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June 23, 2021
Joe Biden is a devout Catholic who supports abortion rights, but he is also one of the most powerful people in the world. And U.S. Catholic bishops want to withhold communion to teach him a lesson.
Photo credit: Susan Walsh | AP Photo
After politically charged debate, bishops vote to draft controversial Communion document – via Religion News Service
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. – 1 Corinthians 11:27-29
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. ­– Mark 10:13-16
Last week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) chose to draft a document recommending the withholding of communion from those who support abortion rights that are anathema to official Roman Catholic doctrine. While this could affect the majority of Roman Catholics in the U.S., as 56% agree that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, this move has broadly been seen as a rebuke to Joe Biden.
President Biden is a faithful Catholic as well as a staunch supporter of the right to choose in abortion. He is clearly not the only one, but currently he is the most powerful pro-choice Catholic in the United States and, arguably, in the world. This recommendation from the USCCB is a warning to Joe Biden, to U.S. Catholics in general, and to anyone who dares challenge the conservative powers in this country.
Last week also saw the national gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention, where there were clear signs that the denomination has begun to recognize many of the sins of racism and sexual abuse that have occurred, and even been promoted, through abuse of theology and power within the denomination.
Instead of shying away from the survivors of abuse who told their stories and begged for a better response from the denomination, moves were made to make a real inquiry into cases of sexual abuse and the cover-ups of that abuse across the denomination. For years, many of these victims have been themselves cast as perpetrators and shunned in congregations and the communities they’ve lived in instead of believed and cared for. They were, in effect, kept from the communion tables in their churches.
We have seen this again and again in the history of the church, when we have tried to fence off the Eucharistic feast from those we disagree with or those we do not see as worthy. In many cases, we have been all too successful, driving people from our churches and from the faith altogether. We have also seen that the people we try to keep away from Jesus Christ’s table are the same ones we try to keep from the tables of political power, even in a country with separation of church and state like ours.
This month is generally recognized as Pride month for LGBTQIA+ communities in the U.S. This last weekend we also saw the first national celebration of Juneteenth, which follows closely on the anniversary of the deaths of nine people at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church. It follows a state legislative season that has seen record numbers of bills trying to again abolish abortion, to take away voting rights and health care, to prevent immigration, and even to stop teachers from talking about racism. Disability rights continue to get short shrift everywhere. In the victories and in the ongoing fights within the church and within government, we are reminded of who is allowed at our tables of power and who is being kept away.
In both the debates within the USCCB and on Twitter in response to this latest attempt to fence the communion table, 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 has come up as a basis for the reasoning that we can choose not to serve people with “unworthy” hearts and lives. However, if we read all of 1 Corinthians 11, we realize that Paul is advocating for two important things:
  1. those in power need to stop flaunting their power and wealth and either (literally) share their meals with all without excluding those who didn’t have much to share;
  2. we have to examine our own hearts for worthiness, not judge the worthiness of others.
Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me,” so who are we to turn anyone away – from the communion table or from the tables of power?
Ms. Opal Lee is a 94-year-old Texan who has been working to make Juneteenth a national holiday for years. She even walked from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C. at the age of 89 to teach communities across the South about this celebration and why it matters. This year, her dream came true.
The work is not done – as we note every week, there is always more to do. But Opal Lee didn’t let her age or a lack of power or the size of the task keep her from following her passion. If you’re like me, it may be hard to nail down just one overriding cause to fight for. They are all so important. However, there are a lot of us, and we have a lot of passion to go around. So, maybe spend some time this week thinking about which of the many worthy causes you would walk halfway across the country to promote, and send your energy that way this next year.
Creator and Sustainer of All, only you can truly know our hearts. You call to us in our wholeness and in our brokenness, whether we feel worthy or not. Let us answer the call with faith and joy. Faith that the worst thing we’ve done is not the end of our story. Joy that you love us no matter what.
Help us examine our hearts and find the ways to mend them. Send us to repent for our sins, ask for forgiveness, and change our ways. Give us grace that we might forgive others and seek reconciliation. Help us heal from hurts that cannot be reconciled. Give us courage and endurance as we seek to open your table to all who have been kept away, even when we are the ones who have been turned away.
Make our hearts whole, O God, and call us to your table again. Amen.
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