Church dictatorial paternalism to social issues is contrary to Jesus faith in his followers

Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mont where he explains how Christians should live

The Christian Church wielding overpowering paternalism denying Christ’s followers the ability to freely make decisions denies the faith God has in human ability to find truth through faith. This goes beyond teaching their followers to make moral judgement. It demonstrates a condescending view of their flock as incapable of full development to make moral decisions as intended by God in their creation. A term for this was coined clerico-fascism referring to Mussolini support by the Catholic Church in the 1930s. The writers of the Constitution of the United States wisely foresaw this dilemma when a solid division between church and state was legislated. Yet this division is under attack and not only in the United States.

Now today while many Protestant and Jewish leaders are joining the call for protecting voting rights in the United States the Catholic leaders and especially the American Bishops are absolutely silent. Not a single word. Do they fear that a mob of peasants will endanger their political goals? In Ethiopia many clergy are calling for a Christian fatwa in a civil war between ethnic groups which they are saying allows who they see as the righteous to commit inhuman atrocities. 

There are many times when I have looked with awe at the many things the Catholic Church does for the poor throughout the world. Helping school children to learn basic skills, giving orphans a chance to grow up, helping poor families in third world countries.  Similarly I have traveled widely in Ethiopia and seen the Ethiopian Orthodox Church be a beacon of hope for poor souls starving, abandoned, or needing some social support. In earlier times and even today church grounds provided the only well for water for rural populations. Many school children learned to read Amharic because there was no public school system.

However, going back to the middle ages the  church has always had a problem with wielding overbearing paternalism. Although it cared deeply for the people the leaders of the church had a prevailing attitude that their sheep were totally inept to make their own decisions. In World War II the Catholic Church forestalled American’s recognition of the dangers of the Nazi movement because it feared communism more. During the struggle for civil rights of minorities in the United States the argument that “now is not the time” was a common theme so counsel was given not to pursue “too aggressive measures to combat” prejudice and racism. In Ethiopia the Orthodox church saw Kushitic peoples as less human then the Semitic peoples of the north allowing slavery.

We remember when attempts were made to translate the Bible to the lingua franca, common language of the people, instead of Latin these were seen as evil heretical acts. The Word of God was for the clergy to give the people not for them to discover. Since the Middle Ages it has been well documented that the organized church has always struggled with what its role should be versus government. What should be the role of clergy to government leaders and what should be the role of clergy toward the public? Should they be advisors on general moral issues and abstain from specific political questions?

The Bible in the Book of Samuel warns the nature of man is contaminated when power is given. That society must always be on guard because power corrupts. The great German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his writing the Cost of Discipleship went so far as to say that Christians should avoid political office because it was inconsistent with being a good disciple of Christ.

The Catholic Church today in the United States has been diminished greatly and has hoped to invigorate itself by tying itself tightly to the cause of abortion. I respect their point of view that life begins at conception and also see it as a reasonable goal to eliminate abortion.

However, in his mandate for Christians to build the Corpus Christi, the body of Christ, on earth Jesus did not intend for Christians to be political zombies with no respect for their free will. The creation of man with free will is a key tenant to God’s purpose that man freely chooses to love God and follow Jesus teaching. That this devotion comes out of using all his gifts of the spirit including his intellect. Christ’s love leads and inspires the body not the paternal dictatorship of church leaders.

When Jesus was incarnated of two natures, one human and one divine, he was made by God with the idea that his humanness had the capability to reach a state that appreciated God’s grace. Man has this dual nature. Saint Paul said becoming a Christian involved man overcoming his beastly nature to find his connection with God. His creation by God made this possible even for the gentiles who had no history of knowing God there was an inherent chance. Some theologians have in fact called this the deification of humanity.  When the Church shows no faith in human ability to follow God it is denying God’s intent in how man was created. God has faith in man because he created man in his image. The church should be a guide but like parents to a child eventually the child will grow up to make his own decisions. This facilitates how we can be true members of the Corpus Christi.

Author: Professor Tony Magana

Professor Tony Magana is Head of the Department of Neurosurgery, School of Medicine, College of Health Sciences at Mekelle University in Mekelle, Ethiopia. He directs a neurosurgery residency and training program as well as neuroscience research.

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