Rich Mayfield: Diversity and religion are still at arm’s length |

Rich Mayfield: Diversity and religion are still at arm’s length

RICH MAYFIELDSaturday columnist

I happened to be standing at the Mountain Meadow trailhead near Minturn this past Monday when a semi pulled up and began off-loading dozens and dozens of sheep. Naturally my thoughts turned to religion.Religion has been much in the news of late, particularly as it pertains to the presidential candidates both Republican and Democrat. The top three Democrat contenders recently engaged in a less than enlightening conversation regarding their individual faith that included such theologically profound responses as, “Dear Lord, why can’t I lose weight?” and such penetrating queries as: “Tell us … what was the worst sin you ever committed?” The Democrats are going to have to do better than this if they really want to pander to the religious right.

Republican Rudolf Giuliani’s Roman Catholic faith is proving problematic as it bumps up against the ex-mayor’s pro-choice position. There are a number of Catholic bishops who are advising their priests not to dispense the church’s sacrament of Holy Communion to Giuliani and his ilk for failing to follow the church’s teaching on this controversial matter. The fact that the church has been less committed to weeding out pedophiles from within the ranks or excommunicating those parishioners, who favor the U.S. invasion of Iraq even though it failed to fit St. Augustine’s definition of a just war, is a noteworthy incongruity.John Kerry faced similar pressure in the last election and in typical Kerry fashion managed to avoid making much of a fuss. I’m saving my vote for the brave candidate who, instead of pandering to them, takes on the religious demagogues who proffer total allegiance or eternal damnation. Of course, any religion has the right to regulate its members. If people wish to be a part of an organization that disallows dissent and discourages debate, so be it. But, it seems to me at least, a healthy religion welcomes free discussion and honest inquiries. A healthy religion can embrace diversity rather than squelching it. A healthy religion isn’t afraid of finding new answers to ancient questions. Any time a priest or a pastor, a rabbi or an imam, says they’ll do their thinking for you, you should be thinking of another place to be.Mitt Romney’s religion continues to make the news. The latest blast came from The Huffington Post website which breathlessly reported that Mitt managed to avoid the draft by filing as a “minister of religion” while engaged in his two-and-a-half-year stint as a Mormon missionary in France. Two and a half years spent having doors slammed in your face and curses hurled in your direction (in French, no less!) is qualification enough in my book for any ministerial certification.

This week also included news of soon to be defrocked Lutheran pastor, Bradley Schmeling, who was ordered by his bishop to vacate his pulpit by Aug. 15 for admitting he was in a committed homosexual relationship. Curious thing: Since the edict, his congregation continues to grow, even flourish. Last Sunday, he was honored as Grand Marshal of Atlanta’s huge Gay Pride Parade and recently came in fourth in the election for his region’s next Lutheran bishop. Sometimes the sheep have a better feel for the landscape than the shepherd. Finally, a story from my pastor past: I once had a parishioner who took time off from a very busy schedule to sit for three weeks, day in and day out, at the bedside of a dying friend.

When the man was very near death, the local parish priest stopped by to administer last rites and arrange for the funeral. Upon hearing that my parishioner was of another denomination, the priest reminded him that he would be forbidden from participating in Holy Communion at his friend’s funeral. Think of it. Who in this scenario was acting more in keeping with the teachings of Jesus? Honoring the edict, my parishioner refrained but was, of course, deeply hurt by this religious rebuff. I think religion was hurt even more.Local Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail him at

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