I feel sorry for professed Christians who support this President.
They have a profound and fundamental spiritual problem: their God is too small.
They passionately worship a deity made in their own image: white, American, Republican, male—and perpetually terrified of just about everything: Muslims, immigrants, gay children, Special Counsel reports, mandalas, Harry Potter, Starbuck holiday cups, yoga, wind turbines, Science—everything.
Their God is so laughably minuscule, so fully neutered of power, so completely devoid of functioning vertebrae that “He” cannot protect them from the encroaching monsters they are certain lurk around every corner to overwhelm them.
MAGA Christians sure put up a brave face, I’ll give them that. They shower this God with effusive praise on Sunday mornings, they sing with reckless abandon in church services about Him, they brazenly pump out their chests on social media regarding His infinite wisdom, they defiantly declare this God’s staggering might at every opportunity—but their lives tell the truth: They believe He is impotent and scared and ineffectual. You can tell this because they insist on doing all the things that a God-sized God would simply do as part of the gig.
They need to be armed to the teeth at all times because they don’t really believe God will come through to defend them in a pinch—and will always be outgunned.
They want to change gay couples and transgender teenagers themselves, because they don’t trust God to work within people as He desires. (Apparently God keeps making LGBTQ people, which really pisses them off.)
They want to stockpile and horde wealth, health insurance, and opportunity—because this is a zero sum game; because the God they claim turned water into wine, and fed thousands with a few fish and some leftover bread—can’t make enough for everyone.
They are obsessed with building a wall and defending a border and turning way refugees—because their God isn’t generous or smart or creative enough to help them figure out how to welcome and care for everyone who requires it.
They want no other religious traditions to have a voice, because their insecure and terribly tiny God is mortally threatened by such things.
MAGA Christians’ daily existence testifies that their God is a microscopic, myopic coward, who has appointed them to morally police a world He cannot handle or is not equipped to direct and renovate. That’s pretty sad.
In short, their God isn’t a God worth believing in or worshiping—which is why they have to play God while they’re alive. It’s why they are furrowed-browed and white-nuckling their journey here—not content to let Jesus take the wheel for fear he’d drive them outside their gated community and into the hood and ask them to get out and care for the people they’re so used to condemning.
If you’re going to have a God, it may as well be right-sized. The world deserves this.
People deserve a God who is bigger than Franklin Graham’s God and Mike Pence’s God and Sander’s and Jerry Falwell’s God. Their God is small and terrified—and it suspiciously resembles them.
People deserve a God who so loves the world, not a God who thinks America First; whose creation begin without divides and borders and walls, because there is only a single, interdependent community.
People deserve a God who touched the leper and healed the sick and fed the starving and parted the seas and raised the dead—not a quivering idol who drafts bathroom bills and social media crusades against migrant families.
People deserve a God who is neither white nor male nor cisgender-heterosexual, nor Republican—because any other God isn’t big enough to bear the title or merit any reverence.
MAGA Christians believe in God earnestly, pray to God passionately, serve God with unflinching fervor. The problem is their God is too small, and as long as they are oriented toward such a tiny, useless deity—they will continue to be compelled to do for God what they believe God should be doing, but can’t or won’t.
I feel sorry for them and for the world that has to be subjected to their pocket-sized theology when there is an expansive space waiting.
I hope and pray that these people soon find a God who is big enough so that they stop living so small.
Walk into St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Glen Ridge on a Sunday morning and you’ll find the trappings and sacraments of a typical parish.
From the kneeling parishioners to the priests in robes dispensing Holy Communion, there are few signs of divergence from tradition.
There is, however, one stark, if less apparent, difference: The priest leading the service, the Rev. Geety Reyes, is openly gay.
St. Francis of Assisi and two kindred churches in Kearny and Long Branch, belong to the American National Catholic Church, an independent religious movement founded in the Garden State nearly 10 years ago. ANCC affilates mirror the Roman Catholic Church in most respects, except those elements that members find judgmental or discriminatory.
“We believe in an all-inclusive, loving God,” Reyes tells New Jersey Monthly. “We tend to be progressive, but we are conservative in that we embrace the Gospel.”
The ANCC also embraces numerous innovations the Vatican rejects, including gay, married and female priests, gay marriage and divorce. Transgender, nonbinary and gender-fluid members are also welcome. The ANCC also supports a reproductive choice.
“We don’t see ourselves as a new church,” says the Most Rev. George R. Lucey, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi. Lucey, who is also openly gay, was instrumental in founding the ANCC in Glen Ridge in 2009 and presides as bishop over all 10 ANCC parishes in seven states. “We see ourselves as united to the same church that was founded by Christ.”
Catholic Church officialdom begs to differ. Asked to comment on the ANCC and its place in Catholic faith, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Newark provided this statement: “It would be inappropriate for us to make any comment about the American National Catholic Church other than to state that this group is not in union with the Catholic Church in Rome, so they are not in union with the Holy Father. We will leave it at that.”
New parishioners come to the ANCC for a variety of reasons. “I was not happy with the way that the whole bad-priests scandal was handled,” says Loretta Marches, a five-year member of the ANCC parish in Glen Ridge, her hometown. “I have a strong Catholic faith, but many misgivings with the Catholic Church. I found the [ANCC] website and contacted them because it was exactly what I was looking for—none of the politics and the exclusion of certain people.”
The ANCC’s three New Jersey parishes have more than 1,500 members, up from 1,000 in 2016 and 500 in 2014, Lucey says. Nationwide, ANCC claims about 2,000 parishioners; Lucey expects new parishes in the coming months in Poughkeepsie, New York, and Baltimore, Maryland.
According to a 2018 Pew Research Center report, between 2007 and 2014, Catholicism nationwide saw a “greater net loss due to religious switching than has any other religious tradition in the U.S.” The report further states that 13 percent of all U.S. adults “are former Catholics,” a higher rate than any other religion. But the same report found that only 2 percent of U.S. adults are converts to Catholicism—that is, people who now identify as Catholic after being raised in another religion (or with no religion).
A native of the Philippines, Reyes joined the ANCC church as a parishioner. He was ordained as a deacon in 2012 and as a priest three years later.
“I was raised Roman Catholic; I wanted to follow it,” says Reyes, 43. Unfortunately, his gay identity made him feel uncomfortable in the Roman Catholic church. Then he learned about the ANCC.
“One of our taglines when we preach is that we are Catholics without judgment,” he says.
ANCC leaders estimate there are about 400 independent Catholic jurisdictions in the United States—all unaffiliated with Rome. ANCC appears to be the largest group among the Garden State’s Catholic alternatives. Others in New Jersey include Good Shepherd Reformed Catholic Church in Toms River, and the Saints Peter and Paul Polish National Catholic Church in Passaic.
“We don’t exist as an axe to grind against Rome; we don’t really fight with anybody,” Lucey explains. “[Parishioners] come in and it’s a little like being home. There’s a great comfort in that. If people are attracted to us, it is because they see in the expression—which the Catholic Church has always taught, but has gotten away from—that God accepts and loves all of us for who we are.”
Reyes says that while many St. Francis of Assisi parishioners are gay, the parish has just as many traditional families with moms, dads and children. “It is becoming more and more mixed,” he says.
None of ANCC’s three New Jersey parishes has its own chapel. St. Francis of Assisi leases a small chapel behind the much larger Glen Ridge Congregational Church. Our Lady of Guadalupe American National Catholic Church, founded in 2011, borrows space in St. James Episcopal Church in Long Branch. The Sacred Heart of Jesus American National Catholic Church, launched in 2013, holds mass in Kearny’s Grace United Methodist Church.
That doesn’t seem to bother parishioners. “What is important to me is the lack of restrictions on how people find their spirituality. This church respects their right to worship,” says Hap Walter Bojsza, a West Orange resident who joined the Glen Ridge parish four years ago. “Our liturgies are the same Catholic liturgies, our readings are the same week after week. There are no dogmatic differences. The only difference is who is welcomed, and that is everybody.”
An Air Force veteran and father of two daughters, Bojsza says he was raised a Catholic, but left for many reasons—including his concerns about pedophile priests.
Jim Capobianco of Kearny left the Catholic Church for ANCC five years ago, after attending a Christmas Eve mass in which the priest’s homily attacked pro-choice views.
“That kind of did it for us,” recalls Capobianco, a married father of three. “The Roman Catholic Church has clung to ideals, and I respect that,” he adds. “But I also feel like there seems to be an inability to change. They seem more out of touch with the world that we live in.”
Suzanne Ryan, a divorced Maplewood mother and teacher, attended two Catholic churches close to home in recent years, but found them lacking. “I wanted a more vibrant church that was involved in social justice,” she says of her switch to ANCC four years ago. “I needed to feel that the church did what it was really supposed to do—a message of love and openness. I wanted a community where everything was inclusive and participatory.”
ANCC has had at least one brush with trouble. Leo Donaldson, a former cantor and musician at the Glen Ridge parish, was suspended in 2016 from his church duties after being arrested on sexual-assault charges relating to his roles as a Bloomfield High School teacher and coach.
He pled guilty in 2018 to charges of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, and official misconduct and was sentenced to seven years in state prison. None of the allegations related to his time at the ANCC church.
Asked to comment, Lucey says, “We have a policy of background checks [for church leaders] and two adults with children at all times, and only in public space. I am grateful we followed our procedure and am keeping Leo in our prayers.”
All ANCC’s priests have other vocations and serve unpaid. Some were ordained in the Roman Catholic tradition; some defected from other churches. Priests can also be ordained under the auspices of the ANCC, a process that includes theology courses through the University of Notre Dame online, and training at a local parish.
Lucey, 64, took a winding road to the ANCC. A native of the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken, Lucey has followed parallel paths of ministry and counseling. He holds an M.S. in education and a PhD. in psychology. He became a Franciscan Friar in 1998. Ordained a Franciscan bishop, he served in ministerial roles in Canada and Mexico. He also worked briefly for the Diocese of Paterson as director of Hope House, a program for HIV and AIDS patients in Dover.
Lucey was ordained as a priest in the Independent Catholic Movement in 2005. Following his ordination, he resigned from the diocese. “It felt like a conflict,” he says. “I couldn’t be working for the Roman Catholic Church and be part of a group that wasn’t Roman Catholic.”
Lucey remained in New Jersey, working as a counselor and psychotherapist and living in West Orange with Bill, his partner of 15 years. At one point, Lucey worked at a hospital in Summit as a counselor and launched a “spirituality unit” there for gay and lesbian patients suffering from physical or chemical abuse.
“I just started asking them what they thought about the Gospel, and they asked me to do it for the entire hospital,” he says. He began holding Sunday Mass, including gay and lesbian weddings. “I started to do more weddings, and people asked where I celebrated Mass.”
Eventually, Lucey began performing eucharistic services in his home on Sunday nights. His next step was to launch his own parish. Inclusiveness was central to his vision.
“As we are committed to acknowledging the Catholic teaching of the dignity of the human person because they are created in the image of God, it follows then that God, who is omniscient and omnipotent, does not make mistakes,” Lucey says. “Then there must be an image of God who is gay, straight, transgender and nonbinary.”
The West Long Branch parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe, took a different road to ANCC affiliation. A former Roman Catholic church with a predominantly Spanish-speaking membership, it faced upheaval in 2009 when the Diocese of Trenton ordered it to consolidate with two nearby churches to form a single parish, Christ the King.
Some Our Lady of Guadalupe members and leaders objected and eventually left the diocese, formed a new parish and joined the ANCC in 2011. Trenton Bishop David M. O’Connell decried the move as illegitimate, stating at the time that “no Catholic Church is independent.”
But theology experts say these new forms of Catholicism are valid expressions of change in religious thinking.
“There is a kind of legitimacy in that these people wanted to be Catholic and are doing Catholic things,” says Dugan McGinley, a teaching instructor in the religion department at Rutgers University. “I think that is legitimately and effectively Catholic, although it is not officially recognized.”
Julie Byrne, author of The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion (Columbia University Press, 2016) and the Hartman Chair in Catholic Studies at Hofstra University, agrees. “There really is no trademark on the word Catholic,” she says. “When [Roman Catholic leaders] say [independents] are not Catholic, they are trying to trademark the Catholic name….To me, if you say you are Catholic, you are Catholic.”
The Rev. Paul Gulya, pastor of the Sacred Heart ANCC Church in Kearny, says his church opens its doors to all “who are feeling left out or broken-hearted and marginalized.”
Gulya, who is gay and married, was ordained in 1981 in the diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. In time, he felt distanced from fellow priests because he questioned the church’s rules.
“For me it was an issue of independence,” he remembers. “I found that rectory living wasn’t for me. You were living with people whom you didn’t necessarily share the same ideals or ministerial vision with.”
Mother Phyllis McHugh, a former Roman Catholic nun who spent 10 years with the Sisters of the Roman Family of Nazareth in Philadelphia, was the first woman incardinated as an ANCC priest. She had left Roman Family many years before to teach. She later married and is now a mother and grandmother. McHugh was ordained a priest in 2011 at St. Jude’s Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the ANCC church in the Philadelphia area. A second woman is set to be ordained this year at the ANCC parish in Bridgeport.
Admitting divorcees is also a founding principle for ANCC. “Why would we withhold the sacrament at a time when people need it the most?” Lucey says. “If they are coming to us, the assumption is that they are in a moral or spiritual dilemma.”
Decisions on day-to-day matters are left to the local parishes, Lucey says. However, each parish must celebrate Mass with the liturgy of Vatican II and perform the same seven sacraments as the Roman Catholic Church.
“The Catholic Church,” Lucey declares, “is the church that came from the blood and water that flowed from the side of Christ and [was] proclaimed publicly at Pentecost.”
Pope Francis said in a document released Tuesday that women have “legitimate claims” to seek more equality in the Catholic Church, but he stopped short of endorsing recent calls from his own bishops to give women leadership roles.
In the text, Francis also told young adults they should try to help priests at risk for sexually abusing minors in what a Vatican official said was a great act of trust the pope has for today’s youth to help “priests in difficulty.”
Francis issued the document, known as an apostolic exhortation, in response to an October 2018 meeting of the world’s bishops on better ministering to today’s young Catholics.
The synod took place against the Church’s clergy sex abuse crisis and included demands for greater women’s rights. The bishops’ final recommendations called the need for women to hold positions of responsibility and decision-making in the church “a duty of justice.”
In the new document reflecting at length on the October meeting, Francis did not echo that sweeping conclusion. Instead, he wrote that a church that listens to young people must be attentive to women’s “legitimate claims” for equality and justice, as well as better train both men and women with leadership potential.
“A living church can look back on history and acknowledge a fair share of male authoritarianism, domination, various forms of enslavement, abuse and sexist violence,” Francis said.
He continued: “With this outlook, she can support the call to respect women’s rights, and offer convinced support for greater reciprocity between males and females, while not agreeing with everything some feminist groups propose.”
An organizer of last year’s synod, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, was asked at a news conference Tuesday about Francis’ lack of reference to women in leadership positions and the need to welcome gay Catholics. Baldisseri replied that Francis couldn’t rewrite everything from the final synod recommendations.
Francis’ new document, a 299-paragraph booklet entitled “Christ is Alive,” covers a wide range of issues confronting young people today. In it, he notes that many feel alienated from the church because of its sexual and financial scandals, and are suffering themselves from untold forms of exploitation, conflict and despair.
A hefty chunk of the document focuses on both the promises and perils of the digital world and dedicates ample space to the plight of migrants. It uses millennial lingo, calling the Virgin Mary an “influencer” and describing relations with God in computing terms: “hard disk,” ‘’archive” and “deleting.”
Francis wrote that he was inspired by all the reflections from the bishops’ synod and refers readers to the 2018 recommendations. He said he wanted to use his new text to “summarize those proposals I considered most significant.”
Throughout, he urges young people to be protagonists in rejuvenating the church.
On the topic of child sex abuse and cover-ups in the church, the pope called for the “eradication” of traditions that allowed child sex abuse to take place and for a challenge to how church leaders handled cases with “irresponsibility and lack of transparency.”
He urged young people to call out a priest who seems at risk of seeking affection from children and youth, “and remind him of his commitment to God and his people.”
Asked if that message wasn’t putting young people in potentially dangerous positions with potential predators, another synod organizer, Monsignor Fabio Fabene, said it was the contrary.
The pope’s words showed Francis wanted to entrust youth with “showing closeness to priests experiencing difficulty” in their missions and for young people to help “rejuvenate the heart of a priest who is in difficulty.”
Such terms have long been used by church officials to minimize the criminality of priests and bishops who rape and molest children.
Asked why there was no reference to Francis’ frequent call for “zero tolerance” for abuse, Baldisseri said the pope doesn’t need to repeat the phrase in every document.
“You don’t need to say ‘zero tolerance’ every time you go to lunch and dinner,” he said.
The document acknowledges the importance of sexuality in the development of young people. As with the roles of women in the Catholic Church, Francis did not repeat the bishops’ wording in recommendations for deeper anthropological, theological and pastoral study on sexuality and sexual inclinations. The term “homosexuality” appears once in Francis’ text.
Women have often complained they have second-class status in the church. History’s first Latin American pope has vowed to change that, but he has done little that is concrete and counts no women among his own advisers.
Just last week, the founder of the Vatican’s women’s magazine resigned with members of the editorial board, citing what she said was a climate of distrust and de-legitimization in the Vatican. The editor of the newspaper that distributes the magazine denied efforts to undermine the women.
Nine nuns were invited to participate at the October synod on Catholic youth, alongside 267 cardinals, bishops and priests. None of the women had the right to vote on the final recommendations. The nuns publicly made clear their displeasure before, during and after the meeting.
The recommendations advocated making women a greater presence in church structures at all levels while respecting church doctrine that the priesthood remains for men only.
The Women’s Ordination Conference, which advocates for a female priesthood, blasted the pope’s document for ignoring the synod’s recommendation to make the whole church aware of the “urgency of an inescapable change” to put women in decision-making roles.
The document, the group said in a statement, “offers only lip service to the movement for women’s equality in the Roman Catholic Church.”
The founder and all-female editorial team of the Vatican’s women’s magazine have resigned over what they say was a campaign to discredit them following the publication of an article that lifted the lid on the widespread abuse of nuns.
Lucetta Scaraffia, the founder of the monthly glossy Women Church World, said she had written a letter to Pope Francis in which she explained that the team was “throwing in the towel” because they felt “surrounded by a climate of distrust and progressive de-legitimisation”. The resignation letter will also be published in the April edition of the magazine.
The editorial team of 11 had worked together on the magazine, which has been published alongside the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, since its launch in 2012. “We are very sad,” Scaraffia said.
The decision to resign was taken after an announcement earlier this year that Andrea Monda, the male editor of L’Osservatore, would be taking over at the magazine too.
Scaraffia said Monda reconsidered after the editorial board threatened to resign and the Catholic weeklies that distribute translations of Women Church World in France, Spain and Latin America, told her they would stop distributing.
“After the attempts to put us under control, came the indirect attempts to delegitimise us,” Scaraffia told Associated Press, citing other women brought in to write for L’Osservatore “with an editorial line opposed to ours”. The effect, she said, was to “obscure our words, delegitimising us as a part of the Holy See’s communications”.
An article written by Scaraffia in February had highlighted cases of nuns being raped or abused by priests and bishops, or being forced to have an abortion or leave the church if they fell pregnant as a result.
Pope Francis acknowledged the issue for the first time a few days after the article was published.
He said more needed to be done to confront the issue, while pointing to the action taken by Pope Benedict XVI against a French order after nuns there had been reduced to “sexual slavery” by priests. The pontiff’s comments came two weeks before a landmark Vatican summit addressing paedophilia within the church.
In Women Church World’s final editorial, the editorial board said the “conditions no longer exist” to continue working with L’Osservatore, citing its initiatives with other female contributors.
“They are returning to the practice of selecting women who ensure obedience,” the editorial read. “They are returning to clerical self-reference and are giving up that ‘parresia’ [freedom to speak freely] that Pope Francis so often seeks.”
The abuse of nuns has been widely known for years, but much like clerical abuse against children, the Holy See – the Catholic Church’s governing body – has been silent and failed to take concrete action against accused priests.
Monda took note of the resignations on Tuesday, thanked the women for their work, and added: “In the few months since I was appointed director, I guaranteed to professor Scaraffia, and to the women’s editorial team, the same total autonomy and the same total freedom that have characterised the monthly supplement since the day it was born, refraining from interfering in any way other than to offer my dutiful contribution (regarding topic suggestions and people to be involved).”
A group of activist Roman Catholics asked the United Nations Thursday to revoke the Vatican’s observer status for failing to protect the rights of women, children and the LGBTQ community.
The group, calling itself Catholics for Human Rights, said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that the Vatican must be stripped of its status in part because of the “magnitude of rape, sexual violence and torture perpetrated by clergy.”
The activists, including lawyers and theologians, also said the Holy See excludes women from positions of authority and opposes contraception, same-sex marriage and abortion.
In Rome, the Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.N. chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it had no immediate reaction. Any change in the Vatican’s status would have to be decided by U.N. member states.
Catholics who disagree with the church’s teachings on abortion or who have been upset at its handling of sexual misconduct allegations have previously made similar demands for the U.N. to downgrade the Vatican’s status as a permanent observer, which allows it to take part in the world body’s policy discussions, but does not give it a vote in the General Assembly.
The Vatican’s role at the U.N. has also been opposed sporadically by groups who say it is a religious organization, not a nation.
Members of the activist group gathered Thursday in a building across the street from the U.N., where the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women was holding its annual conference.
“It’s hard to name a state or religious group that’s done more than the Holy See to thwart the spirit and the letter of the Commission on the Status of Women, which affirms that the fundamental freedoms of all women and girls is essential for the achievement of gender equality,” said one of the activists, Mary Hunt, a theologian from Silver Spring, Maryland. “Today, the institutional church is essentially a global, male-run, top-down corporation whose product is religion.”