Christians and Critical Thinking

Bishop Rucyahana with the Dictator of Rwanda
Bishop Rucyahana with the Dictator of Rwanda

In this post on the Economist’s Erasmus blog, Roman Catholic Cardinal George Pell is quoted as saying the following about the clerical sexual abuse scandal in that denomination:

The attitude of some people at the Vatican was that if accusations were being made against priests, they were being made exclusively or at least predominantly by enemies of the church to make trouble and therefore they should be dealt with skeptically. I think there was more of an inclination to give the benefit of the doubt to the defendant rather than listen seriously to the complaints…I think in many ways, the English-speaking world made a significant contribution to the universal church in this area.

Similarly, a friend of mine told me about someone she knows who refuses to hear any criticism of the Roman Church and insists that the media simply doesn’t understand the Church and is out to get it. While I can understand that this is probably true, it should in no way invalidate critical thinking about the problems in a Church. In other words:

  1. Yes, the media by and large does not understand the Roman Church, or any Church.
  2. Yes, the media is in most cases secular and is actively hostile to God.
  3. But, this does not mean that we can therefore ignore stories of wickedness in the Church!

It becomes very easy for Church leaders to appeal to the laity over against blogs, media or outside reports and obtain a sympathetic ear, because we do know of the hostility that exists against us. However, this is often simply a form of manipulation by leaders who can evade critique by playing this card. In Anglican circles we have seen this with followers of Chuck Murphy who attacked “blogs” or “the internet” for their problems instead of looking in the mirror, and I have seen it quite often in conservative, orthodox circles who do not listen to criticism of, for example, John Rucyahana because it comes from the United Nations. For example, I received these responses to a highly sourced report on Rucyahana fundraising for M23:

Caution lights go on when anyone quotes a ‘UN’ report.

And:

So when our own administration puts out a report adhering to a “rigorous investigative methodology”, do you believe it without question? And this is the UN. The United Nations. I’m honestly not sure if you’re serious at this point.

I too used to share these totally negative views towards the UN until I started reading the recent history of East Africa and saw that, for all its flaws, the UN is one of the only forces for good in the region. If the UN did not exist in the DRC, utter chaos and ruin would ensue. Also, we would have no mechanism for reporting on Rwandan crimes in the area, and the UN’s reports follow a strict methodology that critics have no concept of.

What it boils down to is that many people are willing to overlook glaring evil if it is committed by theological / political allies. If a Roman priest is raping a young boy, I don’t want to hear it and will blame the media instead, or if an orthodox Anglican bishop supports a group of raping, murdering, child kidnapping terrorists, I won’t believe it because I have met him and he is a nice guy, also, it’s the UN so there!

Christians of all people should be aware of original sin and how it exists in each of us. How many times do we hear of the pastor who was wonderful and was later found to be cheating on his wife (i.e. Ted Hagard)? Or the murderer who lived next door and was active in church (BTK)? Or in our own lives, we can yell at each other on the way to church, then show up and smile for the world to see, none the wiser about our heart condition.

The frightening thing about this state of denial in Anglican circles is that it currently applies to theological issues. What if, God forbid, we have our own sexual predators in the clergy someday? Will we circle the wagons around them too because they agree with the Jerusalem Declaration?  God’s people need to exercise critical thinking.

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