Jimmy was born in Texas, grew up nominally Protestant, but at age 20 experienced a profound conversion to Christ. Planning on becoming a Protestant pastor or seminary professor, he started an intensive study of the Bible. But the more he immersed himself in Scripture the more he found to support the Catholic faith. Eventually, he entered the Catholic Church. His conversion story, “A Triumph and a Tragedy,” is published in Surprised by Truth. Besides being an author, Jimmy is the Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers, a contributing editor to Catholic Answers Magazine, and a weekly guest on “Catholic Answers Live.”
But not in the way you might think.
Or the way that the We Are Church folks might want.
For those who may not be aware, We Are Church is a church “reform” group that started in the German-speaking world some years ago (where they go by the name Wir Sind Kirche). They are in favor and opposed to all the trendy, politically correct dissenter items: women priests (for), clerical celibacy (against), homosexual sex (for), etc.
Personally, I’ve never been able to get past the fact that they don’t have an article in their name. I don’t know if the absence of one grates on German ears as much as it does English speaking ones, but in English you need an article—either definite (“the”) or indefinite (“a”)—before the word “Church” in their name. How can you expect me to take your movement seriously when you can’t even come up with a grammatical name for yourself?
It seems that this name is part of some trend where it’s considered more spiritual to use bad grammar.
Y’know, like in that awful hymn-thingie: “You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift [singular!] of finest wheat.” Did that start as a typo at the music publisher or what? Don’t they have proofreaders at Oregon Catholic Press? In English you either need to put an article (“the,” “a”) in front of “gift” or make it plural or something. It can’t stand there as a bare singular noun. That’s not the way English-speakers talk.
When Pope Benedict was in Germany recently, he gave a talk to a group of seminarians, and he took a swipe at the We Are Church folks.
First, he stressed to the seminarians that a proper Christian perspective
requires us always to look beyond the particular, limited “we” towards the great “we” that is the Church of all times and places: it requires that we do not make ourselves the sole criterion.
That right there is a shot across the We Are Church folks’ bow, because it is precisely this that they do. Indeed, it’s why they have the name they do. Grammatical issues aside, we know what they are asserting by the claim: We (not the Church’s episcopal hierarchy) are the Church in a way that allows us to function as the ultimate criterion of the contents of the Christian faith and thus allows us to disregard the doctrine and discipline as proclaimed and established by the bishops. We therefore assert our identity “as Church” over and against the Magisterium to the extent they would disagree with us.
But Pope Benedict points to a greater “we”—not just trendy dissidents of our own day—but “the great ‘we’ that is the Church of all times and places.” We must thus look beyond ourselves and our own views and must embrace the fulness of Christian tradition, which casts a much different light on the favorite issues of modern dissenters. If the voice of the whole of Christian tradition is allowed to speak, you will find a clear rejection of women priests and homosexual sex, as well as a healthy respect for the Latin Church’s discipline of clerical celibacy.
Pope Benedict then engages the We Are Church folks directly:
When we say: “We are Church” – well, it is true: that is what we are, we are not just anybody. But the “we” is more extensive than the group that asserts those words. The “we” is the whole community of believers, today and in all times and places.
He thus takes their slogan and subverts it, repointing it in its true (if still ungrammatical) sense of who the Church is. It is far broader than the We Are Church folks would like us to notice.
Pope Benedict then goes on to address one of the key ideas of the dissidents, that doctrine and discipline should be decided in terms of what a majority think:
And so I always say: within the community of believers, yes, there is as it were the voice of the valid majority, but there can never be a majority against the apostles or against the saints: that would be a false majority.
So he recognizes a role for “the voice of the valid majority,” but this majority is not valid if it is “against the apostles or against the saints.”
We are Church: let us be Church, let us be Church precisely by opening ourselves and stepping outside ourselves and being Church with others.
So, again, let us not make ourselves the sole criterion, ecclesiastically speaking.
I’m sure that Pope Benedict didn’t intend it this way, but there is a certain feeling that one can be tempted to indulge when an irksome group like We Are Church has its self-assertive, ungrammatical name for itself is subverted like this.
There ought to be a word for that.
But let’s resist the temptation.
What are your thoughts?