Content Warning: Literally all of the content warnings.
Racism, sexism, sexual assault, homophobia, transphobia, rape, murder, child abuse… I think the only thing that’s not in here is suicide. They will be mentioned but not discussed in detail.
I’ve been (not really) following this story about the US Council of Catholic Bishops plotting to get US President Joe Biden excommunicated because he doesn’t think abortion should be illegal.
I saw that it’s a thing the bishops are considering, and I’ve heard a lot of hubbub about it. Mostly I’ve seen this tweet from Rev. Daniel Brereton, who I follow on Twitter and greatly appreciate.
Also this one.
Before I go any further, I need to emphasize: I agree with him. I very much agree with him. Open communion is a hill I will die on.
There are a few things about this tweet that make me uncomfortable.
First, the nature of Joe Biden’s “sin”: Being “on our side.”
The bishops aren’t considering withholding communion because he’s being racist, homophobic, or xenophobic. It’s not because he wants to keep poor people poor, or cut taxes on the rich or corporations. It’s not that he’s a murderer, and child molester, or serial sexual assaulter or rapist; it’s not that he’s an unrepentant notorious liar, or any of the evils Donald Trump embodied so cartoonishly.
It’s because he doesn’t think abortion should be illegal or exceedingly difficult, and he’s working to make sure it stays that way.
In many progressive circles, that’s not a vice, it’s a virtue.
So my concern with my friend’s tweet is not the content, but the context: The underlying assumption many who will share that meme share: that Joe Biden isn’t really even that bad.
It’s all well and good to say that no one should be denied communion – and, as I said before, that’s a hill I will die on – but is it the right time to argue that everyone should be receiving communion just as another denomination is plotting to deny communion to someone we would perhaps not deny communion to, at least not on that basis?
Speaking of other traditions: Generally, I don’t try to meddle in what other traditions are doing.
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA – I’m PC(USA)) doesn’t ordain women and to some extent I’ve come to grips with the fact that they’re wrong and don’t generally get into it with them.
The Roman Catholic Church has all kinds of fascinating theology of the body stuff that made them decide to reject trans people. I can’t get into it with them because I have no idea what they’re talking about.
On the other hand, Joe Biden’s other sins.
As the US President, he took an oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States.” Part of that job is presiding over enforcement of federal laws, including locking people, often people of color, in prison for drug law violations.
It also includes running the concentration camps with kids in cages that were started under Obama and got kicked into high wicked gear by former president Trump.
He’s done a number of things that I like and respect, but he’s still President of the United States. He holds a job in which some of his responsibilities are evil.
I would argue that under our current laws, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to keep the oath of office and be a faithful follower of Jesus.
In my Worship and Sacraments class in seminary, we talked about the nature of Open Communion. I went into that class a staunch believer that the table is for everyone, no matter how evil.
Then the professor presented us with a story – one I cannot find now.
In a south American country gripped by civil war (I can’t remember which one), rebels were engaging in all kinds of atrocities – making children into soldiers, attacking women and children, and the like.
These insurgents came to mass on Sundays and received communion. (If memory serves me, they demanded the priests serve them with threats of violence).
The priests debated among themselves. Does serving these evildoers communion validate their evil deeds? Does it say that we approve of what they are doing? Does it reflect badly on Christ to see him giving his body to these men who are engaging in atrocities?
Then the professor asked, “What would you do?”
My simple answer of “yes” was complicated by the possibility that it may look like I am endorsing evil.
In the end, I still concluded (as I believe the priests did) that the answer was yes. But the question was hard.
For progressives reading this: Would you be okay if Donald Trump, at the height of his evil reign of evil, came into your church? Would you serve him communion?
To make it even harder, and to invoke Godwin’s Law, imagine Hitler was in your tradition, and he came to your church and came forward to receive communion. At the height of his presiding over the genocide of European Jews… do you serve him communion?
That question of unworthiness:
There’s a difference between being unworthy because you said something mildly unkind to your child yesterday, and being unworthy because you’re actively involved in evil and injustice.
I don’t think it’s right to jump to “yes” immediately regarding whether Biden should be served communion. I think it’s right to land there eventually, but I have serious concerns about jumping directly to “yes.”
I still agree with my colleague Rev. Daniel.
I think everything he said was right.
But I also think that the context – not of bishops trying to deny Joe Biden communion, but of bishops unjustly trying to deny a liberal caricature of Joe Biden as a righteous Christian, for reasons we wouldn’t deny him communion over…
I think reduces that horrifying scandal of the gospel.