OPINION: Heal Thyself

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Written by Rabbi Jack Moline, President of Interfaith Alliance

Interfaith Alliance has always adhered to the notion that the internal workings of any faith community are beyond the scope of our mission. We maintain that faith communities have the right to their own religious and philosophical perspectives, whether we agree with them or not. Only when the expression of doctrine, dogma, or conviction has been introduced into the pluralistic values of our Constitution have we pushed back on the beliefs and behavior of religious groups. 

We have also long promoted the healing power of religion in a fractious society. But recently, three stories have emerged from adherents of Christianity that have caused us concern – not so much for the beliefs of the churches themselves but for the potential to challenge the healing power of faith within the communities.

The first is the schism within the United Methodist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. This division is primarily centered on the question of recognizing clergy who affirm their sexual identity as other than heterosexual. Those who insist on the long-time stance of the church and those who favor a more expansive approach have decided to split into two distinct groups, each claiming the validation of their reading of Scripture.

The second is the controversy surrounding the reports of sexual misconduct by clergy of the Southern Baptist Convention. Those accused of misconduct – both the individual perpetrators and those in leadership roles who were complicit in concealing these acts  – find themselves challenged by members of the denomination who have advocated for an evolved approach to equality, much as the SBC sought to address its previous history of discrimination.

The third is the initiative of some Roman Catholic bishops to deny communion to some Catholic political figures who advocate for full reproductive rights. Though the Vatican has declared that communion should not be withheld, a high-profile member of Congress has been notified – very publicly – not to seek communion in their home parish. The bishop’s statement has garnered public support and prompted condemnation from other American church figures.

Certainly, these are not the first instances of politics and religion not playing well together. Interfaith Alliance has decried the attempts of those on the Religious Right to conflate their personal beliefs with public policy by insisting that their theological perspectives are more rightfully determinative of laws and norms than the Constitution. 

But somehow, this is a different situation. 

Three branches of Christianity, each with a very different perspective on internal governance, worship, and tenets of belief, find themselves challenged from within by controversies that are roiling American society. That the issues themselves all have to do with the nature of human life and sexuality is not surprising; every faith and non-faith tradition wrestles with the intersection of the individual’s internal landscape and the collective understanding of social norms. Where can a person look for the embrace of a community as they struggle if not the institutions that promote the notion of every person’s inherent worth?

When religious associations become the venues for culture wars and political battles, the danger to the community of believers is profound. The conflict can replace the community. Interfaith Alliance offers no guidelines to these or other faith communities on how to mend the rifts that afflict their spiritual families. We continue to endorse the healing power of faith and the separation of religion and government. And we urge upon those who would be teachers to their students and shepherds to their flocks to return to those central notions of personal conscience and communities of nurture.

Learn more about Interfaith Alliance’s efforts to advance true religious freedom.