Monday, November 23, 2009

Rebuttal // Kennedy Barred from Communion

by Tim K. Snyder

Yesterday, CNN released this article on Patrick Kennedy being barred from Holy Communion by Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, RI.

When I was in junior high, our Lutheran pastor refused communion to my mom because she chose the wrong Sunday School curriculum. "Wrong" meant that it wasn't published by the denomination's publishing house. The reasons for both these refusals are ultimately the same...someone didn't "behave properly" and so they were punished. Wow, I'm glad remembering Jesus's death and resurrection has been reduced to behavior modification.

Because I know that what Christians say publicly (whether they have a forum for it like a bishop's office or a blog like this one) matters, I want to give a rebuttal to Bishop Tobin. Thankfully, he does not represent the entire family of Christianity and his actions are not the final word. Communion is a gift. In a society which is based on economic terms — both trading and exploitation — gift giving is not something that fits well into the American value system and I understand this. But here's the deal...barring someone from communion doesn't exactly encourage healthy relationships. Historically, of course, this political warfare through the sacraments haven't worked out well. Often times it has serious implications and it rarely achieves the desired behavior outcome. So if it doesn't work, it creates more pain that anything and it often ends relationships, then why bother? 

What's interesting to me about this is that it speaks to a broader question about how do we relate to each other in the church when we have real differences. We believe (and so our actions follow) some very different things and yet there is still one, holy catholic and apostolic church. The ELCA understands this tension well at the moment. What's a helpful alternative to this kind relating? Maybe we give gifts...what kind of gift would I give someone who I differ with profoundly concerning sexuality? Yeah, I don't know...

any ideas?


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