Young People in the Church Today: No Time for Infighting

John Allen is always insightful and we’ve been talking over here about the need for peace within the Church, moving away from the divisiveness that often comes with differences of opinions.

Some of Allen’s thoughts seem like good ideas to me. Sometimes we need to surprise those with whom we disagree by taking up a position that we normally wouldn’t get behind with vigor. Allen explains:

In addition to an ecclesiology of communion, “thinking with the church,” or whatever spiritual motive one might advance, offering surprising support is also smart tactics. It means opening channels of conversation before a crisis erupts, and it would give the center-left more leverage to push back against trajectories they don’t like. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally easier to manage disagreements among friends than strangers.
To flesh out the concept, opposition to the death penalty or support for immigration reform wouldn’t count as “surprising support,” even though those positions are in sync with the bishops, because they’re what everyone expects from the center-left. However, the Catholic Health Association’s opposition to the Obama administration’s restrictive definition of a religious employer in its contraception mandate is a good case of surprising support because the CHA and the bishops famously had their disagreements over health care reform.
At least three such opportunities seem to be hanging out there like low-lying fruit.

He suggest three opportunities:
Getting behind the HHS Mandate, speaking out against anti-Christian persecution (in the developing world especially) and lastly helping the Bishops transition to a world church.

The latter two I jump on board with immediately…albeit I’m not sure how “surprising” these are. The first one, I’d tread a bit more carefully into. I think there’s a real opportunity to look at this issue in a larger context and to ask the question of whether health care should be tied to employment in the first place. I would wager that Catholics could take the lead here in getting out of that and offering their employees a higher salary and allowing them to form their own consciences and purchasing a health care plan of their own.

But there’s an even larger place where the center-left and even the center-right can meet.

It’s called Catholics for Civil Discourse. This could be a place much like the Catholic Common Ground Initiative –which had merit, but I believe that ended up as a bunch of center-left people trying to keep it afloat. Are we willing to talk things through and maybe use some principles of conflict resolution to show the world that Catholics can indeed rise above the hatred and move towards forgiveness and reconciliation of one another. I liken much of this to relationships between conservative and liberal Supreme Court Justices. Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg might agree on little but you never hear either on badmouth the other. In fact, they are close friends and they can see the other’s perspective clearly, even if they don’t share the other’s view. I suspect Ginsburg just says some days “Well, that’s Antonin all right!” and then smiles and laughs a bit. And Scalia probably says, “Well, you know how Ruth thinks. But she means well and has people’s interest at the heart and she does know the law well. Smart lady. Don’t agree with a lot of her views but she’s tough.”

Can’t we have a similar discourse in our church? More importantly, SHOULDN’T we have a similar discourse in our church?

Right now many have simply determined that neither side of the extremes needs the other. Jesus laughs at that and shakes his head and I think might even laugh and say “Dumb folks. They just don’t get it.”

Commonweal writer J. Peter Nixon gets to the heart of this argument very well in my view:

In the 1980s, center-left bishops had to listen to the center-right because they had the ear of Rome. The center-left has the ear of no one. They have nothing that the bishops really need and probably nothing that the bishops want. They have no leverage.

Allen suggests that “center left” probably describes the majority of American Catholics and perhaps a super-majority of those working in Catholic institutions, such as chancery offices, Catholic Charities, etc. This is true, but it is changing. We have had a fair amount of episcopal turnover in California in the last few years, and the trend is unmistakable. Older, largely “center-left” staff are retiring or leaving and being replaced by younger, more self-consciously “orthodox” Catholics.

It’s true that the majority of rank-and-file Catholics are probably “center left” in orientation. But what of it? Younger Catholics, for the most part, are simply not attached enough to the Church as an institution to think “institutionally” about their theological commitments. Communal dialogue is something you engage in because you have a community. The majority of younger Catholics—like a majority of younger Christians—are spiritual consumers. If they are dissatisfied, they will choose “exit” rather than “voice.”

In short, this has become an “older” person’s fight within the church. The younger folks don’t have time for such riff-raff, nor do they have the scars from past battles that left others with deep woundedness and brings them into a vitriolic reflex each time something new saddens them from ideologues on either side. The young simply want to pray, connect with Jesus, form friendships with people of honor and serve the needs of the poor. In short, they want a church they can believe in, not one that focuses on infighting.

Infighting will do us no good, even if one side wins. If the far or even center-right wins they get a smaller and more faithful to the hierarchy breed that might not be able to be evangelize or be effective. If the center-left or far left wins they’ll be confusion as to what Catholics stand for, if they even stand for anything.

The truth is that consensus is what is called for in our church. And young people may not be willing to do the work required to battle things out for a long time with people that they really might not think are worth spending all this time on. It’s just easier to leave and have a more individualistic view of religion or spirituality.

We are in tough times. One of my jobs is to try to build consensus amongst younger people of faith, even people of different faiths. But to do that, we have to first engage them in the experience of where they find God working in their lives. Personal discernment, listening to where people are finding God in their lives is a necessary first step.

From there, we just may find an opportunity to understand one another and most importantly….

To seek peace.