky. How can you beat that for ultimate authority? This names what we all better be obedient to. … This is demanding obedience and a response from us far more than any mental construct from a pope or scripture."

It is the new cosmology that sees that the Bible was written in the "last nanosecond of geological planetary time. As I love to say to crowds: Do you really think God wasn't talking for the first 14 billion years or whatever it is? They get that. They really get that. Let's listen to this talking. As a Franciscan, I find that so rooted in our early experience, although we lost it, too."
For Rohr, the new cosmology also recognizes that the old conception of natural order, the up-and-down universe from which hierarchical examples of leadership are modeled, no longer applies.

"It doesn't work," he said, "and we've got a system [in the Roman Catholic church] that totally depends on up and down." That model, he said, "is summed up in the need to define the world in terms of superiors and inferiors, and the white, male system always does that. There are always superiors and inferiors. (This hierarchical system is not just a product of white males--they've just perfected it. Some indigenous cultures teach that this, and the technological mindset, were the gifts of the white race to humanity. The balance was lost when whites mistook an efficient construct for an absolute mandate and then declared themselves as the sole worthy for the top of the hierarchy.)

"You just see Jesus paying no attention to that. Nowhere is it probably symbolized more graphically than in the Roman Catholic church, which has all these scriptures about the least of the brothers and sisters, and the little ones deserving the greatest care, when in fact, what we do is dress up the big ones. We idolize and quasi-worship the big ones." (Quite literally true which is quite literally unfortunate.)


There will be an Emerging Church and once it gets going it will go 'viral' as they say in the world of UTUBE. It will be inclusive of all faith traditions because contemplatives in all those faith traditions are being shown this same future. There will be a sharing of spiritual techniques, concepts, and understandings with no demand that one need shed their own tradition in favor of any other. The Emerging Church will freely understand it is possible to add practices and understandings to one's faith experience with out demeaning or diluting the insights and truths of one's own tradition. This is happening all over the globe. It is gaining momentum, and it will have a profound impact on the future of mankind.

Pooling spiritual resources, capabilities, and training, is the one sure way to change the direction in which humanity is headed because this changes man's view of himself and his relationship to God and how he expresses this awareness. This is not a movement of tearing down so much as it is a movement of building from the past and creating the new.

It takes the fearlessness of a child like curiosity and openness, coupled with a mature faith in truths of one's own tradition. In many respects it's about finding validation for one's traditions in the similarities found in other traditions. It's about what unites us, not what divides us.
It's a concept of church and worship which could not have come at any other time because it needs the possibility of global interaction and communication. It needs a cosmology which both recognizes our common heritage and celebrates an unending creative process which is evolving in complexity and organization.

Current religious institutions will fight to return to a mythical past in which their truths were undiluted by modern culture. Unfortunately for them, more and more people will see that this return is really about reinforcing and maintaining the authority structure, and not so much about maintaining the teachings of their founders.

In Catholicism this is seen in repeated appeals to past clerical authorities to in order to shore up the authority of the current hierarchy. It almost always centers around issues of morality and doctrine, and not the direct teachings of Jesus Christ. Follow this link to see this process at work in the latest discourse from Archbishop Raymond Burke. It should surprise no one that this came at a function hosted by Deal Hudson and involved Raymond Arroyo. The 'Republican' Catholic Church is not an example of a true spontaneous emerging church. It is the perfect example of what the Emerging Church is not. As such one can learn a great deal about the opposing energies and institutions from understanding the artificial and purposeful construction of this particular brand of Catholicism.

As some last thoughts, since the emerging church will be far more about attitude than obedience, here are a couple of posts, Wild Reed and There Will Be Bread, that deal with the kind of attitudes which will foster the advent of the Emerging Truth er I mean Church.


  1. Well, Colleen, I was fine emotionally and spiritually reading about the Emerging Church. Then I read the link to Raymond Burke's speech and then read the comments. It is like entering a room filled with whining brats and the parents just let them annoy the heck out of everyone. They want to shame people now. Shame on them!!

    I am out of that room, but their whining echoes. They have such a negative affect on me. Too many whining babies in the Church. It is pathetic. I have a headache.

  2. you'll enjoy this:

  3. ## Talking of religious authority, how's this for obsession and monomania:

    Abp. Burke on the Evil Ted:


    The desirability of not burying "pro-abort politicians":

    The idiocy of some Catholics never ceases to amaze me. Why not be consistent, & refuse burial to Father Paed O'Phile, Bishop Pimp-Enabler, & suchlike ? As if !

    Rome is so mired in relativism - the relativism the Pope claims to hate so much - that crimes against the most vulnerable go unpunished, despite scandal after scandal. If in doubt - be a foetus: otherwise Rome does not & could not care a damn.

    These people are a joke - they are making the Church into a refuge for right-wing sicko scumbags.

  4. The people praising Bully Burke probably left their brains and consciences at home. Neither of these items were present in their postings.

  5. "Orlando Furioso said...
    you'll enjoy this:"

    ## LOL. I wish I were that poor :)

    If the Pope is the "Servant of the Servants of God" - doesn't that mean we get to tell him what to do ? :) If so, then we should have the nice clothes.

  6. Interesting link below. Apparently, women are just baby machines in the world today for certain religious fanatics to use to increase their membership. In the Anglican Christian world view in Nigeria this is "an attack on Christianity."

    Colleen, yours is an inspiring post & so were the links, other than to Burke's bull. I liked your quote better, but here is Romans 1:20 New International Version:

    "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

    I often refer to the planet Earth as a space ship. Try not to laugh, but think about this: it is a moving body built by God that moves in space, in relationship to other bodies that God created, which are also moving in a specific pattern. Everything living is moving. When things stop moving, like certain minds we know of, they are dead; like rocks and dead limbs from trees. The Space Station, is also moving, but was created by man with all that he knows about nature. In that spaceship there has to be an environment in which they can live and that is known because of science, man's understanding of nature. I think in that smaller environment they are more careful about the environment, or they are gone quick. Here, we think, or imagine that this is big enough a place to cut down trees or overload with fossil fuel emissions & do whatever without a consequence. This takes a toll on the weather patterns and creates climate extremes.

    I love this quote of Fr. Richard Rohr: "As I love to say to crowds: Do you really think God wasn't talking for the first 14 billion years or whatever it is?"

    I read recently that astronauts working outside the Space Station said that space had a very distinct odor that was like sulfur. Reading about Jupiter, I suspect that is where the smell is coming from, or maybe it's from all the gun powder from the Wars on Earth. Did you know that over 1000 Earths could fit into Jupiter? Some scientist believe that Jupiter protects the inner part of our solar system from meteors, and others don't believe that is true.

    What a beautiful place God has given for us to live. Too bad that man still has the appetite for warring, thieving, the other immoral things that are potentially more anti-life to everyone.

  7. Butterfly, I noticed the comments on the value of shaming myself. I was like, whoa, hate to be one of their kids. Good ole fashioned guilt is one thing, shame is an entirely different ball game. Wonder how many kids with eating disorders these upstanding parents will create.

    Orlando, the photo of Benedict certainly does make one wonder about the place of poverty in the Vatican. Every time I post one of those photos of the Pope in glittering gold and lace I have visions of Native Medicine men I've worked with who don't usually even have gas money to get to the next ceremony.

    Ratbiter, I would call the blatant manipulation of the relative importance of particular moral doctrine for political gain relativism of the worst kind. It's making Burke a wealthy, powerful and famous man.

  8. Colleen - I am honored to find my blog linked to your post! I have read you in my various incarnations from FranIam and my church blog, but have not been by in awhile.

    Thank you not only for the link, but for this thought provoking and stirring post.

    The link to Burke's speech really underscores so much anger and vitriol, such disdain and an utter lack of love as I have come to understand it through my faith.

    Like Butterfly says - the whining echoes as a dull ache somewhere deep within. It is very sad.

    There is no lack of suffering but must we increase it with negativity and exclusion?

    Or do we throw open the gates of our hearts and minds and live our way into the very emerging church that you and so many call for?

    Peace to you.

  9. Is it the Jesus Christ who ministered daily to the marginalized in the fullness of His humanity and brought us the God of love, or is it the post Crucifixion Jesus Christ who gave the keys to Peter and becomes the sacrificial victim to appease the Old Testament's vengeful God, where fearful obedience trumps love.

    Are you a Marcionist?

  10. No anonymous I am not really a marcionist or a gnostic. Although I can see where one could maybe get that impression from the quote you cite.

    Actually, I think Jesus embodies the God of the Prophets of the old testament. The God that was always about compassion and care for the marginalized.

    Fran, I really liked what you wrote and felt it fit into this post. Where is our faith without our questions? No further than it was in first grade.