Madonna House

Beyond Left and Right

by Fr. Michael Shields

The Church is not on the left or on the right but for the salvation of the world.

A favorite quote of mine is from George Bernard Shaw: “God created man in his image, and then man returned the favor.”

We might say the same about the Church. How many try to make the Church into the image of the present culture or into something to serve the current political agenda. The left wants the Church to be left, and the right wants it to be right.

If the Church were just a human institution, that would be understandable, but since it is a human/divine institution, it stands in the culture to convert the culture to the Gospel.

Just as the Christian is in the world but not of it, so, too, the Church presents a Gospel that challenges all political views. The Church desires that all will be saved; the Church is for the salvation of the world.

I experienced the broadness of the Church as a younger priest while serving in a diocese in Alaska.

One Sunday, on the feast of St. Francis, we blessed animals, and as an added note, I decided to bless the hospital across the street because I had heard that a doctor there was performing abortions.

Some of my liberal friends were livid and some, as they say in Facebook, “unfriended me.”

Then the next Sunday, I said something that made some of my conservative friends livid. I was called “un-American” and was “unfriended” by a few more people.

The Sunday after that, I stood in the pulpit a free man, and ever since I have tried to preach a Gospel that is not swayed by popular causes, political correctness, or cultural agendas.

The Church’s job is to preach a Gospel that saves, heals, and converts a person and a culture to Christ, and therefore it will always be somewhat of a scandal to the world. Why? Because all need conversion—both those on the left and those on the right.

For those who long for the good old days when the Church was really the Church (say in the first century) I will share something I once heard in a lecture by a Presbyterian pastor, Tim Keller, something that should make us reflect on just where we need converting.

The early Christians, he said, did not just keep their Christianity private. It shaped their lives, culturally; and therefore they were looked upon as strange and were often persecuted.

He listed eight ways in which the early Church stood in opposition to the culture of its time.

1) The early Christians didn’t attend the blood-thirsty entertainments of the Roman amphitheaters, and thus they were suspect and considered anti-social.

2) They didn’t support Caesar’s wars of conquest.

3) They were against abortion and infanticide. (In Roman culture, it was perfectly acceptable and legal to let a newborn die of exposure on the street if the child was not the gender you desired.)

4) They showed greater respect for women and for their gifts and leadership than the general culture did.

5) They were against sex outside of marriage.

6) They were against same-sex practices.

7) They were radically for the poor and the sick and gave money, time, and even their lives for them.

8) Different classes and races mingled together in their gatherings, something that was considered scandalous.

Lastly they believed that Christ was the only way to salvation.

So what are we called to do as Church in our time? We are not called to attack the culture or assimilate into it. We are called to convert it by serving—by living so deeply the gift of the Church that even those who disagree and oppose us say, “they do serve well.”

I believe this is what our present Holy Father Francis is doing. Why does the world love this pope? He upholds all the teachings of the Church that were named above.

The world loves him because he upholds these teachings in the context of love and service. This pope proclaims that the Church is for the salvation of the world.

Father Michael is the pastor of the Church of the Nativity of Christ in Magadan, Russia. He is a friend of Madonna House from when we had a house there.